Looting in Cyprus and Michel van Rijn

(selection of newspaper and magazine articles)

 

http://www-mcdonald.arch.cam.ac.uk/IARC/cwoc/issue3/Mosaics.htm

 

Issue 3, Autumn 1998

Cyprus mosaics

Peter Watson

McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
Downing Street
Cambridge
CB2 3ER


It now looks as though Michel van Rijn will not give evidence in the case of Aydin Dikmen.  Van Rijn was the Dutch art dealer who masterminded the 'sting' in October 1997 which led to the arrest of Dikmen, a Turkish dealer living in Munich, and the recovery of several frescoes, mosaics and icons looted from churches in Cyprus after the invasion of the Turks in 1974.  Van Rijn is currently living under police protection at an undisclosed address in London, and has reportedly received death threats from unspecified sources, but he has settled his differences with the Republic of Cyprus and the Autocephalous Church of Cyprus over the fee he had charged for his part of the recovery.

For obvious reasons van Rijn is not anxious to give evidence against the Turk who, if convicted, faces up to fifteen years in prison.  However, van Rijn has made available to the Cypriot authorities (who are seeking the extradition of Dikmen to Cyprus, where he will face additional charges) a fake mosaic of St Andreas which van Rijn says Dikmen sold to him.  Van Rijn had been holding this back as a bargaining ploy with the Cypriot authorities, because under German law the sale of fake goods is a very serious but quite separate offence from handling stolen material.  This means that, in theory at least, Dikmen faces an even longer sentence if found guilty.

The existence of the fake St Andreas also implies that the real mosaic is still missing.  The Cypriots are being kept guessing as to whether the real version is still owned by Dikmen or is in van Rijn's possession.  Either way, it appears that although three addresses belonging to Dikmen have already yielded 50-60 crates of material, containing 139 icons, 61 frescoes and four mosaics, valued at around $40 million, still more material could come to light, given the right circumstances.  (An estimated 15,000-20,000 icons and several dozen frescoes and mosaics disappeared after the invasion).

As this issue of Culture Without Context went to press, it was reported that lawyers for Dikmen were trying to negotiate a deal with the various authorities.   This, presumably, would involve a shorter, or non-custodial sentence for Dikmen, in return for the handing over of more material.  The case of the Kanakariá mosaics is still far from complete.


 

http://www.cc.emu.edu.tr/trnc/h140199a.htm

 

FROM DUTCH ANTIQUE DEALER

Dutch antique dealer Michel Van Rijn has made sensational disclosures on how he was recruited by Greek Cypriot authorities to organise the theft and then smuggling abroad of historic heritage from Northern Cyprus.

Michel Van Rijn stated that in 1988 he was first approached by Mr.Hadjitofi, the Greek Cypriot honorary consul in the Hague, and he was instructed to organise the theft and then the smuggling abroad of antiquities from Northern Cyprus. The smuggled items were subsequently “purchased” and returned to the Greek Cypriot Orthodox Church amidst large scale press coverage. Michel Van Rijn further claimed that some antiquities were smuggled from southern Cyprus with the full knowledge of Mr.Kargargis, the director of antiquities department of the Greek Cypriot administration. These items were also “purchased back” and among great publicity blaming Turkey were returned to the Greek Cypriot Orthodox Church.

When it became clear that the aim of the Greek Cypriot authorities was anti-Turkish propaganda and not the recovery of the antiquities, Michel Van Rijn held a press conference at Westbury Hotel in London and presented documents to support his disclosures. The documents included photocopies of some Greek Cypriot Central Bank and Crete Hellenic Bank Cheques.

Michel Van Rijn has applied through his solicitors to the Greek Cypriot Administration demanding millions of dollars for the services he rendered under agreement to the Greek Cypriot Administration.

 

 

http://www.archaeology.org/9807/etc/special.html

 

CHURCH TREASURES OF CYPRUS

BY MARK ROSE


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The thirteenth-century fresco of Christ Pantokrator ("All Sovereign") from the Church of St. Themonianos (The Menil Foundation) [LARGER IMAGE]

After the occupation of northern Cyprus by Turkish forces in 1974, looters stripped the region's churches, removing several dozen major frescoes and mosaics dating from the sixth to the fifteenth century, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 icons, and thousands of chalices, wood carvings, crucifixes, and bibles. Recovery efforts by the Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus have resulted in the return of some pieces through acquisition, trial, and seizure.

   A major break came this past October when Munich police arrested 60-year-old Aydin Dikman, a central figure in the looting and selling of the church treasures. The cooperation of Dikman's former associate, Dutch art dealer Michel van Rijn, with Cypriot and German authorities made the arrest possible. By his own account, van Rijn, who claims descent from both Rembrandt and Rubens and has been convicted in France of forging Chagall's signature, had realized the error of his ways and wished to make amends by helping recover the artworks.

