Coins and stones – bones of contention

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by Björn Schöpe

October 31, 2013 – The protection of cultural property is vital. But the measures Turkish officials are taking, when a tourist has ‘stolen’ ‘cultural property’ are alarming due to their disproportion. And we do not talk about isolated incidents.

This may be the reason, why the German Department of Foreign Affairs warns with regard to Turkey that purchasing, possessing or exporting cultural or natural properties will be punished severely and that people could face detention or high fines. And, additionally, they note that what is an antiquity is often interpreted in a rather broad sense. How broad this sense can be is testified by many articles.

Recently on CoinsBlog a numismatist told the story of his friends who found a couple of old coins on a Turkish beach. A coin dealer estimated them worth some dollars and so they did not consider the items to be of particular national value. And therefore they made the mistake to take them home. Or at least they tried because on the airport the customs officers found the coins and both were arrested under charge of smuggling. Their appointed lawyer did not speak English at all and recommended to plead guilty for a three-year sentence – thanks to the American embassy the story came to a good end. Even though ‘good’ means in that case that both were back home – virtually in light speed as the US authorities assured them – two weeks later …

A Swiss police commander was sentenced in Turkey for smuggling to one year and 15 days on parole. However, the Swiss Government decided that he could proceed his career regularly: He had taken into his luggage a small piece of marble identified by experts as part of a capital.

A father shared his cell with dangerous criminals because his nine year old son had carried away an allegedly ancient stone; a couple stated that they bought a piece of marble on a market. They took it for a modern copy while experts judged it to be actually ancient. The man had to remain in Turkey expecting his trial.

The persecution mania of Turkish customs is probably exemplified best when listening to the story of another author of these articles. He remembers that he bought once a modern facsimile of a text written in Arabic that Turkish police decided to seize at the customs because they judged it to be old. Police ignored even the copyright printed on this document and dated into the 1980s!

These stories are sad but for the time being there seems to be no other advice than: don’t touch anything in Turkey which one could only think to be ancient or historical (comprising fossils or other natural objects!). Amelioration is not in sight.

You can read the story of the American couple who wanted to carry away some nearly worthless coins in this article.

There are many reports in German-speaking media.
About the police commander reported the Tagesanzeiger.

The story with the facsimile happened to the author of this article.

For more articles on cultural property issues and in particular on Turkey’s role are available in our archive.