Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Turkey's Artefact Repatriation Campaign in Abeyance?

Ömer Çelik
Ömer Çelik, journalist and politician was Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism between January 24, 2013 and August 28, 2015. He has now been replaced by Yalçın Topçu. In the period of office of Çelik's predecessor Ertuğrul Günay (between 29 August 2007 - 24 January 2013) there was a strenuous policy of repatriation of cultural property removed from the country after a 1906 Ottoman law prohibiting export. This was most vigorously prosecuted in 2010(?), 2011 (especially)and 2012. There was much discussion of this campaign in the press of nations whose museums contained the objects the Turkish authorities were after (USA, UK, France and Germany). It was was linked with the planned building in Ankara of a massive new "universal museum" (The Museum of Civilizations) rather like the Grand Museum being planned by Mubarak in Cairo. The Ankara museum was being planned for an opening in 2023.

While he was certainly active in this field at the beginning of his period of office, it is not clear whether Celik continued this policy throughout it. In recent months, not very much has been heard of this campaign and the outstanding cases that were in dispute. About the last major press item which I can recall seeing seems to be the Spiegel article ' Museum Wars: Ankara Demands Artifacts from Berlin' (March 14, 2013) proclaiming "a dispute is heating up between Turkey and Western countries, with ancient artefacts at stake". In fact the article mainly concerns local matters of German-Turkish collaboration, some of the accusations seem rather frivolous.

It is interesting to reflect on the reasons why the media seem to have quietened down over this issue in the past two years. Has the campaign been wound down? Is the building of the museum going ahead? (I can find nothing recent which mentions it.) Has this issue been overshadowed by the discussion of the smuggling of artefacts out of Syria through Turkey?

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