Law Office on Turkish smuggler case: Total of 207 artefacts recovered

Law Office on Turkish smuggler case: Total of 207 artefacts recovered

A total of 207 treasures, stolen from the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus by Turkish smuggler Aydin Dikmen, have been recovered by the Cypriot authorities, a press release by the Law Office of the Republic of Cyprus notes.

The Law Office issued an announcement on Tuesday in which it refers to yesterday`s decision of the Munich Court of Appeals which ruled the return to the Republic of Cyprus of additional 34 treasures that were stolen by Turkish art smuggler Aydin Dikmen from the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus and were found by the German Police in his apartments in Munich in 1997. The repatriation process of these 34 relics will be completed in about a month.

The Law Office notes that these 34 relics were the most important ones concerning this case and they include fragments of church wall paintings, icons, a hand written manuscript of a 18th century gospel of the Armenian community of Cyprus and ten prehistoric antiquities. It is noted that a total of 173 looted treasures found in Αydin Dikmen`s posession in Munich have already been repatriated to Cyprus.

The Court ruled on Monday that the remaining 49 treasures, mostly icons of Russian styled art and prehistoric antiquities, should be returned to the Turkish smuggler since it found their documentation as inadequate. But the Law Office notes that the 49 relics will not be returned to the Turkish smuggler since they are expected to be put up for auction during which they will be recovered by the Republic with no extra cost since the Turkish smuggler already owes the Republic an amount exceeding 500,000 euros for legal expenses.

It further notes that after 40 years of concerted efforts of the authorities of the Republic of Cyprus and the Cyprus Church and through previous German court decisions which ordered the return to Cyprus of 173 other church relics found in the hands of the Turkish smuggler, a total of 207 relics of great religious and cultural value linked to the ecclesiastical and cultural heritage of Cyprus, have been recovered.

Turkish art smuggler Aydin Dikmen had his headquarters in Munich and channeled the booty taken from the occupied areas through Turkey, to the whole world. One of the biggest cases of illicit trading in antiquities involving Aydin Dikmen was the plundering of the wall paintings from the church of Agios Euphemianus and the 6th century wall mosaics from the Church of Panagia Kanakaria in the occupied areas of Cyprus.

In October and November 1997 the German Police raided apartments maintained by the Turkish dealer in illicit antiquities in Munich. The number of works of art they uncovered was astonishing since treasures were found from about fifty looted churches in Turkish-occupied Cyprus.

The records kept by the Turkish illicit dealer in antiquities were lodged as exhibits at the Bavarian Court. The detailed way in which he kept his records is unprecedented: photographs and sketches prior to the theft of the mosaics and wall paintings, during their removal and after, as well as copies of the mosaics intended to be sold as originals in the illicit antiques trade.

The uncontrolled situation in the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus after the Turkish invasion in 1974 fostered the development of a network of dealers in illicit antiquities whose aim was to sell out the cultural heritage of Cyprus. With the encouragement and help of the Turkish army, the trade in illicit antiquities has brought great profit to those involved, and Cypriot treasures already adorn private collections in a number of countries including Turkey, Russia, Switzerland, Holland and the UK, and even as far as the US, Australia and Japan.

More than 500 churches situated in the areas under Turkish occupation since 1974 have been destroyed, plundered and looted or turned into stables, warehouses, restaurants and hotels. The Cyprus government and the church have repeatedly protested to the UN, the World Council of Churches and many other international and religious organisations.