Iran, US Might Face Off in Hague Over Artifacts

If Iran loses the US Supreme Court Case, it may have serious implications on how foreign assets are viewed and protected in the US
The Persepolis Collection includes 30,000 clay tablets of some of the oldest writings in the world.The Persepolis Collection includes 30,000 clay tablets of some of the oldest writings in the world.

Iran will take the fight to protect its priceless artifacts collection to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands, if the US Supreme Court rules in favor of seizing the relics, according to a senior Iranian cultural heritage official.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mohammad Hassan Talebian, deputy for cultural heritage at Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, said, “Iran is likely to win the case but if it (US Supreme Court) rules against Iran, we’ll take it to The Hague,” IRNA reported.

“We won’t spare any efforts until the artifacts are returned,” he added.

The US Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a case brought forth by the lawyers of eight Americans who were injured in a Hamas suicide bombing in 1997 that seeks to seize the artifacts to satisfy a US court ruling that Iran owes the victims $71.5 million for its alleged involvement in the attack. Iran has denied all allegations.

Over the past several years, a federal judge and the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected the claims of the plaintiffs, which is why Talebian is optimistic that the Supreme Court will also vote in favor of Iran.

While that may have been the case in the past, the Supreme Court proved last week that its decisions are mostly based on politics than law after it agreed to partially implement US President Donald Trump’s travel ban, despite the fact that it had been blocked by numerous federal judges who said it was discriminatory and illegal.

  Oldest Writings in the World

The artifact cache, widely referred to as the Persepolis Collection, includes about 30,000 clay tablets and fragments that Iran loaned to the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute in 1937 for research, translation and cataloguing.

The collection includes 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. They are said to be among the oldest writings in the world.

The artifacts are currently kept at the Oriental Institute and Field’s Museum, both of which have resisted efforts to hand the relics over.

“These ancient artifacts ... have unique historical and cultural value,” said Gil Stein, director of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute in a statement in 2014 after the first US district court ruled in favor of Iran, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The university “will continue our efforts to preserve and protect this cultural heritage”, he said.

Artnet, a reputable online resource for the international art market, said in a news piece that if the Supreme Court votes in favor of seizing Iran’s artifacts, it could “have serious implications for how foreign assets are viewed and are potentially subject to seizure in the US”.

The issue will be heard by the US Supreme Court in its next annual session beginning in October.

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