   In apartments owned and rented by Dikman, police found Cypriot frescoes, mosaics, and icons, ancient coins, Precolumbian pottery, stolen paintings, and an unauthenticated Picasso. Police estimate the artworks and artifacts to be worth more than $60 million. If convicted of possessing and trafficking in stolen goods, Dikman faces up to 15 years in jail in Germany. Cyprus has requested his extradition.

   Dikman's participation in the depredation of Cypriot heritage in the occupied part of the island was suspected as early as 1982, when reporter Mehmet Yasin, in the Turkish Cypriot weekly magazine Olay, identified him as an antiquities smuggler. It was not until 1989 that the extent of his role became somewhat clearer through testimony in the Goldberg case, a legal battle in federal court in Indianapolis over Byzantine mosaics from Cyprus. That nearly nine years passed before his arrest can be explained partly by Dikman's efforts to keep a low profile, working through dealers and seldom meeting directly with those who purchased items from him. Furthermore, those who knew that he was selling looted Cypriot artworks did not reveal his identity to authorities out of fear of personal retribution, concern that antiquities would be destroyed to do away with evidence, or unwillingness to jeopardize potential future acquisitions.

   There have been three major recoveries of church treasures, and in each case the artworks, particularly the frescoes and mosaics, have been damaged and are in urgent need of conservation.

   The first recovery came in the mid-1980s when the Menil Foundation of Houston, with Cypriot government and church authority approval, purchased from Dikman the thirteenth-century frescoes of Christ Pantokrator ("All Sovereign") and the Virgin with the archangels Michael and Gabriel from the Church of St. Themonianos near the village of Lysi. In June 1983 Dominique de Menil, Walter Hopps (then director of the Menil Collection), and Yanni Petsopoulos, a London dealer acting as an intermediary, met Dikman in Munich and examined two fresco fragments in one of his apartments. Dikman claimed the frescoes were from a ruined church in southern Turkey that was bulldozed during construction of a resort. They suspected that Dikman was lying, and in late June, the foundation engaged Herbert Brownell, a former United States attorney general, to investigate the legality of the acquisition. Brownell sent an inquiry letter and photographs of the frescoes to eight countries in lands once part of the Byzantine Empire. On September 6, 1983, Cyprus replied, identifying them as coming from the Church of St. Themonianos. De Menil contacted Vassos Karageorghis, then director of Cyprus' department of antiquities. By November 11, an understanding was reached whereby the Menil Foundation would acquire and restore the frescoes on behalf of the Church of Cyprus, which would then lend them to the foundation for an extended period.

   The fragments were sent from Munich to London, where conservator Laurence J. Morrocco worked on them. The fresco of Christ Pantokrator had been cut from the church dome in 26 pieces, the Virgin from the apse in 12. Restoring them was nearly impossible because there were no measurements of the original structure (the church, in a military zone in the occupied area, was considered inaccessible), and the fresco fragments had lost their original curvature. To reconstruct the dome and apse, it was first necessary to determine their exact size and shape, then the appropriate curvature could be restored to the fragments so they would fit together on the curved surfaces. The process took three and one-half years.

   In November 1987, as the restoration was nearing completion, Morrocco traveled to occupied Cyprus and surreptitiously visited the church to measure the dome and apse. He described what he found in a 1991 account of his work:

It was very strange for me to see the place where the frescoes had come from. It was as if it had just happened: the saw cuts were still visible in the plaster left behind when the fragments were ripped off. I could see how the thieves had cut crudely around the circumference of the base of the dome, leaving the angels' ankles and feet on the wall. Small pieces of the fresco lay scattered around the floor amidst dirt, straw, and sheep droppings.

   Once the frescoes were reassembled, decisions had to be made about treating the damaged areas. The saw cuts were restored as invisibly as possible, but the larger missing areas, such as those around the base of the dome and in the lower part of the apse, were filled in with a dark color.

   In April 1988, the reconstructed dome and apse frescoes were packed into large crates for the flight to Houston. In November 1997, nearly 14 years after they were bought from Dikman, the restored frescoes, housed in a specially constructed chapel consecrated by Archbishop Chrysostomos I, were put on display. According to a deposition taken for the Goldberg trial, Petsopoulos had offered the frescoes to the foundation for $850,000; the final price has not been disclosed. The conservation costs, according to Cypriot sources, were about $1 million.

