Egypt tries to retrieve head of Tutankhamun from London auctioneers

A handout picture released by Christies auction house in London on June 11, 2019 shows an ancient sculpture representing King Tutankhamun's head. The Egyptian embassy in London requested that Britain prevent the planned sale by Christie's of an ancient sculpture representing King Tutankhamun's head and return it to Egypt, Cairo said. (AFP)
Updated 13 June 2019
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Egypt tries to retrieve head of Tutankhamun from London auctioneers

  • Christie’s expects the head to reach upwards of £4 million at auction, scheduled for July 4

CAIRO: The Egyptian Foreign Ministry says its embassy in London addressed the British Foreign Office and Christie’s auction house to stop the sale of the head of a statue of Tutankhamun, and return it to Egypt.

Christie’s expects the head to reach upwards of £4 million at auction, scheduled for July 4.

The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has also addressed UNESCO to stop the auction. Dr. Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told Arab News he wanted the auctioneers to prove the head had been removed from the country legally, which he doubted they could.

He added that the exit of the head, supposedly from the Karnak temple complex in Luxor, was shrouded in uncertainty.

“We will stop this auction and demand the return of this piece immediately,” he said. Christie’s, though, insists that the sale of the 3,000 year old head is legal.

The St. James-based auction house suggested that the head, along with a wooden sarcophagus and multiple other artifacts also going on sale, were previously owned by the Munich-based collector Heinz Herner, and before that by Austrian dealer Joseph Mesina, who obtained the head from the collection of Prince Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis in the mid 1970s.

In January, Egypt took possession of a stone tablet belonging to the pharaoh Amenhotep I, which had been put up for sale at another London auction house after being illegally smuggled out of Egypt.

The Ministry of Antiquities said it had recovered the piece after searches on global auction sites on the internet brought the tablet to its attention.

Archaeologist Shaaban Abdul Jawad told Arab News the Egyptian state was taking a keen interest in the sale of potentially looted ancient Egyptian items, often tracking them to international auctions to return and preserve the nation’s cultural heritage.


Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

Updated 24 June 2019
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Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

  • The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring
  • There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016

SILIVRI, Turkey: Sixteen leading Turkish civil society leaders went on trial Monday, accused of seeking to overthrow the government during the “Gezi Park” protests of 2013 — charges dubbed an absurd sham by critics.
The group includes renowned businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, whose detention since November 2017 has made him a symbol of what his supporters say is a crackdown on civil society.
Kavala rejected the “irrational claims which lack evidence” in his opening statement, shortly after the trial began under high security in the prison and court complex of Silivri on the outskirts of Istanbul.
He is accused of orchestrating and financing the protests which began over government plans to build over Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces left in Istanbul.
The rallies snowballed into a nationwide movement that marked the first serious challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s brand of Islamic conservatism and grandiose development projects.
The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring, which, ironically, the Turkish government supported.
“None of these actions were coincidental... they were supported from the outside as an operation to bring the Turkish Republic to its knees,” the indictment says.
Amnesty International’s Andrew Gardner said the trial “speaks volumes about the deeply flawed judiciary that has allowed this political witch-hunt to take place.
“It is absurdly attempting to portray routine civil society activities as crimes,” he said.
“The idea that Osman Kavala led the conspiracy is utterly outlandish and unsupported by any credible evidence,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told AFP.
One of the allegations is the claim that a map on Kavala’s phone showing bee species actually depicted his plans to redraw Turkey’s borders.
There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016, blamed by the government on US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, with thousands arrested and tens of thousands sacked from public sector, media and military jobs.
A respected figure in intellectual circles, Kavala is chairman of the Anatolian Culture Foundation, which seeks to bridge ethnic and regional divides through art, including with neighboring Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties.
“I was involved in projects contributing to peace and reconciliation. There is not a single piece of evidence or proof in the indictment that I prepared the ground for a military coup,” Kavala told the court.
Think tank researcher Yigit Aksakoglu was also in pre-trial detention — since November — while six of the rest are being tried in absentia after fleeing Turkey, including actor Memet Ali Alabora and dissident journalist Can Dundar.
The case against Alabora focuses on his appearance in a play featuring a revolt against the ruler of a fictional country.
Others, including architect Mucella Yapici, have already been tried and acquitted for their role in the Gezi Park protests in 2015.
“I am on trial for the second time on the same charges. Peaceful protests cannot be banned. They are a right,” Yapici told the court on Monday.
Erdogan has linked Kavala to US billionaire George Soros, whose efforts to promote democracy around the world have made him a target for several authoritarian leaders.
Last year, Erdogan said Kavala was the representative in Turkey of the “famous Hungarian Jew Soros” whom he accused of trying to “divide and tear up nations.”
Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which ceased activities in Turkey last year, called Monday’s trial a “political sham.”
“At some earlier stage in Turkey’s descent into authoritarian rule, one might have described this trial as a test of judicial independence... but such exams have already been held, and the failing grades were handed down long ago,” wrote Freedom House, a US-based rights group, this week.
“The point of the coming show trial is quite simply to intimidate Turkish citizens and deter them from exercising their rights,” it added.
The hearing will continue on Tuesday.