Turkey Accused of Cultural Blackmail

Posted on October 17, 2012


The Turkish government is keen on reclaiming 18 objects housed at the Met as part of the Norbert Schimmel collection. Although the Met is no stranger to controversy surrounding the origin of its antiquities, as The Guardian reports, Turkey poses a very new kind of restitution battle.

Turkey and the United States have both signed onto a UNESCO convention declaring that if an antiquity left it’s country of origin before 1970, the item does not need to be returned. Although this date means that the majority of antiquities housed at the Met are safe, Turkey remains insistent that the antiquities be returned. According to Turkish official Ertugrul Gunay, “When they [artifacts] are repatriated to their countries, the balance of nature will be restored.”

Turkey is citing it’s own, century old law to demand that the artifacts be returned. In the meanwhile, Turkey is denying loans to any museum that, according to Turkey, houses antiquities that belong to Turkey. This is dangerous to museums like the Met because they often need the permission of national governments before mounting large exhibitions.  Museum officials are referring to this practice as cultural blackmail.

Interestingly, many antiquities in Turkish museums originated in regions once controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Turkey is not nearly as forthcoming about these collections.