In these days of severely heightened tensions originating from Turkey’s repeated incursions into the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean in search of oil and gas, even the sending of warships to accompany drilling vessels there, it appears yet another threat looms on the horizon. However, this specter has to do with something quite different — the possible erasure of history by means of a newly-proposed Memorandum of Understanding, which some experts believe grants free rein to Turkey to pillage and loot the movable remnants of civilizations which once flourished in Turkey going as far back as 12,000 years.

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, a visiting Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution at the Fletcher School, a graduate school for international affairs at Tufts University in Boston, sees the potential signing of the new agreement as “preposterous, even outrageous,” considering Turkey’s history of looting, pillaging and selling artifacts from the Hellenic and Byzantine civilizations which once flourished within what now are its borders.

In October of 2019, the government of Turkey sent a request to the United States to sign a Memorandum, ostensibly for the “imposing of import restrictions to protect its cultural patrimony under Article 9 of the 1970 Convention,” according to the introduction to the document. However, cultural heritage experts and professionals, as well as social scientists and diplomacy experts such as Dr. Prodromou, believe this is simply a smokescreen for Turkey to continue its campaign to “destroy, appropriate and expropriate” any artifacts from all cultures which once flourished in what is now Turkey, including the Hellenic and Byzantine civilizations.

Prodromou explained that the cultural pillaging and looting which took place in occupied northern Cyprus after the Turkish invasion of 1974 reflects an ongoing pattern engaged in by Turkey regarding artifacts from any culture which preceded their own rule and will serve as a foretaste of what will happen after the possible signing of the MOU.

In a recent podcast with interviewers from the Hellenic American Leadership Council, the religion and geopolitics expert lamented that the Memorandum “would enable the Turkish state, unfortunately, to continue to do what they have done in the past; that is, to destroy, expropriate and appropriate — and that is why it is so concerning, because it will produce exactly the opposite outcome of such MOU’s, which are intended to protect cultural heritage.”

Speaking to Greek Reporter in an exclusive interview, the Tufts professor says that the United States “even considering” such an agreement is out of the question in light of how Turkey has disregarded all conventions and cultural norms as laid out by UNESCO and other global organizations.

Prodromou explains that there are four threshold conditions that must exist in order for the US to sign such an agreement — according to its own stipulations as established in its own cultural heritage laws, namely the 1983 Cultural Property Implementation Act — and that Turkey meets none of those four metrics.

“Turkey’s actions in occupied Cyprus should figure into the MOU discussions, because Turkey is considered an occupying power under international law and therefore, according to international law, Turkey must meet its obligations to safeguard and protect the cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, in occupied Cyprus.”

Prodromou notes that

 “...this is obvious to anyone who has seen the documented evidence or traveled to occupied Cyprus. And indeed Turkey has utilized the occupation of the northern part of Cyprus to destroy, pillage and loot the rich cultural and religious heritage of that part of the island. I think that’s an important statement in and of itself, but it also relates directly to the paradoxes of the preposterous notion that Turkey could satisfy the “four threshold” requirements that are foundational for this proposed MoU.”

The recent move requesting the MOU with the United States, she explains to Greek Reporter, comes under the umbrella of what is called “cultural diplomacy,” which often tends to be overlooked in international relations.

“Certainly if we think about Turkey now and its actions, not only in the Middle East and the entire Mediterranean but in terms of US/Turkey relations, I think we tend to focus on political and military affairs, or economic issues, and now, energy. I think cultural policy and cultural diplomacy are so important, and this proposed MoU really highlights that. I think it speaks to the fact that Turkey, like other states, understands that cultural diplomacy is part of their larger diplomatic tool box; and in the case of Turkey, this proposed MOU is completely consistent with the broader ambitions and behaviors of Turkey for geopolitical hegemony on three continents — with Turkey lying at the intersection of Europe, Asia and Africa.”

“It is very concerning that the MOU could be signed,” she emphasizes, “especially because the decision is not a transparent one. A committee of experts — the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, in the State Department — evaluates the proposal, and then renders a recommendation to the Assistant Secretary and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

“The Assistant Secretary takes the recommendation under advisement, but can render a different decision, so the lack of transparency is accompanied by a kind of procedural arbitrariness. That’s why, she says, it is “particularly important for people to contact their Congressional officials to voice their concerns over the possible signing of the MOU. At a time in the US when there is great sensitivity to and understanding of historical accuracy and inclusion, with recognition of the symbolic meaning and active impact of cultural sites as signs of human dignity and respect for diversity, one hopes that the US government would be equally attuned to respect for diversity and inclusion in our foreign policy decisions regarding cultural heritage. The proposed MOU would put the US on the wrong side of international law and would signal that America does not support the protection of cultural heritage as a form of present-day inclusion and diversity — and the historical remembrance of cultural and religious diversity.”

Read the full article here.