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Biden Administration Implements Last Minute Trump MOU with Turkey; Coins that “Circulated Primarily in Turkey,” Religious Artifacts of Displaced Christian, Jewish, Armenian Minorities Included in New Import Restrictions

June 18, 2021 12:25 PM | Peter Tompa (Administrator)

The June 16, 2021  Federal Register (https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/06/16/2021-12646/import-restrictions-imposed-on-categories-of-archaeological-and-ethnological-material-of-turkey) announced regulations implementing the Trump Administration’s January 19, 2021, Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Republic of Turkey.   This MOU is the latest in a series of recent agreements with authoritarian Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Governments engineered with behind the scenes help from archaeological advocacy groups.  (https://culturalpropertynews.org/mou-backstory-how-cultural-property-agreements-with-authoritarian-middle-eastern-governments-are-made/)

Following a pattern established in these other recent MENA MOUs, the restrictions being imposed are of exceptional breadth, including virtually all Turkish archaeological and ethnological material dating from 1.2 million B.C. to the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1924.

The new restrictions encompass a wide variety of ancient coins which “circulated primarily in Turkey.”  Additionally, In a blow to advocacy groups representing displaced religious and ethnic Greek, Jewish, Armenian, and Kurdish minorities, the regulations explicitly list religious artifacts associated with these groups that were either forcibly deported/and or encouraged to leave Turkey during the troubled 20th century. 

The restrictions on coins are as follows:

9. Coins

a. Greek coins – Archaic coins, dated to 640 – 480 B.C., in electrum, silver and billon, that circulated primarily in Turkey; Classical coins, dated to 479 – 332 B.C., in electrum, silver, gold, and bronze, that circulated primarily in Turkey; and Hellenistic coins, dated to 332 – 31 B.C., in gold, silver, bronze and other base metals, that circulated primarily in Turkey. Greek coins were minted by many authorities for trading and payment and often circulated all over the ancient world, including in Turkey. All categories are based on find information provided in Thompson, M., Mørkholm, O., Kraay, C., Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards, 1973 (available online at http://coinhoards.org/) and the updates in Coin Hoards I-X as well as other hoard and single find publications. Mints located in Turkey and surrounding areas are found in Head, B. V., Historia Numorum, A Manual of Greek Numismatics, 1911 (available online at

http://snible.org/coins/hn/).

b. Roman provincial coins – Roman provincial coins, dated from the end of 2nd century B.C. to the early 6th century A.D., in gold, silver, and bronze and copper that circulated primarily in Turkey.

c. Byzantine period coins – Byzantine period coins, in gold, silver, bronze, copper coins, and sometimes electrum, dating from the early 6th century to the 15th century A.D., that circulated primarily in Turkey, (e.g., coins produced at mints in Nicaea and Magnesia under the Empire of Nicaea).

d. Medieval and Islamic coins – Medieval and Islamic coins, in gold, silver, bronze, and copper coins from approximately A.D. 1077 – 1770, that circulated primarily in Turkey.

The regulations will have a significant impact on millions of coin collectors and thousands of small businesses here and abroad that trade in historical coins.   The restrictions on coins are as follows:  While the regulations continue a current exemption for widely collected Roman Imperial coins, everything else down to 1770 is included, subject to the qualification that the coin type “circulated primarily in Turkey.”   This qualification apparently stems from the acknowledgement found in the regulations themselves that ancient coins as a general rule circulated far from where they were minted.  Before the controversial decision to first impose import restrictions on Cypriot coins in 2007, the wide circulation of such coins, as well as the fact that individual types have often come down to us in hundreds or thousands of examples, was enough to keep ancient and early modern coins from being placed on the designated lists. Since that time, coins have usually been included, often misleadingly simply based on the fact that they were minted within the confines of what is today a modern nation state.  

If the phraseology here is meant to better comply with the Cultural Property Implementation Act’s (CPIA’s) language, it still only pays “lip service” to the statutory provisions.   Indeed, the “plain meaning” of the CPIA requires far more.  Import restrictions only apply to “designated archaeological material” under 19 U.S.C. §   2606.  This “designated archaeological material” is that “covered by an agreement” and “listed” under Section 2604.  19 U.S.C. § 2601 (7).  Section 2604 states that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and/or the Treasury Department “may list this such material by type or other appropriate classification, but each listing made under this section shall be sufficiently specific and precise to insure that (1) the import restrictions under Section 2606 are applied only to the archaeological . . . material covered by the agreement . . . ; and (2) fair notice is given to importers . . . as to what material is subject to such restrictions.”  19 U.S.C. § 2604 (emphasis added).  The word “only” emphasizes the requirement that “designated archaeological material” must be only that covered by the agreement, i.e., “first discovered within” and “subject to export control by, the State Party.”   19 U.S.C. § 2601 (2).   The word “shall” emphasizes the mandatory nature of this Congressional direction; there is simply no discretion allowed.     See, e.g., Black's Law Dictionary 1407 (8th ed. 2004) (defining "shall" as "has a duty to; more broadly, is required to").  Therefore, under the CPIA, the proper standard is not whether a coin type “primarily” circulated within the confines of a given, modern nation state, but whether it can only be found there.  Moreover, even assuming the “circulated primarily” phraseology were correct, the regulation’s failure to identify which coins “circulated primarily in Turkey” raises the question whether the regulation may be constitutionally void for vagueness. 

In any event, the real problem with such a broad MOU with Turkey is that in seeking to “protect” all “Turkish Cultural Patrimony” from looting, the U.S. Government will further harm minority communities living abroad as well as the legitimate trade in “Turkish” artifacts with our major trading partners in the European Union and the United Kingdom.  The cumulative impact of import restrictions on behalf of authoritarian MENA governments has been very problematical because most minor artifacts (like coins) and family keepsakes simply lack the document trail necessary for legal import under the “safe harbor” provisions of CPIA, 19 U.S.C. § 26061. The CPIA only authorizes the government to impose import restrictions on artifacts first discovered within and subject to the export control of a particular country. (19 U.S.C. § 2601.) Furthermore, seizure is only appropriate for items on the designated list exported from the State Party after the effective date of regulations. (19 U.S.C. § 2606.) Unfortunately, the Department of State and CBP view this authority far more broadly. CBP has promulgated designated lists based on where items are made and sometimes found, not where they are actually found and hence are subject to export control. Additionally, restrictions are not applied prospectively solely to illegal exports made after the effective date of regulations, but rather are enforced against any import into the U.S. made after the effective date of regulations, i.e., an embargo, not targeted, prospective import restrictions.

The ACCG has updated its guidance on import restrictions to reflect the new regulations on Turkish coins.  This update can be found in the "Background" section of our website under "Legislation."

A longer version of this post can be found on the "Cultural Property Observer" blog here:  https://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2021/06/biden-administration-implements-last.html

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