Thursday, April 15, 2010

Archaeology, conflict, antiquities rescue

I'm still working on answering Kufi Seydali's and Ata Atun's misrepresentations of my work; so for now, I'm posting the final draft of my talk about Cypriot Antiquities Rescue from the Turkish Deep State: the Rescue of Forgeries, and the Death of Stephanos Stephanou, to the International Conference on Archaeology in Conflict (Hardy, 2010).(1)


Looting of Cypriot cultural heritage has been a problem since the Nineteenth Century, but a paramilitary-controlled illicit antiquities trade exploded during the intercommunal conflict of 1963-1974; and after the Greek-backed coup and the Turkish invasion of 1974, the worst extremes continued in northern Cyprus.

Looted antiquities' "rescue" has long been one "solution", which has included not only a secret agreement between Greek Cypriot archaeologists and Greek Cypriot private collectors, but also apparently illegal Greek Cypriot undercover antiquities police purchasing from Turkish Cypriot and Turkish nationalist terrorist groups.

Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot administrations' mutual non-cooperation has not only had tragic consequences for Cypriot cultural heritage. Here, I wish to explore Greek Cypriot undercover antiquities police agent Stephanos Stephanou's arrest by Turkish Cypriot antiquities police, and his death in Turkish Cypriot custody.


Arrested during a Turkish Cypriot police raid on Turkish Cypriot antiquities smugglers on the 18th of October 2007, sixty-four-year-old Greek Cypriot Stephanos Stephanou had been detained without charge for two weeks when he had a fatal heart attack on the 1st of November (Christou, 2007c).

This tragic case appears to involve: theft, illicit trading and smuggling of antiquities; illegal undercover antiquities police work; deep state criminal activity; possible police brutality; and a cover-up by Church and State.

But to make this case understandable, I first have to spend a couple of minutes describing the development of the trade during the Cyprus Conflict.

Historical background

There is a long history of antiquities looting and rescue in Cyprus (e.g. c.f. Goring, 1988: 20; Markides, 1914: 3-4; Merrillees, 2005: 205-207). Nevertheless, by the start of the troubles in 1955, the British colonial Department of Antiquities had the illicit trade under control (Megaw, 1955: 4).

After independence, when intercommunal conflict – and with it antiquities looting – exploded in 1963, the Greek Cypriot-run antiquities department believed it would regain control (c.f. Karageorghis, 1963: 5); but it could not.

There was a Hellenist para-state still struggling for enosis (union with Greece), involving Greek Cypriot leaders, their private armies (most notably Akritas) and the police, as well as the underground Sacred Bond of Greek Officers (IDEA) (2), the Greek Central Intelligence Service (KYP) (3) and the Greek Corps of Cyprus (ELDYK) (4) (Drousiotis, 2005; 2006).

And there was a Turkist deep state still struggling for taksim (partition of the island), involving Turkish Cypriot leaders and their paramilitary TMT (5), which was part of the underground Turkish Special Warfare Department (ÖHD) (6) (Hiçyılmaz, 2001a; 2001b).

When the Hellenist para-state and the Turkist deep state fought, 'nearly half' of the Turkish Cypriot community was 'crammed in[to enclaves] Gaza-Strip fashion.... Many... in... ghettoes... dependent on mainland Turkish aid as their only means of economic survival' (Panayiotopoulos, 1995: 23; see also Attalides, 1979: 90).

Trapped by the Turkish Cypriot paramilitaries inside the enclaves, and the Greek Cypriot paramilitaries outside, antiquities looting became a way of surviving for the enclaved Turkish Cypriot community; but antiquities smuggling and dealing became a source of funding for the Turkist deep state (e.g. c.f. Aydın Dikmen and "Tremeşeli" Mehmet Ali İlkman) (7).

Yet looted antiquities were primarily collected by Greek Cypriots (Karageorghis, 2007: 102).

Moreover, the Greek Cypriot collectors included not only private collectors, with whom the Department of Antiquities had a 'silent accord' (Karageorghis, 1999: 17), but also the Department of Antiquities itself, whose Director Vassos Karageorghis (2007: 103) for years used a UNESCO vehicle to enter the Turkish Cypriot enclaves and buy 'illegal antiquities' with government money.

In 1974, a CIA-backed Greek Junta held a coup against the Greek Cypriot administration with the help of Greek Cypriot enosist paramilitary EOKA-B (8) (O'Malley and Craig, 1999: 152-155).

