It is being widely reported by antiquity collectors that Turkey is planning to deaccession certain artefacts held in museum collections. This is significant since Turkish law establishes that found archaeological material is state property, and - since there is quite a lot of archaeological material to be found in the soil of Turkey - the museum storerooms to which this material is sent are becoming overcrowded. It makes sense then to establish a sensible and well-defined accession policy and a means of ethically disposing of anything surplus to it. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has therefore decided
to pass a number of statutory amendments relating to the holding of artefacts by museums. The changes, which were proposed by the Board of Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets and first announced in the Official Gazette on Jan. 19, dictate that artifacts which are not being used by museums can be valued by a specially formed commission and sold. The controversial statutory section now dictates that items which have been brought to museums and have not been claimed by valid owners or put to use by the museums within the period of one year can be sold by the state to collectors following an evaluation process by a commission of experts.There are of course fears among archaeologists and conservation groups that unless proper safeguards are built into the system, it is possible that this will give rise to an ethos of cashing in on culturally and historically important artefacts by selling them to rich collectors, perhaps foreign, rather than investing resources in facilitating their preservation for the common good.
Many fear such changes could mark the beginning of a mercenary consideration of archaeological finds whereby the financial value of artifacts is placed above their historical significance. The head of the İstanbul branch of the Archeological Association, Dr. Necmi Karul, told the Vatan daily in comments published on Feb. 18 that the changes undermine the most basic of archaeological principles, namely that any artifact from any period of history is part of a shared culture and should, thus, remain as such.The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has clarified in a press release that the changes would allow for a better management of museum collections, and rather than selling off antiquities for cash, priority will be given to opening new avenues for the exhibition in other institutes of artefacts which are not being put to use or valued. It will be interesting to see how Turkey puts such a scheme into action, and how many artefacts leaving Turkey with documentation of legal origins as officially deaccessioned objects will be stripped of them by the no-questions-asked antiquities market in subsequent years.
Zaman, 'Controversy over price-tagging of artifacts continues', Sunday's Zaman 22 February 2012.