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Iran Calls for Return of Stolen Artifacts from Belgium


19 May 2005




Iran’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (CHTO) has sent an a appeal to a Belgian court asking for the return of nine boxes of smuggled ancient artifacts and a 2800-year-old pin stolen from the exposition “7000 Years of Persian Art”, the Persian service of the Cultural Heritage News (CHN) agency reported on Saturday, quoting an unnamed CHTO official.


The contents of the nine boxes were looted over the past few years from a 3000-year-old ancient site near Khorvin, a village situated 80 kilometers northeast of Tehran. The items are currently being kept at Ghent University in Belgium.


The boxes contain metal items which might be oxidized, thus Iranian officials asked their Belgian counterparts to open the boxes in the presence of CHTO representatives. The boxes were resealed after the experts examined the contents.


The ancient pin had been stolen in December 2002 from the European tour of “7000 Years of Persian Art” during its run at St. Peter's Abbey in Ghent. Iranian officials had never announced that the artifact was missing until now.


The expo opened its European tour at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in the Austrian capital of Vienna in November 2000, displaying 180 masterpieces from the Iranian National Museum of Tehran. The number of items on display was reduced to 178 for the rest of the tour. Iranian cultural officials never mentioned the decrease in the number of the items before.


The curator of the National Museum of Iran, Mohammadreza Kargar, had already rejected the requests of seven European countries to host the exposition, which is now underway in Lisbon, saying, “Iranian citizens must be assured that the artifacts have been safe and sound over the course of the four-year exhibition tour. They were insured by the organizers, and the there was no threat of loss or damage of the artifacts.”


The CHTO has also asked Belgian officials to identify and punish the thief or thieves. The exposition had previously traveled to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and Croatia. It will return home after the Lisbon showcase.


Iranian officials have filed several other lawsuits in courts in Britain, France, Turkey, and Pakistan for the return of smuggled artifacts over the past few years. Last month Iran filed a legal complaint in a London court against the owner of an Achaemenid era bas-relief, demanding its return.


The artifact, along with a great collection of other historical and ancient Iranian relics, was to be sold at Christie’s in April, but the London-based auction house withdrew the Iranian artifact from the sale pending judicial investigations.


On March 7, 118 artifacts which had been smuggled to Britain from the ancient site of Jiroft were returned to Iran. The items had been confiscated by customs officials at London’s Heathrow Airport last summer.  



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