ADDRESS BY E.J. COMINO OAM, FEBRUARY 1986


This was an address to the Royal Commonwealth Society of NSW on the occasion of the Greek Night organised by the Kytherian Ladies Auxiliary Committee on 22 February 1986.

We publish this because it is a document from the very early stages of our activity. Emanuel explains what led him to be a pioneer in seeking the return of the Parthenon Marbles. Active in this cause from 1976, he went on to form the first committee in the world, outside Greece, to campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, in 1981.


Emanuel J Comino AM, founder of the International Organising Committee – Australia – for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles. Athens 2015

Distinguished guests, ladies, and gentlemen.

When one is asked to speak on Greek history, it’s culture and traditions or the Greek people in Australia, it is not as easy as one may think because I don’t know where to start and where to finish. So allow me to start by saying that for thousands of years Greece and her people of the past and present have given so much to the world. You don’t have to go far, only a few blocks away from here, you walk through Hyde Park and the Domain and you will see the Hellenistic beauty, you will note that there are those unique artistic columns, the Doric, the Ionic and the Corinthian Columns, you will also see the names of Homer, Socrates, Plato, Archimedes, Sophocles, Praxiteles, Pythagoras, Diogenes, Solon, Hippocrates, Periklis, Aristotelis and many others on our national and university buildings, and not only in this beautiful city of ours, Sydney but all around the world.

And what does this mean? It means that the Hellenic people are sharing with the world the glory and beauty that was Greece and still is today.

A Greek contribution to the world

The Greeks, wherever they went, they built city-states, spoke Greek, practiced democracy and their religion. When one knows the Parthenon on Acropolis, was built between 447-432 BC for the Goddess Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, and some 1000 years later, another great building was built by Greeks at Constantinople the Agia Sophia, for the Christian faith, which means Holy wisdom.

One must never forget that these two unique buildings. No other structures or architecture built by men have ever equalled the beauty, symmetry, and symbolism of the Parthenon and Agia Sophia. They will live forever.

No doubt you have all heard of the Greek Government request to the British Government for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, otherwise known as the Elgin Marbles.

These ancient treasures were taken from Greece by Lord Elgin about 1800 while Greece was under Turkish rule and had no say in the matter whatever, and just in case you don’t know the real reason why he took the Marbles from the Parthenon – he took them to decorate his mansion in Scotland. But by 1816 after getting into financial difficulties he eventually sold them to the British Museum for £35,000 although they were valued over £100,000. Their home ever since has been the British Museum.

Just to enlighten you all, there is a very strong British committee formed in December 1982 in London and it is named the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece under the chairmanship of that distinguished scholar Professor Robert Browning. His Committee consists of Professors, businessmen, play-wrights, members of parliament, and many others. The aim of these distinguished Englishmen is to bring the facts and arguments to the British people to win public support in England and to urge the British Government to change its mind to have the Parthenon Marbles returned to their rightful place in Greece.

There is also an Australian committee formed in Sydney that is supporting the British Committee in the struggle for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, it is called the AHEPA (Aust) Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles. I just happen to be the chairman of the Australian Committee. My Committee’s aim is to assist the British Committee to undo the wrongs of history.

My Greek heritage

These strong feelings about my Greek heritage were not always with me. I recall well my early years in Rockhampton, Queensland where I was born. My father took me to Greece in 1938 after my mother’s death. We were caught in Greece during the 2nd World War. It was a bitter experience and when we returned to Australia after the War, I didn’t want to have hardly anything to do, with anything Greek.

