Turkey has been accused of cultural chauvinism and attempting to blackmail some of the world's most important museums in the wake of its demands for the return of thousands of archaeological treasures.
According to cultural chiefs in Berlin, Paris and New York, Turkey has threatened to bar foreign archaeologists from excavation sites in the country by not renewing their digging permits if governments refuse to return artefacts that Ankara says were unlawfully removed from Turkish soil. It has also threatened to halt the lending of its treasures to foreign museums, they say.
The government in Ankara, emboldened by the country's growing diplomatic and economic clout, has repeatedly said that the retrieval of the artefacts is part of a policy it intends to pursue for years, if necessary, calling it a "cultural war". However, it denies withholding permits as a form of leverage.
But the German Archaeological Institute, founded in 1829 and responsible for some of Turkey's most important excavation sites, says it has already felt the wrath of the Turkish authorities, after they threatened to withdraw excavation permits unless a huge 3,300-year-old Hittite sphinx was returned. When the sphinx arrived back in Turkey to much fanfare last year, permits for reconditioning and restoration work were renewed but those for digging remained outstanding.
Since the return of the sphinx – which Parzinger insists Germany did as a gesture of goodwill despite being under no legal obligation to do so – Turkey has demanded that three further objects be handed over by the Pergamon. They are the more than 2,000-year-old marble torso from the old fisherman statue found in Hadrianic baths of Aphrodisias, a medieval gravestone and parts of a 13th-century mihrab (prayer niche) from Konya. "All the artefacts were acquired legally more than a century ago and we are under no legal obligation to return them," Parzinger said.
Turkey is also in dispute with the Louvre in Paris, which has refused requests to return objects. Ankara retaliated two years ago with a ban on French archaeologists digging in Turkey.
Turkish officials are also at loggerheads with the Norbert Schimmel collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York over 18 objects they claim were illegally excavated, as well as with the British Museum in London over the Samsat Stele, a basalt slab from the 1st century BC.
Archaeologists working in Turkey point to what they say is a sharp contradiction between the government's zealous attempts to retrieve artefacts, and its apparent negligence towards valuable excavation sites that are the talk of the archaeological world.
Among the most prominent is Allianoi, a Roman bath and spa complex in Izmir province, which was flooded in February 2011 on the orders of the government after the Yortanli dam was constructed.
"Allianoi was destroyed despite our efforts to save the baths. The government preferred profit over the preservation of such an important heritage site," said Ahmet Yaras, an archaeologist at Thrace University. Yaras, who spearheaded the efforts to save the archaeological site, has been refused a digging permit for the past three years. He added: "It feels like I'm being punished by the Turkish government because I tried to save Allianoi."
The eastern garrison town of Zeugma from 300BC is another historical site lost to the waters of a large dam project. Hasankeyf, a bronze-age town on the banks of the Tigris, is awaiting a similar fate.
In the central Anatolian town of Konya, the 5,000-year-old Askar Hoyuk burial ground was recently covered over with concrete and turned into a recreational area.
At Yenikapi, where a Byzantine harbour and 8,000-year-old human remains were found, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, recently outraged the archaeological community by ordering the excavation there to come to a rapid end as it was holding up construction of the prestigious Marmaray tunnel underneath the Bosphorus, which is aimed at easing traffic congestion in Istanbul.
A Turkish archaeologist, who did not want to be named, said he was heartbroken that the government appeared to be destroying sites at the same time as battling for the return of artefacts. "I don't understand the attitude of the government," he said. "This contradiction is truly mind-boggling.
Sure Turkey is not hardcore Islam, but it has the history of being so, and Islam sees no value in history, even their own history.
Related link: Turkey wages 'cultural war' in pursuit of its archaeological treasures