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Turkey Recovers Cybele Statue Ending US Lawsuit

December 15, 2020 – Press Release
Herrick, Feinstein LLP

An ancient marble statue of the goddess of Cybele has been repatriated to the Republic of Turkey. The Cybele statue of the Roman period is of Anatolian origin and since prehistoric times Cybele has been worshiped as the Mother Goddess, the symbol and protector of fertility and abundance in the Mediterranean Basin, especially in Anatolia.

In 2016, Eliezer Levin, an Israeli citizen, consigned the Cybele statue for sale at a New York auction house. In connection with the proposed sale, he applied to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) for an export license to ship the Cybele statue from Israel to the New York auction house. According to information contained in the application for a license, the Cybele statue was imported into Israel in the 1970s from Turkey. Upon the request of the IAA, Interpol Jerusalem notified Turkish authorities of the permit request, but before receiving a response from Interpol Ankara, the IAA provided him with an export license to ship the artifact from Israel to New York.

After the Republic began its investigation of the matter, it contacted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the auction house seeking to halt the sale. Thereafter, Mr. Levin filed a lawsuit in the U.S. against the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism (Eliezer Levin v. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Republic of Turkey, Case No. 1:18-cv-01586-JGK (S.D.N.Y.)) seeking a declaration that he was the owner of the statue. The Republic then retained the New York law firm Herrick, Feinstein LLP which filed an answer on behalf of the Republic that also asserted counterclaims seeking recovery of the Cybele.

Last week the lawsuit ended when the Israeli citizen returned the artifact to the Republic. The Cybele then made its way home to Turkey, where it is temporarily on display at the Istanbul Archeological Museums. It will be transferred to a new museum being completed in Afyonkarahisar.

At a ceremony at the Istanbul Archeological Museums on Sunday, Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy welcomed the Cybele statue back to Turkey. Lawrence M. Kaye of Herrick, Feinstein noted “the recovery of the Cybele statue was the result of the Republic of Turkey’s continuing and tireless efforts to repatriate cultural patrimony that has been unlawfully removed from its land.”