Looted icons seized by Dutch Government return to Cyprus

Bloomberg – 19/9/13

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

“The  Netherlands should be congratulated for this,” said Tasoula Hadjitofi, founder of Walk of Truth.

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.

A 16th-century icon portraying St. Mark, one of a set of four images looted from a monastery in northern Cyprus after the Turkish invasion in 1974.

The Cypriot government says that as many as 100 Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches in northern Cyprus were looted or vandalised 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 US.

The four looted icons of the saints were purchased 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 be stolen.

The artifacts were discovered in the  Munich apartment of Aydin Dikmen, a Turkish-born art dealer, in 1997. Then valued at 30 million deutsche marks ($17 million), they included a mosaic hacked from the wall of the 6thcentury Kanakaria church and a fresco from the  Antiphonitis Church.