The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Bitter Story of Plundering Cultural Heritage of Iran
By: Ata Ayati
Abstract: By Shapour Suren-Pahlav
At the time of Qajar dynasty (1794-1925) due to the lack of literacy and being an alien to Iranian culture and heritage, a large portion of historical works including decorative and monumental arts, as well as written documents dating back from the pre-Islamic to post-Sasanian eras were taken out of Iran. The Qajars permitted foreign treasure hunters such as Marcel Dieulafoy and his wife to fill French museums with the stolen Iranian artefacts through plundering of the Iranian archaeological and historical sites .
At the time of Reza Shah Pahlavi (r. 1925-1941), and awakening of Iranianhood and nationalism had minimised pillaging of the Iranian heritage, but the rubbery in a small scale was continued in clandestine, even by some scholars of the international reputes.
However, since 1979 revolution and initiating de-Iranianisation of the country by the ruling clerics, smuggling of the Iranian artefacts restarted and European, Japanese and US markets have been filled with stolen Iranian heritage.
Countless Iranian artefacts which have been illegally excavated or removed from Iranian museums and ancient sites such as Iran Bastan and Persepolis have have been sold to foreign countries; Ruling clerics, their families as well as top government officials have been involved in smuggling Iranian heritage.
For instance, at the beginning of the revolution, Mohammad Montazeri, the son of Ayatollah Khomeini’s one-time heir apparent, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, brought the entire Mehrabad airport to a standstill by aiming his revolver at the public who had dared to question him for smuggling the stolen priceless artefacts from Alireza Abbasi Museum in his luggage.
the occasion of the centenary of the conclusion of the Archaeological concession
Treaty between Iran and France (1897-1997), an exhibition, under the heading
Jacques De Morgan's mission, was held in Louver Museum in Paris. The exhibition
began on October 15, 1997 for three months. On behalf of the government of his
country Jacques de Morgan, a French archaeologist entered into negotiations with
the king of Iran (Mozaffareddin Shah) and signed a treaty on May 15, 1897,
according to which archaeological excavations were entrusted to France.
the above exhibition one can see the biography, history and the missions of De
Morgan to various parts of the world, the original copy of the Archaeological
Treaty signed by Mozaffareddin Shah in French and Persian, the miniatures of
faces of Qajar kings, De Morgan's excavations in Malaysia, Armenia and Iran.
Furthermore, paintings of Pascal Coust (a French painter) of Iran, paintings of
Susa excavations and other French archaeological activities are seen in the
question arises for every Iranian as how these valuable pieces of work which are
made by able hands of our fathers and mothers and which should remain for future
generations and enrich our culture, so that they can boost their historical
identity, have gone to the west? Why no action is taken to stop this trend? Why
are we always obliged to travel to the west to see the works of our ancestors?
Why should the accessible western sources be the only source for us when we want
to study the texts concerning the past period of Iran?
DID THE FRENCH DO?
After the British, the French men started pillaging in Iran. In the field of recognition of artistic and ancient works, one should mention Pascal Coust (architect) and Eugene Flanden (painter). On behalf of the French Academy of Fine Arts, these two French men, together with Edward de Sassi, the French Ambassador, came to Iran. During their two years stay, they discovered Tsephon Arch, Kangavar, Hamedan, Firuzabad, Fasa, Naghsh-e Rostam, Pasargad and Persepolis archaeological relics, and published the results of their efforts in their travel diary together with relevant pictures. But the excavation of Susa archaeological works was carried out by William Kennet Loftus, an Englishman. He is the first person to have obtained an accurate information about Susa, particularly Apadana hall. His excavations near the tomb of Daniel Nabi incurred people's wrath and was left incomplete. Twenty years later (1881), a French couple by the name of Marcel and Jeanne Dieulafoy continued Loftus' excavations.
treasure hunter Marcel Dieulafoy (1844-1920), who was from Toulouse, started
working as an engineer in Algeria. Later on he made some trips to various
countries and was enchanted by arts and ancient monuments of the East. In 1881
he was given a mission by the French Ministry of Education to study Sasanian
arts and ancient monuments. He was helped by his wife who took charge of copying
and taking photographs. This engineer started his studies in Armenia, then came
to Tehran through Tabriz and Mianeh, and was welcomed by Dr. Toulousan (Nasereddin
Shah's doctor). He studied the towns and cities of Varamin, Qom, Kashan, Isfahan
and Shiraz, then went to Iraq through the south of Iran, and returned to Iran in
company of Karbala pilgrims. Having carried out an extensive research in Dezful
and Susa he went to France. In 1882, he published the results of his work,
entitled "The ancient Arts of Iran", and showed the results of his
excavation to Jules Ferry, the Minister of Education. The latter dispatched
Dieulafoy to Iran again to carry out further excavations there.
