Postcard from... Istanbul


Jose Miguel Calatayud
Friday 01 February 2013 14:56

At its peak at the end of the 16th Century, the Ottoman Empire ruled over parts of North Africa, Asia and Europe, even reaching the outskirts of Vienna. Today's Turkey is much smaller but it has not forgotten its imperial past.

For years, Turkey's international prominence has been growing, fuelled by a booming economy and an increasing influence over the Middle East. This has been accompanied by a surge of nationalism and swelling desire to reclaim Turkey's historic past – literally.

Turkey has been demanding some of the most important museums in the world send back artefacts originating in what today is Turkey or in other territories of the Ottoman Empire. To achieve this, Turkish museums and authorities have refused to lend their possessions to international exhibitions until its own claims have been fulfilled. Ankara has even threatened to suspend foreign archaeologists' permits to work on Turkish sites.

The Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Pergamon in Berlin are among victims of these museum wars.

The most recent episode is due to begin this week when Turkish lawyers and activists, supported by the government, will file a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Their goal: getting back several sculptures originating in the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, now housed in the British Museum. The Mausoleum, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was built in today's Bodrum in southwest Turkey.

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