As a girl growing up in Cyprus, I never imagined I’d learn as much as I have about the inner workings of art trafficking. Here are some of the learnings I’ve gathered over the years:
- I’ve learned about civil cases and their failings due to statutes of limitations.
- I’ve learned about criminal cases by setting up sting operations and staging fake purchases to gather evidence for law enforcement in multiple countries.
- I’ve learned that there is no harmonization of legislation amongst member States and sharing information is not as easy as it should be.
- I’ve learned about international treaties such as the Hague Convention of 1954 and used them to our advantage. In 1995, I confiscated 4 icons in Rotterdam on behalf of Cyprus. Our lawyer Rob Polak and I were the first to ever invoke this treaty. Our work attracted a lot of media attention and UNESCO sent an observer to our cases as a result.
- I also have been exposed to the trade and the tricks that elicit dealers play in order to use the law to their advantage. I’ve learned that shady collectors use the law to their advantage, too. They place their greed and ignorance above right and wrong just to possess cultural treasures.
Those and many more have been the challenges I faced for 30 years fighting art trafficking and advocating the legislation changes in policy makers and politicians.
I’ve since registered, cataloged and digitized these experiences, building up case studies with real examples of restitution, and documenting their challenges. I decided to share the lessons I’ve learned with the world so that Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis and others in areas of conflict, can learn from our experiences and avoid having the same cultural cleansing. These experiences are now accessible, thanks to Walk of Truth, and we signed collaboration agreements with a number of universities around the world: UCL London, Birmingham, Harvard, and Vrij university in Amsterdam, so they can use my work for research and training purposes. It’s an honor to be able to contribute to the recovery and repatriation of cultural artifacts in this way.