“In recent years "Sunset in the steppe" by Aivazovsky, "Portrait of Obolensky" by Tropinin, "Turkic girl" by Bryullov, "Girl in a red kerchief" by Kramskoy, and many other paintings by famous Russian artists have been stolen from the museums of Uzbekistan. Most of them are still missing, and some have been found in interesting places.”
The Central Asian Cultural Heritage Observatory Alerte Héritage has published an open letter on their website after a failed attempt to request information on the art theft reported by the media over the past few years.
The article below is an English translation, the original in Russian can be found by following the link.
One of the main objectives of Alerte Heritage is to monitor the possible "washout" of works of art from the museums of Central Asia.
Given the numerous publications on corruption scandals in museums in Uzbekistan in both the national and international media, at the end of January 2018 we asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Abdulaziz Khafizovich Kamilov, to clarify the real situation behind each of the episodes described by the press. According to the reply which followed a week later from the reception of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, S. Niyazhodzhaev, our request was forwarded to the General Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Uzbekistan, which should have all the information which interests us.
However, three months later we still have not received a substantial reply, or even a confirmation of our inquiry. With no other way to contact the Uzbek prosecutor's office, Alerte Heritage decided to publish this appeal in the form of an open letter, hoping to draw attention to this alarming situation and get the necessary clarifications.
An appeal to the Uzbek government
Taking into account the increasing appeals of Tashkent to fight against corruption, today it seems extremely important for us to clarify the situation that has arisen in the course of numerous scandals around Uzbek museums. The information on these has sporadically appeared in the mass media of Uzbekistan, as well as in specialized foreign media, which covers the life of Central Asia, since the beginning of 2010. Let us briefly recall the details.
At the end of 2013, various world publications such as Radio Svoboda, the Fergana news agency, the Lenta.ru portal, and others reported that someone by the name of Safar Bekchon, an Uzbek refugee in Switzerland, made a discovery during the seizure of the vacant villa of Gulnara Karimova in Geneva. In particular, numerous works of art by artists from Uzbekistan were found.
The very fact of their presence in the Geneva villa gave scope to all sorts of speculation about the possible ways of their arrival to Switzerland. The concerns were reinforced by the fact that among these works, was the painting "Pomegranate" by Lev Reznikov, which, according to the son of the artist Igor Reznikov, was purchased by the Uzbek Museum of Arts in Tashkent in 1991. The pictures of other famous artists of Uzbekistan, in particular, such as Chingiz Akhmarov, Viktor Ufimtsev and others found in Geneva, bore no stamps of the Ministry of Culture of Uzbekistan, which would indicate the legal export of these works abroad.
After an avalanche of publications devoted to these objects of art in late 2013 - early 2014, the media no longer addressed this topic. Official sources have also kept silent about whether these were originals or copies and do not specify what happened to these works, whether they remained at the villa of G. Karimova, whether they were confiscated and handed over to someone in Uzbekistan, or if they were seized by the investigative authorities as evidence. The Uzbek and the international community remain unaware of any developments, furthermore there is still no reliable information in order to understand which parts of the published material were true and which were not.
In March 2014, the Uzbek information portal Uz24 published an interview with the director of the State Museum of Uzbekistan, Vasila Fayziyeva, from which it follows that six paintings by Victor Ufimtsev at the Museum were substituted for copies, some of which were auctioned. The director also claimed that it was not only Ufimtsev's work which was replaced, and expressed hope that "the investigation will shed light on everything” and "the perpetrators will be punished." Three years later, neither researchers, nor journalists, nor the general public are aware of the results of the investigation.
In August 2014, radio Ozodlik reported that seven works stolen from the Tashkent Museum of Art were returned to Uzbekistan, citing documents and photos received by the editorial office. The material presented featured low-quality photographs of the originals and copies of these works, and the anonymous source accused the above-mentioned Gulnara Karimov in their theft. The same material also reported on:
• Forgeries of the works of Oganes Tatevosyan, Nikolay Karakhan, Richard-Karl Sommer, Usto Mumin, which were replaced for "about ten" originals in the Museum of Arts of Uzbekistan.
• The theft at the end of 2001, from the State Museum of Uzbekistan, of five famous paintings by Russian artists, such as "Sunset in the Steppe" by Aivazovsky, "Portrait of Obolensky" by Tropinin, "Turkic Girl" by Bryullov, "The Girl in the Red Headscarf" by Kramskoy and the "Girl Shooter" by Surikov .
• An attempt to steal the original picture of Rakhim Akhmedov "Mother's Reflections" from the collection of the State Museum of Uzbekistan during the posthumous solo exhibition of the artist in Moscow, replacing the picture with a copy.
Since August 2015, various media have reported that five works were replaced at the Igor Savitsky Museum of Art in Nukus. In particular, this was reported by the information program "Akhborot" on September 2 2015, when they announced the estimated cost of damage (581m 625,000 soʻm), as well as the initiation of a criminal investigation by the National Security Service of Uzbekistan. Since then, the public knows nothing about the progress of the investigation, nor about its results, nor about what measures the state is taking in order to search for these allegedly stolen works.
According to the website anhor.uz, "during the operational and investigative events of the National Security Service, previously stolen 32 paintings of famous painters of the 19th and 20th centuries were discovered and returned to the State Art Museum of Uzbekistan."
According to the information from the National Security Service of Uzbekistan, the pictures were found with the Colonel of this service, Yury Savenkov. The same material stated that, according to the National Security Service, Mirfayzi Usmanov, the former main custodian of the State Museum of Uzbekistan, "inflicted a damage of 47.5 billion soʻm on the state, in collusion with other museum employees, by replacing originals with copies.” At the same time, the investigation allegedly revealed that 178 paintings in the museum were forged, and 2 were missing. However, there was no mention of which paintings were forged or missing, just as it remained unclear whether a criminal investigation had been initiated, and what the future of the two above-mentioned defendants held.
We believe that the society both in and outside of Uzbekistan should be more informed, by official sources, about what really went on during each of these episodes. Whether they actually took place or whether we are talking about unconfirmed rumors, which actions were taken by the authorities and what is the actual situation in the museum institutions of the republic to date.