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Latest Archaeological and Cultural News of Iran and the Iranian World


Iran's cultural heritage organisation, the greatest plague for Iranian heritage


28 February 2013



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LONDON, (CAIS) – The Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organisation (ICHHTO) has recently been involved in an illegal excavation and looting of Iranian antiquities, reported the Persian Daily Hamshahri.


The ICHHTO director of the city of Dezful, along with a number of the Islamic Republic officials, including the governor and the mayor have recently attended and supervised a long weekend of excavations, in a farmland near the city of Dezful without obtaining a permit from Iranian Archaeological Research Centre (IARC). Any archaeological dig in Iran, without obtaining a permit from IARC - which in contrast to ICHHTO – is run by academics and experts, is considered illegal. The site was also excavated without the landowner's knowledge, who reported the looting activates to Hamshahri.


The historical site is located near ‘Pir-Es.hāq’ (Old Isaac), in Iran's southwestern province of Khuzestan, the birth place of the Elamites and the Achaemenids Empires.


Out of two hectares of farmland, over 3,000 square meters, up to three meters deep have been excavated, using mechanical diggers and other machineries. According to an Iranian archaeologist who wished to remain anonymous for his safety, a large number of relics have been taken away to a secret location. In the process of ICHHTO’s looting excavation, not only has the farmland and its’ crops have been destroyed, but also the damage to the historical site was so destructive, that there is nothing left to salvage for any research.


The Office of Khuzestan’s Security Unit for Protection of Provincial Heritage has submitted an official complaint to the head office in Tehran, and called the move illegal and such offences should be stopped and measures should be taken in order to prevent it from happening again by ICHHTO or any other governmental organisation.


Initially ICHHTO denied any involvement, rejecting the claim and called it false, they later confessed but have claimed their dig was fruitless and did not find any relics and will pay damages to the farmer, Mr Yousef Zare. So far Mr Zare has not received any compensation.


This is the first time that ICHHTO has directly been involved in an illegal dig in search of Iranian antiquities, or at least it is the first time that it has been brought to light. Although, in May 2006, a colossal double-headed-bull capital from Persepolis that was due to leave Iran for Western markets, was seized by the people of Kerman who handed over the relic along with the smugglers to the police. The Achaemenid capital, which weighs in excess of 20 tonnes, could not be removed from the 19-meter high terrace without ICHHTO and the government's direct involvement.


Since 1979, the auction houses in Europe and the United States have been flooded with Iranian antiquities, brought out of Iran illegally by smugglers and the Islamic Republics’ ruling clerics and their families alike. Some were found during the digs and others stolen from museums. However, according to the UNESCO’s 1970 Convention (the Means of Prohibiting the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property), members have the right to recover stolen or illegally exported antiquities from other member countries, which means all these relics must be returned to Iran in the future, once a democratically elected system comes to power in Iran.




ICHHTO was formed by the Islamic Republic two years after dissolving the Ministry of Art and Culture in 1980. In its short life, the organisation has been moving from one ministry to another and currently is a secretariat to the Islamic Republic President and its director appointed by the President. So far, the majority of the appointed directors and executives either have no education in the field or any education at all.


The evidence in hand confirms a bitter reality for the Iranian nation, that the sole purpose of ICHHTO’s creation by the Islamic Republic was the destruction of pre-Islamic Iranian heritage under the guise of protection. The idea of such an organisation perhaps came about after Mr Khomeini's defeat of destroying Persepolis and Pasargadae.


Immediately after installing the new regime to power by UK-US in Iran in 1979, Khomeini sent his protégé and henchman, Sadeq Khalkhali to flatten Persepolis, then Pasargadae and the mausoleum of Ferdowsi in Tus. After destroying the tomb of Reza Shah Pahlavi near Tehran, which was so solidly built that it took him a month, he left for Persepolis – but when he arrived there he faced with people's resistance who forced them to flee. If was not because of the locals and the people of Shiraz, Persepolis and Pasargadae would have had the same fate as the giant Buddhas of Bamian had, in the hand of the Islamic Republics counterparts, the Talibans.


Defeated, beaten and frustrated, Khomeini realised he was unable to destroy pre-Islamic heritage that he hated so much so openly, therefore his men cunningly devised the formation of ICHHTO, so that pre-Islamic heritage is destroyed under the disguise of protection.


Since then, the ICHHTO has been responsible for most of the destructions and damages to Iranian heritage more than any other regime-run organisation, including issuing permission for constructions of over 80 dams, petrochemical factories, hotels, military bases and other major projects, which all have resulted in total destruction of hundreds of archaeological and historical sites and buildings, the majority of which dated to pre-Islamic Iran.



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