Western Prelacy Sues Getty for Stolen Illuminated Manuscripts

LOS ANGELES—A lawsuit filed against the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Getty Museum on behalf of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church Tuesday is demanding the return of seven pages of Illuminated Manuscripts created by Toros Roslin in 1256. Attorneys for the Prelacy contend that the seven pages of the “Zeytun Gospel” were “lost or stolen during the Armenian Genocide.”

The suit claims that the seven pages of the “Canon tables” are “wrongfully in the possession, custody and control” of the J. Paul Getty Trust, in the Getty Museum.

The Prelacy says that when the Getty acquired the seven pages it “knew or should have known that the Zeytun Gospel manuscript pages were stolen, and belonged to the Catholicosate” of the Great House of Cilicia.

The Bible was created for Constantine I, nearly two centuries before the fall of Constantinople. The rest of the bible is currently housed at the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (Madenataran) in Yerevan, Armenia.

Toros Roslin (ca. 1210-1270) “was the most prominent Armenian manuscript illuminator in the High Middle Ages,” according to the complaint.

Attorney Vartkes Yeghiayan representing the Western Prelacy is also seeking damages of $35 million from the defendants and is demanding the immediate return of the manuscripts to the Catholicosate.


Discussion Policy

Comments are welcomed and encouraged. Though you are fully responsible for the content you post, comments that include profanity, personal attacks or other inappropriate material will not be permitted. Asbarez reserves the right to block users who violate any of our posting standards and policies.


  1. Nairian said:

    Good for the Western Prelacy. It’s about time those thieves pay up and return our stolen belongings and Manuscripts. It is also about time to collect our blood monies from Turkey and the European Banks.

  2. Vacheh said:

    This kind of lawsuits should have been initiated by the government of Armenia on behalf of our entire nation, where all the Armenian people will be able to stand behind our government. The lawsuits should also be filed not just against Getty Museum, but against many other museums around the world, specially in Turkey where they claim Armenian manuscripts as Turkish ancient heritage. What a shame that our prelacy with its limited resources and perhaps volunteer lawyers should chase such matters. God bless them and their dedicated lawyers who care about such issues.

  3. Nairian said:

    I totally agree with you Vacheh jan, it seems to me our government in Armenia are not intiating a great many things that are absolutely long overdue to us. A great deal of blood money from Turkey, money from Turkey for blockading Armenia for 18 years. [As well as the right of our historical lands; at least the Wilsonian Armenia – the Wilson Arbitration Award]. Three years ago when the “azeri” soldiers on broad daylight attacked and demolished our 3,000 ancient Khatchkars in Julfa, Nakhichevan from the middle ages, not only it belonged to Armenians alone but to the whole world as wonderful cultural monuments. What did our government in the Motherland do? Nothing. There’s a great many things that our government must show and demonstrate more strength and pursue our historical and sovereignty rights that are due to us Armenians from all over the world. Legally and in international terms.

  4. Osik said:

    I was not surprised, Paul Getty Museum is well known for buying stolen items.
    During WW II German officers by Hitler’s order started confiscate all the antique art effects in occupied counties and towards the end of war a large part of those items was in hands of Russians and Americans; some got returned to the owners and some got in unholy hands which end up in private Museums like Hurst Castel and Paul Getty Museums.
    Since the purchase of stolen items is illegal I think the FBI should get involved in this and ask them “Where did you get this from?” this phrase was invented in sixties by the late Shah of Iran and it became a street joke but I think it is a legitimate question in this case and all other private museums items must be traced to see where those came from and should be returned to the owners.

  5. ermeni said:

    well, i must say, i saw the manuscripts at the Getty. i had my ODAR friends with me there as well. I was quite proud of the display. if they were not there on display, my family and I would have never seen them. for that only i’m grateful.

  6. Arpi said:

    So what’s new…after the antiquities scandals, the Berry Munitz scandals, and many, many more stains on the Getty’s reputation, is anyone surprised about this?

  7. Mazod said:

    In response to comments:

    The Armenian government is in no way, shape, or form, able to launch a full-scale legal attack for the recovery of lost or stolen items. It has no money and no power. Khrimian Hayrig…”yergateh sherep”. Armenia is an ant in the field of dinosaurs and has bigger fish to fry like corruption, murder, Gharabagh, relocating people out of tin cans and into homes (from the ’88 earthquake). The list goes on my friends.

    I support the lawsuit but, I believe that housing and displaying the manuscripts in the Getty, a world-renown museum visited by thousands and thousands of tourists and foreigners, is better than housing the manuscripts in Armenia where it will not be seen by as many individuals.


