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Protesters call on Getty to relinquish medieval manuscripts

November 19, 2011

About 30 protesters on Saturday called on the Getty Museum to return seven ornate pages from a sacred, medieval-era Armenian book considered to be a national treasure.

The protesters gathered outside the gates of the museum Saturday holding signs that read "Shame on Getty" and  “Our history is not for sale" as Armenian church officials attempt to secure the pages, which they say were illegally obtained by the museum nearly two decades ago.

“It is a piece of culture taken away from us. It is a piece of our identity. It is a piece of our past,” said Glendale resident Rita Mahdessian.


The La Crescenta-based Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America filed a $105-million lawsuit  against the J. Paul Getty Trust in June 2010 alleging the museum illegally bought seven pages ripped from the Zeyt’un Gospels, a sacred manuscript that dates back to 1256 A.D.

Attorneys for the museum had sought to have the lawsuit thrown out, arguing the deadline to file had passed decades ago under statute of limitations, but earlier this month, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Abraham Khan denied the motion and ordered four months of mediation.

In a statement, Getty spokeswoman Julie Jaskol said that while the museum respects the right to protest, the the demonstration appeared to run counter to what Khan had asked for.

“It’s unfortunate that this demonstration, organized by the lawyer who is suing the Getty, seems to violate the spirit of the court-ordered mediation,” Jaskol said in a statement.

The attorney, Vartkes Yeghiayan, said he’s willing to mediate, but prior efforts with the museum have failed in the past, prompting the legal action. The Armenian Apostolic Church wants the Getty to return the pages so they can be reunited with the rest of the manuscript housed in the Armenian capitol of Yerevan.

“These are the orphans. We want them to join the family,” Yeghiayan said, adding that the plaintiffs may be willing to let the Getty exhibit the sacred book in the future so long as the church is considered the official owner of the missing pages, known as Canon Tables.

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