Crimean museums fear loss of treasures

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea: Four Crimean museums fear they could lose hundreds of precious artifacts loaned to a Dutch museum before the peninsula’s rapid transfer to Russia from Ukraine, a museum director said Wednesday.

The rich collection of items spanning the second century B.C. to the late medieval era was loaned to Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum before Russia reclaimed Crimea from the Ukraine.

Now curators in both Amsterdam and Crimea are left wringing their hands over the dilemma facing them: Once the exhibition ends, do the artifacts go to Kiev or Moscow?

“In the agreement,” said Andrei Malgin, director of the Tavrida Museum in Simferopol, “it states that these items are part of the national state fund of Ukraine.”

The museum is one of five from Ukraine taking part in the exhibition, four of which are situated in the Crimean peninsula.

The internationally contentious absorption has left the museum with a “very complex legal issue,” observed Yasha Lange, spokeswoman for Amsterdam University that owns the museum. “Who owns these objects?”

The Allard Pierson has now turned to the Dutch Foreign Ministry for advice, Lange said, adding the museum was in “constant contact” with Kiev and Moscow on the issue.

Exhibited items include a scabbard and a gold-hewn ceremonial helmet from Scythia, as well as a lacquered box, originally from China, which in Roman times found its way to Crimea via the Silk Road.

The ambiguity over the artifacts’ future worries Crimea’s museums.

“I don’t see why political events should threaten these items,” Malgin said in his Simferopol office. “Probably there are people in Kiev who would be interested in these items not making it back to the Crimea,” but the museums will work to get them back. The Russian Culture Ministry has already been informed about the potential conflict.

Crimea was at the crossroads of ancient trade routes and the shores of the Black Sea peninsula have long been excavated by archaeologists, yielding fantastic treasures.

“Never before has Ukraine made so many prize archaeological pieces available on loan,” the exhibition program said. “The exhibition casts new light on the Scythians, Goths and Huns, for centuries dismissed as little more than ‘barbarians.’”

“The Crimea – Gold and Secrets of the Black Sea” ends in August.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 28, 2014, on page 16.




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