January 20, 2021 - 13:04 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - In its final hours, the Trump Administration signed a disastrous bilateral U.S.-Turkey Memorandum of Understanding granting Turkey legal rights over the vast religious-cultural heritage of the region’s indigenous peoples and other minority populations, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
While the final memorandum text has not been made public, Turkey’s request called for U.S. import restrictions on virtually all art originating in their territory, spanning all periods in history from the prehistoric up to the modern era.
U.S. law requires that four conditions be satisfied before signing an agreement:
1) The cultural property of the requesting country [and on the designated list] is in jeopardy from pillage.
2) Turkey has taken measures consistent with the 1970 UNESCO Convention to protect its cultural patrimony.
3) The application of import restrictions, if applied in concert with similar restrictions implemented, or to be implemented within a reasonable amount of time by those nations individually having a significant import trade in such material, would be of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage, and remedies less drastic than import restrictions are unavailable.
4) The application of import restrictions is consistent with the international community’s interest in the interchange of cultural property.
Opponents of the agreement argued that none of the key criteria had been met.
In testimony submitted on January 21, 2020, to the State Department Cultural Property Advisory Committee which recommended the signing of the agreement, the Association of Art Museum Directors argued, “While all of the facts are important, perhaps the most troubling is Turkey’s failure to take measures to protect its cultural patrimony. Instead, it is taking affirmative steps to eradicate some of the country’s most important heritage—particularly that of its minority cultures and religions—through state-sanctioned destruction of cultural patrimony. Nobody should condone this conduct. But that is exactly what the Committee will do if it concludes that Turkey qualifies for import restrictions and recommends the MOU.”
Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, who served on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom from 2004-2012 and lectures at Tufts University Fletcher School, called the agreement “a surreal moment in U.S. foreign policy.” Prodromou explained, “well-documented and extensive evidence by cultural heritage experts leaves no doubt that the state of Turkey is the single greatest threat to that country's cultural heritage. The Trump Administration has now put the United States in the position of enabler to Turkey’s weaponization of cultural heritage policy, used for a century as a cudgel to erase the country’s vulnerable religious minorities, including Greek, Armenian, and Assyrian Christians, and Jews. The incoming Biden administration will face one more challenge in trying to restore U.S. leadership in the protection of human rights and religious freedom, as Washington tries to ensure that Turkey does not hide beyond the MOU in order to commit 'memoricide' against its Christian and Jewish minority communities.”
Following the signing of the agreement, the State Department Bureau of Education and Cultural Heritage will work with Turkey’s Embassy and archaeologists to build a comprehensive “designated list” of items prohibited from import. Similar lists, developed as part of memoranda with other countries, have included virtually all objects, unless they can be proved to U.S. Customs’ satisfaction to have been out of country for more than ten years. Agreements are usually valid for five years, though legislative oversight is generally lax, and memoranda with other countries have been renewed for decades, often with no measurable benefit for the preservation of antiquities.