by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, Dec. 23 (Xinhua) -- Turkey is mobilizing government institutions to recover thousands of stolen historical artifacts, putting pressure on treasure hunters, smugglers and museums abroad.
In 2020, several important antiques have been returned to its owner thanks to hard work by a team of dedicated civil servants and archaeologists.
The most recent one is a 1,700-year-old marble statue of the Anatolian mother goddess Cybele in Turkey, the land it was taken from, after spending nearly 60 years abroad.
Discovered in the 1960s, the artifact was smuggled out of Turkey and sold in Israel during the 1970s. Thanks to the efforts of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the statue had a nearly escape of being sold at an auction house in the Untied States, according to Turkey's Tourism and Culture Ministry.
Turkish Tourism and Culture Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said on Dec. 13 during a ceremony honoring the repatriation that Turkey managed to retrieve 4,441 artifacts in the past 18 years and recently boosted its capacity for tracking and retrieval of artifacts smuggled from the country.
In the past two decades, Turkey has significantly stepped up efforts and invested in an anti-smuggling department in the ministry, which works in close cooperation with other ministries and state bodies.
"They hunt for treasures smuggled abroad during the Ottoman period and also after the Turkish Republic was created," a source who has knowledge of the operations told Xinhua.
"Many people work in collaboration as part of this team, searching for artifacts originating from Turkey in museums and private collections, and they also monitor auctions on archaeological objects," added the source.
A huge amount of cultural patrimony was taken from Turkey during the 19th century and now resides in museums in Europe, America and other places.
Lawsuits brought by the Turkish government against museums, which had procured Turkish cultural treasures illegally, have resulted in some artifacts being returned to Turkey.
Still, there are many legal and administrative barriers and loopholes in most countries that prevent an artifact put on display in a museum to be returned to its country of origin. Legal battles can be very long and costly.
Ersoy stated that Turkey has appealed to a series of countries, including Germany, U.S., Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, UK and Italy, for the return of smuggled artifacts and the legal battle is still underway for the return of some historical objects.
Turkish archaeologists also stress the need to raise awareness among the population in Turkey as most cases involve Turkish nationals and non-authorized excavations by them.
Meanwhile, Turkey is reported to take responsibility in order to restitute artifacts smuggled from its conflict-torn neighbors Syria and Iraq.
"The unrest in the region made illegal trafficking shoot up, but in line with the regional circumstances, Turkey is taking measures," Zeynep Boz from the Culture and Tourism Ministry's Anti-Trafficking Unit told state-run Anadolu agency.
Turkey returned 81 objects to Iran and two objects to China in 2019, according to the ministry. Enditem