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US Terrorism Victims, Seeking Iranian Artifacts


02 July 2006




LONDON, (CAIS) -- Once again choosing Arabs' interest over Iranians by the Islamic regime in Tehran,  has put Iranian cultural heritage in jeopardy, this time the loaned Iranian artifacts in US. A group of terrorism victims in US are claiming a major victory in their effort to seize priceless Iranian antiquities held by the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute.


Three years ago, the victims won a $71 million judgment in a U.S. federal court against Iran for injuries suffered in a 1997 Islamic-regime-linked explosion in Israel -- an Arab suicide bombing that sent a spray of flying nails and screws through a Jerusalem mall.


After the Islamic regime in Tehran ignored the judgment, the American victims targeted Iranian-owned objects held by U.S. museums, including a collection of 2,500-year-old tablets at the Oriental Institute.


University of Chicago lawyers argued that, by federal law, certain property owned by foreign governments is protected from court judgments. But U.S. District Court Judge Blanche M. Manning ruled last week that only Iran, which has not acknowledged the suit, can claim its own rights.



Artifacts worth tens of millions?

In a bitter war of words, the victims have characterized the University of Chicago and other institutions as defending Iran, which the U.S. has called a "state sponsor of terrorism.'' Some of the victims are said to be in chronic pain and others, because of their injuries, cannot work and have fallen into poverty.


The victims' lawyer, David J. Strachman of Rhode Island, said the ruling meant "the items are subject to our attachment,'' though he would not set a timetable. The potential sale of the tablets has drawn "great interest" among collectors, said Strachman, who estimates they are worth tens of millions of dollars.


The University of Chicago did not respond to requests Monday for comment on the ruling but an appeal is likely.


The University of Chicago also argued that turning over museum artifacts would send tremors through the museum world, with nations cutting back loans of objects to American museums and U.S.-owned artifacts being seized overseas. Manning wrote in a finding dated June 22 that she was "sympathetic" to those fears but said she could not ignore the law.



Field Museum also being sued

University of Chicago archeologists discovered the tablets, dating from about 500 BCE., in Persepolis, the capital of the Achaemenid Empire. The tablets -- likened to credit card receipts by one expert -- give a glimpse of daily life of ancient Iranians during the Achaemenid dynasty, including, for example, rations of barley given to workers.


The tablets, which owned by the Iranian nation, was lent to the University of Chicago, in 1930s for research purposes and occasionally returning them to Iran in batches prior to the suit.


The Field Museum also is being sued for Iranian objects it holds. The Field argues that those artifacts do not belong to Iran. "We bought them openly,'' Field attorney Joe Brennan said Monday

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