SHAFAQNA – Turkey on Saturday announced its support for Greece’s fight to get back from Britain the famous Elgin Marbles — ancient Greek sculptures also known as the Parthenon Marbles which were taken from Athens in the 19th century.
The dispute over the British Museum’s possession of the sculptures, taken by British diplomat Lord Elgin in 1803, flared this week when Greece learned of the unprecedented loan of one sculpture to a Russian museum.
The surprising support from Turkey, historically a rival of Greece and currently an opponent over the situation in divided Cyprus, came during a visit by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to Athens.
“We support Greece in its efforts to return the god Ilissos to the Acropolis museum,” he said at a press conference alongside his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras.
“The return of works of a nation’s cultural heritage is very important,” Davutoglu added.
He was referring to the loan of the sculpture of the Greek river god Ilissos, a headless, reclining male figure, to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg where it went on display from Saturday until January 18.
It is the first time one of the sculptures has left their controversial British home and the deal is all the more striking because Britain has joined tough EU economic sanctions against Russia over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine conflict.
Greece has been demanding the return of the ancient art treasures for 30 years and on Friday Samaras called the loan to Russia “an affront to the Greek people”.
Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky had hailed the loan, which celebrates the museum’s 250th anniversary.
Greece says it is awaiting the outcome of possible talks between UNESCO and Britain on the dispute, after the UN’s cultural agency offered to act as a mediator.
The Greek and Turkish leaders also discussed economic cooperation and Turkey’s bid to seek membership in the European Union.
Turkey’s ambition to join the bloc has been hampered in part by the dispute with EU-member Greece over Cyprus divided into a Greek-Cypriot government in Nicosia and a Turkish-Cypriot statelet in the north of the island.
Cyprus has been split since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered coup aimed at uniting it with Greece.
Turkey opposes the Nicosia government’s current exploitation of offshore hydrocarbon reserves before reaching any reunification deal for the island. However Ankara is itself hopeful of finding oil and gas in an area Nicosia has licensed for exploratory drills.