  8. Adrienna Tataryan said:

    it’s about time we have a website or registry where Armenians can report their monetary (or otherwise) losses so we can comprehend the real figures of what was stolen from our relatives.

  9. Sylva-MD-Poetry said:

    We lost Armenian’ Brains
    Armenians’ Gifted hands
    Armenians’ unselfish souls.
    We lost every thing from pen to ink.
    We must collect our crushed skulls
    Stll bleediing coagulated blood
    In our Ancent land
    Let gospel stay where it is
    We can write many more gospils.
    We lost Armenian’ Brains
    Armenians’ Gifted hands
    Armenians’ unselfish souls.
    We lost every thing from pen to ink.
    We must collect our crushed skulls
    Stll bleediing coagulated blood
    In our Ancent land
    Let gospel stays where it is
    We can write many more gospils.

  10. Nairian said:

    Good poem Sylva jan. How fitting and how poetic you are janik. Abris!

  11. arpi said:

    we can write more gospils [sic]? Have you seen any budding Toros Roslins lately? I’m sure Mark Giragos would handle cases like these. The one that sticks in my craw is Anahid in the British Museum. I’m glad the Prelacy is doing this. I hope the attorney, don’t know the gentleman, is capable.

  12. MihranK said:

    I have said many times in the past do not expect anything from this corrupt government which is sold out to foreign interests, they are only paying lip service to the diaspora and to the public in Armenia in order to fool us, they are a bunch of crooks.

  13. H. Der Stepanian said:

    Some of us are sitting in plush homes, sipping champaine and caviar and visiting museumes and filing law suits (it is justified and should be done in due course), while the goverment of Armenia is trying to figure out how to put a roof on peoples heads so that there will still be enough people living on our lands to defend it in the comming war. Remember that land is taken and kept only by force, nothing else.
    The Armenian government is not perfect, not too many young governments are.
    Since except for very few brave soles, there is not a great move from the diaspora to move to our homeland
    and share in rebuilding our country, then filing a few papers to try to get back our treasures should not be too much to ask from the diaspora. The question is, if they get these papers back, will diaspora keep it or donate it to the Madenataran like it should be.

  14. Harout Sousani said:

    Attorney Vartkes Yeghiayan is the same attorney who was behind the collection of life insurance monies for the families of the Armenian Genocide survivors. He is a great man and deserves praise.

  15. Hayk said:

    I’m not too familiar with treasures and artwork, or legal matters, but I’m wondering what is the objective of retrieving our treasure – from a museum – and sending it to Yerevan? It’s not like the manuscript is on the shelf of some individual, it’s in a museum. I think it’s pretty safe there, no? And asking for $35M on top of it, I don’t get it. Personally, I like the idea of Armenian art and treasure showcased around the world.

  16. Vacheh said:

    One of the jobs of every Foreign Ministry is to protect and preserve the national interests and treasures abroad. There should have been a division in our Foreign Ministry to identify, investigate, locate, and retrieve (via legal channels) our national treasures which were brutally stolen from our people, in particular from Western Armenia.

    If our Foreign Ministry initiates such an action, I am pretty sure that all Armenians of Diaspora will participate and help our governmental officials to succeed in their sacred mission.

    Unfortunately, Mr. Nalbandian and his deputy ministers have proven in several occasions to be “sleep behind the wheel” or perhaps involved in other tasks more beneficial to oligarchs.

  17. Hovsep Kaprielian said:

    It is time for our nation to gather our national wealth that has been stolen and sold all over the world to “museums” who have paid huge amounts for stolen goods. Museums should be investigated and prosecuted for buying stolen goods. In this case, The Getty, who instead of acting like a reliable organization, acted as a corporate one.

    I commend the Western Prelacy in its courageous stand in protecting our national wealth. Our government in Armenia should rise to a more serious level of responsibility in protecting Armenia’s national wealth.

  18. Hye said:

    Who said it was going to be returned to Armenian???
    It said it wanted it returned to the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, so I guess you will have to go to Lebanon to see it!

  19. Osik said:

    You liked that robbery because you and your ODAR friends were able to see it?
    That’s stupidly selfish, who cares that you and bunch of your ODAR friends were able to see it.

