The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
By John Lichfield
(CAIS) -- Iran
has declared a cultural war with one of the world's largest museums, the Louvre
in Paris, which it accuses of reneging on a promise to send part of its
collection of ancient Persian artefacts to an exhibition in Tehran.
Islamic Republic’s vice president and the director of Iran’s Cultural
Heritage and Tourism Organisation (ICHTO), Hamid Baghai, said this week that
Tehran was cutting all relations with the museum but he failed to pursue a
threat, made in February, to sever all cultural links between Iran and France.
dispute has similarities with a row last year between Tehran and the British
Museum. Iran demanded damages and threatened to cut links with the London museum
after it postponed the loan of the Cyrus Cylinder, one of the most significant
examples of early cuneiform writing from ancient Iran which is hailed as the
world’s first charter of human rights. The cylinder was eventually sent in
September to a very successful exhibition in the capital, Tehran.
at the Louvre deny promising to send part of their Persian collection – one of
the finest in the world – for display in Iran. They say a general cultural
accord with Iran, which ends in June, spoke vaguely of possible loans but made
has not publicly asked for any specific items in the collection but the museum
holds some of the most important Persian objects, including a basalt tablet
engraved with the Code of Hammurabi, found in Iran by the French archaeologist
Jacques de Morgan in 1901. The code of the 17th century BCE Babylonian king is
one of the oldest known sets of laws.
tablet includes the injunction: "If a man knocks the teeth out of another
man his own teeth will be knocked out."
the Franco-Iranian row has not got to the fisticuffs stage it does reflect an
increasingly militant attitude by several Middle Eastern countries to large
parts of their ancient cultural heritage being in museums in Europe and the
Baghai said: "Based on our agreement, [the Louvre] should have sent us some
artefacts in order to set up an exhibition here but for unknown reasons they
the cultural field, we do not accept that European countries look down on
at the Louvre said the museum had never signed a "precise and
definite" agreement to send items to Iran. They said there was a
"partnership" agreement which spoke of possible exhibitions but no
did, however, lend artefacts from the Safavid dynastic era (1501-1736) to the
Louvre's exhibition called, "The Song of the World" from October 2007.
Tehran claims it was led to expect the French museum would allow part of its
Persian collection which was taken illegally out of Iran to go to Iran in
Louvre collection, running to hundreds of objects, was removed from Iran illegally,
as it was then known, by French archaeologists in the 19th century.
well as the Code of Hammurabi, the Louvre also has large sections of ornamental
walls removed from the palaces of the Persian emperor Darius I, the Great
(522-486 BCE) including a beautiful frieze of lions and a frieze of archers.
These were taken in the 1880s by the French archaeologist Marcel Dieulafoy.
The Louvre's reluctancy in sending the artefacts to Iran perhaps is due to the fear of not returning them to Paris, as the French archaeologists have taken these priceless artefacts out of Iran illegally and Iran has legitimate rights to lay claim not to return them.
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