Wednesday, December 29, 2010

querying Tompa on Cypriot cultural protection

On his blog as a Cultural Property Observer, private antiquities collector and lawyer Peter Tompa commented upon Barford's blogging of my questioning whether "archaeologists accepted Greek Cypriot looting of Alaas, Cyprus". This is a querying of Tompa's use of my work in his activism against Cypriot cultural protection.

Tompa wrote that,
Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford has put up a story on his blog about wealthy Cypriot collectors getting their collections of antiquities looted from Northern Cyprus "legalized" by the Cypriot antiquities authority.
These particular Cypriot collectors were wealthy; but Tompa appears to insert the novel reference to their wealth (absent from my and Barford's blog posts) in order to contrast them to supposedly poor American collectors, unjustly disadvantaged by corrupt Cypriot governance (through its antiquities policy).
Subsequently, these same collectors purchased materials looted from a cemetary in the Greek controlled area of Cyprus and nothing was done....

This... exemplifies the corrupt nature of the Greek-Cypriot state where how the law is applied depends on who you are, and the connected few are allowed to collect as much looted material as they want.
It sounds like Tompa wants everyone to be allowed to collect as much looted material as they want. That impression is reinforced by Tompa's conclusion:
It is also worth noting that the archaeological community's unqualified support for import restrictions on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus only helps prop up such a corrupt system. Hopefully, the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and CPAC [U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee] will take notice when the current Cypriot MOU [Memorandum of Understanding, a U.S.-Cypriot Cultural Property Agreement to prevent U.S. import of unlicensed Cypriot antiquities)] comes up for renewal.
I queried Tompa's argument:
I disagree with the Cypriot antiquities department's secret agreement with private collectors between 1963 and 1973; however, it was a policy born of desperation.

The archaeologists desperately wanted to prevent the loss of their illicitly-excavated cultural heritage to international private collectors who did not care that they were buying stolen property, and thereby funding ultra-nationalist paramilitaries who terrorised and slaughtered civilians.

Why would an honourable collector/lawyer take advantage of whatever corruption there may be, and (misguided) efforts to combat political violence-funding cultural destruction, in order to lobby for the weakening of Cypriot cultural heritage protection?

The reason the policy was wrong was that the state and its trusted allies merely replaced the international art collectors as the ultimate funders of the looting and violence.
Tompa replied:
Thank you for your comment. Cyprus is entitled to promulgate any cultural property laws it deems appropriate. But those laws should be applied consistently and the fact there is one law for the wealthy collector another for everyone else should weigh heavily against US Customs and the US State Department helping Cyprus to enforce those laws outside its own jursidiction.
Again, Tompa tries to create an association between Cypriot collectors, wealth and corruption, and an opposition between those corrupt, wealthy Cypriot collectors and the law-abiding, poor(!?) American collectors.

More bizarrely, Tompa again uses whatever corruption, poorly-planned policy and embarrassed inactivity there may be in Cyprus, not to condemn poor policy or embarrassed inactivity, but to complain that American law might interfere with American collectors' attempts to take advantage of Cypriot antiquities policy in order to acquire looted antiquities from Cyprus.

Tompa's blog has been reproduced on the Museum Security Network mailing list. Any subsequent discussion on the mailing list can be followed either on the Museum Security Network's own website, or in its Google Group.


  1. You are incorrect to claim that opposition to import restrictions at the behest of the corrupt Cypriot state and its allies in the archaeological establishment equates to support for looting. Read my blog for context.

  2. I do not believe I said you supported looting. I believe I said you wanted American collectors to have the same access to looted antiquities as Cypriot collectors.

    If you object to the fact that 'the connected few are allowed to collect as much looted material as they want', do you object to anyone collecting looted material, in which case you would surely support American import restrictions, as well as Cypriot acquisition restrictions?

    Otherwise, does your objection have nothing whatsoever to do with Cypriot collecters' purchases underwriting looting? Instead, do you object to the fact that you were not able to buy looted Cypriot antiquities?