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Saturday, 5 February, 2000, 23:58 GMT
Turkey urges return of Greek treasures

The marbles are housed in the British Museum The marbles are housed in the British Museum

Turkey has unexpectedly backed calls for the UK to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece.

The move was the latest gesture of goodwill between Greece and Turkey, after the traditional rivals began efforts last year to ease longstanding tension.

Horse sculpture The sculptures were removed during Ottoman Turkish rule
The classical sculptures dating back 2,500 years were hacked off the walls of the Parthenon in Athens in the early 19th century by Lord Elgin, then British ambassador to the region which was then under Ottoman Turkish rule.

Greece has long demanded the repatriation of the Elgin Marbles and has welcomed the poignant boost to its claim.

The UK maintains that the marbles were acquired under a perfectly legal arrangement between Lord Elgin and the then ruling power in Athens.

That has cut little ice with the Greeks, who gained their independence from Turkey in 1821, since when a sometimes tense regional rivalry has been maintained.

But the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem, has been visiting Athens as part of the new warming of relations between the two Aegean neighbours.

cem Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem: Goodwill gesture to Greece
Under prompting from the Greeks, he declared Turkey's support for the return of the sculptures, describing the Parthenon as one of the greatest symbols of Greek civilisation.

"We consider it an obligation for Turkey to assist in the effort for the return of the marbles, since their destruction and seizure by Elgin took place with Turkish approval during the Ottoman occupation of Greece," Mr Cem was quoted as saying by Greece's culture ministry.

The British Museum also houses antiquities taken from classical sites in Turkey whose return is being sought by the government in Ankara - so far with no more success than the Greeks.

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See also:
30 Nov 99 |  UK
Museum admits 'scandal' of Elgin Marbles
30 Nov 99 |  UK
Elgin Marbles: The story so far...
20 Nov 99 |  Europe
Clinton backs Elgin marbles claim
30 Nov 99 |  Talking Point
Should the Elgin Marbles stay in the British Museum?
28 Jul 99 |  UK
Elgin marbles 'stay in UK'
15 Jul 98 |  UK
Britain returns ancient marbles to Turkey
09 Jun 98 |  Europe
Greece renews marbles demand
09 Jun 98 |  Europe
Greece demands damaged Marbles

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