Then the simultaneously CIA-supported Turkish Special Warfare Department directed the Turkish Army's invasion and occupation of northern Cyprus with the help of Turkish Cypriot taksimist paramilitary TMT (Çelik, 1994).

The Greek Cypriot coup regime and the Greek Junta both collapsed; but the Turkish Army stayed and the Turkist deep state survived (Akıncı and Düzel, 2007; Irkad, 2000; Kanlı, 2007a; 2007b).

Equally, the structure of the illicit antiquities trade continued, with Turkish and Turkish Cypriot organised criminal looting in northern Cyprus and public and private Greek Cypriot collecting in southern Cyprus (Herscher, 2001: 148; Karageorghis, 1990: 6; 1998: 15; 2000: 217; Van der Werff, 1989: 11).

At the same time, there has been clandestine Greek Cypriot "rescue" of cultural heritage "lost" in northern Cyprus; [SLIDE: Stephanos Stephanou (© Source, 2009)] Stephis Stephanou was one of the rescuers.

Detention and death

Turkish Cypriot police must notify detained suspects' families 'at the earliest possible time' (CATRNC, 1985: Ch. 2, Art. 16, Para. 4); but they did not notify Stephanou's relatives, and he was only allowed to contact his family on the 22nd of October, four days after his arrest.

As antiquities smuggling is a serious crime, Turkish Cypriot police were legally able to detain Stephanos Stephanou without charge.(9)

Yet the (Turkish Cypriot) Star Kıbrıs (2007a) newspaper and Bayrak Radio and Television Corporation (BRTK, 2007) (10) reported that they charged three Turkish Cypriots with antiquities smuggling, then held them for three days.

And the Star Kıbrıs (2007b) later reported that, on the 20th of October, they also charged two others, then held them for three days.

Nevertheless, all the charged Turkish Cypriot smugglers were released afterwards; only Stephanou remained.

The family contacted then Greek Cypriot Communist Party (AKEL) leader Demetris Christofias, who personally guaranteed left-wing Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat that Stephanos Stephanou would return to northern Cyprus for his trial, but Christofias could not win Stephanou's release.

The family asked Stephanou's DIKO Party comrade, then Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos, for help. Apparently, he then put his aide, peace envoy Tasos Tzonis on the case, but nothing happened.

When the family went to the Greek Cypriot police, they found out that the Cyprus Police had known and contacted the United Nations Force In Cyprus (UNFICYP) about Stephanou's detention on the 18th of October (Christou, 2007d).

Thus, it is inconceivable that the Greek Cypriot leadership did not also already know about the former politician and former consul’s detention when the family asked for its help.

If the Greek Cypriot government or police did try to secure Stephanou's release, it did it very quietly, and equally unsuccessfully. As a member of his family commented, '[e]veryone knew and they did nothing, but they'll say they tried' (Christou, 2008).


Heart disease sufferer Stephanou had to be taken to hospital at least twice during his detention, and he may have been taken for treatment for violent injuries.

The last time his family saw him conscious, Stephanou had told them that 'his entire left side was severely bruised and he could neither walk nor breathe in comfort.... [H]e was in great pain' (Christou, 2007d).

His daughter, Katerina Liasis, relayed that Stephanou had said that 'he had been "beaten heavily and interrogated"' (Brennan, 2008).(11)

After he slipped into a coma, the family tried to get him to a specialist in southern Cyprus, but the Turkish Cypriot police first refused, then agreed but, 'as soon as the okay was given', the Turkish Cypriot Ministry of the Interior told the family that Stephanou had died (Christou, 2007d).


After the initial police raid, both communities' media had reported that a Greek Cypriot had been arrested, but not whom or why (Christou, 2007a); and according to Cyprus Mail journalist Jean Christou, even that had not been widely reported in Greek Cypriot media.

Christou (2007c) noted that there had been 'no comment from the [Greek Cypriot] government, a silence that has surprised observers given that... a Greek Cypriot died in Turkish Cypriot custody.... [H]is detention received no attention or condemnation in the government-controlled areas'.

Christou (2007d) believed that Greek Cypriot officialdom had been 'strangely quiet'. Neither the government nor the police even told the family about the official inquest (Christou, 2008); they found out by accident.

Illicit antiquities trade, illicit antiquities police work

Greek Cypriot media had claimed that Stephanou was an antiquities expert (Christou, 2007d), 'retrieving icons and other artefacts looted' in northern Cyprus (Christou, 2007b).

