On Saturday, Neos Kosmos reported comments purportedly made by the Director General of the Acropolis Museum, Nikolaos Stambolidis, to Greek masthead Proto Thema, accusing Australia of abstaining on a vote on the return of the Parthenon Sculptures.

According to the Proto Thema report Stamboulis said that Canada and Australia abstained from voting on the return of the sculptures – torn off the Parthenon by Lord Elgin in the 19th century – at the 25th Session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin.

The report in Greece’s most popular masthead claimed that Stamboulidis had told the outlet that, “The fact that 18 of the 20 countries attending the conference, 18 of them supported Greece – only two, Canada and Australia, refrained from taking a position – sent a clear message that the British claim that the Sculptures are theirs has now been refuted.”

The claim came as a surprise as Australia has always strongly supported the Greek claim.

Neos Kosmos sought confirmation from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) and a spokesperson said:

“Australia is not a member of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP).

“It neither abstained from voting nor had any involvement in the decision-making process,” the DFAT spokesperson told Neos Kosmos.

Greek Australians, Elly Symons from Athens and George Vardas from Sydney, both active campaigners of the Return of the Sculptures, also confirmed that Australia did not abstain from the UNESCO meeting and was not involved in it.

Neos Kosmos has asked for clarifications from the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Acropolis Museum. So far, we are still waiting to receive a reply.

No firman says Turkey

The comments by the museum director follow Turkey’s intervention in support of Greece’s position, revealing that there was no Ottoman firman or decree given to Lord Elgin to take the ancient sculptures.

One of the main arguments of the British side for the Parthenon Sculptures to remain in London was shot down by Turkey’s representative at the 24th Intergovernmental Commission of UNESCO held in Paris on 29 and 30 May. Zeynep Boz, Turkish culture ministry’s top anti-smuggling official said, “We are not aware of any document that legalises this purchase”.

“There was never an Ottoman firman that allowed Elgin to treat the Parthenon Sculptures with the barbarity he treated (…), and the Turkish representative confirmed what the Greek side has been claiming for years. That there was no firman”, confirmed the Greek Minister of Culture, Lina Mendoni, from Rhodes.

“Greece is always open to dialogue. It has tried and will continue to try so that the great national goal, which is the satisfaction of the national demand for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens, in the Acropolis Museum, becomes a reality,” added the Greek Minister.