Old fisherman still homesick
ÖZGEN ACARThe body of a sculpture that was smuggled from Aphrodisias in 1904 is still in Berlin.
1898: Ottoman Emperor Abdulhamid II provided work permit to French engineer Paul Gaudin to work in a railway construction in the Western Aegean region. He was first employed in the Bursa-Mudanya line and then in the İzmir-Eskişehir line.
While practicing his mission, he unearthed a cemetery from the Early Bronze Age called the “Yortan culture,” his mind delved into archaeology. As you might remember, we announced a short time ago that a Yortan pitcher that was smuggled from Turkey would be returned. It has returned.
1904-1905: When he was working in Aydın, Gaudin also made excavations in the ancient city of Aphrodisias, which bears the name of Aphrodite. He smuggled many artifacts.
1905: Gaudin was employed in the Damascus-Medina Hedjaz railway, which has historical and religious significance.
1914: Like Gaudin, British spy captain T.E. Lawrence carried out excavations as an archeologist in the Hittite city Kargamış, located between Hatay and Gaziantep.
1917: Railway was one of the targets during the revolt of the Bedouins in Hejaz. The Ottoman army failed to protect the line. Lawrence thought that it was more rationalist to get the rails and locomotives out of service rather than defeat the Ottoman powers. What was built by an amateur archaeologist, Gaudin, was destroyed by an amateur archaeologist Lawrence.
1921: Gaudin died.
1922-1931: Mrs. Gaudin sold the artifacts to private collections and museums.
1926: It was revealed that some artifacts that Gaudin could not achieve to smuggle from Turkey were buried in the garden of one of his relatives in İzmir’s Bornova. These artifacts are in the İzmir Archaeology Museum.
1961: New York University’s archaeology professor Kenan Erim initiated scientific excavations in Aphrodisias.
1963: July; we became very good friends with Erim on my first visit to Aphrodisias.
1980s: Erim visited Mrs. Gaudin in Paris. He saw a half marble sculpture head in the living room.
He explained to me: “I smuggled historical artifact. I met the Gaudin family in Paris. They gave me some photos taken in Aphrodisias. They had a half sculpture head in their living room. It was a nice male portrait with one eye and forehead. I was offended by it. I asked to take a photo and put it in my bag. I brought it to Turkey. After years, we unearthed the rest of these artifacts and merged the pieces.
1988: Every time his assistants informed Erim about a sculpture head, they always saw that he ran to the storage or the exhibition space to determine which body it belonged to.
1989: A marble sculpture head was found at the entrance of a gymnasium dedicated to the Roman Emperor Tiberius.
His assistants were curious about where Erim would run to. This time they saw Erim did not run anywhere but was lost in his thoughts.
Then Erim told his assistants that the body of the head was the “Old Fisherman” in East Berlin and proved it with a picture in a publication. Everyone was surprised.
When I was working in New York, Erim called me from Aphrodisias and told me about it: “We found fiver male portraits dating back to the 5th century A.D. One was an impressive partial head of a bearded man. At that time something happened and I thought that this piece belonged to a body found by Gaudin in 1904. He smuggled this body from Aphrodisias and sold it to Altes Museum (Prussian Dynasty Museum) in Berlin.
April 9, 1990: Erim sent a letter to the museum asking it “to send the neck mold of the body to Turkey so that they will see if both pieces match.”
The answer from Dr. Heberta Heres, the director of Statliche Museen zu Berlin (City Museum) in East Berlin, the capital of East Germany, was: “We have taken the mod you asked. I did not know how to deliver it to Aphrodisias. Do you want me to deliver it via your embassy?”
Through the Culture Ministry, Erim asked the embassy in East Berlin to take the mold from the museum. “We don’t want to deliver the mold of the sculpture head. Let the museum to give it to wherever Professor Erim wants. Don’t make us keep us occupied with such things like a servile,” replied the ambassador.
Erim was very upset. The museum accepted to give the mold. He asked me what he should do. As a coincidence, I remembered American lawyer Larry Kaye, who successfully represented Turkey in the “Karun Treasure, Elmalı Treasure” cases and will go to East Berlin during those days. I explained to him about the situation and he said he would be happy to help.
May 28, 1990: In his second letter to Dr. Heres, he also sent me a copy of which Erim asked the piece to be delivered to Kaye.
June 29, 1990: From New York, I informed daily Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Füsun Özbilgen with details. In her column titled “And People,” she wrote about the developments under the headline “two different approaches on historical artifacts – bringing together head and body.”
Kaye gave the 450-gram and three-centimeter mold in an envelope in his bag to me in New York. I sent it to Erim with a friend travelling to Turkey.
Erim was bursting with happiness but the mold and the head did not match. Archaeologist Orhan Atvur said the mold was female and a male mold should be taken. The pieces marched. Erim was happy that his memory was verified with this matching.
The museum director, Professor Max Kunze, offered to come to Turkey to reunite the two pieces there and Erim invited him to Aphrodisias.
Oct. 4, 1990: The two Germanys reunited.
Nov. 5, 1990: At 3 a.m. after midnight, Cumhuriyet Ankara representative Mustafa Balbay woke me up in New York. “We lost Kenan Erim. He died of ‘heart depression’ at the British Embassy’s residence, where he was a guest.”
We lost Erim, who carried Aphrodisias to the top of the world in 30 years.
1991: Erim was replaced by his assistant, Professor R.R.R. Smith, as the head of excavations.
Another sculpture expert, Professor Jale İnan, got Kunze to bring the plaster copy of the body to Aphrodisias. During the trial under the inspection of Smith and Kunze, the head and body perfectly fit each other. At that time, everyone respected Erim. Then Smith found some other foot pieces of the sculpture and merged them in molds.
PROFESSOR KENAN ERİM
Through the German Foreign Ministry, the Turkish Foreign Ministry asked the body to be returned to Turkey. But the Culture Ministry was not interested in it. Attempts were made at the time of Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay and the General Director of Cultural Heritage and Museums Murat Süslü.
During German Prime Minister Angela Merkel’s visit to Ankara, the issue was delivered to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan but nothing was done. As a matter of fact, the Hattusa Sphynx Sculpture, which was smuggled to Germany from the Ottomans, and the Winged Seahorse of the Karun Treasure were returned in the same period.
2014: After visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York, Culture Minister Ömer Çelik said, “We appreciated that human heritage artifacts are kept and displayed in such a beautiful way.”
The Old Fisherman sculpture has been waiting to reunite with his body for the past 112 years.