Saturday, February 14, 2009

Turkish museum director: antiquities theft, trade; imprisonment

I just learned from David Gill that of the ten charged for the theft, smuggling and embezzlement of part of the Lydian Hoard/Croesus Treasure(1), all ten were convicted.

The operation went like this: Uşak Museum Director Kazım Akbıyıklıoğlu and Uğuz Sağlan, Mehmet Polat and Fuat Ergün arranged the artefacts' theft and, with Fehmi İşler, Ahmet Düzyer ve Suat Yenmez, arranged their sale; then Akbıyıklıoğlu took the original artefacts and put the fake objects (made by Uğuz Sağlan and Fuat Ergün) in their place; Mehmet Polat, Uğuz Sağlan, Fuat Ergün and Halil Eker took the original artefacts to Istanbul and Ahmet Düzyer, Fehmi İşler ve Suat Yenmez took them from there. Police officers Bülent Yücel and İsmail Bilgin were done for knowing about the crime but not reporting it (to, er, themselves...).

Tourism and Culture Minister Atilla Koç had said that the most valuable artefact, the hippocampus(2) brooch, 'is still in Turkey.... The buyers beat them up and sent them back to Uşak without paying them. It is obviously not a professional job. The buyers can't sell the brooch.' But market experts judged that 'the brooch appears to have been stolen on an "advance order" by a private collector', and Istanbul police chief Celahattin Cerrah stated that, 'many of the telephone conversations which took place between the suspects were recorded in Bulgaria'.

Telephone tapping evidence proved the artefacts were in Bulgaria. That is very intriguing. The Turkish deep state smuggles heroin along the Balkan Route, which passes through Bulgaria. Some of the deep state's smugglers traffic both heroin and antiquities, and it's very unlikely that the Turkish deep state dominates the heroin trade but not the antiquities trade. So, it's likely that this is a Turkish deep state operation.

After that theft, Uşak Governor Kayhan Kavas revealed that after 210 of the province's mosques' antique carpets and kilims were presented to Akbıyıklıoğlu, 71 went missing from the museum (although he said even later reports of the theft of 38 gold artifacts were incorrect). In another case, inspectors prosecuted two archaeologists when they found '146 unregistered artifacts and some molds used to duplicate valuable historical pieces at a laboratory in İzmir's Archeology Museum'. Koç observed that 'he would not be surprised if every one of them [state museums] reported missing pieces'.
Koç said the opportunities afforded previous ministers were limited by inadequate funding and their relatively short period of time in office since they were usually members of coalition governments. In addition they were forced to spend most of their time in bureaucratic battles within the government and in their own parties.... 'We have no right to say anything to a culture minister who has no such funding.'
According to Turkish journalist Özgen Acar, Güre and Uşak farmers dug up tombs at İkiztepe, near Uşak, in 1965 (and others dug up other sites between 1966 and 1970).(3) The collection was sold to Turkish smuggler Ali Bayırlar, who smuggled it out of the country and sold it to New York-based dealer John J. Klejman and Basel-based dealer George Zacos, who sold it to the Metropolitan Museum's Chair of Greek and Roman Art Dietrich von Bothmer.

Ironically, Kazım Akbıyıkoğlu (Akbıyıklıoğlu) gave the evidence that proved where the collection had been dug up from (its "provenience") that won its return to Uşak. Just last year, illicit antiquities trade investigator Sharon Waxman (2008) had lauded Akbıyıklıoğlu for having 'adopted the cause of stopping looting'.
  1. In Turkish, the Karun Treasure (Karun Hazinesi).
  2. A winged, fish-tailed horse, or seahorse.
  3. Curiously, international lawyer Jeanette Greenfield (2007: 420) followed the line that 'village treasure hunters' found the artefacts, then a dealer bought and sold them, but the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism said that it was 'smugglers who dug' the site.

Greenfield, J. 2007: The return of cultural treasures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Waxman, S. 2008: "Chasing the Lydian Hoard". Smithsonian Magazine, 14th November. Available at:

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous commented:

    [Name deleted] has the (Karun Hazinesi)seahorse....

    after serving nearly... years in prison, he was released. he then travelled to Bulgaria where the artifacts is, he then moved to Germany where he linked up with... smuglers [smugglers] and they tried to smauggle [smuggle]... but they were caught by the police in Turkey. [Name deleted] is currently under custody awaiting trial for... charges. HE KNOWS WHERE THE KARUN HAZINESI ( SEA HORSE ) IS. if the turkish polise are clever then they can negotiate his release without charges in exchange for the return of the stolen artifacts.

    Anonymous: thank you for this information. I had to delete the name, because you/I could be accused of libel; I also deleted the other information that might have identified him.

    Please e-mail me: I'm samarkeolog on gmail.