Archaeology strains German-Turkish relations
|The Troy excavation site [Credit: imago/imagebroker]|
But "legal" is a fluid concept in the world of archaeology. The export of ancient treasures from the Ottoman Empire has been prohibited by law since 1884. At the same time though, it wasn't unusual to share the treasures discovered in excavations with teams from abroad. Special permission was often given to take objects out of the country, and there was a flourishing black market. The issue is often less a matter of legality than of morality.
In this context, the tone that Turkey has recently used in its quest to get ancient treasures back from museums like the Metropolitan in New York and the British Museum in London is surprising. The Turkish culture minister's announcement that he's only asking for objects "that are rightfully ours" is a sign of Turkey's new-found - some might say, excessive - self-confidence. Other countries have already felt the effects: two French excavation sites have been recently shut down.
Fight for the Sphinx
In 2011, then Culture Minister Ertugrul Günay reclaimed the more than 3,000-year-old Sphinx of Hattusa, which had been shown in a Berlin museum since World War I. If the Sphinx were not returned, said the minister, the German Archaeological Institute would lose its excavation permits in Turkey. The Sphinx was indeed returned, but without recognition of any legal claim: it was a goodwill gesture, according to Parzinger. In return, he was hoping for substantial loans from Turkey for a big Pergamon exhibition in Berlin last year. But the loans never arrived.
|Parzinger says the torso of the Fisherman of Aphrodisias came to|
Germany legally [Credit: BARBARA SAX/AFP/Getty Images]
According to Ernst Pernicka, long-time head of excavation in Troy, there is no truth in that. He believes Turkey is using archaeologists as hostages to get the objects back that they want. Last year, Pernicka says, he and other top archaeologists were asked by the Turkish authorities to go to German museums to call for the return of a number of ancient objects. Turkish authorities deny this.
|The Sphinx of Hattusa was returned to Turkey after Turkish threats to ban|
German archaeologists [Credit: imago/Christian Schroth]
Ancient cities under water
The Turkish historian Edhem Eldem is also unhappy about the expectation that foreign archaeologists are expected to ensure that their sites are suitable for tourists. He puts it down to "growing nationalism" and the victory of economic interests.
|Despite international protests, Hasankeyf will soon be partly submerged|
by a reservoir [Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images]
"International archaeology can only flourish in an atmosphere of mutual respect," says Felix Pirson, head of the German Archaeological Institute in Istanbul. He doesn't approve of the harsh tone that has dominated the German-Turkish debate recently. He sees the excavations in Anatolia, where "decisive developments in the history of man were continued, enriched and accelerated," as an international task.
Confrontation doesn't help anybody
Today, there are many teams already working under German leadership but with international membership. It's not just German archaeologists who believe that dealing with World Cultural Heritage sites should be a common task not restricted by national borders. They also agree that questions need to be asked about the origin of ancient treasures which are taken out of their country. But it is clear that political confrontation and rigid demands don't help anybody, including Turkey. The habit of reclaiming archaeological finds could come back to haunt Istanbul if Lebanon decides to ask for the return of the famous sarcophagus of Alexander. It was taken to Istanbul's Archaeological Museum in 1887, during the time of the Ottoman Empire.
Author: Andrea Kasiske | Source: Deutsche Welle [April 27, 2013]
Labels ArchaeoHeritage, Archaeology, Breakingnews, Germany, Greater Middle East, Heritage, More Stuff, Near East, Turkey