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Sixth-century mosaic of the archangel Michael from the Panagía Kanakariá church (Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations) [LARGER IMAGE]

   During their 1983 trip to Dikman's apartment in Munich, Hopps and Petsopoulos had noticed a mosaic rondel that the latter subsequently identified as coming from the Church of the Panagía Kanakariá at Lythrankomí. The Kanakariá mosaics, depictions of Christ, the Virgin, archangels, and the apostles decorating the church's apse, were created ca. 525-530. They are among the few sixth-century works to have escaped an eighth-century iconoclastic period during which such images were systematically destroyed in the Byzantine Empire. The church, in northern Cyprus, was stripped between the summer of 1976, when the priest was expelled, and 1979, when an English tourist reported to Cypriot authorities that it had been looted. According to Hopps' deposition for the Goldberg trial, Petsopoulos told him that later in 1983 he had urged Dikman to return the mosaic. According to Petsopoulos, Dikman gave him four rondels, some small pieces of mosaic, and a sack of loose tesserae, swearing that that was all he had. The mosaics were returned to Cyprus on November 30, 1984. Two rondels proved to be modern fakes, but the other two, depicting St. Bartholomew and St. Luke, and several fragments of the surrounding decorative frieze, were from Kanakariá. Badly damaged, these were placed in the Byzantine Museum in Nicosia after two years of conservation.

   In 1988, Indianapolis art dealer Peg Goldberg bought four Kanakariá mosaics--the archangel Michael, the upper half of Christ as a child, and the apostles Matthew and James--from Dikman, van Rijn, and American dealer Robert Fitzgerald for about $1 million. Goldberg attempted to resell the mosaics to museums in the United States for $20 million, but J. Paul Getty Museum curator Marion True alerted Karageorghis. The Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus sued for their return in federal court in Indianapolis and won. In her testimony, Goldberg described the mosaics when she first saw them in person at the Geneva airport:

They were very dull and it was very apparent that they...had numerous fissures, or splits, in them, that they were just marginally held together with glue...they were so fragile that when I bent down to start to touch them, thinking maybe I was going to lift it up to look at the back, literally a piece...separated in my hand.

Conservators Catherine Sease of the Field Museum and Danaë Thimme of Indiana University, asked by the Cypriot church and government to assess their condition, concluded that the mosaics had been damaged in five discrete phases, beginning with their removal from the apse. The facing--a fabric and adhesive layer applied to a mosaic or fresco to reinforce it during removal, had been ripped off without dissolving the adhesive--loosening many tesserae and pulling off the surfaces of others. The mosaics cracked as they were flown, inadequately packed, from Munich to Geneva and then to Indianapolis. Restoration work, commissioned by Goldberg in an effort to make the mosaics salable, did further damage. Sease and Thimme's assessment, published in a 1995 article, is damning:

The restorer clearly did not understand the materials he was working on.... He knew nothing about the technology involved and does not seem to have felt that an understanding of it might have proved helpful in choosing a restoration treatment. Thus, the most fundamental aspect of the appearance of the mosaics, namely that they had all been mounted on curved walls, and therefore were meant to be curved, was ignored. Much time and effort went into producing as flat and rigid a surface as possible.

   After this restoration, the mosaics were sent, in attempts to sell them, on flights across the Atlantic and within the United States, causing hairline cracks along earlier mends. In 1991, after Goldberg's appeal failed, they were returned to Cyprus. They are now in the Byzantine Museum in Nicosia.

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Fifteenth-century frescoes from the Antiphonitis church seized in Munich include fragments from the Last Judgment, left [LARGER IMAGE], and the Tree of Jesse, a pictorial genealogy of the Virgin, right. [LARGER IMAGE] (Press and Information Office, Republic of Cyprus)

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   In February 1997, van Rijn approached Tasoula L. Georgiou-Hadjitofi, honorary consul of Cyprus in The Hague and representative of the Church of Cyprus for stolen art, offering to help buy back mosaics and frescoes. Van Rijn's first effort yielded the mosaic rondel of St. Thaddeus from Kanakariá, which he brought to the Cypriot consulate in The Hague on September 5. The following day he purchased, via intermediaries, 25 frescoes from Dikman for $75,000. Athanasios Papageorghiou, an authority on Byzantine art and advisor to the Church of Cyprus, identified the frescoes as coming from the Church of Christ Antiphonitis near the village of Kalogrea in northern Cyprus. Built in the twelfth century, it was decorated in the fifteenth century with frescoes of the Tree of Jesse (a pictorial genealogy of the Virgin) and the Last Judgment. In 1976, an English reporter informed the church that the frescoes had been removed; this was confirmed by an Anglican priest in 1979. That same year a diplomat brought to Cypriot authorities pieces of cloth from the church to which fresco fragments adhered, evidence of failed attempts to remove some of the paintings. Van Rijn then purchased an additional seven Antiphonitis frescoes for $49,000.

   Having recovered 32 frescoes and one mosaic, Georgiou-Hadjitofi decided to move on Dikman. On October 10, police struck, raiding two apartments and arresting Dikman. Police hit a third apartment, rented by Dikman under a false name, on November 26. Among the artworks seized were more Antiphonitis frescoes and the St. Thomas Kanakariá mosaic.

