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March 22, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - ,, No comments

UNESCO 1970 Convention Today: Turkey's statement to the 40th anniversary commemoration meeting last week

 Reconstructed Temple of Trajan, Pergamum, Turkey
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, Editor

By marriage, Turkey is my adopted country, so I approached one of the Turkish attendees at last week's UNESCO meeting to ask for the statement from the Turkish delegate.  Mr. Murat Suslu, Director General of Cultural Assets and Museums for the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, delivered a prepared statement in English to UNESCO last week at the 40th anniversary commemoration of the 1970 Convention, the international agreement signed by 193 and ratified by 120 countries that promotes cooperation between states to stop the looting of archaeological sites and the trafficking of illicit cultural property. His short statement was one of many delivered by delegates on the second day. The ARCA blog invites other state delegates to also send us a copy of their statement for distribution. Many delegates stressed the importance of creating awareness of this problem on a global scale, and ARCA, a non-profit organization for research into crimes against art, can help facilitate.

According to UNESCO, at least 17,500 investigations were opened in Turkey for looting of art from 1993 to 1995.

Mr. Suslu addressed the international group in English and it was translated audibly in French and Spanish to the audience. The meeting was chaired by Dr. Davidson L. Hepburn, Chairman of the Antiquities, Monuments, and Museums Corporation of The Bahamas.
"Mr. Chairman, Turkey as a source country has had to fight very hard; both to prevent illegal trafficking of its cultural property and also for the return of its stolen objects. In fact, this struggle goes back as far as the 19th Century.

All our diplomatic efforts for return are under the framework established by the 1970 convention. We have several bilateral agreements with neighboring and market countries in line with the 1970 Convention. Last year we returned four objects to Iraq that were captured at the border from traffickers. We will continue to cooperate further with Iraq.

We show goodwill by lending cultural objects for exhibitions in other countries. We expect similar goodwill to be shown by market countries in return.

We are stıll expectıng the return of thousands of objects that were illegally exported from Turkey, rangıng from the tiles of Sultan's tombs and library to the stele of Samsat, many of you will be familiar with the case of the Boğazköy Sphinx.

There are countries ın our region which show exemplary cooperation. I would like to thank the authorities of the Republic of Serbia for returning to Turkey last month almost 2,000 archaeological objects seized at the border.

Mr. Chairman, the 1970 Convention has been of help. However, it has not fully solved outstanding issues of stolen, illegally excavated and illicitly exported properties of the past.

The convention does not cover the objects coming from clandestine excavations. So an entire sector is not covered by the convention as already mentioned by Mexico and other source country representatives.

It also does not cover those artifacts which come from regular excavations; which are stolen before they are registered and then illicitly exported.

Under the 1970 Convention, the burden of proving ownership is placed on the claiming state and not the present possessor. Thus it becomes almost impossible for the source country to obtaın the return of its cultural objects that were illicitly excavated or illegally trafficked right after excavation before being registered.

Another important issue is the application of the convention. The legal regulations of some states parties do not support the return of cultural properties to their country of origin.

Besides the ICPRCP [Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation], a body to facilitate returns within the framework of the 1970 Convention is also needed.

Of course, in the end, it all depends on the states parties.  Thank you."
If you would like to read more about UNESCO's 1970 Convention, you may read the column, The Secret History of Art, on by Noah Charney, founder of ARCA, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art.