Ancient Iranian Relics Returned Home from Belgium

Ancient Iranian Relics  Returned Home from BelgiumAncient Iranian Relics  Returned Home from Belgium

artifacts from the necropolis of Khurvin have been returned to Iran after 35 years following a verdict by the court of appeals in Belgium.

The collection, which was held in Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels, Belgium, was returned home on a special chartered flight and was delivered to Iranian officials in a special ceremony. Masoud Soltanifar, head of Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO), attending the ceremony in Tehran’s Mehrabad airport, congratulated the Iranian nation for having won back some of their most valuable antique treasures.

The victory was the result of rigorous efforts and pursuit of the case by officials of ICHHTO and Iranian legal experts in international law as well as experts at the international legal affairs center in Paris, MNA reported.

Khurvin, a village fifty miles northeast of Tehran, is situated in Savojbolagh county, Alborz Province.

It was influenced by Mesopotamia and Central Asia because of its location near migration and trade routes. Agriculture was abundant in this region due to the presence of streams and other water sources from the mountains. Tombs were found in cemeteries similar to Sialk but lack of weaponry indicates that the emphasis was on farming and herding rather than warfare. Pottery was found in abundance in the tombs excavated at Khurvin. Unfortunately there are several graves that were robbed and the treasures sold illegally.

The collection to be returned dates back to about 2000 BC and consists of ten crates of over 300 objects and relics from the ancient site of Khurvin.

The artifacts were moved out of Iran in 1965 by Wolfcarius-Maleki, a French woman who was married to an Iranian physician, Prof. Maleki, and lived in Iran for about 18 years.

  violation of law

Iran opened the case in 1981, appealing for the restitution of the antiques after being informed that the collection is kept in a museum in the Belgian city of Ghent. The Iranian government declared that the antiques are among the country’s cultural heritage and their transfer was a clear violation of the law on preserving national heritage of the country.

Wolfcarius, however, claimed legal ownership of the antiques saying she had discovered part of the collection in a legal excavation, back in 1960s, authorized by the officials of the time and had bought the rest from local vendors.

Iran rejected the claim on the basis that no report of the excavation and discovery of the artifacts and antiques were ever reported to the government as required by law for the findings to be legally and officially established.

Towards the end of 1981, the items were sequestered by a court order to prevent dealing in them during litigation; the collection was left in their location at the University of Ghent and in the care of Prof. Vanden Berghe.

Louis Vanden Berghe was a Belgian archaeologist who devoted almost all his research to Iran’s history. He traveled to Iran in the winter of 1954, where he undertook excavations from November 26 to December 5 at Khurvin and excavated 14 tombs of the Early Iron Age.

In the midst of the litigation, the court ordered the suit of Wolfcarius against Prof. Vanden Berghe, the holder of the collection, for possession, and that of the Iranian government against Wolfcarius for return of the collection to Iran, to be heard together. Wolfcarius also claimed damage for eight years since her request in 1979 on her “deprivation of possession.” The Iranian government, on the other hand, claimed that according to Article 36 of its Law of November 3, 1930, illegally exported antiquities could be regarded by the state as contraband and forfeited. It did not, however, for the purpose of the litigation, deny Wolfcarius was the owner of the collection, and did not seek title to the collection, but only its return to Iran.

 in Denial Twice

The case was presented by Iran and denied by the court twice in 1998 and 2012. In fall 2013, an appeals court reversed the previously issued verdict and the case was sent to Liege court of appeals for another proceeding. Finally the Liege court voted in favor of Iran and that the antiques collection should be restituted to ICHHTO.

Currently 228 relics from the necropolis of Khurvin exist in Iran National Museum which will add up to a total of 577 after the collection is returned to the country. “The new artifacts include pottery and metal objects for various functions and usages,” said cultural heritage deputy of ICHHTO, Mohammad Hassan Talebiyan. He also asserted that “this gives a perfect opportunity to archaeology experts and researchers to study the history, lifestyle, and culture of Iranians two millennia before Christ.”

The package was escorted by a special police force to the National Museum of Iran. The expert examination of the artifacts will start soon.

The collection is due to be unveiled and displayed for the public mid next week.