   The 32 Antiphonitis frescoes and the mosaic of St. Thaddeus recovered by Georgiou-Hadjitofi, which were temporarily exhibited in The Hague, were returned to Cyprus on December 22, 1997, and put on display in the Byzantine Museum. Conservation and possible reconstruction of the Antiphonitis frescoes is on hold until the additional pieces seized in Munich are released by German police. According to Papageorghiou, once the mosaic of St. Thomas is returned, the apse of the Panagía Kanakariá church may be re-created in the Byzantine Museum to give visitors an idea of what the mosaics looked like in their original setting.

http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/cyprus/index.html

FROM CYPRUS TO MUNICH

BY MARK ROSE



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Fifteenth-century fresco from the Tree of Jesse stolen from Antiphonitis, Cyprus, and recently recovered in Germany
(Courtesy Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations)

Following the occupation of northern Cyprus by Turkish forces in 1974, looters stripped the region's churches, removing an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 icons; several dozen major frescoes and mosaics dating from the sixth to the fifteenth century; and thousands of chalices, wooden carvings, crucifixes, and Bibles. Efforts by the Autocephalous Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus have resulted in the return of some of these objects, but the majority remain lost. A major breakthrough came this past October when Munich police arrested 60-year-old Aydin Dikman after he was videotaped selling stolen goods. The arrest was made possible by the cooperation of Dikman's former client, Dutch art dealer Michel van Rijn. In apartments rented by Dikman, police found frescoes, mosaics, and icons estimated to be worth more than $40 million. The artworks were taken to the Bavarian National Museum for evaluation, while Dikman was taken to prison. Criminal proceedings have begun against him for possessing and disposing of stolen goods, and, if convicted, Dikman faces up to 15 years in jail.

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Many of the looted frescoes were badly damaged when cut up and removed from churches in northern Cyprus. (left) [LARGER IMAGE] Fragment of a sixth-century mosaic from Church of the Panagía Kanakariá, Cyprus, seized in Munich. (right) [LARGER IMAGE] (Courtesy Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations)

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   Dikman's participation in the depredation of Cypriot heritage in the occupied part of the island was suspected as early as 1982. He kept a low profile, however, working through dealers and seldom meeting directly with those who purchased items from him. Whether out of fear of retribution or unwillingness to jeopardize potential future acquisitions, those who knew that he was selling looted artworks from northern Cyprus did not reveal his identity to authorities. It was not until 1989 that the extent of his role became somewhat clearer through testimony in the Goldberg case, a legal battle in federal court in Indianapolis over Byzantine mosaics from Cyprus. That nearly nine years passed from Dikman's exposure in the Goldberg case to his arrest in 1997 is a troubling commentary on the lack of a concerted international effort to end the destruction and trafficking in Cyprus' heritage.

   Speaking after Dikman's arrest, Athanassios Papageorgiou, an expert in Byzantine art who works for the Cypriot church, told Reuters, "We have managed to catch the mastermind of the whole smuggling operation." A chronology of what is known of Dikman's activities over the past two decades suggests that his role was a central one.

  1982. In the Turkish Cypriot weekly magazine Olay for May 17, 1982, Mehmet Yasin reports that Dikman was detained by security officials in Kyrenia the preceding week and was on a list of antiquities smugglers sought by police.

  1983-1984. The Menil Foundation of Houston, with approval of Cypriot government and church authorities, purchases from Dikman thirteenth-century frescoes of Christ Pantokrator ("All Sovereign") and the Virgin with archangels stolen from the Church of the Blessed Themonianos near the village of Lysi in northern Cyprus. In 1983 Dominique de Menil, Walters Hopps of the Menil Foundation, and Yanni Petsopoulos, a London dealer acting as an intermediary, examined the frescoes at a Munich apartment rented by Dikman. Funds for the acquisition were put in escrow and released only after the foundation took possession of the frescoes in 1984. (According to the deposition of Constantine Leventis, Cyprus' ambassador to UNESCO, taken in 1989 for the Goldberg trial, Petsopoulos offered the frescoes to the foundation for $850,000; the final price has not been disclosed.) Cut into 28 pieces when they were removed from the church, they required extensive conservation work. In November 1997, the restored frescoes, which will eventually be returned to Cyprus, were put on display in a specially constructed and consecrated Byzantine chapel in Houston.

