Christiana O’Connell-Schizas read Law at the University of Kent in England and subsequently completed her Legal Practice Course at the College of Law. She was also a student on the ARCA 2013 Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. Christiana grew up in the Middle East and has recently returned to Saudi Arabia, a frequent topic for her ARCA blog articles. Christiana is a corporate lawyer currently at a leading international firm in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The Dikmen Conspiracy: The Illicit Removal, Journey and Trade of Looted Ecclesiastical Antiquities from Occupied Cyprus
The Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus paved the way for the destruction and plunder of Cyprus' cultural heritage. All religious monuments fell victim to vandalism and art theft. Invaluable icons, frescoes and mosaics were stolen. They were then smuggled off the island, laundered and sold. The mastermind behind this process was a Turkish gentleman by the name of Aydin Dikmen. Many individuals and organisations depredated Cypriot patrimony, but the focus is on Dikmen as the centrifugal force in the illicit removal, journey and trade of religious artefacts. This is a study of the three main phases the ecclesiastic objects went through once they were removed from their context. Looters, smugglers, middlemen and dealers are addressed through cases that directly involved Dikmen. His arrest and trial are discussed and the study is concluded with the most recent repatriation effort. Introduction The northern third region of Cyprus has been under Turkish occupation since their invasion of the island in 1974. All Cypriot authorities were denied access ever since. This in turn encouraged crime and corruption to flourish under the auspices of the occupying regime. The most shocking of these crimes was the destruction and plunder of Cyprus' cultural heritage. No museum, private collection, castle or excavation site was spared. All Christian religious monuments fell victim to vandalism and art theft. Over 500 Greek Orthodox churches monasteries and chapels suffered as a result. 20,000 icons, gospels, vessels made of precious metals, votive lamps, chalices and censers were taken, along with fixed items, such as: frescoes, mosaics, iconostasis, crosses and chandeliers. These are the ecclesiastical antiquities that will be discussed with particular focus on icons, frescoes and mosaics. The artefacts were then smuggled off the island, laundered and many sold on the ‘licit’ market. The mastermind behind most of this was a Turkish gentleman by the name of Aydin Dikmen.
Dikmen was the Giacomo Medici of looted religious objects from Cyprus hence the title's play on words of Watson and Todeschini's The Medici Conspiracy. This is not a comparative study but an investigation into the three main phases the ecclesiastical antiquities went through once extracted from context. Most of the material presented is historical information that is publicly accessible but no source presents the material in this order or argues that Dikmen was the heart of the three phases, hence the title.
You may finish reading this article in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue (#11) of The Journal of Art Crime edited by ARCA founder Noah Charney. The Journal of Art Crime may be accessed through subscription or in paperback from Amazon.com. The Table of Contents is listed on ARCA's website here. The Associate Editors are Marc Balcells (John Jay College of Law) and Christos Tsirogiannis (University of Cambridge). Design and layout (including the front cover illustration) are produced by Urška Charney.