Turkey Would Like All of Its Art Back, Please

Hey, Metropolitan Museum of Art, you have something that belongs to Turkey. Eighteen somethings, in fact, according to the country's recent campaign to reclaim its antiquities.

Murat Suslu, Turkey's director-general of cultural heritage and museums, says that 18 items in the Met came from an illegal excavation and should be repatriated.

We know 100 percent that these objects at the Met are from Anatolia. We only want back what is rightfully ours.

To punish the museum for its apparent theft, Turkey will no longer be loaning pieces to its shows, including this year's "Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition" exhibit.

And it's not just the Met: Turkey's aggressive efforts have targeted several major museums that are fighting back against what Hermann Parzinger calls "polemics and nasty politics."

Parzinger is the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees the Pergamon in Berlin. Turkey is asking for the return of the Pergamon's famous Alexander Sarcophagus, but Parzinger says they have no legal claim to it.

In 1981, Turkey agreed to a Unesco convention that allows museums to acquire pieces outside of their countries before 1970. Now, however, Turkey is dusting off a 1906 law from the Ottoman Era that bans the export of artifacts. Turkey's cultural minister Ertugrul Gunay explains his country's perspective.

Artifacts, just like people, animals or plants, have souls and historical memories. When they are repatriated to their countries, the balance of nature will be restored.

The overall success of the campaign remains to be seen, but Turkey has already enjoyed some triumphs, including the return of a 3,000-year-old sphinx formerly housed at the Pergamon.

So if you happen to be holding on to some Turkish antiquities, now might be the time to hand those over.

[Image via Flickr/yasinturkoglu]