Gambling debts paid off by museum plundering

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by Björn Schöpe

December 13, 2012 – The good notice first: A Lydian gold brooch shaped as hippocampus, a winged sea creature of ancient mythology, is to be repatriated to Turkey. In 1965 it was sold abroad after being dug out illegally. The piece is part of a tomb found in western Turkey that is to be connected to the Lydian kings, maybe even the proverbially wealthy Croesus. In the beginning of the 1980s the precious object eventually arrived at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and in 1993 it was returned to Turkey. This legal success, though, reportedly cost Turkey some 30 million Euros. Instrumental in this operation was the director of the Usak museum where parts of the Lydian hoard are stored.

Proudly the museum exhibited its new showpiece until, in 2006, it was unveiled to be a fake. The director of the museum, Kazim Akbiyikoglu, confessed that he sold objects out of the museum, among them the Lydian brooch, in order to get his gambling debts paid off. In 2009 he was condemned and jailed for 13 years. Reportedly all those involved in stealing and selling the hoard befell heavy misfortune or violent death. Around the hoard and the brooch, thus, a popular belief came into life similar to the Curse of the pharaohs.

Although the circumstances are still unclear, recently the genuine gold brooch appeared in Germany. Authorities reassured the object was going to be restituted to Turkey soon. In Turkey many people believe this success is due to the country’s firm attitude to foreign museums. Since years Turkey is demanding objects to be returned if they were found on Turkish soil, even if they had been exported legally long time ago, threatening severe consequences. If it was really this behaviour that led to the recovery of the Lydian object remains doubtful.

Now, the Usak museum being in the public eye, another problem becomes evident again. Many museums struggle with shortage of space. The Usak museum stores more than 40,000 objects of which it is only able to show some 5 per cent to the visitors. Currently a bigger museum is being built to ensure that the whole Lydian Treasure (also known as Karun Treasure), composed of 450 objects, may be showcased adequately. Let’s hope that the objects will be protected decently too, and that authorities do not count exclusively on the dissuasive power of the curse.

You can read an article on this story here.

Last year a report compiled on behalf of the UNESCO revealed that most museums are not able to store, protect or exhibit appropriately the objects in their custody. You can read a summary here.

Maybe saving measures have aggravated the security situation in Olympia, too. This may have led to the robbery in February 2012 on which we reported here.

Fortunately the objects stolen in Olympia were discovered again nine months later as we reported here.