Cyprus Mail

‘Walk of Truth’ proposes museum to house disputed and stolen art

Tasoula Hadjitofi

A comprehensive model prototype regarding looted antiquities along with a mapping template of the international scene on the looting of cultural heritage was yesterday sent to international organisations including the UN and EU.

The model was based on the findings of a round-table discussion of international experts on ‘Art Trafficking and Restitution- Lessons from Cyprus and Afghanistan’, held at the Peace Palace in The Hague last September and organised by the non-profit organisation, Walk of Truth.

The model is the result of a high-level discussion of over 50 experts on art trafficking and its links to organised crime, as well as lawyers, academics and officials from Interpol and Europol. Illegal art trade cases from Afghanistan and Cyprus were discussed.

The Cypriot cases, four icons of Antiphonitis and the Munich case, were examined by lawyers Robert Polak and Thomas Kline.

According to the organisers, the recommendations and findings of the conference were analysed by Walk of Truth experts and the Belgian police, and have been used as the foundation of a model strategy to address the issue of cultural heritage destruction and illicit art trade at a political level.

The model takes into account new data concerning cultural heritage destruction and illicit art trade, as these take shape in the new socio-political framework of a united Europe.

The roundtable discussion highlighted topics which call for the adoption of new ways of reclaiming stolen treasures, due to the following facts:
– illicit trade of cultural heritage is a growing phenomenon, along with drugs and arms smuggling;
– the fight against illicit trade is a complex task due to numerous legal obstacles such as the lack of harmonisation of the legislation of member states with international conventions;
– illicit trade deserves more attention on a political level; and,
– the role of activists is crucial and it is important to engage with them as institutions.

During the conference, Walk of Truth founder Tasoula Hadjitofi suggested creating a Museum of Disputed Art to house works of art that became objects of illicit trade, and are stored in warehouses until the return to their rightful home is settled.

“Legal procedures can be very lengthy, so, rather than having these treasures locked away in warehouses, exposed to the ravages of time, why not display them in a museum where they can be conserved while at the same time, tell their story to the world?” said Hadjitofi, proposing the museum be located in the Netherlands, the country that offered her refuge after she was forced to leave her home in Famagusta during the Turkish occupation in 1974.

Other speakers at the conference included Peter Kitschler, former director of the Bavarian Police (head of the Munich case in 1997 regarding Turkish smuggler Aydin Dikmen); Dr Willy Bruggeman, former director of Europol and president of the Belgian Federal Police Council; Steven van Hoogstraten, director of the Carnegie Foundation (Peace Palace); Bruce Clark, journalist for The Economist and author; Dr. Norman Palmer, law professor at King’s College London; Omar Said Sultan, advisor to the Ministry of Culture of Afghanistan; Martin Finkelnberg, Head of the Art and Antique Crime Unit of the Netherlands; Anna Kedziorek, European Commission; Dr Wouter Veraart, Professor of Philosophy of Law at the University of Amsterdam, and others.

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