January 08, 2012

Turkey: Istanbul A Hub For Islamic Art Theft

As the international art market has turned its attention – and resources – to Islamic art, Istanbul has become a growing hub for stolen artifacts. Sixty-eight thousand historical objects were recovered in 2010 by the police, causing cultural sites like Istanbul’s famed Süleymaniye Mosque, above, to tighten security.

Under the elegant, soaring arches of Istanbul’s newly restored, 16th century Süleymaniye Mosque, dozens of security cameras keep an eye on visitors’ every move. Vigilant security guards patrol indoors and out. Turkey, police say, is becoming the epicenter of an international market for stolen Islamic art, and Turkish mosques and museums alike are on high alert.

That means the responsibilities of the imam at Süleymaniye Mosque, widely considered the city’s most magnificent, now include not only looking after the people’s faith, but, increasingly, the valuable contents of the mosque itself.

“We are more comfortable with the presence of the security guards. We feel this place is secure,” said Imam Ayhan Mansiz. “Thank God, we didn’t experience any theft. Our mosque is safe. The restoration has just been completed and everything is listed and categorized, and the most valuable items are now in museums.”


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