Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Cyprus Connection

Extension of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Objects and Ecclesiastical 
and Ritual Ethnological Materials From Cyprus

AGENCIES: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland 
Security; Department of the Treasury.

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: This document amends U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) 
regulations to reflect the extension of import restrictions on Pre-
Classical and Classical archaeological objects and Byzantine 
ecclesiastical and ritual ethnological materials from Cyprus. These 
restrictions, which were last extended by CBP Dec. 07-52, are due to 
expire on July 16, 2012, unless extended. The Assistant Secretary for 
Educational and Cultural Affairs, United States Department of State, 
has determined to extend the bilateral Agreement between the Republic 
of Cyprus and the United States to continue the imposition of import 
restrictions on cultural property from Cyprus. The Designated List of 
cultural property described in CBP Dec. 07-52 is revised in this 
document to reflect that the types of ecclesiastical and ritual 
ethnological articles dating from the Byzantine period previously 
listed on the CBP Dec. 07-52 Designated List as protected are now 
protected also if dating from the Post-Byzantine period (c. 1500 A.D. 
to 1850 A.D.) The revised Designated List also clarifies that certain 
mosaics of stone and wall hangings (specifically, to include images of 
Saints among images of Christ, Archangels, and the Apostles) are 
covered under the import restrictions published today. The import 
restrictions imposed on the archaeological and ethnological materials 
covered under the Agreement will remain in effect for a 5-year period, 
and the CBP regulations are being amended accordingly. These 
restrictions are being extended pursuant to determinations of the State 
Department under the terms of the Convention on Cultural Property 
Implementation Act in accordance with the United Nations Educational, 
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on the Means 
of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer 
of Ownership of Cultural Property.

DATES: Effective Date: July 16, 2012.

Cyprus in Breach of MOU with US?  
By Peter Tompa
 In return for precluding Americans from purchasing undocumented Cypriot antiquities (which means an embargo for all practical purposes for things like coins) Cyprus is supposed to undertake serious efforts to protect its own cultural patrimony.  Here is an email that was forwarded to me from a Cypriot coin dealer that alleges that Cyprus has done little to live up to its end of the MOU:

Dear Sir/Madam, I didn't know who else to send this email too so I hope you can forward it to the appropriate parties. I do not hold out much hope that it will make any difference but I have nothing to lose. Regarding the renewal of the Cyprus/USA MOU, it is my belief that Cyprus is in breach of at least 3 of the criteria in article II. Article II/C. states "The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will systematically continue to conduct the inventory of cultural resources in museums, ecclesiastical buildings, private collections and archaeological sites. Every effort should be made to engage all Cypriots in this effort." The last time the Department of Antiquities gave an amnesty for the registration of private collections of antiquities/coins was in 1996. An amendment to the current antiquities law has just been passed and we pressed the DOA and the 'lawmakers' to include another amnesty during this period but the DOA has categorically refused. I don't know if once in the last 16 years can be classed as a 'systematic inventory' but in my opinion it does not! Article II/D. states " The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will make every effort to discourage pillage of cultural resources, and the unauthorized export of such material, through public education programs, including posting appropriate signage at airports, hotels, museums, and other public areas that draw attention to this Memorandum of Understanding and to the cultural heritage protection laws of Cyprus, and introducing initiatives in support of the importance of protecting and preserving the cultural heritage into schools and to the general public." Nothing whatsoever suggested in this paragraph has been implemented. Article II/F. "The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will use its best efforts to allocate sufficient resources for site conservation, museum development, and the adequate conduct of salvage archaeology where there is proposed land development; and to ensure that such development, which can give rise to pillage, is fully monitored by the Department of Antiquities." I wont go into the "adequate conduct of salvage archaeology" as this is a joke in Cyprus. Concerning the "best efforts to allocate sufficient resources for site conservation" I think I have emailed about this before. Apart from a few of the main 'tourist attraction' archaeological sites, 95% of all other sites in Cyprus don't even have the basic deterrents needed to counter looting. In my opinion lighting is the most basic and most important of all deterrents needed and even the main sites do not have this. So, of the 9 criteria listed in the MOU, 5 are the sole responsibility of Cyprus. Of these 5 criteria 3 have DEFINITELY not been met, possibly more. 

