Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Turkey: Catching Smugglers Causing Storage Problems

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There is an increase in attention in the news to the problem of looting in Turkey these days, shifting the focus of attention from just Greece and Italy. Here is a story about the problems success in catching looters and traffickers can cause. Last year in Turkey the gendarmerie and police confiscated more than 68,000 historical artefacts from nearly 5,000 people trying to smuggle the valuable historical items out of the country. This is causing serious problems in the storerooms of the country's archaeology museums which are used to store the artefacts confiscated from smugglers.
Each year the stock of artifacts seized from smugglers continues to grow and museum managers are increasingly facing problems in handling, cataloguing, preserving, storing and placing the items. The Istanbul Archaeology Museum alone has more than 25,000 confiscated artifacts in its stores. The investigations and legal cases for most of these artifacts are still ongoing, and according to state law the nearest museum is obligated to take responsibility for the confiscated items.

Most of the pieces are intercepted in Istanbul, thereby leaving Istanbul Archaeology Museum with the cumbersome collection. The museum’s management is expected to care for the artifacts until the investigation is completed, at which time either the piece will be released, permanently added to the museum’s official collection, or sold to a collector via an auction.

Managers at Istanbul Archaeology Museum said the increasing number of confiscated artifacts is giving museums across the country hard time, as resources are stretched thin to cover the costs of preserving and protecting the pieces brought in by law enforcement while the museums’ staff are also counted on to act as experts in the legal procedures.”
As earlier reported, in addition to tackling smuggling, the Turkish government has increased its legal efforts to bring artefacts that were smuggled out of the country back to their homeland, but the process is lengthy and expensive. The Turkish General Directorate of Security and Smuggled Artifacts said a total of $17 million was paid to the United States to bring back the Uþak-Karun Treasures and Antalya Elmalý Coins (the 'Dekadrachm hoard').

Ömer Erbil, ' Turkish museums’ storage crowded with smuggled artifacts', Hurriyet Daily News, August 8, 2011

Vignette: Elmali coins smuggled to USA

Hat-tip to PhDiva

10 comments:

kyri said...

paul,tukey is a perfect example of what i have been trying to say about haveing a similar scheme to the pas.i agree that our system is not perfect and needs further legislation but turkey with its draconian laws and very heavy penalties dosent seem to be able to stem the flow of looted antiquities entering the market.there must be hundreds of thousands of pieces slipping through the net straight into german auction houses.even the pieces confiscated have lost for ever their archaeological context.at least in the uk the important finds are excavated by archaeologists and find spots for even the smallest piece are recorded.
kyri.

Paul Barford said...

Hmm. I do not know Kyri if you ACTUALLY looked at current Turkish law (try the UNESCO database for example) before writing that. Can you do so and tell me WHERE THERE IS A DIFFERENCE?

http://www.unesco.org/culture/natlaws/media/pdf/turkey/turk_legislation2863_conservationculturalnaturalproperty_engtno.pdf

Article 1 sets out the purpose of the law which is to define classes of movable and immovable objects that are to be conserved by the state and those that are not (so like the Treasure Act in the UK, comparable to Scotland isn't it?) Art 4 and 23, reporting, Art 23, definition of what is the equivalent of UK "Treasure", 24 (note coins are excepted), Antiquities trade Art 27 etc. Art 50 allows treasure hunting if not on known archaeological sites. Article 64 rewards for finders and reporters of archaeological material (note that in Turkey these rewards are to be paid for reports of a much wider scope of finds than in England, so not just gold and silver and metal hoards).

The elements are all there, the only difference is that in Britain PAS reporting is voluntary, in Turkey obligatory on the finder. In England trashing archaeological sites looking for collectable and saleable finds does not need a permit and is allowed, in Turkey it does and in general is not allowed. In which area are steps being taken to protect those sites?

So what you are saying is making the Turkish finds reporting system voluntary (the only difference) would somehow give "better results"? But better for what? Site protection from looting? Would you legalise digging on archaeological sites so collectors can get stuff out for the market without falling foul of the law? Is that what you mean by "a PAS"? How would that "protect" sites?

What is happening now is that crooks are avoiding the reporting obligation, and the legislation concerning digging (because you are not going to claim that all which comes onto the market today is accidental finds), they are ignoring the export licencing procedures (BTW Britain has the same ones for archaeological material) - so you think making all these things voluntary will somehow make more criminals comply with them? By what reasoning? Why have laws about anything at all then if making things like DUI and theft subject to voluntary self-regulation? I simply do not follow your logic.

What would Turkey get out of introducing a PAS instead of the network of museums to which finds should be reported - and tell me please WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?

