Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Bavaria and Cyprus

Part of the decoration of churches in northern Cyprus were discovered during police raids in Munich (Natali Hami and George Psyllides, "German court order return of stolen Cypriot treasures", Cyprus Mail September 28, 2010). The items include:
  • 15th century frescoes from the monastery of Christou tou Antifoniti;
  • a 6th-Century mosaic from the church of the Panayia Kanakaria;
  • murals from the church of the Panayia Pergamiotissa;
  • two icons from the monastery of Saint Chrysostomos
The items are reported to have been found "hidden inside the walls and under the floorboards in two apartments". If they were were there legitimately why were they hidden?

And the user of the two flats was Aydin Dikmen who appears to have used "false names" to use the flats.

Dikmen is reported to be linked to other cases of religious objects from Cyprus including the Kanakaria mosaics, and the frescoes from Ayios Themonianos near Lysi.

But why have the Bavarian courts taken so long to resolve these seizures made in 1997? It appears the Church of Cyprus had asked for the return of the pieces but has now had to take the case to court.

The scale of the seizure seems to be immense. A report in 2007, commenting on six Byzantine icons returned to Cyprus after surfacing at a New York auction house, noted "Bishop Neophytos said 250 such pieces are currently in Munich, Germany, after being stolen from the north by convicted Turkish art smuggler Aydin Dikmen" (Menelaos Hadjicostis, "Priceless stolen icons returned to Cyprus", AFP January 26, 2007).

And only this month (September 16)  Republican Congressman Gus Bilirakis introduced a resolution calling "for the protection of religious sites and artifacts from and in Turkish-occupied areas of northern Cyprus as well as for general respect for religious freedom" (H.RES.1631). 23 other Republicans were co-sponsors. Bilirakis' resolution notes:
Whereas the extent of the illicit trade of religious artifacts from the churches in the Turkish occupied areas of northern Cyprus by Turkish black market dealer Aydin Dikmen was exposed following a search of his property by the Bavarian central department of crime which confiscated Byzantine mosaics, frescoes, and icons valued at over Euros 30 million.

The video of Bilirakis can be seen here.

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