Home The Washington Diplomat May 2017 Sidebar: ‘Icon Hunter’ – Tasoula Hadjitofi

Sidebar: ‘Icon Hunter’ – Tasoula Hadjitofi

Sidebar: ‘Icon Hunter’ – Tasoula Hadjitofi

Also see: Erasing History: Destruction, Looting of Antiquities Robs Nations of Their Heritage, Bankrolls Terrorism

a4.looting.hadjitofi.storyTasoula Hadjitofi’s life is the stuff of novels, providing perfect material for her memoir, “The Icon Hunter.”

Her idyllic childhood in Famagusta was ripped away from her by the Turkish invasion of Cyprus when she was 14. Memories of raising silkworms gave way to the terror of watching napalm rain down on the northern part of the island. Feeling the unbridled joy of learning she was expecting twins gave way to the unbearable agony of losing a child. And feeling the pride of being named honorary consul to the Netherlands when she was only in her 20s was belied by carrying the burden of being forced out of her still-occupied homeland.

Through it all, Hadjitofi remained a fighter for her family and for Cyprus, risking her life as she hunted down precious art and artifacts that were looted from Orthodox churches in the north after the Turkish invasion in 1974.

“The Icon Hunter” tells the story of a strong woman dealing with shadowy men as she sets out on a mission to recover some of her island’s treasures, pillaged during an invasion that has evolved into a frozen conflict. After being offered the chance to buy a treasured Cypriot icon, Hadjitofi teamed up with an unsavory and fairly unreliable Dutch art dealer with a broad knowledge of Byzantine art to bust a Turkish art trafficker in Munich, with the help of law enforcement. The 1997 raid recovered an unexpected trove of Cypriot treasures and became one of the largest art trafficking sting operations in Europe since World War II.

The proceeds of her book, published by Pegasus Books, will go to Walk of Truth, an NGO Hadjitofi set up in 2011 to raise awareness about the importance of preserving cultural heritage in conflict zones and encouraging ordinary people to be part of that effort.

— Karin Zeitvogel

About the Author

Karin Zeitvogel (@Zeitvogel) is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.