An observer unfamiliar with the details of US State Department administration of the US response to the 1970 UNESCO Convention would very likely be puzzled by the rubber-stamp renewal of one of the most controversial actions that the Cultural Heritage Center has ever taken - issuance of the 2007 MOU with Cyprus which, for the first time, included ancient coins in the Restricted List.This led to howls of outrage from the coin collecting community, and ultimately to legal actions that are still pending, challenging both the right of the State Department to do that and the manner in which it was done.

Now we see that in Cyprus, as also in many other nations which have negotiated import restrictions with the USA, the criteria which the 1983 CCPIA - the authorizing law which established and in theory, governs the actions and decisions of the Cultural Heritage Center - imposed to ensure that these import restrictions would not be awarded wholesale, or without good cause, are being flouted and completely ignored. The State Department is obviously overlooking that, as it ritualistically goes through the steps prescribed by the CCPIA for consideration of the renewal of import restrictions.

What was originally intended to be a searching examination of whether sufficient justification for these restrictions continues to exist has evolved into routine reapproval of all MOUs without anything resembling genuine and evenhanded reconsideration. Our hypothetical observer might then wonder how it is that in the United States of America, which prides itself on being a nation ruled by law, a government agency is operating in a manner that clearly seems to be ignoring the law, and is instead following its own agenda - an agenda closely aligned with the archaeology lobby and the cultural ministries of foreign governments.

This observer might also note that the Cultural Heritage Center imposes obsessive secrecy upon its discussions with individuals in the archaeological community and in foreign governments, secrecy which makes it nearly impossible to understand how decisions are reached and negotiations are are conducted. It would be difficult for this hypothetical observer to avoid suspecting that somehow the Cultural Heritage Center has in some mysterious manner acquired carte blanche, the ability to do whatever it pleases without effective oversight by anyone and without accountability to anyone. The Cultural Heritage Center is not even making disclosures prescribed by law to Congress. How could such a state of affairs ever have arisen?
The Éminence grise
The answer to this riddle is that the Cultural Heritage Center is directed by an archaeologist of Greek ancestry, a pillar of the Greek Orthodox Church in Bethesda, Maryland, who has close ties to the Greek and Cypriot governments. Ever since the USA ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention, this archaeologist has, in one capacity or another and at one agency or another, presided over operations of the CPAC - the fact-finding committee of experts that supposedly provides expert, unbiased advice on requests for import restrictions - and the State Department bureaucracy which implements decisions on these requests.

This archaeologist is Maria Papageorge Kouroupas, Executive Director of the Cultural Heritage Center. One of the most secretive, self-effacing individuals ever to occupy an important position in government, over the nearly thirty years during which she has controlled US response to 1970 UNESCO Convention, she has molded the Cultural Heritage Center and its forebears into instruments of her will and her ideals -- ideals that are relentlessly inimical to private antiquities collecting, and especially to the international trade that supplies collectors. Maria Kouroupas has so effectively mastered the secretive Byzantine arts of working almost invisibly behind the scenes to control political affairs that she has become the de facto arbiter of US cultural policy where antiquities are concerned.

What does this situation imply for the future? First, Maria Kouroupas is nearing retirement age and it seems extremely unlikely that anyone possessing her unique qualities would be found to succeed her. Second, despite the effectiveness of her control of policy, organized opposition to her actions and her agenda does exist.

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild  [ ] is a non-profit organization committed to promoting the free and independent collecting of coins from antiquity. Its goal is to foster an environment in which the general public can confidently and legally acquire and hold any numismatic item of historical interest regardless of date or place of origin. 

The ACCG has provided a focus for collector outrage at  the actions of the Cultural Heritage Center, and has challenged these actions in Federal court. Readers interested in details of these challenges will find them on the ACCG website.



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