Efforts on returning Iran's centuries-old stone tablets will soon pay off, an official at Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization said.
"The tablets—known as the Persepolis Collection—were taken out of country at different periods of time and under different excuses," said Mohammad Reza Kargar, director of the Museums and Historical Moveable Properties Office at ICHHTO, IRNA reported. "Restitution of the tablets has been a controversial issue, but the saga is nearing its end now."
While historical objects taken of a country can be tracked via various channels, such as Interpol, the process is long and complex as it requires the plaintiff to first provide proof of ownership and then supply evidence that the objects were taken out illegally.
"Even more, the process is costly," Kargar said.
The Persepolis Collection includes about 30,000 clay tablets and fragments that Iran loaned to the Oriental Institute in 1937 for research, translation and cataloguing. It contains 300 tablets dating back to the Achaemenid era (550–330 BC), which are impressed in cuneiform and record administrative details of the ancient Persian Empire.
Eight Americans injured in a Hamas suicide bombing in 1997 and their families had moved to seize the artifacts to satisfy a US court ruling that Iran owed the victims $71.5 million for its alleged involvement in the attack.
However, several US-based media, including the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, reported last summer that the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute are not required to turn over the antiquities to the eight victims.
Kargar noted that Iran is awaiting one more court ruling related to the Persepolis Collection, "which is expected to be in our favor". A large haul of Iran’s stolen artifacts have been repatriated over the past two years. A shipment of 349 ancient relics was returned from Belgium in December 2014 after 33 years, following a ruling by a court in Brussels.
In April 2015, over 100 historical artifacts taken from the archeological site of Choghamish in Khuzestan Province were returned by the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, after The Hague in the Netherlands ruled in favor of Iran and obliged the US to repatriate the objects. In July 2015, the government in Rome returned a shipment of 30 relics dating back to the pre-Islamic era, while about 73 smuggled relics, including seal impressions from the Sassanid era (224–651), were returned to Tehran in May.
Iran’s cultural heritage officials have urged Iranian expats to report stolen Iranian artifacts to help bring the relics back home. They have been called upon to use the online portal, www.ichto.it, to share information they may have regarding Iranian stolen artifacts.