The news that nearly 2,000 works from the collections of the British Museum, one of the world's largest museums, was stolen by a senior museum employee resonated internationally and caused astonishment in the cultural world. The fact that the tehft was only discovered when some of the stolen works were put up for sale on the Internet at a very low price, and that the museum management ignored the notices received in previous years, turned astonishment into dismay. The museum director resigned and a new name was appointed, but it is still unknown what the stolen works were. We sent an Open Letter to the British Museum together with the Cultural Awareness Foundation and Tarih Vakfı (History Foundation), with which we share the aim of protecting cultural heritage, and conveyed our reaction and demands. We also started a signature campaign on change.org, which everyone who shares these reactions and demands can support. We share the full text of the Open Letter.
We are three non-governmental organizations in Türkiye, working to protect cultural and historical heritage and raise awareness among the public on these issues.
We are following with great concern the news and developments regarding the theft of objects from the British Museum, an institution in which many historical artifacts from our country are stored and/or exhibited.
We were appalled when it emerged that approximately 2,000 objects had been lost, almost certainly irretrievably, from the museum, and that this was only revealed when some of the stolen objects were put up for sale on the internet, and that no effective investigation was carried out.
We believe that the management of the British Museum should be entirely transparent in informing not only the citizens of the UK and the international archeology and museum community, but also any relevant institutions, the public and scientists in Türkiye of the details of this event and the course of the investigation.
It is the right and legitimate demand of Türkiye’s public to know whether there are artefacts among the stolen or lost that have originated from this country. Hence, we demand that a complete list of the stolen objects be openly disclosed, or at least shared with the relevant institutions.
We also request that artefacts from Türkiye in the British Museum’s inventory be reviewed and examined in terms of originality, and that the results be shared with the authorities. We believe such action would serve as a good starting point on the path towards restoring the trust lost by the theft.
It is inevitable that this event will add a new dimension to discussions on the return of historical artefacts to their countries of origin. In this context, it was extremely unfortunate that the Chairman of the UK Parliament’s All-Party British Museum Committee, Tim Loughton, described the re-voicing of extradition requests as ‘blatant opportunism’.
We expect and hope that the British Museum, under the direction of its new Director, Sir Mark Jones, will avoid such delusional statements, conduct this process in a rational, honest and transparent manner and in a constructive dialogue with the relevant authorities of the countries of origin.
Friends of Aşıklı Society Cultural Awareness Foundation History Foundation
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