Turkey attempts to halt an auction at Christie’s

ISTANBUL (AP) – Culture Minister Erkan Mumcu said yesterday that Turkey was trying to prevent the sale at a Christie’s auction of 17th century Ottoman tiles that may have been stolen from an Istanbul mosque. Despite heavy penalties against smugglers, antiquities and treasures dating to the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman eras are occasionally sold illegally to art collectors overseas. Turkish authorities suspect that the three tiles were stolen from the Yeni Cami or New Mosque, a 17th century mosque in Istanbul’s historic district. Mumcu said Turkey’s Foreign Ministry had started the necessary procedure to prevent the sale at the auction scheduled for April 29 in London. «I believe we will prevent it,» Mumcu was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency. «We will most likely get these back.» A spokeswoman at Christie’s said the auction house had not yet been contacted by Turkish authorities. The spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the tiles had been in a private European collection for a «considerable time.» They were offered for auction a year ago and didn’t sell, she said. The description of the lot on the Internet catalog says the cobalt-blue and turquoise tiles «are very similar indeed to some of those in the Yeni Cami.» «The present tiles have the same color scheme, the same border design and the same inner rope-pattern border as those in the mosque,» according to the website, which offers no pictures of the tiles. The tiles are known as Iznik tiles, named after the northwestern Turkish city of Iznik where ceramic bowls, jars and tiles were made for many palaces and mosques of the Ottoman Empire. The auction house estimated the tiles’ value at 1,500-2,000 pounds sterling ($2,350 to $3,100). Police said the theft of the mosque’s tiles was first reported in February 2002. One person was arrested and several tiles were recovered, an officer taking part in the investigation said. Two suspects are still on the run, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.