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Trafficking Cultural Property

Historic artifact smuggling is not defined in the Turkish Criminal Code. Smuggling is a general term used for a variety of contraband products, so some explanation is in order.  The smuggling crime mentioned here is defined in Act 2863 Law for Protection of Cultural and Natural Entities and is known as ‘historic artifact smuggling’ or ‘historic artifact trafficking’ by the public. It involves the illegal trade and smuggling of portable cultural products.

Smuggling of Historic Artifacts

Historic artifacts and cultural assets that comprise smuggling are as follows: All kinds of geologic, pre-historic and historic assets and artifacts with a value in terms of geology, anthropology, prehistory, archeology and art history in the form of documents or reflecting the social, cultural, technological and scientific properties of their period. In this sense, all kinds of animal and plant fossils, human skeletons, all kinds of tools, china, ceramics, and similar pots and pottery, sculptures, tablets, weapons, icons, glass artifacts, decorative items, jewelry, seals, masks, crowns, written or illustrated manuscripts, coins, sealed or written plates, books, miniatures, engravings, oil or watercolor paintings, orders, medals, china, soil, glass, trees, fabrics, and other portable items and their accouterments. Also, other cultural assets that reflect people’s social structure, human-made artifacts and tools, and scientific, religious, mechanical arts, and ethnographic assets are included in the same category. It is decided by experts in museums whether an artifact is historic or not. In other words, whether historic artifact smuggling is committed or not is decided with a report written by consultants.

Sale of Historic Artifacts

It is deemed in the law that anyone who breaches the law on purpose and without any justifiable excuse regarding unregistered cultural and natural assets will be sentenced from 6 months up to 3 years. The sale, purchase, or acceptance of unregistered cultural and natural assets constitutes historic artifact smuggling, punishable by a prison sentence between 2 and 5 years and a fine up to 5000 days. However, if the trafficking of unregistered cultural and natural assets is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the punishment will be based on historic artifact smuggling, not also breaching the law against unregistered assets. If portable historic artifacts or cultural assets that can be traded with a permit are sold without a permit, this is also a crime punishable by a prison sentence from 6 months up to 3 years.

Cultural Assets and Trade of Historic Artifacts

It is deemed in Act 2863 that illegal transportation of cultural and natural assets is punishable by a prison sentence from 5 years up to 12 years and 5000 days in fines. As can be seen, legislators stipulated a much more severe punishment for the transportation of cultural assets and historic artifacts than trafficking in said artifacts.

Treasure Hunting and Sale of Historic Artifacts

As our legislation is rather restrictive and full of red tape; and also as people who find historic artifacts are not encouraged or incentivized, unfortunately, treasure hunts are not very common in our country.  Therefore, people interested in treasure hunts do it illegally most of the time and damage historic sites with the hopes of finding something of value. Also, treasure hunters are cited for historic artifact smuggling when they get caught.

Liability of Failure to Report Historic Findings

Those who find portable or immovable historic artifacts randomly or in their property have to report it in 3 days to the nearest museum or governorship office. If they fail to do so without a justifiable excuse,  they can be sentenced to a penalty from 6 months up to 4 years. If on top of the failure to report them, they also try to sell, give away or buy them, they can be sentenced from 2 to 5 years in prison and plus a fine. Since the punishment for this crime is quite severe, we advise those who are under investigation or on trial to get professional defense support by hiring a criminal defense attorney in Turkey.

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