When I was 19 years old and doing my National Service in the RAAF in Townsville, at a special Officers night I met an Englishman (that changed my whole thinking of anything to do with Greek). He was an Air Commodore in the RAF. He was on a special mission in Australia. We got talking and he said to me, Comino; that is a Greek name and should be called Cominos with an ‘S’ at the end. I was a very shy youngster of 19 at the time. I said to him that I am an Australian, I was born in Rockhampton, Queensland, my father came to Australia (from Greece) when he was only 11 years old and my mother also came very young. Thus making me an Australian and not a Greek. To this day I can never forget what this Englishman said to me and in the manner in which he expressed himself to me. He said, no my boy, you are Greek and you should always be very proud to be a Greek because the world owes a lot to Greek history and to the Greek people. From that moment on I wanted to know all about Greece, its history, and its people, so believe me I am still learning 33 years later. It is more than interesting learning about one’s heritage, I can assure you.

What is the Greek contribution to Australia? To begin with, there are 3/4 of a million Australians of Greek origin, about 1/3 of these migrated here, the others are their Australian born children and grandchildren.

I should point out that nearly all of these people maintain a sense of Greek heritage while being good loyal Australians. They maintain a strong affiliation with the many Greek Orthodox parishes, churches, and associations in Australia and are conscious of the importance of the preservation of the family unit. I could point out that there are approximately 40,000 children being taught Greek in after-hours schools, run mainly by the Greek Orthodox parishes in Australia.

The Greeks in Australia started off as shopkeepers and as labourers, but within one generation we have a prosperous community with very large numbers of professional people, lawyers, Q.C.s, judges, medical specialists, university professors, members in all professions. There are eleven members of parliament, state and federal in Australia, leaders in commerce and business, knights, and many people who have been honored by her Majesty the Queen, and the Government of Australia.

The ties between Australia and Greece are very strong, the two nations have fought side by side in both World Wars. In the 2nd World War, Australian, British and Greek forces, fought the might of Hitler’s army in the heroic campaigns of Greece and Crete. Let me recall two significant historical statements made by Winston Churchill at the time.

First – “It is said that Greeks are fighting like heroes, but from this moment on we should say – the heroes are fighting like Greeks.” and secondly and more importantly he said: “It is not the glory that was Greece, but the glory that is Greece.”

Migration is nothing new

Migration is nothing new to the Greek people. They have been migrating since the Doric invasions of 1100 BC. Within 600 years of that time, there were more Greeks living in Sicily and what are now Turkey and Syria than there were on the mainland of Greece. Today Greeks in America, Canada, Australia, Africa, and Western Europe number more than 4,000,000 people.

I don’t know if you know this, but migration from Greece to Australia started before the turn of the century, and they came mainly from 3 islands – Kythera, Castelorizo, and Ithaka. The Kytherian Greek community is old, well established, and very large, especially in New South Wales and Queensland. It is often said that Kythera is the 7th state of Australia. There are approximately 3,000 people left on the island of Kythera and about 80,000 in Australia of Kytherian descent. Any time you go to the Island you will run into Australians and English is spoken everywhere. For example, the postmaster of the little town of Milopotamos is reported to know by heart all the postcodes in Sydney.

For those of you interested in going to Kythera I should tell you that the island is the birthplace of the love goddess Aphrodite and it is known as “The Island of Love”.

Which brings me to the Kytherian Association of N.S.W. When I mentioned to my wife who is a member of the Kytherian Ladies Auxiliary Committee, that I have been invited by the Royal Commonwealth Society of N.S.W. to put on a Greek night, my wife, in turn, put it to the Ladies Committee and without any hesitation, they undertook to do it all themselves. I wish to thank all the ladies very much.

The Greeks are good settlers, they work hard and are progressive, but Australia has been very good to them too. Australia has provided a warm friendly atmosphere for these people.

There have been opportunities to work and to prosper. Schools, Universities, and the professions have been open to the new settlers and their children. Australia has been a wonderful and hospitable country.

Everyone is given the opportunity to do well and to be honoured for their successes in one field or another. That is why Australians of Greek descent are truly proud to call themselves Australians wherever they go. At the same time, they have a sense of history and heritage of which they are proud. Together with all other Australians, irrespective of their background, we work towards building up this great nation of Australia.

May I take this opportunity to thank Sir Arthur and Lady George for accepting our invitation with their presence here tonight. My thanks also to the Greek National Tourist Organisation for supplying us with all the Greek flags, and posters for this function.