the last few years of his reign, Nasereddin Shah gave permission to some
Europeans to carry out investigations, so a number of groups started working
here. The heads of these missions presented some of the objects they found to
the Shah and the courtiers and took the rest with them abroad. In some provinces
such as Khuzestan and the central regions, the governors and the owners carried
out excavations themselves and amassed wealth. A little while later as the
Iranian government could not guarantee the security and safety of the missions,
so it issued orders that excavations should cease.
the time of Dieulafoy mission, the French were waiting for better and more
favorable conditions to sign a contract for excavations. In the end, Nasereddin
Shah in 1895, granted archaeological concessions to the French government.
According to the contract the sum of 10,000 tumans (50,000 Francs) was offered
to the Shah, and it was agreed that half of the findings should belong to the
French government, and out of the rest one third to the Iranian government and
two thirds to the land owners. Luckily, because the Shah did not want to incur
people's wrath, so the religious sites were not included in the contract.
that if the religious sites were not excluded from the contract, then if we
wanted to pay pilgrimage to Imamzadeh Saleh and Hazrat Masumeh, we had to travel
to Paris to visit the above shrines along with Eiffel Tower, the tombs of Louis
14th and Napoleon.
an archaeologist by the name of Jacques de Morgan (1857-1924) led the French
mission. He was busy carrying out anthropological and mining research in Armenia
for two years starting from 1886. In 1889, he was sent on a mission to Iran by
the French Ministry of Education to carry out geographical, geological,
linguistic and anthropological surveys. De Morgan carried out his research in
Mazandaran, and Guilan particularly Rasht, then went to south of Russia to do
comparative work. But the Russian government did not allow him to do research,
so he went to Tabriz, Urmia, Kordestan and to Kermanshah provinces. In 1892, he succeeded
in discovering oil in Sar Pole Zahab. Then he set out for Lorestan, Dezful, Susa
and the part of Bushehr, then to Egypt and returned to France. De Morgan took a
lot of objects to his country some of which he donated to Saint Germain Atelier.
He prepared 620 photos, 3 big maps of Iran, a complete map of north of Iran and
a map of Kurdistan province.
1889 he went back to Iran again as the Director General of the French
Archaeological Mission, and continued with excavations in Susa, and established
the first excavations installations. He sent valuable objects back to France and
induced his government to enter into negotiations with the ill and penniless
Mozaffareddin Shah. So the exclusive excavation concession was granted to France
in 1900. De Morgan was the head of French mission in Iran for 15 years.
main program was identification of archaeological monuments and relics. In order
to attain his objectives he brought a number of his former colleagues in Egypt
to Iran. But because he was suspected of stealing, so he resigned as the head of
the French mission in October 1912. But his colleagues like Vincent Schiel and
Roland de Maknem continued with the work. In 1927, Reza Shah cancelled the
concession, that is the exclusive right of excavations was not taken away from
the French, but it was restricted to Susa. The government agreed to establish a
museum and a library in Tehran and to appoint a French man as the director for 5
years. According to this contract, Andre Goddard, an architect came to Iran.
Goddard who was relatively fully familiar with the Islamic arts was directly in
charge of the archaeological department from 1927 to 1960. In order to know
Goddard and his archaeological research, interested readers are advised to read
Rashid Kaikhosravi's book entitled: "The Era of Oblivion or the Plunder of
the Iranian Cultural Works." This book shows how Andre Goddard and his
colleagues plundered Zivieh treasures of Seqqez and how they accused the
villagers of stealing.
is interesting to note that in 1958 the Louvre Museum of Paris bought 500 pieces
of Lorestan bronze which belonged to Jacques Coiffard, the French Ambassador in
Tehran, and displayed them in the halls of the museum. But no one raised his
voice and nobody asked how these bronze pieces had come into possession of the
1970s on account of the rise of oil price a number of wealthy people of the
former regime started collecting antiques, and some symbols of the culture and
civilization of Iran were restored to the country. But the fever did not last
long. During the same period some useful actions were taken, for example the
purchase of "Mahbubian" collection against the sum of 2 million
dollars, as a result of which Reza Abbasi Museum was set up, and also the
purchase of a private collection which gave rise to Negaresh Museum.
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