I am sorry, but it is very easy to come out with glib "if only" suggestions without checking the real situation, and without explaining in more than a sentence it would actually work. Any fool can do that. What you have not done is make any kind of analysis other than "lottsa stuff on da market" and applied a stock collectors' moan - "if only they had a PAS" without following it through.

The problem is, isn't it, that in Turkey CRIMINALS are breaking the law, and CRIMINALS are trying to smuggle the stuff out to those markets you see, and you are content just to look at it, tut-tut and say "if only". No, Kyri the way to deal with it is if you are witness to (or think you've been witness to) a crime, or somebody profiting as the result of a crime, what does a responsible citizen do? Walk past shrug his shoulders and say "if only these things would not happen"? I expect you'd be very grateful to the bystanders watching louts smash your windows and torching your house, saying, "I wish these things would not happen, he should have had a fire engine parked on his front lawn". Report the thieves Kyri, do something about them, don't tell me about them, tell the police. Once they've managed to get a break from dealing with the hoodies and thugs in England that are taking what they fancy without regard for what is right and wrong - rather like British antiquity collectors I would say.

Marc Fehlmann said...

Dear Dr. Bradford

I really admire your patience with the downsides of human nature.

Having worked in a so-called "source country", Northern Cyprus, I can assure you that my colleagues and I always have reported any fresh looting activities to the police and the department of antiquities: they got proper records by registered mail, photographs nicely deliverd on CDs, and every necessary information.

What did they do?

I'm sorry to say NOTHING. They caught instead small petty criminals for an iron-age pot and a Roman oillamp once a year to give food to the press, but they did not stop the big guys with the bulldozers, or the socialite that smuggles valuable stuff out of the country.

What Turkey has done with this recent report is a PR-stunt (showing how effective its authorieties are at work). The reality on the ground has, however, apparently not changed, in spite of such actions and draconic laws. That's at least what my friends who work in Turkey tell me. Hence I agree with kyri on this point.

Greed has become such an uncontrollable force within the global art market that I see a strong parallels with the drug-trade - and therefore - lack of political will. We must not forget that Turkey has no free press anymore, and whether Hürriyet, Zaman, or whoever, they write what the government wants them to write. I also doubt that those who could make a difference within the system really care. There is too much money involved.

Strict regulations for the transfer of cultural property in the EU and Switzerland have certainly improved the situation within the relevant countries, but there will always be guys beyond that "juristiction"...

One might be able to change the current situation if it became more appealing to buy pieces with solid histories of previous ownership. If buying unprovenanced material would become an equivalent to consuming heroin, but acquiring pieces with attractive provenances would become 'chic' and convey palpable prestige, then we might change the behaviour on the consumer side.

kyri said...

paul,if the turkish system is so good than why arnt prople reporting finds.on the face of it it seems the system they have is not working.is the reward system inadequete?.as i said befor i would make the repoting of finds compulsory in the uk and i would like a license system introduced.
to be honest i thought the turkish system was similar to the cypriot one.i would not allow digging on archaeological sites.at the end of the day paul it is all about money and greed,this is why a proper reward system should be in place to encourage people to do the right thing.
most ot this stuff probably came out of archaeological sites thus not reported and with easy access to german auction houses were they are light years behind the british ones in terms of provenance and asking questions.
paul,i bow to your superior knowledge on the subject,it realy is hard to think of a solution,as long as people keep buying and the market is there it would not stop.better brains than mine are trying to controll the problem and not succeeding,the simple solution is for collectors to collect ethically but im afraid as with all walks of life you will allways get the bad apples.
kyri.
kyri.

Paul Barford said...

@Dr Fehlmann,

”What did they do? I'm sorry to say NOTHING.”

and what was your reaction to that? What did you do to try and get them to do something?
It’s easy to shrug shoulders and say “it’s not my business, it’s the other guy’s fault” isn’t it?

I think we see from the British experience how difficult prosecuting these cases actually is. Were you giving them information who was doing what where and it was still ongoing, or were you saying that there were new empty “holes” somewhere?

Did you ever think about blogging about it, naming and shaming?

” Hence I agree with kyri on this point.”
Well in that case, do, pray, tell us more about how you’d see that work, don’t just leave it at the “gee, I wish” level.
How would having a PAS prevent the guy with the bulldozer?
How would having a PAS prevent the socialite smuggling? (The PAS does not regulate export procedure for antiquities, though arguably should)

Let’s see a concrete proposal based on what the PAS actually does, rather than what we'd all wish it was doing, please.

Paul Barford said...

@ Kyri,
Kyri, what part of the word “criminals” do you not comprehend?

These are not “bad apples”, they are criminals and people who deal with criminals and the stolen goods they bring to the market. These are dealers who have a "good reputation" in the collectors' milieu because they sell genuine looted artefacts and not fakes.