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Church of the Panagía Kanakariá, Cyprus (Courtesy Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations) [LARGER IMAGE]

  1984. While at Dikman's apartment during the 1983 trip to Munich, Hopps and Petsopoulos notice a mosaic rondel, which the latter subsequently identifies as from the Church of the Panagía Kanakariá at Lythrankomí. The Kanakariá mosaics, dated to 525-530, are among the few from the sixth century to have survived a subsequent iconoclastic period. The church, in northern Cyprus, was stripped between August of 1976, following the forced departure of the priest, and November 1979, when an English tourist reported to Cypriot authorities that it had been looted. According to Hopps' 1989 deposition for the Goldberg trial, Petsopoulos told him that later in 1983 he had made an impassioned plea that Dikman return the mosaic to Cyprus. Reportedly, Dikman let Petsopoulos have four rondels, some small pieces of mosaic, and a sack of loose tesserae, which he swore was all that he had from the church. The mosaics were returned to Cyprus on November 30, 1984. Two rondels proved to be modern, but the other mosaics--rondels depicting St. Bartholomew and St. Luke, and several fragments of the surrounding decorative frieze--were from Kanakariá. The mosaics, badly damaged, were placed in the Byzantine Museum of the Archbishop Makarios III Foundation in Nicosia after two years of conservation work. For transportation costs involved in the return, Petsopoulos was reimbursed $2,113.89 by the Menil Foundation.

Four sixth-century mosaics from Kankariá were recovered after a 1989 court case in Indianapolis. From left: the archangel Michael, Christ as a child, St. Matthew, and St. James (Click on images for larger versions.) (Courtesy Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations)

  1988. Indianapolis art dealer Peg Goldberg buys four Kanakariá mosaics--the archangel Michael, the upper half of Christ as a child, and the apostles Matthew and James--from Dikman, Van Rijn, and American dealer Robert Fitzgerald for about $1 million. The following year, the Autocephalous Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus, alerted by J. Paul Getty Museum curator Marion True after Goldman attempted to resell the mosaics for $20 million, sued for the return of the mosaics in federal court in Indianapolis and won. The mosaics were returned to Cyprus in 1991 and were greeted by a crowd of nearly 50,000. They are now in the Byzantine Museum of the Archbishop Makarios III Foundation. Because they were badly damaged during their removal from the church, while being shipped, and in restoration work commissioned by Goldberg, it is unlikely the mosaics will ever be reinstalled in the church regardless of any changes in Cyprus' political situation.

  February 1997. Michel van Rijn approaches Tasoula L. Georgiou-Hadjitofi, honorary consul of Cyprus in The Hague and representative of the Autocephalous Church of Cyprus for stolen art, offering to help buy back three mosaics and 44 frescoes and asking for protection for himself and his family as well as a license to operate a casino in Cyprus (his decision to assist the Cypriots effectively ended his career as an art dealer). Georgiou-Hadjitofi receives approval from the church and the attorney general of the Republic of Cyprus to proceed and raises the equivalent of about $500,000 from the Cypriot church to fund the operation.

  September 5, 1997. Van Rijn brings the St. Thaddeus mosaic from Kanakariá to the Cypriot Consulate in Hague and is paid a first installment.

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St. Thaddeus mosaic (Courtesy Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations) [LARGER IMAGE]

  September 6, 1997. Van Rijn goes to Munich and buys 25 frescoes from Dikman via intermediaries using $75,000 of his own money. Returning to The Hague in a chartered business jet, he meets with Georgiou-Hadjitofi and Papageorgiou at a bank, where Papageorgiou identifies the frescoes as from the Church of Christ Antiphonitis near village of Kalogrea in northern Cyprus. Built in the twelfth century as a monastic church, it was decorated in the fifteenth century with frescoes of the Tree of Jesse (a pictorial genealogy of the descendants of Jesse) and the Last Judgment. In 1976, an English reporter informed the church that the frescoes had been removed, and this was confirmed by an Anglican priest who visited Antiphonitis in 1979. That same year a diplomat brought to Cypriot authorities pieces of cloth from the church to which fresco fragments adhered, evidence of the failed removal of some of the paintings. (In a separate case, the Cypriot church has begun a legal battle in the Netherlands to recover four sixteenth-century icons from Antiphonitis.) Van Rijn receives $168,000, of which $98,000 are expenses.

 

[image]

 

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Above, fifteenth-century frescoes from Antiphonitis being inventoried after their recovery in 1997. They depict the Last Judgment, left, and Tree of Jesse, right. (Click on images for larger versions.) (Courtesy Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations)

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  September 7, 1997. Van Rijn drives back to Munich and arranges to purchase seven larger frescoes for $49,000.

  October 1997. Having recovered 32 frescoes and one mosaic, valued at $25 million, Georgiou-Hadjitofi decides to move on Dikman. Van Rijn and his intermediaries are granted immunity in the Netherlands, Cyprus, and Germany, and a sting is set up.

