A Greek Cypriot refugee in the Netherlands chronicles her fierce determination to return stolen artifacts to her country through years of dangerous underworld operations.
Having fled her hometown of Famagusta, Cyprus, at age 14 with her family when the Turkish military invaded the country in 1974, Hadjitofi relocated to The Hague and became, in her early 20s, a businesswoman and honorary consul to her country. While there, she was approached by a Dutch art dealer with a special interest in Byzantine icons and religious paintings, many looted shamelessly from the hundreds of ancient churches located in the occupied area of Cyprus after the Turkish invasion. In this detailed narrative, rendered in occasionally stilted English, the author moves back and forth in time to give a sense of her life in Cyprus before the invasion among her intensely pious Christian community, and she shows how crucial to their religion these icons were. She re-creates the time she was first approached by the dealer, Michel Van Rijn, in 1988; he held out to her tantalizing possibilities of retrieving many sacred icons from Aydin Dikmen, a Turkish dealer with whom he maintained shadowy dealings. In return, she and her country would have to come up with staggering amounts of money. Over more than 10 years, Hadjitofi managed to use the highly volatile Van Rijn to get at Dikmen through an extensive undercover sting operation. Her adventures took her to Munich and London and Cyprus, and she effectively kept the police at bay to lure Dikmen into the trap and the ultimate discovery of priceless artifacts. The author’s work is also a personal memoir, not only of her life in Cyprus, but also of her struggles as a young woman trying to start a family and maintain her IT business, Octagon. Her journey is endearing, and she brings the plight of the Cypriots into sharper focus.
An intimate trek into the venal world of art looting and selling.