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Stolen Antiquities Hunter Teaches World Lessons from Cyprus

Tasoula-HadjitofiStolen antiquities huntress Tasoula Hadjitofi was interviewed by the Cyprus News Agency nearly a year after she helped locate 173 artifacts found in the possession of Turkish smuggler Aydin Dikmen in Munich and returned to Cyprus. Looking at her, one would not guess that the beautiful 55-year-old woman with classical Mediterranean features of dark hair and eyes – whose perseverance and courage have more than once drawn threats from dangerous stolen antiquities traffickers – is unearthing icons and other antiquities looted from northern Cyprus, under Turkish military occupation for 40 years. A Greek-Cypriot born in Famagusta but living in Holland from a young age, Hadjitofi became interested in the recovery of stolen art and religious treasures as honorary consul for her country in the Netherlands, where she emigrated with her family to flee the Turkish invasion in the summer of 1974. She has also been the representative of the Cypriot Greek Orthodox Church in Holland since 1997.
Hadjitofi has managed to recover numerous antique artwork, including icons, mosaics and frescoes exhibited today in the Byzantine museum of Nicosia. She told the Cyprus News Agency that her involvement in the search for treasures stolen by Turks from the island has been a kind of learning process. “Culture is the most political action that exists. That is why in war, the first thing that is done is to cancel the (cultural) traces of the weakest. I began to take interest in Cyprus early on, but since 2004 have learned to use my experience to help other countries,” she explained.
After a successful career and long experience in The Hague, Hadjitofi founded and heads a nonprofit organization called Walk of Truth. “My network is composed of specialized professionals. I collaborate with Interpol, Europol and the Dutch, Greek and Cypriot police. The lawyers with whom I work are also experts in stolen cultural assets,” she said. In the search for art stolen decades ago from her country, Hadjitofi has found her own “walk of truth.”
“I felt that since I could not return home, to my country, I wanted to give people a reason to return to smiling, to vindicate our cultural heritage,” she said. “That is my walk of truth, to understand who I am. And I told myself that perhaps that was exactly what I should do, create a sort of platform to apply the lessons that I learned to other countries with problems similar to Cyprus.” Among her future projects is one to find and repatriate the medallion mosaic depicting the Apostle Andrew taken from the church of Our Lady of Kanakaria, but her plans are not limited to Cyprus. “In September last year, I had the opportunity to organize a conference in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, during which we analyzed illicit art-trafficking networks. It was attended by over a hundred people, including experts, ambassadors and EU officials.”
“We concentrated on cases that happened in Cyprus, Munich and also Afghanistan. In the end, we produced a global model for stolen antiquities that could be used by each country facing a problem of that kind,” Hadjitofi said.
She is also planning to organize a conference on the issue of ownership. Among the cases she would like to discuss is the Parthenon [Elgin] Marbles held in the British Museum.
“Morally, emotionally and historically they belong to Greece. The marbles should be returned to the Parthenon because they are an integral part of it. The question is how to claim their return. I am sure they will go back, it’s just a matter of time.”
(source: CNA)

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