(Greek Cypriot) Antenna TV reported that a former police officer, who had recruited Stephanou 'to help return stolen Greek Cypriot artefacts to the Church', said that he 'was working under cover for the state' (cited by Christou, 2007c).

Christou (2008) judged that '[a]ll of the evidence' suggested Stephanou was recovering antiquities 'on behalf of the Church and state'. His daughter said that 'the church had sent him' to meet 'his contact [who] was the son of a Turkish general' (ibid.).

Both the public information and my personal sources suggest that the Greek Cypriot state was recovering antiquities from the Turkish deep state.

His daughter believed Stephanou was caught in a Turkish/Turkish Cypriot criminal counter-sting operation against the Greek Cypriot police sting operation.

It seems like the Turkish Cypriot police arrested all of them in good faith, but the Turkish deep state used its power to free the Turkish Cypriots, while the Greek Cypriot administration did not use its knowledge to try to free Stephanou.

That fact, that Greek Cypriot undercover antiquities police were caught in Turkish Cypriot police raids on antiquities smugglers, challenges former Greek Cypriot antiquities director Karageorghis's (2000: 217) claim that the Greek Cypriot administration must 'salvage' artefacts.

And [it] undermines his colleague Maria Anagnostopoulou's (2000: 37) assertion that 'an official state, Turkey, plunders... Cyprus' (see also Leventis, 2000: 146).

The plunderers are Turkish and Turkish Cypriot nationalist gangs, which form a Turkist deep state, which operates outside and beyond Turkish state control.

Illegal undercover antiquities police work

This has not been discussed at all in the media coverage of the Stephanou case. It is possible that they are simply unaware; and it is possible that Stephanos Stephanou was unaware; but it is impossible that the state was ignorant of the fact: in Cyprus, undercover antiquities police work was, and is, illegal.

In 2008, the police had specifically requested the legalisation of undercover police work on '[i]llegal trading in cultural goods, including antiquities and artefacts' (cited by Theodoulou, 2008). But it was 'unanimously rejected by Parliament' (Theodoulou, 2008).

If the state was using Stephanou for undercover police work, it was breaking its own law. Embarrassment and fear of prosecution would be powerful incentives for Church and State to deny, or to avoid confirming, their involvement in the matter. And I have had independent confirmation that Stephanou was indeed conducting undercover police work.

The Syriac Bible

When I first read that Stephanou had been trying to recover an early Bible (Christou, 2008), I assumed it was just one of the many Hellenic and Byzantine artefacts looted from northern Cyprus (Christou, 2007a; 2007b).

But after I blogged about the Turkish Cypriot police's recovery of a Syriac Bible (c.f. Hardy, 2009a), I was contacted by a very well-placed Greek Cypriot source.(12)

Over several exchanges, the well-placed Greek Cypriot told me that
That bible was what lured... Stephanos Stephanou into the north after he had worked with police to catch a gang of TC [Turkish Cypriot] smugglers by posing as a buyer in the south. He was tricked.
The well-placed Greek Cypriot detailed that [SLIDE: criminal counter-sting],
The [Greek Cypriot] CID [Criminal Investigations Department] had him posing as a businessman interested in antiquities. The team of smugglers that got arrested 3 years ago by the police rea[l]ised that [Stephanou] was behind the setup and 2 years later they placed another call to him telling him about an ancient bible.
But as I will show in a moment, it was not that Bible.

'[T]he CID' had warned Stephanou and his partner 'not to cross again because they "would be killed"' (Christou, 2008). Yet, convincingly, daughter Katerina Liasis observed that '[h]e might have thought he would be protected from our side, if they were sending him. He must have felt safe' (cited by Christou, 2008).

And the well-placed Greek Cypriot told me that Stephanou 'called the CID t[o] inform them that he'[d] got another project and they told him that he'[d] need to go alone to determine whether all this [wa]s for real'. So, they had sent him, and he should have been safe.

Moreover, it was probably not for real; Stephanou probably died trying to save a fake. According to Aramaic and Syriac scholars and translators, there are 'a large number of fake Syriac manuscripts' (Taylor, 2009), a 'consistent pattern of forgeries' (Caruso, 2009), from Turkey.

There are a couple of photographs of the supposedly ancient Syriac Bible found in Cyprus (see China Daily, 2009; Ktisti and Bahceli, 2009) [SLIDES: "Syriac Bible" 1 (© Ktisti and Bahceli, 2009); "Syriac Bible" 2 (© China Daily, 2009)], which was dismissed at least as a post-medieval reproduction (e.g. Caruso, 2009), if not a modern copy (e.g. Hunter, 2009), or an outright forgery (e.g. Taylor, 2009).

