Frescos, mosaics and icons looted from churches, museums and monasteries in Northern Cyprus and seized by police in Munich 16 years ago were today handed over to the Cypriot government.
The artifacts were discovered in the Munich apartment of Aydin Dikmen, a Turkish-born art dealer, in 1997. Then valued at 30 million deutsche marks ($17 million), they included a mosaic hacked from the wall of the 6th-century Kanakaria church and a fresco from the medieval Antiphonitis Church.
After years of legal wrangling, a Munich court determined in March that 173 of the seized artworks were removed at the time of the Turkish invasion in 1974. That decision paved the way for today’s ceremony in Munich, where Bavarian Justice Minister Beate Merk handed the art to consul Eleni Papanicolaou and representatives of the Cypriot Greek Orthodox Church.
“The artworks are no longer needed as evidence,” Merk said in an e-mailed statement. “Now they can return ‘home.’ Cultural treasures are of immense importance for every nation.”
Walk of Truth, an organization based in The Hague whose aim is to protect cultural heritage from war and crime, welcomed the repatriation.
“This is a big moment for all Cypriots who feel a bond to their cultural heritage and their island,” said the statement. The organization was founded by Tasoula Hadjitofi, formerly an Honorary Consul of Cyprus in the Netherlands.
Hadjitofi made it her task to repatriate lost artworks after a Dutch dealer tried to sell her stolen Cypriot artifacts, according to her website.
Dikmen was “trading illegally worldwide in Byzantine artworks,” according to a July 12 statement from the Bavarian Interior Ministry. Criminal proceedings against him were dropped because the statute of limitations had expired.
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