In closing, I wish to express my deep appreciation to the Royal Commonwealth Society of N.S.W. for accepting me and for inviting me to speak this evening.

EMANUEL JOHN COMINO OAM

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Silent protest for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles outside the British Museum – 20 June

An article from UK correspondent for Ta Nea, Yannis Andrtisopoulos

On Saturday 20 June, the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles (BCRPM) organised a silent protest outside the gates of the British Museum, which remains closed. The protest follows on for those held in previous years and since 2009 when the then ‘New Acropolis Museum’ in Athens was officially opened. This Saturday’s protest was held to mark the 11th anniversary of the Acropolis Museum, which post-Covid19 lockdown re-opened to the public on Monday 15 June 2020.

The four large banners that were tied to the British Museum’s railings were the four original banners that hung down from the 4th Plinth in Trafalgar Square, when 19 year old student from Central St Martin’s College, Sofka Smales stood to protest, 12 September 2009, on behalf of the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. On the following day, accompanied by Eleni Cubitt and Marlen Godwin, Sofka visited the British Museum to hand the letter she had written on a roll of wallpaper during her protest on the plinth to the then British Museum Director, Neil MacGregor.

On Saturday the London protesters, Luke, Zara and Tayo wore the 2020 Melina Mercouri t-shirts that made their debut at the 08 February 2020 BM protest. They hung the 4 posters with a few additional scribbles on them (11 years later, there was more to say!) and held the ‘Reunite the Parthenon Marbles’ flag that Professor Edith Hall held out for the first time on 22 February 2020 in the British Museum’s Room 18, the Parthenon Galleries, at the end of Natalie Haynes recital of ‘A Thousand Ships’ the voices of the women of Troy.

On Saturday, 20 June, the Acropolis Museum reduced its entrance fee and there were a number of  talks and additional exhibitions for visitors to take part in, including: ‘Chisel and Memory’, ‘The lost statue of Athena Parthenon’ and ‘A walk through the Museum with an archaeologist’.

The Director of the British Museum, Dr Hartwig Fischer spoke to UK correspondent for Ta Nea, Yannis Andrtisopoulos  that the Acropolis Museum and the British Museum “are complementary in their approach,” adding that the museum “looks forward to continuing our collaboration and fruitful dialogue with our colleagues at the Acropolis Museum.”

Minister of Culture and Sport for Greece, Dr Lina Mendoni commented :“ Perhaps the main argument that the British Museum has been making for years in order not to return the Parthenon Sculptures – since 1982, when Melina Mercouri raised the issue at a UNESCO Conference of Ministers – was that Greece did not have a modern museum that could house the masterpieces of Phidias. Since September 2003, when the construction work for the Acropolis Museum began, Greece has been systematically demanding the return of the Sculptures, which are on display in the British Museum, because they are products of theft. The current Greek government – like any Greek government – is not going to stop claiming the stolen sculptures, which the British Museum continues to hold illegally contrary to any moral principle.”

Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale reflected: “while I do not hold to the view that all artefacts should be returned to their country of origin it does seem to me that the Parthenon Marbles have a good home to be returned to and a facility in which they can be properly displayed in home surroundings for the benefit and enjoyment of visitors from all over the world.”

Labour MP Mary Glindon also added: “I have enjoyed several classical tours of Greece and a highlight of those tours has always been the visit to the Acropolis and the Parthenon. But it’s sad that the Parthenon Marbles are in London.  While they are seen in the British Museum by many people, as many, if not more, would appreciate seeing the Marbles as part of the amazing cultural experience to be enjoyed when visiting the Parthenon and the Acropolis Museum. The Marbles belong in Athens.”

Dame Janet Suzman , Chair of the BCRPM concluded: “there’s always an anniversary to celebrate. June 16th marked the 44th year since the student uprising in Soweto that was a turning point in the downfall of the apartheid state. A global reaction to the murder of a black man in America is sweeping the world, and those same students, grown much older if they survived at all, want to honour that murder by urging “a move away from a world centred on white supremacy and violence to one centred on justice and equity”.

