Teams bring smuggled cultural assets to Turkey
The teams of the Anti-Smuggling Department of the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums, affiliated with the Culture and Tourism Ministry, are working hard to return the smuggled Anatolian-origin artifacts to Turkey.
As a result of the works carried out in 2021, 3,480 artifacts were returned to Turkey.
The teams scan the web pages and publications of museums and institutions dealing with the art trade abroad in an effort to identify cultural assets smuggled from Anatolia. Then the teams visit the country in question and conduct on-site inspections to start working on the return of historical artifacts to Turkey.
Zeynep Boz, the head of the Anti-Smuggling Department, said that there are three branches affiliated to the department and that the Anti-Smuggling Branch Office is working for the return of historical artifacts.
“In this branch, by examining auction catalogs, scientific publications and social media, necessary files are prepared for the identification and return of artifacts of Anatolian origin, and scientific reports prepared by museums or academics are examined. Afterward, we continue working, sometimes by filing a lawsuit for the return of the work, sometimes diplomatic initiatives are made through the Foreign Affairs Ministry, sometimes with the police cooperation, formed by Interpol or the Security General Directorate, and sometimes by asking legal assistance to countries. We have had successful results so far. My entire team works day and night,” she said.
‘We never stop pursuing files’
Boz pointed out that the return processes of artifacts can sometimes take years and said: “For example, we have a 98-year-old subject. During the excavations carried out in Boğazköy between 1906-1912, 33 chests of artifacts were sent to Germany to be cataloged and restored. Artifacts were returned later, but Germany did not return a sphinx, attributing to an agreement they made with the Ottoman Empire. We can prove with the archival documents that these works were sent there only for the purpose of restoration. The return of our work took 98 years. Sometimes our files can take many years. This does not mean that they are not given effort or time. Sometimes conditions have to improve; new documents are needed. But we do not leave any of our files behind; we do not close any of the files.”
Boz also spoke about the return of 101 Urartian-era artifacts seized in Hungary in 2016 to Turkey on Nov. 11, 2021, at a ceremony attended by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. “We already know that there was an illegal excavation in the area in question. As the chemical deteriorations on these artifacts were exactly the same, our argument that these artifacts were smuggled from Turkey became stronger, and we convinced the Hungarian side. It was possible to return the artifacts with a very transparent cooperation from Hungary, just like the previous ones. As a result of the works carried out in 2021, 3,480 artifacts were brought back to Turkey and this is the highest figure in the last 30 years,” she said.
Boz stated that works against domestic smuggling are mostly carried upon notice, adding, “The ministry’s line is 176. People call on this number. This is very important to us. We do not leave anything to chance. We consider all notifications.”