Greece found an ally in the form of Turkey’s representative at an UNESCO conference in its campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

Turkish representative Zeynep Boz, who is the head of the department for combating the illicit trafficking of antiquities in the neighboring country, challenged one of the core arguments used by the British government to justify keeping the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum, during a session at the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to Countries of Origin (ICPRCP) of UNESCO.

After thanking the Greek delegation for presenting a “factual case” for the legality of the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens, Boz stated she was not aware of the existence of a firman – an official legal document during the Ottoman era – legitimizing the removal and purchase of the Parthenon Marbles by Lord Elgin in 1816.

Britain often cites this document for the “purchase” of the Parthenon Marbles in 1816 by Lord Elgin as part of the history of the removal of the Marbles to counter Greek claims for their repatriation.

Commenting on the conclusion of the UNESCO session from Rhodes, Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said “there was never an Ottoman firman (decree) which allowed Elgin to treat the Parthenon Sculptures with such brutality,” and went on to add that the Turkish delegate attending the session confirmed Greece’s long-standing argument. Turkey does not acknowledge an Ottoman-era firman for the sale of the Parthenon Marbles to Lord Elgin refuting the British Museum’s case.

“We are not aware of the existence of any document that legitimizes this purchase, which was made at the time by the colonizers of the United Kingdom, so I do not think there is any room to discuss its legality even (…) according to the law of the time. We eagerly look forward to celebrating the return of the Sculptures, as we believe that it will signal a change in behavior towards the protection of cultural goods and will be the strongest message to be given worldwide,” said the Turkish representative.

Her statement highlights the ongoing debate over the ownership of the Parthenon Marbles. The representative’s emphasis on the importance of cultural heritage protection and the symbolic significance of the Marbles’ return to Greece underscores the emotional and cultural dimensions of this issue.

The Parthenon Marbles are a collection of friezes and sculptures that were removed from the Parthenon temple in Athens by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century, during the Ottoman rule. The Marbles are currently on display in the British Museum in London.

Greece has been campaigning for the return of the Marbles for many years.

Mendoni reiterated on Wednesday that “Greece is, as always, open to dialogue”.