“That argument was taken further when last week a statue was torn down from its plinth in the city of Bristol in England and thrown into the waters of the harbour where the slave ships used to anchor. Bristol, aware too well of its past, has decided that the statue should now be placed in the city museum with a full explanation of how the trader became so rich. Visitors can then understand that the defaced bronze figure is not just a benefactor of the city but a man who grew rich on other people’s misery, by exploiting the cruellest of white supremacies – the slave trade.
 
“And in Greece, the end of the Ottoman Empire’s occupation will be celebrated next year. Taking over bits of the world and ruling them according to your own values is an occupation that the British know only too well; at its height that Empire ruled a third of the world. So when Lord Elgin, British ambassador to the Ottoman court, decided he wanted to send back bits of the Parthenon to adorn his house in Scotland, he didn’t bother to ask the subject Greeks, he greased the palms of functionaries from Istanbul, persuaded his own king to provide a ship and made off with the glory that was Greece. They landed up in Room 18 of the British Museum and for 200 years have been one of its star attractions.
 
“So we need to ask the British Museum, hiding from the tsunami of anti-colonialist feeling sweeping the whole world, whether they would have the decency to provide visitors with the full story: how did these incomparable pieces of sculpture torn from the greatest building in the western world get to sit – out of context – in the grey grandeur of Room 18? Reunification of the Marbles would seem to be a move away from white British exceptionalism and a move towards a world the survivors of Soweto are desperate to see. White supremacy stole them away and a white sense of justice should see them restored. But until that time comes, as it surely must: tell the story. Let the people judge the fairness of their captivity in London. There is a museum waiting for them in Athens.”

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Celebrating the 11th Anniversary of the Acropolis Museum

This state of the art museum is the future home for all of the sculptures from the Parthenon. For too long the Parthenon Marbles, that Elgin had removed from the Parthenon, have languished in an entirely inappropriate place.

The British Museum By Comparison

This decrepit hall is where the Parthenon Marbles are exhibited in London.

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The Acropolis Museum

We can’t compete with such a beautiful presentation, our budget does not permit it. This is an exquisite presentation of the Acropolis Museum.

Directed by Konstantinos Arvanitakis, with an original soundtrack by Yiannis Drenogiannis, with post Production by digimojo Production House
Copyright: Acropolis Museum.

Stay tuned for our humble sequel made on a very low budget

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Celebrating the 11th anniversary of the Acropolis Museum

Visit our new Acropolis Museum @Pinterest gallery in celebration of the museum’s 11th anniversary. Time to return the Parthenon Marbles to this world’s best practice museum, beneath the Acropolis.

Click the image and be linked to our gallery.

If you have a Twitter account there is more you can do.

Tell The UK Prime Minister @BorisJohnson, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport @OliverDowden & the cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, @CommonsDCMS , that it is time to amend the British Museum Act 1963 & send the Parthenon Marbles back Athens and the Acropolis Museum

A note on Pinterest images. If you intend republishing outside Pinterest, please check their copyright status.

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Virtual Tour of the Acropolis

Though museums & historical sites are opening in Greece, we can’t simply board a flight and fly there, at the moment. So, here is a virtual tour of the Acropolis from the Acropolis Restoration Service & Hellenic Ministry of Culture.

#greece #acropolis #athens #culturalheritage #parthenon #bringthemback #reunitetheparthenon #acropolismuseum

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Dame Janet Suzman Responds

The BCRPM concurs with our Australian colleagues in their eloquent plea to the Director of the British Museum and would add: “Yes, Mr Fischer, as you say, indeed there is much more to do. The movement unleashed in the world today needs to force those who have profited by peoples deprived of their selfhood by force Majeure, to acknowledge that fact, and make restitution.” Dame Janet Suzman

Dame Janet Suzman is Chair of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

Support since the beginning

BCRPM has been campaigning for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles since 1983 and has had our consistent support from the beginning of its campaign.