I really do not think you understand what you are saying. What is with this “reward” business? If you go to the PAS with a Roman pot you’ve dug up in Hampshire, you do not get a reward (try it). You can take a whole East Anglian Anglo-Saxon cemetery to them in bits and not get a reward.

These Turkish guys are commercial looters. Commercial looters (nighthawks) do not get a reward in England. Nor should they, they should get locked up.

The reason the Turkish stuff is not being reported is not because the reward money is not right, but digging stuff out of archaeological sites there without a permit is ILLEGAL in Turkey (as it is in most other countries of the world, except England, Wales and Scotland). If Turkish looters went trotting along to the museum with what they've dug up saying “look what I’ve found, where’s my reward”, they'd get locked up. This is why I asked would you remove the bit of the law about trashing archaeological sites so people “might” report finds? But then, how does that increase (and not decrease) protection of archaeological sites? As I say, you do not seem to be looking in any detail at the law you – as a collector - want to abolish and thinking about the consequences of what you are suggesting would be nice for the collectors of the stuff these looters dig up for you. But please read the law – all of it, the bit in the middle about sites and monuments too – before answering.

The PAS is not the panacea that collectors want to make it appear. Once again, its the "other guy's fault" syndrome, isn't it? As Dr Fehlmann points out above, the key is in changing the behaviour of the could-not-care-less dealers and collectors that buy undocumented material, not seeking to change the laws preventing looting. In the interests of conservation, these need to be strengthened and more strictly enforced (everywhere), not removed for the convenience of antiquity collectors.

Marc Fehlmann said...

To Paul Barford:

What did I do?

I gave my best to educate the next generation, and I'm sure that many of my students got the message. But those currently in position to change the situation did, I'm afraid, not like open confrontations and escaped into complete denial! We even had a journalist write a piece or two in the local papers, but this was not enough to shame those who are responsible for the mess.

I then came to the conclusion that we may be dealing with a sort of mind-set that may not be congruent with what we might expect in Western democratic societies. Even if the "organic approach" to the past as I experienced it in Cyprus seems wrong to me and my colleagues, it does not need to disturb the majority of the people living there, or in Turkey, Syria, the Ukraine, Egypt, or wherever. They have bigger issues than a looted site or writing proper inventory lists. I thought you had experienced the same in Egypt.

I don't want to stir up a hornet's nest, but one cannot just blame the consumer side.

What should we do to change it?

Try this: Introduce some sort of amnesty for material without previous history of ownership, material that came on the market prior to 1990, 2000 or even 2005. Skip the 1970 AIA-regulation and amend the UNESCO-convention as they both seem not to be very effective. Bring the benchmark down to recent years for objects of minor commercial value, and decide on a by-case basis when the next silver-hoard from Morgantina should be up for sale. Introduce realistic monetary rewards for chance finds in so-called source-countries, and introduce a record system for the material without provenance. In other words legalize that part of the market, that is currently illegal, let those objects that already have lost their context be officially exchanged / exported for hard (or currently not so hard) cash that is desperately needed for conservation work and research in countries like Turkey. How many thousand transport amphora’s do they need sitting in some storeroom when nobody has the time to deal with them? If the 63'000 objects that Turkey has seized would be brought on the open market in one go, then one would actually cause a collapse – and prices would tumble until looting would not be profitable anymore.

I can only repeat my comparison with the drug-trade. The situation here on the streets of Switzerland only improved when local governments introduced publicly-regulated heroin consumption (though we are still waiting for legalisation of cannabis...)

Give it a try with antiquities!

Ahhh, and fight corruption and hypocrisy among politicians and officials. That might help as well.

kyri said...

paul,im not suggesting the turks adopt our system as it is,as our system is far from perfect,if anything i would adopt some of the turkish legislation,ie;permits needed and no digging on archaeological sites.
i think our system with licensing and the other things mentiond is still the best option.their system,as it is, dosent seem to be working either.greed is a hard thing to legislate for.i will try to make the time to read the laws.
kyri.

Paul Barford said...

@ Kyri,
"i will try to make the time to read the laws"
I think it would help before writing about how they should be changed...

Otherwise discussing them seems rather a waste of time.

kyri said...

paul,i dont have to know the ins and outs of turkish cultural law to see that their system is not working,the very fact that so many pieces are being confiscated would lead any person to come to the same conclusion i have made.with me this ia a hobby,i honestly dont know how you manage to keep your finger on the pulse of so many archaeological issues.it is so time consuming.i do think that dr. fehlmann makes some good points.at least some kind of amnesty and registration of every piece would hopefully lead to the sale of future looted antiquities being impossible.personally i would wellcome some kind of registration scheme for antiquities collectors,but having discussd this before on ancientartifacts site,i know that some are against the idea.
kyri.

 
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