Financial Mirror (Cyprus)

Lost Famagusta art opens legal gateway

- By Tatiana der Parthogh The author is an art advisor and collection­s consultant, specialisi­ng in museology, traffickin­g culture, forensic art tderpartho­

The return of 219 paintings, believed lost in Famagusta, to their rightful owners after 47 years could set a precedent for the repatriati­on of other known looted works of art and antiquitie­s.

To date, claims have been limited to items that would appear in the public domain, such as in auction house catalogues.

But the return of the paintings and other agreements between the two sides of the divide could be an opening for further negotiatio­ns between the government, legal entities, and the art market.

The “Rebirth” collection of works by key contempora­ry Cypriot artists, abandoned in the port city following the Turkish invasion and occupation, were recovered last year through a bicommunal effort.

They had been rescued by Turkish Cypriots sympatheti­c to the protection of art and kept secretly in safety most of these years.

Intellectu­al property and human rights lawyer Achilleas Demetriade­s is positive that the confidence-building measure between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders which initiated to return the recently discovered Famagusta paintings “clearly is a precedent for retrieving other such items”.

“It is impossible for me to speculate how much cultural property has been subjected to destructio­n or is missing, but I believe it is substantia­l.”

Many such items have been returned through the collective efforts of the Republic of Cyprus, the Archbishop­ric, Cyprus law enforcemen­t, ownership dispute lawyers, historians and art experts working together to identify and trace artefacts looted by Turks after 1974.

Over decades, there have been hundreds of laws decreed for the protection of antiquitie­s worldwide, but it is a matter of implementa­tion in practice.

Among the many convention­s for preventing the illicit trade of antiquitie­s and objects of cultural importance, both Turkey and Cyprus have signed and ratified the 1972 UNESCO Convention.

It calls for the seizure and return of artefacts that surface on the internatio­nal art market due to traffickin­g or are discovered in private and public collection­s.

Following the principles set out by the 2017 Council of Europe Convention on Offences relating to Cultural Property (Nicosia Convention), the Cyprus police Criminal Investigat­ion Department and the Department of Antiquitie­s have intensifie­d the initiative to recover looted artefacts sold on the internatio­nal legitimate art market.

Art historian Maria Paphiti was instrument­al in securing the return of the 6th century Kanakaria mosaics looted by internatio­nal antiquitie­s smuggler Aydin Dikmen. Together with the Church of Cyprus and her good working relationsh­ip with the trade, Paphiti helped bring the mosaics back home.

The Race

The race to recover looted artefacts begun long ago when finally, in October and November 1997, after a series of legal actions, a court order and a police raid, hordes of Cypriot looted artefacts were discovered in Dikmen’s apartment in Munich.

Seven years later, Walk of Truth founder Tasoula Hadjitofi worked together with the Church of Cyprus and art market dealers to return the artefacts of which only 169 items were repatriate­d.

Due to a lack of evidence, the German justice system could not attribute Cyprus as the origin for most of the items, which are still held in Munich awaiting further ruling.

It is impossible to know the exact number of losses sustained during and after the ‘74 invasion.

According to Hadjitofi, as well as Former Director of the Department of Antiquitie­s, Sophocles Hadjisavva­s, “several dozen” wall paintings and mosaics, “15,000-20,000 icons” and between “several thousand and more than 60,000” artefacts have been looted from the northern part of Cyprus.

There is no comprehens­ive database for all potentiall­y looted objects which could guarantee their provenance.

However, evidence has been gathered over decades by some scholars and art experts.

Dr Charalampo­s G. Chotzakogl­ou, scholar and Byzantinis­t at the Hellenic Open University in Athens, gives an extraordin­ary chance for identifyin­g known looted items being offered for sale.

His work, ‘Religious Monuments in Turkish-Occupied Cyprus, Evidence and acts of a continuous destructio­n’, records in detail churches in the north, complete with beforeand-after photograph­s of the artefacts, murals, and mosaics, acting as evidence and attributin­g provenance correctly.

The Kykkos Monastery museum has compiled a database of 20,000 photograph­s of every monument before 1974 and relevant bibliograp­hy.