  October 9-19, 1997. Georgiou-Hadjitofi, Van Rijn, and two Interpol officers travel to Munich on October 9. Local authorities working with them include art investigators of the Bavarian Criminal Office in Munich. At about 6:00 p.m. the following day, during an exchange of money for Cypriot artworks between Dikman and Van Rijn's intermediaries, the police strike, raiding two apartments and recovering 14 cases and packages in which were icons, two Antiphonitis frescoes, and the mosaic of St. Thomas from Kanakariá. A warrant is issued for Dikman's arrest, and he is taken into custody. During a second sweep, police find 20 more boxes and cases with icons, additional Antiphonitis frescoes, early Bibles, ancient pottery, statues, and coins in the basement of Dikman's residence, as well as $16,000 and 200,000 guilders ($100,000) in his apartment.

   Among the documents, police find photographs of four fresco fragments from the Ayios Solomonis church. The actual fragments are not recovered, and are presumed to have been already sold. Near the village of Komi Tou Yalou in northern Cyprus, the church was built in the seventh or eighth century. Its ninth-century fresco of the Resurrection of Christ was preserved until 1984, when a foreign visitor informed the Department of Antiquities that paintings had been taken. The department later confirmed that the figure of an angel had been removed from the fresco.

Icons seized in Munich (Click on images for larger versions.)
(Courtesy Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations)

  October 29, 1997. Cyprus begins extradition proceedings against Dikman.

  November 8, 1997. "The Lost Treasures of Cyprus" exhibition opens at Haags Gemeentmuseum with 32 frescoes from Antiphonitis and the Kanakariá mosaic of St. Thaddeus.

  November 26, 1997. Police learn from Dikman's documents of a third apartment rented by him under a false name. In the cellar they find an additional 30 to 40 crates with 130 icons, 25 frescoes, two mosaics, other artifacts, and an unauthenticated Picasso.

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His Beatitude Chrysostomos I, center, Minister of Education Hadjinicolaou, and Michel and Frederique van Rijn view newly returned frescoes and mosaics at the Archiespiscopal Palace in December 1997. [LARGER IMAGE]

  December 22, 1997. The 32 Antiphonitis frescoes and the Kanakariá mosaic recovered by Georgiou-Hadjitofi and temporarily exhibited in The Hague return to Cyprus.

  February 11, 1998. Police seize nine Byzantine icons from the Munich home of Greek dealer Seraphim Dritsoula. The icons, apparently from more than one church, had been purchased from Dikman.

   ARCHAEOLOGY will follow the ongoing efforts of the Republic of Cyprus and the Autocephalous Church of Cyprus to recover antiquities and church treasures. It is clear from statements by Cypriot officials that the story is far from finished. According to Papageorgiou, Dikman collected "upon orders from people from Holland, the United States, Greece, and other countries with more knowledge than him." In the catalog accompanying The Hague exhibition, Georgiou-Hadjitofi wrote, "There are more dealers than [Van Rijn] who have touched our heritage. Some have provided limited information, some have kept quiet. What is clear is that we now have records and information about the initial deals that went on. For the record, the Dutch art dealer volunteered to co-operate for his own motives. Whatever they are, however, we still believe he has more information to offer. We will finish this jigsaw [puzzle] and there will be no more hiding behind a veil of indifference and half truths."

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Negotiations are underway to recover the royal doors from the Peristerona church, now at the Kanazawa College of Art, Kanazawa, Japan. (Courtesy Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations) [LARGER IMAGE]

   Today, Michel Van Rijn, who has received death threats as a result of his cooperation with authorities, is now under the protection of Scotland Yard.  


MARK ROSE is the Managing Editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.


This report was compiled from a variety of sources including A. Papageorgiou and T. Georgiou-Hadjitofi, eds., The Stolen Treasures of Cyprus (catalog of the October 25-December 22, 1977, exhibition in The Hague); P. Watson, "Crooked art dealer...," The Observer, October 19, 1997, p. 14; M. Yasin, "Perishing Cyprus," published in four installments of the Turkish Cypriot weekly magazine Olay beginning on April 26, 1982; press releases from the Cyprus News Agency; accounts in The Cyprus Weekly and Cyprus Mail; and documents from the 1989 case in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, Autocephalous Greek-Orthodox Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus v. Goldberg & Feldman Fine Arts, Inc., and Peg Goldberg.

 

http://www.emu.edu.tr/~inaf/English/newsbul/111298.htm

INAF News Bulletin  

11 December 1998

 

HERE IS THE DIRTY FACE OF GREEK CYPRIOTS

INAF (LONDON)- Michel van Rijn, a Dutch antiquarian who secured the handing over to the Greek Cypriot administration in south Cyprus, those antiquities smuggled abroad from the TRNC and south Cyprus in more than a decade, has granted a number of documents that clearly reveal the dirty face of the Greek Cypriots.

Greek Cypriots, who have made it a habit of blaming the Turks for destroying the cultural heritage in the aftermath of the Peace Operation materialized by Turkey in 1974, have yet been given a blow on their face by their own collaborators.