We value their tireless efforts.

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Greek Minister of Culture and Sports, Dr L Mendoni, Announces Reopening of Museums in Greece

“It is with a great sense of pleasure I learned that the Greek Minister of Culture and Sports Dr. L Mendoni has announced the reopening of all museums in Greece from June 15, said Emanuel J Comino AM, founder, and Chairman of the International Organising Committee – Australia – for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles.

“The timing is auspicious as on June 20, a mere five days later, we celebrate the eleventh anniversary of the opening of the Acropolis Museum.

The Acropolis Museum is rated one of the 10 best museums in the world. The reason why is obvious as soon as anyone steps inside. It’s a place deeply and dynamically connected with the Acropolis and the Parthenon.

Every time I visit, I’m not only moved by its superb design and the beautiful presentation of the remaining Parthenon Marbles, but I’m touched with a little sadness. I’m reminded of Elgin’s vandalism, and the Parthenon Marbles now kept in the British Museum. This strengthens my commitment to the campaign for their return.

The Parthenon Marbles kept in the British Museum must be returned to Athens and placed in the Acropolis Museum. This is the only place where the people of the world can begin to appreciate the fullness of their beauty and their contribution to the modern world. Only when they are together can people understand what they are telling us about more than 2000 years of glorious Greek history.

I have long recognised that the British Nation and its people strongly espouse and believe in justice, freedom and friendship. They have demonstrated this over the years, wherever these such values are threatened anywhere around the world.

So, it was with interest I also noted comments from Hartwig Fischer, British Museum Director, this week, he said:

“We stand with everyone who is denied equal rights and protection from violence in the fullest sense of these terms. These are challenges that we as a society must address, injustices that must be overcome.” [1]

These are sentiments that accord with my understanding of Britain as a country that espouses justice, freedom, and friendship.

Mr. Fischer added:

“We will continue to research, acknowledge and address the colonial history of Britain and its impact on our institution in exhibitions like Collecting Histories and Reimagining Captain Cook: Pacific perspectives from 2019. But there is much more to do.”

 

“Yes Mr Fischer, there is much more to do. The Parthenon Marbles were taken while Greece was under Ottoman occupation, and Britain was an expanding colonial power in the eastern Mediterranean. They were never given to Britain.

Let us hope your comments are not just empty words.  It is time to act.”

 

A response from the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles

Read the response from Dame Janet Suzman Chair of the BCRPM Damer Janet

 


[1] https://blog.britishmuseum.org/a-message-from-director-hartwig-fischer/

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Acropolis re-opened after a 60-day #Covid19 quarantine

Recently, after a 2-month period of quarantine, the Acropolis has opened to the public again. The Acropolis Museum remains closed for the moment but the 11th anniversary of its opening to the public approaches, we look forward to a post-pandemic re-opening.

Yesterday, Emmanuel J Comino AM, the Founder and Chairman of this Committee said, “It is timely to reflect on the global significance of the Acropolis, and the Parthenon, as we wait for the anniversary. It is the most outstanding among all of the ancient sites on the Acropolis.”

Figure 1 The Acropolis in late afternoon light. Viewed from Filopappou Hill.

Mr. Comino went on to make the following points

While we wait for the opening of the Acropolis Museum, we are taking the opportunity to restate the reasons why we have been calling for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, or as we prefer to call them the Parthenon Marbles.

Of course, the site has not always been in a state of peace.

In 1687 while Greece was under Ottoman occupation the Venetians, under Captain-General Francesco Morosini, mounted an attack on the Acropolis. At the time the Turkish garrison was using the Parthenon to store munitions. A Venetian bombardment ignited the explosives and caused extensive damage to the Parthenon.

