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Cypriot Ambassador disparages Ancient Coin Collecting while State Department sings the chorus

Dave Welsh, a member of the ACCG Board of Directors responds to a U.S. State Department announcement heralding the addition of coins to the list of imports restricted from Cyprus.

By Dave Welsh |
August 07, 2007

Remarks at the Cyprus MOA signing ceremony July 19, 2007

http://www.state.gov/p/us/rm/2007/89515.htm

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: … The reason we're here today, ladies and gentlemen, and I want thank you all for being here, is because Cyprus and the United States have a joint mission. Well, let me put it another way, the United States has an obligation to help a friend preserve its cultural and archeological and religious heritage. And the Ambassador and I have signed an extension of the Memorandum of Understanding which will help Cyprus to battle those who would plunder its heritage and seek to sell that heritage illegally in the United States and in other countries of the world.

We have only 11 agreements of this kind with countries around the world and that with Cyprus is exceedingly important. And our aim is to be a good friend because of the 150 [documented] archeological sites in Cyprus, about 25 percent of them have been funded or are being run with the help of American institutions and that's gone on for a long time. And as Ambassador Mallias knows and I want to welcome the Ambassador here today-- it's also true in Greece where for the better part of the last century, there has been a joint mission between American universities and archeological institutes in Greece, as well as in Cyprus. And so we think it's our responsibility, Mr. Ambassador, to help you preserve this incredible heritage that the Cypriot people enjoy and must protect.

Texts from the period that we're trying to protect are very, very rare. And so we have to depend on artifacts, roughly from the eighth -- from the 8th century, B.C., to about the time of 330 A.D. And of course, the heritage that has been plundered most significantly is that of coins. And so we hope, Mr. Ambassador, that by signing this agreement with you, by putting the full force of the American Government and of our legal system behind you and your government, we can help your people to preserve these precious artifacts.



AMBASSADOR KAKOURIS: Thank you, Under Secretary Burns for your warm words of welcome. And also allow me to thank you and your colleagues for the courtesy of arranging today's ceremony. It's a wonderful occasion. And let me also welcome and express my appreciation to all present for taking time to be with us at this important event this afternoon. Under Secretary, Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen, it's a distinct pleasure and honor to represent Cyprus at this ceremony in exchange of diplomatic notes, marking the renewal of the Memorandum of understanding between Cyprus and the United States to protect the rich, archeological and ethnological heritage of Cyprus.

On July 16, 2002, then Ambassador Marcoullis, now Foreign Minister Marcoullis, signed on behalf of the Cyprus Government the initial Memorandum of understanding to protect pre-classical and classical archeological material from Cyprus. This agreement was amended last August to include Byzantine period ecclesiastical and ritual ethnological material and today coins, archeological material in the metal category, vulnerable to pillage, covering the period from the end of the 6th century B.C. to 235 A.D. have been added to the list of restricted items. Consequently, import restrictions are now in effect for these items as well.

I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to the Government of the United States for responding favorably to our request for the extension of the Memorandum of understanding, for a further five years and for the important recognitions that coins constitute an inseparable part of our cultural heritage and that the pillage they are subjected to is the same as other archeological artifacts.

In fact, I was reminded just before we came in about something that I had said in January when we were before the Committee and responding to someone very much on the side of the coin collectors who -- talked about the hobby of collecting coins. And I said to him: "It may be your hobby, but it's our heritage!" and that is the way that we look at this issue.



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COMMENTARY
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It's apparent that both Under Secretary Burns and Ambassador Kakouris were under the impression (which is not supported by any known evidence) that coins have been and are now being "plundered" to a significant degree in Cyprus. It's also apparent that "coin collectors" are looked upon both by the Government of Cyprus and the State Department as opponents.

In further remarks during this ceremony, Burns went on to stress the importance of the relationship between Cyprus and the USA. He cited cooperation of the Cypriot Government during the evacuation of 15,000 American citizens from Lebanon and close ties between the USA and Greece, as well as the Cypriot-American community.

An issue that must now be confronted as proven fact: the US State Department has placed temporary goals of advancing US foreign policy above long standing, fundamental rights of American citizens. There is no question that the entire process of extending the MOA with Cyprus to include coins was conducted with significant bias against coin collecting, and the intention of gaining continued goodwill from Cyprus without regard for fairness toward legitimate interests of American numismatists. The way in which inclusion of coins in this extension was secretively introduced at the last possible moment has created deep seated suspicions of improper collusion between the archaeology lobby, the State Department bureaucracy and the Cypriot government.

There are reasons for US numismatists to think that the intent (perhaps even the letter) of the CPIA statute under which these restrictions have been imposed was badly stretched during this process. There are also reasons to think that the CPAC, intended by Congress to be an impartial fact finding advisory body that would fairly represent every American's interests, has instead (under direction of Maria Kouroupas) been "packed" with members aligned with the archaeology lobby.

There is another relationship at stake here, apparently not considered by the State Department: the relationship between the US Government and the American people. If the American people can't rely upon their government to give fair consideration to their own rights and interests, if they instead see these rights and interests - so vital to them as individuals - casually dismissed by bureaucrats stretching and twisting the law to advance an ideological bias, why should the American people continue to trust and support their government?

Americans have, historically, had a very special relationship with their Government. It was founded upon principles then unique, and still not very common in other societies today. It is unfortunately the case that in many parts of the world people do not like, trust or (when they have any realistic alternative) obey their governments. They do not believe that their society is governed with their interests given paramount consideration. They look upon those in positions of authority as their enemies, even sometimes as dangerous predators.

Perhaps the relationship between the US Government and the American people should be given more weight in the decision making process. Should large numbers of Americans come to consider State Department bureaucrats to be their enemies not their servants, goodwill from the government of an area the size of Rhode Island with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants may not seem very important in comparison.

Dave Welsh

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dave welsh

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