And it was a far better work than the Bible offered to Stephanou [SLIDE: "Stephanou's Bible" (© Source, 2009)].

I have not had physical access to Stephanou's Bible, and I have not heard of any scientific analysis of his Bible; but from the photographs [SLIDE: "Syriac", and Stephanou's (1)], it looks like gold marker pen writing on black sugar paper [SLIDE: "Syriac", and Stephanou's (2)].

If it was a modern forgery, and if Stephanos Stephanou was caught in a Turkish deep state counter-sting, it's possible that the fake Bible was made specifically for the counter-sting.

Regardless, this story exposes the consequences of stolen and looted Cypriot antiquities' rescue: apart from the individual tragedy of Stephanou's death, the money goes to, and thus partially funds the activities of, the Turkish deep state.

[A]mongst many things in many countries, [these activities] include the murder of Greek Cypriot police agent Stephanou when he tried to rescue looted antiquities, and the assassination of Turkish Cypriot dissident journalist Kutlu Adalı when he exposed Turkish Cypriot paramilitary looting (c.f. Irkad, 2000) [SLIDE: Stephanos Stephanou (© Source, 2009); Kutlu Adalı (© Özalp, 2005)].

Perversely, the Greek Cypriot state's purchasing of looted antiquities from northern Cyprus is incidentally funding both the Turkish deep state's continued looting, and its repression of Turkish Cypriot resistance.
  1. This paper was developed from a research blog post on the Death and Denial: Stephanos Stephanou and the Syriac Bible (Hardy, 2009b).
  2. Ieros Desmos Ellinon Axiomatikon (Ιερός Δεσμός Ελλήνων Αξιωματικών (ΙΔΕΑ)).
  3. Kentriki Ypiresia Pliroforion (Κεντρική Υπηρεσία Πληροφοριών (ΚΥΠ)).
  4. Elliniki Dynami Kyprou (Ελληνική Δύναμη Κύπρου (ΕΛΔΥΚ)).
  5. Türk Mukavemet Teşkilatı (Turkish Resistance Organisation).
  6. Özel Harp Dairesi (ÖHD); developed from the Tactical Mobilisation Group (Seferberlik Taktik Kurulu (STK)) in 1965 (Çelik, 1994).
  7. The greatest smuggler of Cypriot antiquities, Turkish Aydın Dikmen, was also a smuggler of heroin (Jansen, 2005: 21), a trade used by deep state elements within the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (Millî İstihbarat Teşkilâtı (MİT)) to fund Turkish nationalist paramilitary activity (Nezan 1998: 13).

    Dikmen's Turkish Cypriot dealer and smuggler, "Tremeşeli" Mehmet Ali İlkman, was first a TMT fighter and then a MİT officer (Jansen 2005: 20; 23; see also Aşkın 2006).

    It is reasonable to assume that the Turkish antiquities trade was and is also largely controlled by the same deep state elements within MİT. Thus, there was and still is a dual heroin-and-antiquities trade in Cyprus, controlled by the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot deep state(s).
  8. Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston B (Εθνική Οργάνωσις Κυπρίων Αγωνιστών Β (ΕΟΚΑ-B)).
  9. A Turkish Cypriot judge would have had to approve Stephanou's detention three times in those fourteen days: once by the second day; once by the fifth – after his first visit to hospital; and once by the thirteenth – the day before he died.

    Continued detention must be approved by a judge 'not later than twenty-four hours after [the suspect's] arrest', and 'not later than three days from such [approval]', the suspect must be released or remanded in custody (awaiting trial), when '[t]he judge may remand him in custody for a period not exceeding eight days at any one time' (CATRNC, 1985: Chapter 2, Article 16).

    That could have continued for three months, though that would have been truly exceptional (USBDHRL, 2008); even 'Turkish criminal law only permits 7.5 days' detention before charge' (Liberty, 2007: 5). Already, Stephanou's 14 days' detention had been nearly twice that.
  10. Bayrak Radyo ve Televizyon Kurumu.
  11. Turkish Cypriot media claimed that Stephanou had had cancer, and Turkish Cypriot police claimed that he had caught pneumonia and died of septicaemia, but the (multiple) post-mortems disproved these claims (Christou, 2007d).
  12. I have independently confirmed his access to this information.

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[I have broken up longer paragraphs to make them easier to read in a blog post.]





  4. Bozoğluna Büyük İftira