Van Rijn stated, in particular, the smuggling abroad of many antiquities had been permitted, within the knowledge of Vassos Karageorghis, the Greek Cypriot Director of the Antiquities in south Cyprus. Producing documents revealing that these stolen antiques had been tried to be shown as stolen from the TRNC by the Turkish soldiers, van Rijn said that the antiquities that returned to Cyprus within this circulation were usurped by the Greek Cypriot Orthodox Church.

Van Rijn said that the Greek Cypriot administration has been forcing him a deposition in favour of them in connection with the trial of a Turkish antiquity-smuggler called Ayd1n Dikmen, adding that he had been exploited by the Greek Cypriots for their own political purposes. He further stated that his relationship with Greek Cypriots began in 1988 through the Greek Cypriot Honorary Representative at the Hague named Hadjitofi and reached an agreement with them on the sale of the antiquities smuggled abroad to the Greek Cypriot Orthodox Church, on the condition that he would not be tried. He said had first gained the confidence of Greek Cypriots with the sale of the Archangel Michael portrait.

Van Rijn, a collaborator with Greek Cypriots, underlined the following: "Within the past ten years during which I worked with Greek Cypriots, I saw bribery, theft, and feet-dragging. Greek Cypriots do not care at all about the historical antiquities. They used me for their political goals…"

*********

http://www.kypros.org/PIO/cyprus_today/jul_dec97/cypriot_treasures_recovered.htm

Cypriot Treasures Recovered

Cyprus gained a major victory in its quest to rescue its cultural treasures from the art underworld when a hoard of looted Byzantine frescoes, icons and mosaics was discovered in three Munich apartments after a raid by the German police, last October.

The apartments owned by the Turk Dikmen Aydin, who claims to be an archaeologist and "art dealer" contained Byzantine artefacts from the churches in the Turkish occupied area since 1974, worth tens of millions of pounds.

The raid was a culmination of an eight month operation involving Cyprus Honorary Council to the Hague, Tasoula Georghiou Hadjitofi, Bavarian and Cypriot police, Interpol, the Archbishopric of Cyprus and a Dutch art dealer, Michel Van Rijn who had apparently fallen out with Dikmen Aydin, his former collaborator. In fact his association with Dikmen stretched back to 1989 when they negotiated four of the mosaics stolen from the Panayia Kanakaria church, with American art dealer Peggy Goldberg and sold them for U.S.$1.080.000. In the celebrated trial that followed Cyprus was able to recover the mosaics.

 

The German connection

Mosaic fragment from the apse of the church of Panayia Kanakaria Lythrangomi - 525-530 A.D.

In his decision to mend his image, Van Rijn approached Ms. Hadjitofi in February 1977 and informed her about the whereabouts of the treasures. They were located in Germany and Austria in the hands of various possessors and he could gather them all in Munich and buy them back. As the Dutch art dealer had no regular domicile and the possessors were unknown to the Cyprus side, no legal case could be pursued.

His Beatitude the Archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostomos, the Holy Synod and the Attorney - General of the Republic, Alecos Markides approved the sum to be used to -buy' the artefacts and the approach to be followed with the hope that the Dutch art dealer would be able to subsequently deliver more pieces without funds. The transaction took place in a major bank in Rotterdam where money was exchanged for the 520 A.D. mosaic of Thadeos (also known as Jude) and 32 late 15th century frescoes from the Antiphonitis church. Dr. Adamantios Papageorghiou, former Director of the Antiquities Department and an expert in Byzantine art confirmed the authenticity of the arts before the bank was instructed to pay the money upon delivery. Van Rijn secretly filmed the transaction in Germany. Armed with the knowledge of the film and with the name of the key individuals, the police and the authorities were involved. Within a matter of days, with the co-operation of the police of Germany and Cyprus, the Dutch art dealer directly implicated Dikmen that led to his arrest.

The German authorities are searching for other hideouts and more stolen antiquities are certain to surface as the smuggling ring is being shaken up.

 

Fragment of the wall painting of the stem of Jesse, Church of Christ Antiphonitis - near Kalogrea - Around 1500 A.D.

 

Stem of Jesse - Antiphonitis

 

Some Facts

Since the invasion and occupation in 1974 by the Turkish army of what is now termed the occupied area of Cyprus, many, if not all, of the artefacts belonging within 500 churches, monasteries, castles and museums of the area found their way illegally to various parts of the world. Overall, the magnitude of the destruction can hardly be estimated, since access to undertake a detailed inventory is not permitted. Realistic estimates are:

Some 15.000 to 20.000 icons have been removed;

Several dozen major frescoes and mosaics dating from the 6th century AD to the 15th century have been segmented for sale abroad and some destroyed forever;

Several thousand antiquities and individual objects of historical and cultural interest ranging from chalices, crosses, wooden carvings, bibles etc. have disappeared.

Apart from the individuals involved in the removal, art dealers from several countries provided a vehicle for the trade in Cypriot antiquities and religious objects for which they have received large sums of money from wealthy individuals in the last 23 years.

