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Switzerland returns dozens of ancient artifacts to Turkey

Switzerland on Wednesday returned 37 smuggled ancient artifacts to their home country, Turkey.

A ceremony was held marking their return in the Turkish Embassy in Bern, with Swiss officials attending.

The artifacts were mostly bronze objects from the kingdom of Urartu, which ruled lands centered in present-day eastern Türkiye between the 9th and 7th centuries BC.

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A 6,000-year-old Kusura-type idol is the oldest among the 37 artifacts.

“Türkiye has been one of the biggest victims of illicit trafficking of cultural property due to its rich archaeological reserve and geographical proximity to Europe,” Türkiye’s Ambassador to Bern Emine Ece Ozbayoglu Acarsoy said in her speech at the event.

Underlining the efforts of Turkish authorities to recover the artifacts, Ozbayoglu Acarsoy said a total of 12,039 had been brought back so far.

Though an antiquities market does not exist in Türkiye, she said that Ankara had shown goodwill by returning 94 cultural properties to their countries of origin, including Iraq, China, Kazakhstan, and Egypt.

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She noted that Türkiye signed bilateral agreements to prevent the illicit transfer, import, and repatriation of cultural properties with 12 countries, including with Switzerland on Nov. 15 last year.

“We are extremely pleased to establish a fruitful partnership with Switzerland, one of the biggest arts and antiquities markets in the world, in combatting illicit trafficking of cultural property,” the ambassador said. “The bilateral agreement signed last year lays the very foundation for a long-lasting collaboration between the cultural institutions of respective countries.”

“Since the entry into force of the said agreement, the cooperation between Türkiye and Switzerland has developed through concrete steps taken by both countries,” Ozbayoglu Acarsoy said, confident that this cooperation “will deepen in the future”

Expressing gratitude to Swiss official Fabienne Baraga and her team for working and cooperating with Turkish officials during the repatriation process, she said: “It is truly amazing to be a part of this historic day.”

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“Today, we witness the ultimate return of these artifacts to the lands they belong to. I am sure that museum visitors will appreciate their story of return, as well as their archaeological, historical and aesthetic features,” added Ozbayoglu Acarsoy.

Baraga, who heads a specialized body on the international transfer of cultural property in the Swiss Federal Office of Culture, noted for her part that Switzerland and Türkiye shared a commitment to protect cultural heritage.

Looting and illicit trafficking of cultural objects cause significant loss for the archelogy and historical studies of the countries of origin, she stressed.

“It is an extraordinary pleasure for me to see this partnership is already bearing fruit just a few months after it came into being, she said, referring to the agreement.

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“Today’s restitution is proof of the quality of our cooperation. I’m very honored to return these cultural objects to the country of origin,” she added.

The artifacts are set to return to Türkiye on a Turkish Airlines cargo plane on Thursday.

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