Called the “cradle of civilizations”, Turkey is home to a diverse heritage, which has also made it a good target for smugglers for decades. Foreigners have looted everything – from precious treasures to pieces of mosque tiles – sometimes authorities have allowed thefts in the past. Nowadays, the authorities have a new policy of hunting for artifacts that adorn the collections of museums and private collectors around the world. In the last decade, Turkey has managed to return 2,712 artifacts, from small statues to sarcophagi.
Yahya Koshkun, deputy director of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s General Directorate of Cultural Property and Museums, says smuggling is as old as human history, but it increased between the 17th and 19th centuries. “In ancient times, the conquering countries allowed themselves to seize valuables in the places they conquered, as a sign of their victories. Later, this form of smuggling developed. Artifact smuggling has flourished in Anatolia since the 17th century, he told the Anatolian Agency (AA).
“Today, the dark history of smuggling lies in the history of the world’s largest museums. We often see there a collection of artifacts smuggled from our country. “Sometimes they appear at auctions, in private collections,” he said.
“We monitor auctions around the world. “We examine all the auction catalogs to find any artifacts smuggled in from here,” Koshkun said. Every time an artifact related to Turkey appears at auction, the country’s authorities take legal action to stop the sale.
Koshkun boasts that traders are now much more cautious thanks to their efforts. “They know that Turkey will come after them and will have legal problems if they put such an artifact on sale,” he said.
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is also pursuing smuggled artifacts. Efforts are being coordinated with the Interior Ministry and Interpol. This year, the ministry has 70 cases working on the extraction of artifacts. Some of these cases involve hundreds of artifacts, from coins to figurines. Recently in March, 413 pieces were brought to Turkey from Hungary, with which the country enjoys close ties.
Authorities also recently signed a deal with the United States to return artifacts smuggled from Turkey. The agreement, which entered into force on March 24th, is expected to ensure the return of a number of artifacts originating in Turkey.
Authorities also plan to finalize a deal with Switzerland soon to return artifacts smuggled from Turkey.