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The Aydin Dikmen case

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The plundered Cypriot treasures in Munich
The Aydin Dikmen case of illicit antiquities


The uncontrolled situation in the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus after 1974 has fos¬tered the development of a network of dealers in illicit antiquities whose aim was to sell out the cultural heritage of Cyprus. With the encouragement and help of the Turkish army, the trade in illicit antiquities has brought great profit to those involved, and Cypriot treasures already adorn private collections in a number of countries including Turkey, Russia, Switzerland, Holland and the UK, and even as far as the US, Australia and Japan. The best known dealer in illicit antiquities is the Turk Aydin Dikmen. He has associates and accomplices in both Turkey and the occupied north of Cyprus as well as in Europe and the US and his actions have implicated him in the worst and most widely known scandals involving the illicit trade of Cypriot treasures. With his headquarters in Munich, he channeled the booty taken from the occupied areas by way of Turkey, to the whole world. On of the biggest cases of illicit trading in antiquities involving Aydin Dikmen was the plundering of the wall paintings from the church of Agios Euphemianus in Lysi, and the 6th century wall mosaics from the Church of Panagia Kanakaria in Lythrangomi.
These cases led Interpol and the German Police on to the tracks of Aydin Dikmen. In October and November 1997 they raided apartments maintained by the Turkish dealer in illicit antiquities in Munich. The number of works of art they uncovered was astonishing: treasures were found from about fifty looted churches in Turkish-occupied Cyprus. These have been fully identified, although unfortunately not all could be totally matched owing to lack of evidence. Of the known works of art the ones that stand out most are the pieces of mosaics from Panagia Kanakaria, fragments of wall paintings from Panagia Apsidiotissa at Synchari – such as the head of St Ignatius – the frag¬ments of wall paintings from the church of Panagia Pergaminiotissa in Akanthou, which dates from the 12th century, the fragments of wall paintings from the 9th century church of Agia Solomoni and the fragments of wall paintings from the church of Antiphonitis (c. 1200 and late 15th century), as well as a large number of icons and old manuscripts.
Without a doubt, the raid by the German Police in Munich oc¬curred too late, since it is thought that a huge number of other treasures had already been channelled into the illegal art market. The records kept by the Turkish illicit dealer in antiquities have been lodged as exhibits at the Bavarian Court. The detailed way in which he kept his records is unprecedented: photographs and sketches prior to the theft of the mosaics and wall paintings, during their removal and after, as well as copies of the mosaics intended to be sold as originals in the illicit antiques trade. The false certificates he had made exclusively for the copies are sufficient proof of a well-organised crime.

Awaiting repatriation

When trying the case seven years later (2004), The German justice system ruled that the evidence provided by the Cyprus Republic did not suffice for all the items. But the Church of Cyprus could not possibly have photographed every single item – icons, mosaics, wall paintings, manuscripts and sacred vessels - one by one, from every single one of the churches that had been plundered by the illicit trad¬ers before 1974, in order to have evidence relating to every individual object. Although the court was convinced of the Cypriot origin of only 169 items, even those were not returned owing to the lack of evidence relating to the rest. Consequently, until the present day, all the stolen items remain in Munich, awaiting repatriation when the German authorities give their permission.