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Icons Taken From Cyprus In 1975 To Be Returned

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  • Icons Taken From Cyprus In 1975 To Be Returned


    The Toronto Star, Canada
    September 18, 2013 Wednesday

    Valued at $200,000, the 16th-century paintings portray the four

    The Dutch government seized four icons looted from a monastery in
    northern Cyprus and will hand them to Cypriot authorities Wednesday,
    according to Walk of Truth, an organization that campaigns to preserve
    cultural heritage.

    The 16th-century icons portraying the four apostles, valued at about
    $200,000, were taken from the medieval Antiphonitis monastery in 1975.

    Legal efforts by the Church of Cyprus to recover the icons failed
    in 2002 after seven years. A change in Dutch law in 2007 allowed the
    government to seize the artworks, said Tasoula Hadjitofi, the founder
    of Walk of Truth.

    "We have heard that the icons will be delivered to Cypriot authorities
    within 48 hours," Hadjitofi told delegates at a Sept. 16 conference
    in the Hague. "The Netherlands should be congratulated for this."

    The Cypriot government says that as many as 100 Greek Orthodox and
    Armenian churches in northern Cyprus were looted or vandalized after
    the 1974 Turkish invasion. It estimates that more than 15,000 icons
    are missing. Some objects have been recovered in western Europe and
    the United States.

    The four looted icons of the saints were bought by an elderly Dutch
    couple from an Armenian dealer who visited their Rotterdam home. When
    the couple tried to auction the icons in the 1990s, employees of
    Christie's International warned that they may have been stolen.

    Litigation to recover them began in 1995.

    A district court ruled that the Dutch purchaser bought the icons in
    good faith and was therefore the rightful owner.

    The Court of Appeals found that the claim was time-barred under
    statutes of limitations in 2002, according to Rob Polak, the
    Amsterdam-based lawyer who represented the Church of Cyprus in the
    legal process.

    Questions about the ruling were raised in the Dutch parliament, and
    in 2007, the Cultural Property Originating From Occupied Territory
    Act was passed.

    The law bans the import and ownership of cultural property originating
    from a territory that was occupied in an armed conflict after 1959,
    and allows the Minister of Education, Culture and Science to seize any
    such property. In cases where the owner is deemed to be a good-faith
    buyer, he may receive compensation from the Dutch state.