By Peter Stevenson
OVER 170 religious artefacts including icons, murals and mosaics from the stolen collection of Turkish looter Aydin Dikmen were returned to the Republic of Cyprus in a special ceremony in Munich yesterday.
German Justice Minister Beate Merk handed the art to attaché Eleni Papanicolaou, Bishop Porfyrios and head of the Department of Antiquities Despo Pilides.
“The artworks are no longer needed as evidence and now they can return ‘home’,” Merk said in a statement, adding “Cultural treasures are of immense importance for every nation”.
The court of appeals in Munich ruled in March that part of the artefacts found in Dikmen’s possession in 1997 in Munich, should be returned to Cyprus. German police moved in on Dikmen after they received help from former Archbishop Chrysostomos I, Tasoula Hadjitofi, Cypriot police and art-dealer Michel Van Rijn.
Most of the items had been taken from churches in the occupied areas after the 1974 invasion.
“The ceremony took place in Munich and we expect the 173 artefacts to be returned to the island within the next few days,” Bishop Porfyrios said.
He revealed that conservators from the Antiquities Department had travelled to Germany in order to carry out some basic care for the items before they were returned to the island.
“There are roughly 70 more artefacts which are being investigated by specialists who have been assigned by the court of appeals in Munich,” he explained.
On September 23, 2010, after a 13-year judicial battle, a Munich court ruled that the Cypriot artefacts found in Dikmen’s possession should be returned to the island. In November of the same year, Dikmen appealed the court’s decision and after various time-consuming legal procedures, problems and postponements the court ruled the items should be returned.
Despite the ruling the case is not closed as other experts will need to be summoned by the court to ascertain the origin of the rest of Dikmen’s loot.
A large amount of stolen artefacts have remained with Munich police since 1997 and it is unknown yet when or if they will ever be returned. There were a total of 422 different artefacts found in Dikmen’s possession including mosaics, paintings, icons and manuscripts according to the catalogue given to German authorities by Byzantine expert, Athanasios Georgiou.
The artefacts came from 51 different churches in occupied Cyprus. German authorities appointed a German Byzantine expert, Johannes Deckers to study Georgiou’s catalogue and he ascertained that at least half of the list was undoubtedly from Cyprus.