Turkish authorities have thrown their support behind the return of Parthenon Sculptures to Greece.

The director of the Acropolis Museum revealed that the Greeks proved that the Turkish firman, or decree provided to Lord Elgin and invoked by the British, was not authentic.

Further to the surprise announcement was a statement by the Director General of the Acropolis Museum, Nikolaos Stambolidis, who accused Australia of turning its back on Greece at the 25th Session of the Intergovernmental Committee of UNESCO for the Return of Cultural Property to Countries of Origin.

Stambolidis told Greek media outlet Proto Thema that Australia abstained from supporting the Greek request to return the sculptures.

Stambolidis alleged that 18 of 20 countries that participated in the conference supported Greece. “Only two, Canada and Australia, refrained from taking a position – which conveyed that the British claim that the Sculptures are theirs has now been refuted.”

Neos Kosmos has sought clarification from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). A spokesperson from the media department of DFAT told Neos Kosmos that they would be looking into the claim and getting back to the masthead.

Has Australia shifted position?

If, however, Stambolidis’s statement that Australia abstained from voting for the repatriation of the Parthenon Sculptures is verified by DFAT, it could signal a dramatic position shift by Australia.

Australia has consistently maintained support for the Greece’s request. Following a Neos Kosmos campaign 20-odd years ago, with over 30,000 signatures, Australia has favoured the return of the sculptures.

The surprise position of Turkey at the 25th Session of the Intergovernmental Committee of UNESCO for the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin to support the return of the Parthenon Sculptures is a significant shift.

The statement by the head of Turkey’s antiquities anti-trafficking department, Zeynep Boz, that no official decree of firman exists that legitimates the ‘purchase’ of the sculptures by Lord Elgin is a significant shift of narrative.

Lord Elgin tore the Parthenon Sculptures from the ancient Greek monument. Boz’s declaration undermines British arguments that confined the sculptures in the British Museum and confirms the Greek claim.

Turkey eager to support Greece

Through its representatives, Turkey expressed its eagerness “to celebrate together the return of the sculptures”, which did not come out of the blue.

Stambolidis, who participated in the UNESCO Summit, told protothema.gr that the positive outcome resulted from the “systematic work” carried out beforehand “to communicate our positions and arguments to the other states”.

The Director General of the Acropolis Museum added: “Turkey’s stance on the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures has been positive recently. This time, however, it has gone a step further.”

The evidence disproves the authenticity of a firman and deconstructs the British claims that Lord Elgin obtained, transferred and sold the Greek masterpieces legally after securing an official document.

The question of the firman’s authenticity was raised, and the evidence presented by the Greek delegation revealed that the document relied on by the British was not a fireman but a letter translated into Italian.

The Greek authorities have two authentic Turkish declarations – one provided to Elgin in 1802 by Sultan Selim III to travel to the Ottoman Empire and one from 1810, used as a passport for Elgin’s first trip to Greece, now on display at the Acropolis Museum as part of the exhibition The Parthenon and Byron.

The firmans were false claim Turkish authorities

These two documents reveal that the type of firman remained the same even after the new Sultan, Mahmud II, took the throne. There continues to be a signature of the Sultan on the top of the friezes. At the same time, the same type of writing is used after that,” said Stambolidis.

When one compares the two authentic documents above with what the British call Elgin’s firman, one can say they have absolutely nothing to do with each other, Stambolidis said.

“From this comparison, it is evident that the document in question, on the one hand, does not follow the form of a firman at all, and on the other hand, is an Italian translation of a letter from a junior Turkish official.

“However, given that in the 15th and the 16th century, during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, all marbles, regardless of their origin, were considered Sultan’s property, it is unlikely that a junior official dared to give written permission to Elgin”, said the Director General of the Acropolis Museum.

“One can, therefore, conclude that the firman used by the British Museum was written afterwards by someone – a follower of Elgin, most probably Lusieri, to convince the British Parliament of the legitimacy of the Sculptures”, Stambolidis said.

The support by Turkey of the Greek arguments regarding the illegal seizure of the Parthenon Sculptures by Lord Elgin is in complete contrast to the stance that the Turkish government has taken regarding Hagia Sophia and the Chora Monastery, which Turkey has converted into mosques despite the opposition of both Greece and UNESCO.

Stambolidis said that the conversion of the Monastery of Chora into a mosque was not discussed at the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee Session as it was not included in the predetermined agenda.

“Too often, antiquity is a propaganda tool in politics. Therefore, one has to be very careful in its formulations.”

Neos Kosmos is waiting for a response from DFAT to clarify Australia’s position