CHICAGO – A noted Greek-American history lecturer who now heads the Chicago-based Heritage Management Organisation has added his voice to pushing the British Museum to return the stolen Parthenon Marbles to Greece.
Evangelos Kyriakidis, also a former senior lecturer in Aegean Prehistory at the University of Kent said the cause needs to get past legal arguments, the museum claiming it rightfully obtained the artifacts from Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin, who tore them off the Parthenon 200 years earlier.
Elgin said he had the permission of the then-ruling Ottoman Empire, which didn’t own them, the museum refusing to let go of that argument and Greece relying on diplomacy that has failed and not suing for their return.
“The British Museum says there is no legal argument, and I don’t think that is true. But I don’t want to go into the legal argument, as I think the moral argument is much stronger,” he said, reported EuroNews.
International attention has been focused on the fight for the return of the priceless treasures in the aftermath of Greek Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis, while in London, telling the BBC they should come home.
That – and Mitsotakis’ comparing the cause to the “Mona Lisa being cut in half” – angered British Premier Rishi Sunak who then refused to meet Mitsotakis although they are both from Conservative political parties.
The museum’s Chairman George Osborne has offered Greece only a loan on condition of giving up ownership – which was rejected – and has repeated that offer with no answer.
Kyriakides said the Marbles are a passion project for Greeks as a national symbol from one of the greatest – arguably THE greatest – architectural monument in world history, built 2500 years ago without computers or slide rules.
“It’s sovereignty. Having a Greek national symbol in a museum called the British Museum is totally wrong. It’s like if the Crown Jewels were in Greece,” said Kyriakidis in comparing valuable artifacts of the countries.
“The British Museum portrays itself as a global museum, but that gives the complete wrong message to the world. Why would you call it a British museum where you learn mainly about Persia or Greece, but there is barely any room for British antiquities in it. It’s a remnant of a Colonial era,” he added.
The museum has long argued it’s keeping treasures stolen from other countries or former colonies because it was the best institution for display and there weren’t any comparable in the countries from which the artifacts were taken.
“It’s true that some countries do not have a good museum yet to hold their antiquities. They may do in the future, but they don’t at the moment. But Greece does. Greece has a purpose-built museum,” which opened in 2009.
The British Museum also is said to be anxious that if the Marbles are sent back that other countries will want theirs returned too, and he noted that Greek isn’t demanding the return of other stolen treasures.
“The British Museum actually includes the sculptural elements of another World Heritage site from Greece. The Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassai is a temple by the same architect as the Parthenon and its sculptural works are in the British Museum,” Kyriakidis said.
He also said the British Museum could benefit by having relationships with other countries and could create more temporary exhibitions that would drive up visitors there
The room that the Parthenon marbles are held in was one the British Museum was initially built around. “How about we use that as an exhibition space for temporary displays of antiquities Greece can send Britain?” Kyriakidis asked. “Then the British Museum could show even more of Greek culture without keeping antiquities hostage,” he said, Osborne’s loan offer also conditional on Greece sending the museum other artifacts to put on display.
“It could also be exploited for public diplomacy as a fantastic gesture to the Greek people,” Kyriakidis said, noting that the majority of Brits are also in favor of returning the marbles, some 80 percent in surveys.
“We all know the British Museum gets funding from the British government. That funding comes with strings attached,” Kyriakidis said, the museum and government going back and forth over who has jurisdiction over the Marbles.
“So, yes the British Museum is ultimately independent. But as long as the Museum accepts the funding of the government, then the museum will have to take the government’s decisions into account,” he said.
“There are committees for the return of the marbles in 25 countries. The government of Australia asked Britain to return the Parthenon Marbles back to Greece. Politicians from the US have done so too,” he said.
“This is not just about Greece and Britain,” Kyriakidis said. “It would be a huge positive gesture to the rest of the world,” the museum’s officials long resisting any notion of returning the Marbles and saying they are British now, not Greek.