Demands by Turkey that Western museums return antiquities it says were looted from the country have led to the repatriation of some objects but have also drawn condemnation from some of the best-known museums in the world, the New York Times reports.
Earlier this summer, Turkish officials filed a criminal complaint in Turkish court seeking an investigation into what they say was the illegal excavation of eighteen objects now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Norbert Schimmel Collection. And last year, Murat Suslu, Turkey's director-general of cultural heritage and museums, gave the Met an ultimatum: prove the provenance of the ancient figurines and golden bowls, or Turkey would stop lending its treasures to the museum. While Egypt and Greece have made similar demands, and Italy persuaded the Met to repatriate an oversized red-figured vessel known as the Euphronios krater in 2006, Turkey's tactics, which include delaying the licensing of archaeological excavations and publicly shaming museums, have sparked international debate.
Museum directors at the Met, the Getty in Los Angeles, the Louvre in Paris, and the Pergamon in Berlin told the Times that their institutions' mission to display global art treasures was under siege and that Turkey's campaign runs counter to accepted practices such as the widely embraced UNESCO convention, which allows museums to keep objects acquired outside their country of origin before 1970. Although Turkey ratified the convention in 1981, it is now citing a 1906 Ottoman-era law that bans the export of ancient artifacts to force the repatriation of many valuable objects. Last year, for example, the Pergamon returned a 3,000-year-old sphinx to Turkey, while the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston returned the top half of an 1,800-year-old statue. And just last month, the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology announced that it had agreed to lend twenty-four artifacts from ancient Troy to Turkey "indefinitely."
Thomas P. Campbell, the Met's director, told the Times that the museum believes the objects sought by Turkey had been legally acquired in the European antiquities market in the 1960s before being donated to the museum in 1989, in compliance with the UNESCO accord. "If evidence emerges that the objects were illegally excavated or looted," Campbell said, "we will address that on a case-by-case basis."