  20. Christo said:

    Let me guess, if it’s that scammer Mark Geragos who has filed the lawsuit then guaranteed the prelacy will lose. Who cares, let them keep these manuscripts. The Prelacy and even the diocese if they really cared about any Armenian treasures, they need to protect the manuscripts that are in the UCLA library. No one monitors them, and you could walk off with one or a the entire collection, without anyone questioning or noticing them missing, and that’s supposedly a major American university. Just like many Armenian antiquarian books at URL go missing or vandalized by turks and azeris. Odars, value or treasures, our foods, our language, our writings, our history and our culture more than we do, so let it go. We gave up our foods, our lands, our heritage, our treasures to the turks. They embrace it with so much passion, that’s it’s disturbing.
    How often do you walk around a cemetery? Pick any cemetery in Southern Cali, make a trip and walk around looking at the headstones. As you walk around you will notice a headstone, with an Armenian style cross, next to it the Masis mountains, and you wonder is this person Armenian? You start to notice more of these headstone, and you wonder wow, how many Armenians have served and fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan? You soon realize, they are not Armenians, but their headstone depict the Masis mountains and an Armenian style cross. If our mountain is no longer sacred not even our cross, so what do we stand for? If you are an Armenian, everything is up for sale even our identity.

  21. Armanen said:

    Not sure of Christo has a clue about what he is talking about.

  22. Christo said:

    Re: Harout Sousani, are you for real in regards to Vartkes yeghiayan aka “prince of Ethiopia”. You could have gotten the three stooges, better yet a convict doing life and became an attorney through correspondence school to file the New York Life lawsuit, and gotten more than the amount it was settled for, it was a slam dunk case. That claim was worth over a billion dollars and he and the other two idiot attorneys on the case settled it for less than 25 million. Give me a break, guy! He doesn’t deserve praise, that was another scam pulled over our heads, because, it was only settled for personal gain and they all laughed their way to their respective banks!!!!!!!!
    Better yet, guess who was representing/advising New York Life, no other than Wally Karabian.

  23. ermeni said:

    I do not like “robbery.” However, I liked the display of the manuscripts. A while back when I saw the manuscripts, “robbery” wasn’t a question. I also liked the fact that I was able to point out to my ODAR friends with me about the rich Armenian history that we have. As far as the “who cares if you and your odar friends were able to see it,” that’s your opinion. Get over it. I was only sharing with you that the manuscripts were available for the public to see, admire and enjoy; as they should be. The Getty Museum is free to enter and visit. They are not profiting from a “stolen” manuscript. Go check it out.
    Good luck to you and take care.

  24. Raffi said:

    Seriously people? A few pages from one of our illuminated manuscripts – not even the whole thing, are on prominent display in a very safe, internationally known museum, and you’re celebrating a lawsuit against them? Puhleez.

    If the Prelacy had guts, they’d sue Turkey for their loss of Sis, all their churches, and property, not sue the Getty for $35 million dollars for a few pages from one book that they display and protect and publicize. This is lame and they’re simply capitalizing on the fact that they’re sure the Getty won’t want bad PR, and that Armenians will all start celebrating this stupid lawsuit and slapping themselves on the back for a Pyhrric victory.

    Also consider the danger of having so many of our manuscripts in one underfunded institution, with 99% of them not on display, in Yerevan. As someone said before me – they settled the actual genocide insurance claims for under 25 million – and here they want 35 million AND the pages??!?!? There is nothing good about this lawsuit.

  25. Angelika said:

    I very much agree with Raffi. I don’t see how this lawsuit will make a difference (that’s if it succeeds) besides repossessing a precious piece of our history. I think displaying these manuscripts in the Getty is much better than in Yerevan. It’s accessible to the kind of public that we’ll gain the familiarity of our history and that’s something we should be doing…educating. Another thing, let’s say they are successful at getting their hands on$ 35 mil…who’s being benefited by this? If you even think anyone else is going to hit the jack pot besides the government, think again. The corrupt Armenian government won’t give its people a break until they are broken 1st.

  26. a said:

    Hey Christo, I’m not a crack addict. Are you, Dick Wad? So I don’t know Giragos as well as you do. Sue me. I just said I hoped the other lawyer was good, since I do not know the gentleman. I also wish amateurs would stop posting stupid poems–especially if they forgo spell check. Yikes. Maybe you object to my wanting Anahid back from the British Museum. Again, I am not a crack addict, but perhaps you are.

  27. Simon said:

    Yes, Yes, Yes! True ownership absolutely needs to be legally established!
    After that, how about the Getty and Mesrob Mashtots Inst partner up and do some broad public education about Toros Roslin and Armenian history? That would be one way to start good will (and money) flowing toward Armenians. But wouldn’t it be awful if the lawsuit were dismissed and the manuscripts were to disappear for another 80 years or more? And wouldn’t it be worse if a $35M payment resulted in a squabble amongst Armenians. That would be just one more painful loss and another sure way of being written out of history.