More than 16,000 Christian icons, mosaics and murals dating from to 6th and 5th centuries have been forcibly stolen and sold abroad since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, according to the Director of the Office for Combating Illegal Possession and Trafficking of Antiquities, Michalis Gavriilidis.
In a lecture he gave on Monday night at the University of Cyprus Archeology Research Unit, Michalis Gavriilidis said that after the Cyprus invasion in 1974, Byzantine artworks were even found in Kyoto, Japan (Fragments of Royal Doors from Peristeronopigi were fund in Kanazawa College of Arts). He added that efforts are being made to repatriate them and he hoped to return to Cyprus soon.
As Gavriilidis pointed out, illicit trafficking of cultural property is one of the most serious forms of crime today. “The annual cost of illicit trafficking and trade of artifacts and cultural goods worldwide is estimated to be more than $ 10 billion,” he said.
“Illegal trafficking of cultural heritage is an international crime that many countries suffer from, including Cyprus, especially after the 1974 Turkish invasion. It is a scourge affecting the countries of origin and the countries of transit and final destination of the stolen works. Just by listing the countries whose cultural heritage has been plundered by traffickers in recent years, the magnitude of the crime will be ascertained: Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq and Cyprus and many more countries all over the world,” he said.
Gavriilidis also noted that the international community had become more sensitive about this issue, especially after the disaster in Palmyra, Syria, which put other countries that had suffered a similar disaster on the spotlight, such as Cyprus. The Council of the European Union, INTERPOL, EUROPOL and other international organizations, such as UNESCO, WCO, etc., have undertaken work in this respect, something which assists our efforts, he noted.