Friday, 24 March 2006

Turkish Cypriot steward, Greek Cypriot owner, northern Cypriot cultural property, southern Cypriot law

Admittedly, I don't have perfect knowledge of the events that have befallen a Turkish Cypriot steward, a Greek Cypriot owner and their northern Cypriot cultural property under southern Cypriot law, as the only thing available to me is John Leonidou's article on page 4 of the Cyprus Mail on the 23rd of March 2006, "Turkish Cypriot man fined for trying to return old books to their owner", but even its title hints at its peculiarities [followed by update from the Cyprus Weekly].

John Leonidou (2006: 4) relayed that:
A Turkish Cypriot man was yesterday fined £700 by a Nicosia District Court for not declaring an old book, belonging to a Greek Cypriot refugee, to the Antiquities Department.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this case is "the first of its kind in the Cypriot courts".
State Prosecutor Christiana Themistocleous charged Hasan... with not declaring an antique book to the Antiquities Department but also charged him with being in possession of a large number of other books, in Greek and Turkish, also to have not been declared to the Antiquities Department.
When Birol Hasan tried to cross the Agios Dometios checkpoint between the territories of the northern administration and the southern government, southern Cypriot customs officers searched him and his car and found the books therein.

Prosecutor Themistocleous explained that,
The book was seized and upon examination... it was discovered that the book, which was published in 1702, was stamped that it belonged to Philologist Kyriakos Rigas.
Themistocleous said that,
The accused, who immediately admitted the charges, told police officers [emphasis added],
which, in light of the ruling, gestures towards an accusation that he was not telling the truth when he said,
that he had found the book at the home of his recently deceased mother... in Lefkoniko, which is in the north. He is currently living in the occupied area of Nicosia.
John Leonidou noted that Birol Hasan's mother "had moved into the house of the plaintiff [Father Kyriakos Rigas] just after 1974".

Leonidou continued that,
Defence lawyer Mentes Aziz told Judge Lemonia Kaoutzani that his client had no idea about the book and could not make out the inscription pinpointing the owner because he could not read Greek [emphasis added]. He also said Hasan had recently got in touch with the owner and that he had agreed to return to him all the books he had found in his mother's house [emphasis added].
Defender Aziz observed that,
The plaintiff in this case, who is also the owner of the book, Father Kyriakos Rigas has already forgiven my client and recently told police officers "I forgive him, may God forgive him. I don't have a complaint against him" [emphasis added],
which opens up the question of who exactly took the case to court, given that the steward, Birol Hasan, had already arranged the cultural property's return with the owner, Kyriakos Rigas and given that Rigas had "forgiven" him (though what exactly Hasan required his forgiveness for, I don't know, as he appears to have acted as a model citizen - a model Cypriot - throughout).

Having noted that the court "understands that this offence has been influenced by the Turkish invasion of the island and the current occupying forces on the island", in his (more generously, idiosyncratic, less euphemistically, absurd) ruling, Judge Kaoutzani determined that,
Although the offences are serious and could carry a one year prison sentence for a first offence, the court has taken into consideration the accused's immediate acceptance of the charges and his willingness to return the books to the plaintiff.
It was not mere "willingness"; it was only because he was returning the books that he was "caught" and it was only because he was "caught" that he was unable to return the books.
I fine the accused £700 for the first charge and nothing for the second charge provided that the accused keeps his word and returns the books to the original owner [emphasis added]."
The judge's turn of phrase in his ruling seems to imply that the steward, Birol Hasan, did not originally intend to return the cultural property to its owner, Kyriakos Rigas. It seems, however:
  • first, from Hasan's unchallenged claim that he couldn't read Greek and so couldn't immediately identify the rightful owner;
  • second, from from Hasan's subsequent identification of the owner and arrangement for the return of the cultural property to him;
  • third, from Hasan's unchallenged claim that he couldn't know the historical value of the materials and so couldn't know that he had a moral, let alone legal duty, to register the cultural property with the Antiquities Department; and
  • fourth, from Rigas's abstention from accusations that Hasan was stealing, smuggling or otherwise illictly transfering moveable cultural property,
that Birol Hasan's conviction would constitute a miscarriage of justice.

Perhaps, in my thesis, I could examine actual legal cases negotiating (here, Cypriot) cultural property stewardship, ownership and law; maybe I should use them as miniature case studies, way markers in the development of my argument(s).

There's even one (the United Nations Human Rights Committee's (1997) "Communication No. 549/1993" on Hopu and Bessert v. France), which practically implements a human rights hierarchy based upon a conflict between one group's (more fundamental) rights claim to protection for their community's ancestral burial grounds against another's (less fundamental) rights claim to freedom to develop a luxury hotel complex...

Still, notwithstanding a few uncertainties and inconsistencies, it does appear that in this case:
  • the southern Cypriot law managed to act upon northern Cypriot cultural property (albeit in the south),
  • reinforcing the Republic of Cyprus's claim to be the only government in the island, but,
  • in "protecting" a Greek Cypriot from a Turkish Cypriot he seems to have had a respectful, cooperative relationship with,
it succeeded only in criminalising one of its hypothetical citizens, a Turkish Cypriot who preserved then restituted Greek Cypriot cultural property, for doing precisely that.

[Updated on the 25th of March 2006]

According, too, to the Cyprus Weekly team's article on page 15 of their 24th-30th of March 2006 newspaper, "Turkish Cypriot fined for possessing old Bible",
A Turkish Cypriot has been fined £700 for illegal possession of a rare 300-year-old Bible [a copy of the New Testament from circa 1702] belonging to a Greek Cypriot priest from occupied Lefkoniko.
Originally held for "smuggling" a "stolen.... archaeological treasure", the Nicosia District Court finally "imposed a £700 fine... for possessing an undeclared antiquity" upon Birol Hasan and required restitution of the cultural property to its (individual, private) owner; still, they concluded that "there was no evidence to suggest the Bible - of 'unknown value' - was stolen".

The account given in the Cyprus Weekly, however, diverged significantly from that given in the Cyprus Mail where it narrated that "Hasan had recently got in touch with the owner and that he had agreed to return to him all the books he had found".

The Cyprus Weekly, rather, said that "Police tracked down the the priest and the Bible was returned to him".

In this construction, Birol Hasan would seem to be more culpable. After all,
  • although Hasan's claim that he couldn't read Greek and so couldn't immediately identify the rightful owner remains unchallenged,
  • Hasan's alleged identification of the owner and arrangement for his cultural property's restitution is undermined (or, at least, written out) and
  • despite not knowing the exact historical value of the materials, without a prior arrangement to restitute the cultural heritage to its owner, it would seem prudent at least to inform the checkpoint authorities, if not the Antiquities Department (to "declare" it at customs, rather than to have it "found" by police), so
despite Rigas's abstention from accusations that Hasan was stealing, smuggling or otherwise illicitly transfering moveable cultural property, it would appear that Birol Hasan may indeed have been more culpable, though whether he was sufficiently culpable to have "earned" his fine remains to be seen.

[Added on 4th September 2009: Kostas Savvas wrote "Καινή Διαθήκη 304 ετών: Εντοπίστηκε στο αυτοκίνητο 71 χρονου Τουρκοκύπριου [Kaini Diathiki 304 eton: Entopistike sto autokinito 71 xronou Tourkokypriou]" in Simerini (23rd March 2006, page 16; 6.7MB PDF); Radikal carried a note on "Kıbrıslı Türk'e İncil gözaltısı [the Bible in the custody of the Turkish Cypriot]" (23rd March 2006).]

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