 

Exhibition

The Lost Treasures of Cyprus' exhibition opened at The Hague Gemeentmuseum between 25 October - 22 December 1997 presenting 33 of the priceless treasures recovered in Munich.

The opening was addressed by the General Manager of the city's Bureau of Visitors and Conventions, Hans De Weg and was attended by a large number of politicians, diplomats, dignitaries, businessmen and the international press.

Organised by Winkelman & Van Hessen Public Relations, the intention was to give the people of Holland the chance to see the Cypriot treasures before they were returned home by the end of the year.

Proceeds from the exhibition will go to the restoration of ancient monuments in Holland.

 

Press Conference

Speaking at a press conference in Amsterdam, Ms. Tasoula Georghiou Hadjitofi thanked all those who exposed the issues surrounding the cultural destruction of Cyprus, especially Vrij Netherland, but also Channel 4, B.B.C., Algemeen Dagblad, The Times, The Independent and others.

-What has been possible in the past few months', The Honorary Consul added, -was achieved by a significant dose of trust and goodwill. On the official side, my relationship with the Archbishop and the Attorney-General. On the unofficial side contacts with the Dutch M.P.'s, a senior Dutch Government Advisor, Rolf van Hessen and ABN AMRO. All the individuals, including the Dutch art dealer shared the same belief - the destruction of our culture is a crime and we have a moral responsibility to ensure that the arts are returned where they belong: to the People of Cyprus.

 

 

 

http://www.chron.com/content/chronicle/world/97/10/21/recoveredart.2-0.html

8:08 PM 10/20/1997

Dutch dealer aids in recovery of stolen art worth millions

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- A sixth-century mosaic of St. Jude valued at $8.6 million was among more than 100 stolen frescoes and other Byzantine art objects that have been recovered with the help of an art dealer who claims to be a descendant of Rembrandt.

The items, most dating to the 16th century, were crudely hacked out of the walls and ceilings of two Greek Orthodox churches in Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish occupation of the northern part of the Mediterranean island. Many were badly damaged.

Cyprus' diplomatic representative in the Netherlands, Tasula Georgiou-Hadjitofi, said Monday that a Dutch art dealer who helped recover the treasures had recently turned them over at a Rotterdam bank. She refused to name the dealer or elaborate on the events that led to the recovery.

Michel van Rijn, who claims to be a descendent of Rembrandt van Rijn, the 17th-century Dutch master, told the Vrij Nederland magazine that he was the dealer.

Van Rijn purchased the items in Munich, Germany, from a 60-year-old Turkish art dealer, whose name was not released, the magazine said. He had been given an undisclosed amount of money to buy the works, wrapping up a 10-year investigation by Interpol and police from Cyprus, Germany and the Netherlands.

Van Rijn secretly filmed the transaction, providing German police with evidence that they needed to arrest the Turk last week, it said.

 

http://www.greekembassy.org/press/bulletin/apr98.html

 

Cultural Destruction in Occupied Cyprus

A report by Judith Miller and Stephen Kinzer in the New York Times of April 1st details the large-scale looting of priceless Christian artifacts, icons and frescoes, from Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries in the northern area of Cyprus, occupied since 1974 by Turkish troops. In one case cited in the report, in the Church of the Virgin of Kanakaria in the village of Lythrangomi, "almost every window is broken, and rain and dust have poured into the building that once possessed some of the most important and beautiful examples of early Christian art."

The report quotes Greek Cypriot sources as estimating that some 20,000 religious artifacts have been looted. Many of them were found by German police in a horde, worth many millions of dollars on the open market, hidden at his Munich home by Aydin Dikman, a Turkish citizen who lives in Germany and is now in prison awaiting trial on art theft charges. A Dutch dealer, Michel van Rijn, who once had dealings with Dikman and is now helping to recover the stolen treasures, says that Dikman's activities were known to some Turkish military officers and local Turkish Cypriot officials.

In secret compartments behind walls and in basements, Bavarian police found thousands of stolen artifacts, photographs showing workers on scaffolding removing frescoes, and drawings indicating how the frescoes were to be cut to avoid damage. Demetrios Michaelides, head of archaeology at the University of Cyprus, is quoted as saying: "The Turks are waging a war against our cultural patrimony. They are trying to erase Greek and Christian heritage from the now largely Turkish, Muslim north."

Police describe what they have discovered as "one of the most systematic art looting operations since the Nazis plundered the countries they occupied during World War II".

Turkish plans to convert a historic Armenian monastery in the occupied north into a hotel have provoked action by the Council of Europe, which has announced an investigation into the destruction of the Christian cultural and religious heritage in the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus; and by the European Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy which estimates that more than 500 churches and religious sites in the occupied area have been destroyed or converted to other purposes since 1974.