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Turkish culture minister speaks about restitution claims

In an interview with the Turkish Minister of culture Atilla Koc, he was asked about the various restitution claim that Turkey is trying to pursue against foreign museums, for artefacts such as the Halicarnassos Mausoleum [1].

The New Anatolian [2]

February 20, 2006
Tourism and Culture Minister Atilla Koc speaks to TNA

Nursun Erel – The New Anatolian/Ankara


With his controversial comments saying the Germans are cheap and the Russians boorish, and his frequent appearances in newspapers dozing off at official functions, Koc is a colorful personality. In fact he is a good reader of Ottoman and Turkish literature and a graduate of the prestigious Political Science Faculty of Ankara. For many years he served as the governor of various provinces.

We had a long talk with Atilla Koc at his office in the ministry surrounded by cigar smoke. At the start he offered me a cigar too, but when I explained that I had quit smoking, he teased me that I’d made a mistake. Here’s what Koc had to say:

Turkish historical artifacts

TNA: Hundreds of Turkish historical artifacts, either stolen by foreigners or granted to them by the initiative of Ottoman sultans, are housed in various museums all over the world. For example, the breathtaking Great Altar of Pergamon (Bergama) in Berlin, or many artifacts in the British Museum. Is there a chance of getting them back? I wonder as a citizen, how do you feel and as a minister, how do you act?

KOC: As a citizen, I’m certainly deeply sorry, but this kind of international issues needs compromise. With such a compromise, an agreement was reached and Turkey has signed onto it too, but it doesn’t work retroactively. So it’s a shame that there’s no chance of getting back the Bergama Altar from Germany, because we have no legal right. But now we have a new project. The exact copies (replicas) of those historical artifacts will be built and put into their original locations. In front of them, we will put banners saying something like, “This original of this replica is now in the Berlin Museum.” We’ll ask our German colleagues too to put a similar banner saying something like, “This altar was brought here from Bergama, Turkey.” Even though it breaks my heart, I will tell you that the important thing from now on is not losing them. If these artifacts hadn’t been stolen from Turkey, maybe we wouldn’t have been able to keep them the way they were kept.

TNA: Don’t you think good will and dialogue could solve the issue?

KOC: I honestly believe in good will, but my mother used to say something: “If no one listens to what I have to say, I won’t say a word.”

TNA: I was wondering, once this issue is brought up, how do people respond? For example Cevat Sakir Kabaagacli (famous Turkish author, also known as Halikarnas Fisherman) once wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth about the Turkish artifacts kept in the British Museum, saying, “They’d look better under the Bodrum sun, by the blue sea of Bodrum.” But the reply he got went like this: “We painted the exhibition hall in a Bodrum blue.”

KOC: I’ll repeat my mother’s words here. “If no one listens to what I have to say, I won’t say a word.” In fact international law is odd sometimes. On some issues, power is dominant. So beyond your feelings the more important thing is the legal basis. If you don’t have a solid basis you can’t get a result, it’s a shame that the strength puts the law here. You see we have thousands of tumuluses here, but we’re still far from excavating all of them. If we could start those excavations, this would be a treasure for Turkey. Only starting last year could we allocate the necessary resources for this work.