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Turkey asks British Museum to return the Samsat Stele

As part of their ongoing campaign for the restitution of looted artefacts [1], Turkey has written to the British Museum asking for the return of the Samsat Stele, a stone tablet that is over two thousand years old.

From:
Today’s Zaman [2]

Turkey requests return of Samsat Stele from Britain
9 April 2012 / TODAY’S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL

The Turkish government has requested from Britain the return of a stone tablet dating back to the first century.

The Samsat Stele, which is currently held at the British Museum, is a stone tablet dating back to the first century B.C. portraying Commagenian King Antiochos I Epiphanes greeting Greek god Zeus’s son Herakles. The hole in the center of the Samat Stele, which is made of basalt, reflects its later use as an oil press.

English archaeologist Leonard Woolley discovered the stone slab during his excavations in Samsat, Turkey, near the Turkish-Syrian border, between 1917 and 1920.

In the past two years, Turkey has stepped up claims to works in museums around the world it believes were looted, including the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Turkey’s acquisitions have triggered a global debate around the world as to who the rightful owners of stolen, smuggled or illegally purchased cultural artifacts are.

Ben Hoyle of The Times described the Turkish government’s request as significant in his article titled, “Forget the Elgin Marbles, this stone slab marks the new frontline of culture politics.”

Turkey requested the return of the tablet in January, according to Hoyle.

The Elgin Marbles refers to the classical Greek marble sculptures and inscriptions that were originally part of the Parthenon and Acropolis at Athens. Hoyle’s Elgin Marbles reference recalls the seventh earl of Elgin and British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire’s controversial acquisition of the collection, permitted by the Ottoman authorities, which today remains on display at the British Museum.

From:
Daily Mail [3]

Elgin Marbles Part Two? Turkey demands return of ancient Samsat Stele stone slab which British Museum has held for 80 years
By Jill Reilly
PUBLISHED: 16:10, 9 April 2012 | UPDATED: 07:40, 10 April 2012

Turkey is demanding the return of a slab stone, which has been at the British Museum since 1927.

In January, the Turkish Government wrote to the museum to request that the grey carved stone object, known as the Samsat Stele, be removed from their collection and transferred to back to its homeland.

The basalt stone from the 1st century BC, measures 1.3m high (4.3ft), and is currently on display in Room 52 of the museum.

It does not attract as many visitors as the museum’s glamorous Elgin Marbles, which famously Greece demanded be returned, but is now at the centre of a dispute as both sides lay down their reasons for claiming rightful ownership.

Found in southern Turkey in 1882, it has been in Britain for decades, after Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, the museum’s director of excavations, purchased it in 1927.

The slab, has an image of ancient King Antiochus carved out, greeting Herakles.

It has a large hole drilled through the middle because it has been used as a olive press in the past.

Turkey’s letter in January is not a one-off, they have recently demanded the return of several pieces worldwide in recent years.

Targets included on their campaign to restore art to the country include the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the J.Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Louvre in Paris and the State Museums of Berlin.

Although many of the claims were put in years ago, Osman Murat Suslu, the new director of cultural heritage and museums has stepped them up since he was appointed in 2010.

Turkey has started to refuse loan request from museums that posses the disputed objects.

The British Museum had asked for 35 items for the exhibition Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam but although Turkish museums were agreeable to the loans, the ministry of culture blocked them, leaving the British Museum to find alternative objects at short notice.

The V&A is facing a similar problem over its planned exhibition, The Ottomans, which needs loans from Turkey – scheduled for 2014, then delayed a year, it is now on hold.

The British Museum have considered the request for the past few months, but last week its director Neil MacGregor, replied to Turkey.

‘At no point between 1927 and 2005 have the Turkish authorities, who were fully aware of the stele’s location, suggested that it has been improperly acquired or should be returned,’ stated the museum.

Although a claim was made for the stele in 2005, it was not pursued by the Turkish authorities and loans between the two countries continued.

In a statement the museum was keen to stress it wanted relations between the two countries to remain civil.

‘The Museum greatly values the cordial relationship it has enjoyed with Turkish colleagues over recent years which has led to fruitful collaborations.’

As a compromise the museum did offer to lend the disputed artifact to Turkey if the country recognises the British Museum’s ownership – there was a similar offer with the Elgin Marbles.

But it also made clear that it was not willing to return the object on a permanent basis:

‘The Trustees of the British Museum cannot consent to the transfer of ownership of the stele and firmly believe that it should remain part of the British Museum’s collection where it can be seen in a world context by a global audience.’