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Politics

Turkey Denies Allowing Lord Elgin Take Parthenon Marbles Off Acropolis

ANKARA – Turkey’s spokesperson at a meeting of the United Nations cultural arm again hearing the case of the stolen Parthenon Marbles denied that the Scottish diplomat who took them, Lord Elgin, had permission from the then-ruling Ottoman Empire.

“We are not aware of any document legitimizing this purchase,” Zeynep Boz, who heads the Turkish Culture Ministry’s department for combating trafficking in antiquities, told UNESCO’s committee which oversees restitution cases.

Elgin said he had obtained permission in a firman, a decree, to take the marbles early in the 19th Century that stated it included being allowed  “to take away any pieces of stone with old inscriptions or figures thereon.”

The document, translated into Italian by the British Embassy in Constantinople at the time, is now in the hands of the British Museum, which uses it to claim ownership of the marbles purchased from Elgin when he got into financial trouble.

But no official copy of it has yet been found in the Turkish government archives from the imperial era and debate continues to this day over the legal status of the document, Greece insisting the marbles were stolen and Turkey had no right in any case to give away property it didn’t own.

The UNESCO committee for 40 years had been hearing essentially the same arguments between Greece and the museum but Boz’s comments could undermine the British claim of having legally obtained the treasures stolen from 1801-12.

Boz blamed the British and said that the marbles were taken by “UK Colonialists,” and said that, “I don’t think there’s room to discuss its legality, even during the time and under the law of the time,” reported Kathimerini.

“We wholeheartedly look forward to celebrating the return of the Sculptures, as we believe it will mark a change of behavior towards the protection of cultural property and be the strongest message given globally,” Boz added.

Turkey took part in the meeting as an observer and Artemis Papathanasiou, head of the Greek Foreign Ministry Department for International Law, said that he had “raised an important question.”

Greece had challenged the legality of the firm that the British Museum waves every time its claim is questioned, with Greece being offered only a loan of the treasures in return for sending other artifacts to be held hostage in the meantime.

“It is just a simple document,” said the director of the Acropolis Museum, Nikolaos Stampolidis, who was part of the Greek delegation in Paris where the meeting was held, the committee again telling both sides to figure something out.

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