Figure 2 An artist’s impression of Ottoman munitions store exploding in the Parthenon

It was with the Parthenon in this damaged state, yet far from being a ruin, that Thomas Bruce, 7th lord of Elgin, began the removal of marble sculptures from the Parthenon. Beginning in 1801 and continuing up until as late as 1812, Elgin and his teams removed large quantities of antiquities from Greece, but the most notable and the most beautiful were the Parthenon Marbles.

When facing bankruptcy in 1816, Elgin sold these extraordinary sculptures from the Parthenon to the British Government. They are now installed in the British Museum.

Ten key statements about the Parthenon Marbles

The Acropolis Museum in Athens is the rightful home for all of the remaining sculptures from the Parthenon.  Sitting below the Acropolis it is a world’s best practice museum, where the remaining sculptures are displayed in an authentic manner.

Figure 3 The Acropolis Museum

Why the Parthenon Sculptures should be returned by the British Museum.

1. The sculptures from the Parthenon, the Parthenon Marbles, otherwise known as the Elgin Marbles, are an integral part of the Parthenon. This beautiful Doric temple is the architectural wonder of the world. No other building has ever equalled its beauty, symmetry, and symbolism.

2. When we speak of the Parthenon we are not speaking of a single column or a single statue we speak of an integrated architectural, artistic, cultural, and spiritual expression, a unique symbol of Greece.

3. The Parthenon as an integrated whole has also become a symbol of Western civilization, and a global icon. Such a symbol is not divisible.

4. Lord Elgin was given permission to make architectural drawings and plaster casts from the Parthenon to improve the fine arts in Great Britain. He was also permitted to expose the ancient foundations and to remove fragments thrown to ground by the 1687 explosion. He was never granted permission to remove anything from any buildings on the Acropolis.

5. Greece had no say in the matter. Elgin took the Marbles from Greece while the country was under Turkish occupation. This was during a time when larger powers were pillaging antiquities from smaller countries, notably Greece and Egypt. Also, Britain was the dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean at the time.

6. The British Museum has not protected the sculptures. In the period 1936-1939, the sculptures were irreparably damaged when they were scrubbed back to make them white, destroying their patina of ancient colours. Today the sculptures in the Athens museum are in far better condition than those in the British Museum, they are also being cleaned with the latest laser technology to retain their ancient patina.

Figure 4 Meticulous laser cleaning of the Parthenon Frieze

7. The British Museum does not display the sculptures in a manner that is meaningful to the world at large. They are presented as mere specimens, as curiosities, facing inwards not outwards to the world. They are kept in a room with poor lighting, inadequate climatic controls, and a skylight that sometimes leaks. Out of context in this poorly conceived space, it is impossible to gain a full understanding of their meaning.

Figure 5 The gloomy hall, Room 18, where the Parthenon Marbles are kept

Figure 6 The filthy skylight in Room 18 the British Museum’s Parthenon Sculpture Hall

Figure 7 Unlike the state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum the British Museum has the Parthenon Marbles in a space without effective climatic controls. This was a mid-summer’s day

8. In recent years the British Museum has divided the collection lending a sculpture to Russia and then moving others for specific exhibitions within the Museum. This further obscured their meaning.

Figure 8 A hoarding covering the space from which sculptures have been removed for the ‘Defining Beauty’ exhibition in 2015.

9. For years opinion polls and surveys in the United Kingdom have shown strong support for the return of the Marbles. Anyone visiting the Acropolis and the British Museum can see at firsthand the injustice of the British Museum and Government’s refusal to return them. Britain has an opportunity to show leadership in addressing cultural property disputes by returning the Marbles.

10. The Acropolis Museum has dedicated a special place for the Marbles. Here those remaining in Greece are displayed in the correct orientation, within clear view of the Parthenon, where they are bathed in natural light in the very context that gave rise to them and. It is time to correct a long-standing wrong and reunify these outstanding works.

The Parthenon Marbles cannot be separated from the context that gave rise to them.

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Reunification of the Sculptures of the Parthenon: A Gift to the International Youth

Invitation_SAKA Reunification Parthenon Sculptures event_12 nov 2019.jpg

Invitation 2.jpg

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