December 17, 2012
Turkish compaigners may go to European Court of Human Rights over Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in British Museum
Turkey is planning on taking the dispute over the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (Currently in the British Museum) to the European Court of Human Rights. This follows on from Turkey’s aggressive campaigning in recent months against various museums holding artefacts from Turkey, where the ownership is disputed.
Turkey turns to human rights law to reclaim British Museum sculptures
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 8 December 2012 19.29 GMT
Human rights legislation that has overturned the convictions of terrorists and rapists could now rob the British Museum of sculptures created for one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
A Turkish challenge in the European court of human rights will be a test case for the repatriation of art from one nation to another, a potential disaster for the world’s museums.
Despite criticism of their own country’s human rights record, Turkish campaigners are turning to human rights law – a dramatic move to reclaim sculptures that once adorned the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, an ancient wonder along with sites such as the hanging gardens of Babylon and Egypt’s pyramids.
Greek sculptors in 350BC created a 40-metre-high monument, crowned by a colossal four-horse chariot on a stepped pyramid. A magnificent horse’s head is among sculptures acquired by the British Museum in the mid-19th century, which campaigners want returned to their original site – Bodrum in south-west Turkey.
An Istanbul lawyer, Remzi Kazmaz, told the Observer that a lawsuit will be filed at the European court on 30 January and that 30 lawyers are acting on behalf of the town of Bodrum as well as district and provincial governors, the Turkish ministry of culture and other bodies.
Kazmaz said: “We thank the British authorities and the British Museum for accommodating and preserving our historical and cultural heritage for the last years. However, the time has come for these assets to be returned to their place of origin … Preparations for formal requests are taking place now.”
A petition with 118,000 signatures has been organised and the Strasbourg court will be shown a documentary on how Turkey lost its ancient treasure.
Kazmaz said: “We do not believe that the artefacts were removed legally.”
But he declined to elaborate on the planned legal arguments: “The lawsuit is a sensitive subject so, while I can confirm that the information you have is correct, we have to be understandably cautious”.
Gwendolen Morgan, a human rights lawyer with Bindmans LLP, suggested that “the most likely line of attack” will be a breach by the UK of article 1, 1st protocol of the European convention of human rights, which states: “Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions.”
She said: “I suspect they’ll use the litigation to ramp up the moral pressure on the British government … So it’s quite a powerful campaigning tool … How this case will be interpreted by the European court of human rights will also be informed by the domestic law in force in the 1850s in the Ottoman empire when the mausoleum was taken by the British Museum. However, the European Convention on Human Rights is only in force since 1954 so there is a serious timing problem. The Turkish legal team may argue that because the Convention is a living instrument, it should be interpreted in light of current international law including the UNESCO heritage conventions and other Governmental statements about not depriving countries of their cultural patrimony. Much will turn on what was agreed at the time the statues were removed.”
She joked: “I must go to the British Museum again soon before they [the sculptures] vanish.”
Norman Palmer, a leading QC specialising in cultural property law, said: “I have not heard of it [human rights] being used to raise a claim for the specific restitution of particular tangible objects … This would be a novel claim.”
The case will be keenly watched by Greece, which is seeking the return of the Parthenon marbles, and Nigeria, which wants the Benin bronzes back, and other nations seeking the repatriation of cultural artefacts.
A senior source in Greece said: “Greece will be following this with interest.”
The mausoleum – built for Mausolus, king of Caria – is believed to have collapsed after a medieval earthquake. Some of its sculptures were taken by crusaders to their castle at Bodrum, from where they were recovered in 1846 by the British smbassador at Constantinople and presented to the British Museum. Others were retrieved in the 1850s during site excavations by the museum.
A British Museum spokeswoman said: “We have not heard anything about the legal case … so we can’t comment.” But, she added: “These pieces were acquired during the course of two British initiatives, both with firmans – legal permits issued by the Ottoman authorities – that granted permission for the excavation of the site and removal of the material from the site … to the British Museum.”
Turkey is also pursuing claims against other institutions worldwide, including the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Turkey wants ‘stolen’ artifacts back from British Museum
Published: 09 December, 2012, 14:02
Ankara has turned to the European Court of Human Rights in its attempt to reclaim British Museum sculptures that were once part of Turkey’s Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.
The dispute is set to become a “test case for the repatriation of art from one nation to another, a potential disaster for the world’s museums,” the Guardian reported.
The ancient structure was a 45-meter-high tomb created between 353 and 350 BC at Halicarnassus, the current-day resort city of Bodrum in southwestern Turkey. Four horse chariots of marble were perched on top of the superstructure, which was designed by Greek architects.
A horse’s head sculpture was also among the artifacts acquired in the mid-19th century by the British Museum, which Turkish activists want returned to their original site, the Guardian reported.
Istanbul lawyer Remzi Kazmaz told the Observer that 30 lawyers will be acting on behalf of the town of Bodrum alongside district and provincial governors in a lawsuit that will be filed in the European court on January 30.
“We thank the British authorities and the British Museum for accommodating and preserving our historical and cultural heritage for the last years. However, the time has come for these assets to be returned to their place of origin,” Kazmaz said.
A petition with nearly 120,000 signatures has reportedly been prepared, along with a documentary on how Turkey lost the ancient treasures.
“We do not believe that the artifacts were removed legally,” Kazmaz explained.
The mausoleum, which overlooked the city of Halicarnassus for years, was eventually ruined by a series of earthquakes. It is believed that some of the sculptures were then taken by crusaders at Bodrum. In the 19th century, a British consul obtained several of the statues that are now on display at the British Museum.
“These pieces were acquired during the course of two British initiatives, both with firmans – legal permits issued by the Ottoman authorities – that granted permission for the excavation of the site and removal of the material from the site … to the British Museum, ” a British Museum spokesperson said.
- Turkey seeks return of Halicarnasus mausoleum pieces : March 6, 2013
- Online petition to return the Halicarnassus mausoleum from the British Museum : November 23, 2012
- Turkish lawers file suit against British Museum : August 2, 2005
- Documentary on Mausoleum of Halicarnassus : April 15, 2006
- Turkey using Human Rights law in its attempts to secure artefact return : March 8, 2013
- Bodrum’s claims for restitution : November 15, 2006
- Should stolen treasures be returned to Turkey? : February 26, 2005
- Turkey versus the Louvre – Ankara’s artefact restitution attempts continue : February 27, 2013