Stemming the Flow

By Doxey, John | The Middle East, July-August 1996 | Go to article overview

Stemming the Flow

Doxey, John, The Middle East

John Doxey reports from Istanbul on Turkey's thriving illegal antiquities export trade and government attempts to curb it.

Home at various times to more than 30 civilisations, Turkey provides antiquities smugglers with an endless supply of objects: Lycian coins, Hellenistic statues. Byzantine silver and elaborately carved mosque doors. Objects worth an estimated $200 million slip through Turkey's por ous borders each year, most plucked from the burial mounds and ancient cities of Anatolia for sale to First World collectors.

In their struggle to stem the outflow, Turkish authorities have recently received help from an unlikely source. Sami Guneri Gulener worked 30 years in the underground antiquities trade, mostly as a transporter, or "jockey" of stolen and illegally excavated artifacts. In that time, he claims to have slipped hundreds of priceless objects out of Turkey.

But, although her remains proud of his success as a smuggler - "I can pass a 10-ton statue through the eye of a needle," he boasts - dapper 47 year-old Gulener has decided to use his insider's knowledge to help authorities crack down on the trade, providing Turkey's Minister of Culture with strugglers' names and other information. "I'm a patriot," he says. "The bur eaucrats should know how easy [smuggling] has become before it's too late and everything disappears." Gulener says he receives no pay for the information.

Scholars and government officials need all the help they can get. Illegal exportation of Turkish artifacts dates at least to the mid-19th century, when European archaeology buffs hauled out priceless monuments like the Hellenistic Altar of Zeus from Pergamon and Priam's Treasure from ancient Troy without Ottoman permission. But experts say the trade has mushroomed since the late 1960s, when Mafia-style outfits sprang up in Istanbul and Germany to mastermind the contraband pipeline.

"It's all about supply and demand," says Ozgen Acar, a columnist with the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, who began crusading against the antiquities trade more than 25 years ago. "Turks realised about that time that they could buy an ancient piece for a few thousand dollars from the farmer who found it and sell it in New York or Munich for $500,000," he says. A turn-of-the-century Turkish law requires that all antiquities be registered with the Culture Ministry within a month of their discovery. Nobody, not even the state, can legally sell them abroad. That means that at some point along the way, most Turkish antiquities in foreign collections were acquired illegally.

Before the international smuggling rings took over, the antiquities trade was centred in Istanbul's lab yrinthine Grand Bazaar where, over glasses of tea, shops peddled all kinds of artifacts picked up from thieves and grave robbers. Now, experts on both sides of the law say, roughly 85% of this booty passes through neighbouring Bulgaria, several hours drive north from Istanbul. A few thousand dollars worth of baksheesh, or gratuity, is usually all it takes to persuade customs officials at the frontier to look the other away. That makes the Turkey-Bulgaria corridor one of Europe's major gateways for narcotics, stolen cars and guns, as well as antiquities.

Lack of a cultural-protection pact between the two countries, such as the one Turkey has with Greece, makes things easy for antiquities traders. Once the items are safely across the Bulgarian border, they can be exported legally. They are usually taken to Sofia airport, then flown to dealers in Western Europe.

"Getting a piece out of the country is the easy part," says Gulener, who claims to have jockeyed out of Turkey several artifacts now displayed in European and American museums. The advent of Mafia-like smuggling rings, which government officials say are controlled by three Istanbul-based family groups, has made selling to international business easier, too. The rings have the "ability to market the items through their international connections," including posh European art galleries and jetsetting collectors, says Gulener, who hesitates to call the rings Mafias. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Stemming the Flow


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.