Antiquities can be a dirty business, especially so in recent years as countries like Italy and Greece target museums across the world in attempts to take possession of artifacts they believe were looted illegally from their soil.
The Cleveland Museum of Art was one of many museums that handed over millions of dollars worth of ancient artifacts back to those two countries in recent years after documentation surfaced proving that the items' path to the hallowed halls passed through dishonest hands. It's not that museums knowingly buy pieces that were stolen (well, most of the time), it's that the origin histories of the statues or vases can be murky or blatantly forged by dealers.
The battles to reclaim these artifacts are long and arduous. Museums aren't in the business of giving back pieces willy nilly when they've spent huge chunks of cash in acquiring them. And, as Scene detailed in a 2008 cover story about a fourth century B.C Praxiteles sculpture — the only one in existence — claims by "rightful" owners can be equally muddled.
Inspired by the success of its Mediterranean neighbors Italy and Greece, Turkey is taking a more aggressive stance toward its claims, many of which were first made decades ago.
"Turkey is not trying to start a fight," said Murat Suslu, Turkey's director general for cultural heritage and museums. "We are trying to develop ... cooperation and we hope these museums will also understand our point of view."
Turkey is presenting the museums with supporting evidence and has threatened to halt all loans of art to those institutions until they respond to the claims. Loans have already been denied to the Met, a Turkish official said.
Museums are notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to talks with countries demanding artifact returns, so don't expect any response from Cleveland.
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