Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cash and CAARI-- the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute, ECA, the Department of Antiquities and the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation

Archaeological pressure groups like Saving Antiquities for Everyone are fond of claiming that antiquities and coin dealers have a "profit motive" for arguing against import restrictions. Yet, the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institutes's ("CAARI's") efforts to support Cyprus' request for import restrictions on cultural artifacts, including coins, raises its own questions. These questions have yet to be explored in any detail.

CAARI has certainly "cashed in" as a bridge between US archaeologists and the Cypriot government. CAARI has received Fulbright grants from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs ("ECA"), the same part of the State Department that imposed import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type: In addition, CARRI has also received a $500,000 challenge grant from the NEH to support the expansion of its library in Nicosia. See E. Hersher, "CAARI Awarded NEH Challenge Grant," CARRI News, Winter 2006 at 1. Finally, the CAARI website also touts the fact that it has received annual subsidies from the U.S. Department of State since its inception. Presumably, these grants also come from ECA, though the particular State Department funding source is not identified on CAARI's website.

I could not find any up to date reference to the financial support, if any, CAARI receives from the Cypriot government or Cypriot institutions, but I have to assume that at least some level of financial support beyond the Embassy dinners mentioned on the CAARI website is possible. Certainly, CAARI maintains close contacts with the Cypriot Government, its Department of Antiquities, and the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation. A review of the CAARI website indicates each have hosted or participated in CAARI events in one way or another.

This last relationship is of particular note for coin collectors. The Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation ("BOCCF") "was born out of the Bank’s growing concern to assist in the rescue of the island’s cultural heritage, which has been pillaged or stolen by the Turkish forces from the occupied areas, and to promote the Hellenic culture of Cyprus at a professional and scholarly level." The BOCCF probably maintains the largest collection of coins of Cypriot type on the Island. Interestingly, while US institutions and collectors must now provide provenance information before importing such coins into the United States, the BOCCF (and Cypriot collectors) have no such requirement before importing such coins into Cyprus. Thus, import restrictions in effect put US collectors and institutions at a competitive disadvantage with the BOCCF and Cypriot collectors who wish to "repatriate" coins of Cypriot type. The BOCCF certainly buys coins on the open market for display in its coin museum.

In my opinion, there is at least an appearance of conflict of interest here. CAARI gets funding from ECA, the decision maker for import restrictions. CAARI asks ECA to support Cyprus' last minute demand for import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type. Those restrictions will benefit the Cypriot government and Antiquities Authority's nationalistic stance against foreigners owning "their cultural property." Meanwhile, the BOCCF now gets a competitive advantage against US institutions and collectors when it buys coins on the open market. Thus, the Cypriot government's nationalism is served when either US Customs repatriates unprovenanced coins back to Cyprus or the BOCCF purchases them on the open market. At a minimum, CAARI ingratiates itself with its host government and perhaps with one of the most important financial entities on the Island, the Bank of Cyprus.

Hopefully, over time we will learn more about CAARI and what, if anything, it received directly or indirectly for its support for import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type. In the meantime, one thing is clear. If groups like CAARI stuck solely to cultural exchanges and research, such questions simply would not arise.

1 comment:

Cultural Property Observer said...

By way of correction, I now understand that CAARI hosted Fulbright scholars that performed work on behalf of CAARI. Thus, CAARI technically benefitted from such grants rather than receiving them directly.