Exploitation of refugees from Syria or exploitation of plausible deniability by antiquities traffickers in Turkey?

On the 22nd of February, police stopped and searched a ‘suspicious’ vehicle on Alparslan Türkeş Avenue in the Çukurova municipality of Adana city (as opposed to the Çukurova district of Adana province), southern Turkey, then found and seized an 18th-century Christian icon, an “embroidery” of one of the Twelve Apostles on a piece of gazelle skin (178 centimetres by 75 centimetres), which had been ‘hidden’ in the boot of the car. (I heard the news through the Museum Security Network.)

In Hürriyet Daily News, it was described (or, rather, translated) as an ’embroidered’ gazelle skin with a ‘carved’ title, although I think the intention was to say that the gazelle skin had been decorated and that the title had been inscribed. It was also described as ‘one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ’. Yet, based on my incredibly limited understanding of Christian iconography, I think “the Great Archiereus” is a depiction of Jesus himself as a great bishop, archbishop or great high priest, who serves the Communion of the Apostles. Indeed, it is also known as Christ Archiereus.

Subsistence trafficking

As I have noted before, there are other cases of attempted trafficking of antiquities by refugees from Syria or Iraq, as well as attempted exploitation of refugees from Syria in Turkey, though that particular case appears to have been a cheeringly failed attempt to exploit forgers who posed as refugee traffickers.

In yet another cruelty inflicted upon victims of emergencies and wars, some refugees are forced to use antiquities as international currency or savings, to engage in subsistence smuggling or subsistence trafficking in order to seek asylum from crisis and conflict, as some are forced to engage in subsistence digging in order to survive within zones of crisis and conflict.

Subsistence trafficking or the exploitation of subsistence trafficking for plausible deniability?

In this case, the suspects claim that a man ‘who came from Syria owed [them] money’ and gave them the icon as payment-in-kind of his debt; they claim that they ‘did not know that it was historically valuable’. On the contrary, the police believe that the suspects knew what they were doing, knew what they were handling and ‘were trying to smuggle the icon from Syria’. The suspects were detained, but they have since been released on bail.


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