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Journalist and Author Michael Jansen Speaks about the Wartime Destruction of Cultural Heritage
2006-05-21 17:24:57

Washington, DC - May 16, 2006 - Michael Jansen, an author and veteran journalist who specializes in coverage of the Middle East, has spoken on the destruction of cultural heritage during times of war. Jansen has followed this issue for more than 30 years.

Her book War and Cultural Heritage: Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish Invasion was published in late 2005. Monday?s event, at the National Press Club, was sponsored by the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus. Tuesday?s event - at the Capitol Hill - was sponsored by AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) and AHI (American Hellenic Institute).

Read Ms. Jansen's remarks here.

Jansen's presentations addressed the consequences of the looting of cultures throughout the world, with particular emphasis on Cyprus and Iraq. Her most recent book notes that, ?as soon as man attained a certain degree of civilization, he began to rob the gods and goods of others??

At the NPC, Jansen was introduced by Cyprus Ambassador to the United States Euripides Evriviades, who stressed the relevance of this issue in his home country.

?The issue of the destruction of cultural heritage is especially important for my country,? said Ambassador Evriviades. ?Right now a significant portion of the rich cultural heritage of Cyprus ? priceless artworks and artifacts as well as religious and cultural icons in occupied northern Cyprus ? are being looted, destroyed or vandalized.

?By raising awareness of this issue internationally, we hope we can make progress in protecting the precious historical artifacts that are being threatened due to the ongoing occupation of one third of Cyprus.?

Click here to read a recent article about the destruction of cultural heritage in occupied Cyprus.

In her presentation, Jansen focused on the impact of such looting. She reminded the audience that in addition to the intrinsic value of the objects stolen, there is the tragedy of taking these objects out of their context and thereby affecting attempts to reconstruct the history of a particular region. In the case of Cyprus, she pointed out that illegal excavations still take place in the occupied area, in spite of efforts by the authorities of the Republic of Cyprus to curtail such activities and protect the cultural heritage of the island.

?There are three levels of operatives engaged in the illegal art trade: tomb robbers who harvest the crop, receivers or middle men, and customers. Tomb robbers and customers are many but middle men ? wholesalers and primary dealers ? are few and are closely interconnected. The authorities and police forces know who looters, dealers and buyers are, but rarely take action against them,? Jansen pointed out.

Ms. Jansen?s interest in the subject of cultural heritage began in the 1970s during the Lebanese civil war when that country?s national museum and archaeological sites were damaged in battles between militias. In the years that followed, she has covered the looting of occupied northern Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish invasion; the 1989 trial of an Indiana-based U.S. art dealer who bought several priceless mosaics that were looted and illegally exported from occupied northern Cyprus; and a 1997 sting operation mounted by the Munich police and Cypriot authorities against a notorious Turkish art dealer.

In May 2003 Jansen traveled to Baghdad, accompanying a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) mission sent to investigate the looting of Iraq?s national museum in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Through her experiences on this and subsequent trips, she reported extensively on this issue for various outlets. Her most recent book, War and Cultural Heritage ? Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish Invasion, includes a chapter on how the current war in Iraq has affected that country?s cultural heritage.

She is currently a Middle East analyst for The Irish Times (Dublin), and a columnist for The Deccan Herald (Bangalore, India), The Gulf Today (UAE), and The Jordan Times (Amman). She has contributed articles to ARAMCO WORLD magazine, Middle East International (London), Gemini News Service (London) and The Economist (London). She is the author of several books including The United States and the Palestinian People (Beirut); The Battle of Beirut (London and Boston); Dissonance in Zion (London and Boston); The Aphrodite Plot - a novel about the Turkish invasion of Cyprus (Ann Arbor); and War and Cultural Heritage - Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish Invasion (Modern Greek Studies Department, University of Minnesota).

Jansen received her BA in International Relations from Mount Holyoke College and her Master?s from the American University of Beirut with a specialization in the politics of the Middle East. Following the outbreak of the civil war in Lebanon, Jansen took refuge in Cyprus, where she has lived since 1976.

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