The Turkish government is asking major US museums to return artifacts it says were looted from archaeological sites in Turkey.
The J Paul Getty Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Harvard University's Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection are among the institutions contacted with requests to return items allegedly looted from archaeological sites in Turkey. The LA Times reports that unless their concerns are addressed, the Turkish government will halt loans to the museums in question. Loans have already been denied to the Met.
Turkey has also refused permission for items to be loaned to the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, as reported in The Art Newspaper in March.
Murat Suslu, Turkey's director general for cultural heritage and museums, was at pains to point out that Turkey was not being unreasonable. "We are not trying to start a fight," he hold the LA Times. "We are trying to develop cooperation and we hope these museums will also understand our point of view."
Turkey's more aggressive stance follows the success of Italy and Greece in reclaiming looted antiquities from US museums in recent years.
Turkey has had some success in retrieving antiquities, albeit after protracted legal proceedings. The LA Times reports the Lydian Hoard, a collection looted from a burial mound in western Turkey dating to the 7th century BC, was returned to Turkey in 1993 after it emerged that officials at the Metropolitan Museum had been aware of the hoard's illicit origins and sought to hide it.
The museums concerned have been reticent about divulging information on the contested artifacts. The authors of Chasing Aphrodite, an exposé of the trade in illicit antiquities, have released lists of the pieces likely to be at issue on their blog, including eighteen items from the Norbert Schimmel Collection, which was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1989. On her blog CultureGrrl, journalist Lee Rosenbaum recalled an interview she conducted with Schimmel in 1979 for her book The Complete Guide to Collecting Art, in which he expressed some regret for his collecting practices:
Norbert Schimmel says that he now generally does not buy objects that were once attached to buildings. Gesturing towards paintings displayed in his Manhattan apartment that had been hacked out of an Egyptian tomb, he said he was now "ashamed I bought these."
The authors of Chasing Aphrodite note that other items that were once in the Schimmel Collection have been returned to their source countries, such as the Eye of Amenhoptep III, which was returned to Egypt in 2008.