Antiquities Coalition Highlights Need for U.S.–Turkey Bilateral Agreement in The Art Newspaper

The Antiquities Coalition recognized the merits of the recent cultural memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the United States and Turkey in comments published on February 3 in The Art Newspaper.

“For the [UNESCO] treaty to have domestic effect under American law, an MOU is needed,” Antiquities Coalition Executive Director Tess Davis told journalist Ayla Jean Yackley, referring to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which the Antiquities Coalition explored in a recent story map celebrating the treaty’s fiftieth anniversary. “US import restrictions can deal a major blow against the global black market in looted Turkish antiquities.”

The import restrictions, which the United States and Turkey signed on January 19, apply to certain archaeological and ethnological materials—including various kinds of archaeological materials created between 1,200,000 BC and AD 1770, as well as various kinds of ethnological materials created between the 1st century AD and 1923—that have not been licensed by the Turkish government for legal exportation.

While this agreement does not advance Turkey’s efforts to repatriate the thousands of antiquities it has already lost—many, presumably, to Western collectors and museums—it will facilitate responsible cultural exchange for years to come.

The agreement is not without controversy, as opponents of the MOU argue that Turkey has not fulfilled its obligations as a State Party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, alleging that the country has failed to provide adequate protections for the cultural heritage of its minority groups.

In response to that perspective, Davis told Yackley that this MOU can be a “powerful tool,” having the potential to encourage Turkey to make greater strides in defending the cultural heritage of all of its peoples.

“Advocates for minority cultural heritage in Turkey should view this MOU not as an obstacle but as a stepping stone to further their critical work,” Davis said. “It gives them a mechanism to make their voices heard and realise much-needed change.”