After Turkish Twist, British Museum Wants Parthenon Marbles Solution

Caught off-guard by Turkey’s statement that permission was never granted to Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin to remove marbles from the Parthenon, the British Museum announced its intention to seek a “realistic solution” with Greece regarding the stolen treasures.

No specific details were provided, nor was it indicated whether the museum would go beyond its earlier offer to loan Greece the marbles on a rotating basis in exchange for receiving valuable artifacts, essentially holding them hostage until their return.

During a meeting of the United Nations cultural arm, Turkey’s spokesperson reiterated the denial that Elgin had obtained permission from the ruling Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century to remove the marbles.

“We are not aware of any document legitimizing this purchase,” said Zeynep Boz, head of the Turkish Culture Ministry’s department for combating trafficking in antiquities, addressing UNESCO’s committee overseeing restitution cases.

This undermined the museum’s longstanding argument that the marbles were legally acquired through purchase from Elgin when he faced financial difficulties during a troubled divorce two centuries ago.

Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni promptly responded, stating, “There was never any Ottoman firman that allowed Elgin to treat the Parthenon Sculptures with the barbarity with which he treated them,” echoing Boz’s remarks.

She also emphasized Greece’s openness to dialogue and reiterated the country’s steadfast commitment to reuniting the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens at the Acropolis Museum.

However, Mendoni’s use of the term “reunification” did not clarify whether Greece would consider an alternative agreement apart from the outright return of the marbles, with the museum’s stipulation that the loan would require Greece to relinquish its ownership claims.

While Greece has previously argued that the only existing documentation of a firman is an Italian translation held by the museum, it has temporarily set aside any legal challenges in favor of diplomatic efforts that have so far proved unsuccessful.

The British newspaper The Telegraph highlighted these developments, noting a potential dilemma for the British Museum as many of its previous arguments have been debunked, including the claim that Greece lacked a suitable museum for the marbles.

This argument became moot when Greece inaugurated the new Acropolis Museum in 2009, prompting the British Museum to pivot to other reasons for withholding the stolen treasures, such as constraints imposed by British law.

Despite the legal impasse, the British Museum acknowledges Greece’s strong desire for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Athens and expresses willingness to collaborate to enhance global understanding and appreciation of the sculptures, adopting a diplomatic tone in its statement to Greece’s SKAI TV.


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