"Open Letter to U.S. Congress"
From The Celator, May 2004
Bekircan Tahberer |
May 01, 2004
I am a Turkish citizen and live in Adana, Turkey. My country is usually described as the cradle of civilizations which is true in every sense. Settlements as old as the ones from the 10th millennium BC to the most recent ones are scattered all around the country. I can even say that at least one or two historical and archaeological sites exist near each and every new settlement, village and town let alone the ones buried under the new ones.
As a result many coins and artifacts from those civilizations somehow come to daylight. Official excavations go on each corner of the country and almost all major cities have at least one archaeology museum.
I am a teacher of German and English and a retired businessman. I have always had a great interest in ancient coins which I have been collecting since my childhood. About 20 years ago I was notified that collecting ancients without permission is prohibited in Turkey. I checked the law and found that I had to apply to the museum and get a collector license which I got about 17 years ago.
Officially, I have never studied archaeology or numismatics but in the process of collecting, I built a rather large library and thanks to love of ancient coins I educated myself. Once the knowledge glass becomes full, it begins to overflows. The same happened to me and I compiled the first Sylloge Nummorum Greacorum (Turkish/English) catalogue in my country, wrote the book "Ancient Cilician Coins (in Turkish) and published more than 15 articles both in Turkish and English. The irony is that there is no other numismatist from any university to write the half of what I have produced so far in Turkey.
Collecting ancient coins is my hobby and my research on ancient coins is also my hobby. Since I love what I do, I feel that I am more productive than the ones who do it professionally. In terms of international numismatics, I can claim the same; there are more amateur scholars that produce hundreds of books and articles than the professional ones all around the world because they own the very coin, they love it, they look at it every day, they wonder what is on it and they try to learn about it. When they learn something, they want to share their finds with others, just for the fun of it most of the time. However professional archaeologists don't own ancient coins, which is something good for them because they don't have to pay for them! But then coins are not really so interesting for them because they are only a part of thousands of other artifacts in their museums that they have to take care. Millions of information sources lie in museum vaults for decades without being touched while amateur scholars keep producing.
In my country, collecting ancients is a privilege because the right to own them is restricted. I am fortunate to have a license but the number of collectors is very limited. As a result nobody knows anything about ancient coins including archaeologist because it is forbidden to touch them without license. They are not known and therefore they are not appreciated, that is why the sites are looted and everything found are smuggled. Even though the country provides a very considerable amount of material to the archaeologists and numismatists all around the world, the number of Turkish publications is very few.
This proves that limitations and prohibitions don't help solve the problems all the time. I have always envied my collector friends in the U.S. because they can freely buy, sell and carry around their coins. They do a lot of research and the information-knowledge spreads, which enhances the public education, which is something, I think, any administration-government would appreciate but not restrict.
For years, I have owned coins with a license but I always have to keep them in a safe in my house. I don't have the right to take even one coin from my collection to a presentation. I give lectures on ancient coins in schools and other places where I always have to take slides and photographs and I can surely say that slides and photographs don't take the place of real coins.
My only request is that you don't restrict the freedom of private ownership of ancient coins because of this or that reason, which will restrict your society in return, as it has been doing in my country.