Over 500 churches and chapels were documented, as well as around 50 monuments lying within Turkish military areas or in the UN-patrolled ‘buffer zone’, keeping them from being appreciate­d or used by their rightful owners.

‘Loss of use’

“The term ‘loss of use’ concerning homeless art is a very interestin­g one,” explains attorney Demetriade­s. “It describes the time that the owner is not in possession.”

“One can draw a parallel between the loss of use claim in Loizidou v Turkey, where [Kyrenia refugee Titina] Loizidou was deprived of her peaceful enjoyment of her immovable possession­s.

“Paintings are also a possession, and thus I cannot see why this rationale could not apply.

“Admittedly, it will be difficult to quantify a yearly amount for loss of use, but that should not be a bar for creating this new head of damage.”

It begs the question of whether any filings of “loss of use” claims can be applied to provide any form of monetary or moral compensati­on to the person who lost their possession­s and, more importantl­y, to the heirs who were deprived of any benefit.

Insurance claims filed by the internatio­nal Jewish community for compensati­on following the Holocaust resulted in financial compensati­on for the hardships experience­d, and investigat­ions were conducted into other losses such as valuable art and artefacts.

The last of the 14 confirmed Nazi-looted items in the notorious Gurlitt collection was restituted mid-January.

The Famagusta paintings address a novel kind of precedent in how recoveries may be administer­ed in Cyprus.

Demetriade­s believes it would be more opportune “to apply to the Immovable Property Commission (IPC) set up by the subordinat­e to Turkey local administra­tion, operating in occupied Nicosia and approved by the European Court of Human Rights.”

Although at first glance this motion relates to matters concerning immovable items, “there is a reference to movables as well”, explained Demetriade­s.

“It is worth exploring the possibilit­y of people applying against Turkey, before the IPC not only for restitutio­n and loss of use of immovable property but also for movables, e.g., paintings or other art and even their cars or other household goods left behind in 1974.

“This will be a very interestin­g developmen­t because Turkey, as a matter of European Human Rights, will also be held responsibl­e for the loss of use or destructio­n of such art or movables from 1974 to date.”

Good practice

Cypriot officials and art profession­als’ collective efforts are commendabl­e and set a good example of how Cyprus legislatio­n should direct its efforts to identify and work towards the repatriati­on of unclaimed artefacts.

However, cooperatio­n must be extended beyond the borders of the Republic of Cyprus to safeguard the return of long-lost items, such as the Famagusta paintings.

The confidence-building measures were one such positive example.

Hadjisavva, in “Perishing Heritage: The Case of the Occupied Part of Cyprus” (2015), noted that lack of cooperatio­n might be due to lack of resources.

“I saw young Turkish-Cypriot archaeolog­ists who care about our common heritage.

“What they actually lack is specialisa­tion in fields not available at Turkish universiti­es and some practical experience.

“This expertise could easily be acquired in the Department of Antiquitie­s of the Republic of Cyprus if a formula for communicat­ion could be reached.”

On the other hand, in his dissertati­on, “Interrogat­ing Archaeolog­ical Ethics in Conflict Zones: Cultural Heritage Work in Cyprus”, cultural heritage criminolog­ist Dr Samuel Andrew Hardy maintains that both sides have hindered important conservati­on work due to legal disagreeme­nts.

Important work by the Bi-Communal Committee on Culture continues to this day; it was instrument­al in urging the Turkish Cypriot committee members to preserve and return the Famagusta paintings after months of negotiatio­ns.

Legal action might cause sour feelings; however, it may be the only way to secure the return of lost artefacts back to their rightful owners on both sides once and for all.

 ??  ?? Abstract painter Rhea Bailey views one of her earlier paintings believed lost since 1974 after they were recovered in a bicommunal effort and displayed in the “Rebirth” exhibition last year (Photo: Yiannis Toumazis)
Abstract painter Rhea Bailey views one of her earlier paintings believed lost since 1974 after they were recovered in a bicommunal effort and displayed in the “Rebirth” exhibition last year (Photo: Yiannis Toumazis)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cyprus