Türkiye’s 150,000 historical artifacts waiting to return
There are 150,000 of Türkiye’s historical artifacts abroad, said Yaşar Yılmaz, who traces the artifacts smuggled abroad in his book “Anadolu’nun Gözyaşları” (Tears of Anatolia), adding that Türkiye should prepare files and request the return of its artifacts with a long-term program.
Most of our artifacts are in Germany, France, Austria, the U.K., and the U.S., according to Yılmaz.
“Many of our artifacts that the British took from the ancient city of Xsanthos in Antalya in the 1840s are exhibited in the British Museum in London.”
“Meanwhile, Germans have been digging Bergama [district of the western province of İzmir], since 1864,” Yılmaz said.
“After the huge Pergamonmuseum [Bergama Museum] was established in Berlin, the Austrians opened a museum in Vienna, which is filled with the artifacts they took from Ephesus, and named it the Ephesos Museum,” said Yılmaz, underlining that anything could be an artifact from a small vase to the market gate of Miletus - one of the most important Ionian cities, which is about 33 meters wide and 16 meters high.
In the period when the republic was newly established, the ministry urged the U.S., who took artifacts from the western province of Manisa’s Salihli district, that they would not be able to get an excavation permit again unless they returned the artifacts, according to Yılmaz.
“We must regain the self-confidence of those years,” Yılmaz added.
Yılmaz said that a commission was established in 2017 with the efforts of a group of Turkish parliament members who read his book and were impressed. With the joint decision of four parties, he was invited to the commission which investigates the artifacts taken abroad.
“The most important reason for the indifference toward our historical artifacts is that the history of our region is limited in students’ history books.”
“We are the last link of the chain of people living in this region since Göbeklitepe [the Neolithic archaeological site in the southwestern province of Şanlıurfa], so we are the heirs of historical monuments,” he said.
I also informed the commission that the history books need to be corrected, so that we will not be total strangers to historical artifacts and our compatriots Homer and Herodotus who lived in Anatolia, the expert said.
“First of all, we should raise the awareness of our own people.”
“Along with all robbed countries, especially China, Italy, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Greece, a new international regulation should be drawn up to facilitate the return of artifacts,” said Yılmaz, adding that short-term requests do not ensure that any of our artifacts are returned.
Historical artifacts are important because they are all unique, handmade and unique, he said, reiterating that a hand-sized marble sculpture found by a woman digging her field in Akhisar and exchanged for a pair of slippers was sold for $24 million at an auction in the U.S.
A total of 2,712 historical artifacts were returned to Türkiye, to the land where they belong, between 2011 and 2021, according to data given by a senior official.
Finally, the Eros Head, discovered 140 years ago and taken to England from Türkiye, was put in its place at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum as a result of the initiatives of the Culture and Tourism Ministry. The artifact, which was brought to Türkiye on June 10, was reunited with the historical Sidamara Sarcophagus to which it belonged.