By Constantinos Psillides
Some 170 religious artefacts stolen from churches in the north of the island after the Turkish invasion have been returned to Cyprus, constituting the largest number of cultural objects ever repatriated, the antiquities department said on Tuesday.
The antiquities were repatriated after a long legal battle in Germany, which lasted seven years.
They were found in the possession of Turkish art dealer Aydin Dikmen, when Munich police raided one of his apartments in 1997.
They consist of icons, mosaics and fragments of wall paintings
Dikmen stole the artefacts from 51 different churches in the north, after the 1974 Turkish invasion.
A number of artefacts remain in the possession of German authorities, as the process to confirm their provenance was still ongoing.
German ambassador to Cyprus Gabriella Guellil, who attended a welcome ceremony on Tuesday, told the Cyprus Mail that the problem was purely legal but very complicated.
“Germany fully supports the return of stolen antiquities and is cooperating with Cypriot authorities. The problem is that the people who took the antiquities in the first place are exhausting all legal tools at their disposal to derail the process,” she added.
The majority of artefacts were in relatively good condition although some bore clear signs of vandalism.
Communications Minister, Tasos Mitsopoulos, said that the antiquities department employees were shocked when they opened the crates the artefacts arrived in.
“They told me that some of them were sawed-off or scratched almost beyond recognition,” the minister said.
Some of the icons were missing their heads — they were cut and pasted upon other icons in an attempt to raise their monetary value
Archbishop Chrysostomos thanked the previous Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, saying that his efforts played a vital role in returning the artefacts.
Antiquities Department deputy director, Despo Pileidou, said that every single artefact returning to Cyprus is a victory. Asked whether the department was looking into other cases of stolen artefacts, mainly in the USA, Pileidou said their search extended everywhere.
“We are always searching, always looking”, she added.
The repatriated antiquities are on display at the Byzantine Museum, next to the Archbishopic in Nicosia.