World Iranologists ask Obama to bar seizure of Achaemenid tablets
TEHRAN -- About 700 Iranologists and Iranian cultural heritage lovers have recently signed a petition asking President Barack Obama to prevent confiscation of Iran’s 300 Achaemenid clay tablets loaned to the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.The petition has been organized by the European Iranologist Society (Societas Iranologica Europaea, SIE) in its website www.societasiranologicaeu.org.
The petition reads the artifacts “being cultural property, should not be considered as a common property, whose financial value can be exploited for the purpose of legal compensation.”
“The antiquities belong to the cultural heritage of Iran on behalf of human kind and should therefore remain in public hands.
“We therefore, well aware of the separation of powers, nevertheless apply to you in order that this unconscionable decision with irreversible consequences should be avoided.
“A country such as the United States should not be complicit in the sale of the world’s cultural heritage.”
The SIE based in Rome is an European association of scholars working in the field of Iranian Studies with members not only from European countries, but from all over the world, including Asia and America.
In spring 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Blanche Manning ruled that a group of people injured by a 1997 bombing in Israel could seize the 300 clay tablets loaned to the University of Chicago and the university cannot protect Iran’s ownership rights to the artifacts.
Following Iranian officials’ protests against the ruling, the court was slated to reexamine the case on December 21, 2006, but the court session was postponed to January 19, 2007, allegedly due to the fact that Iran had not provided all the documents necessary to the court.
The court session was held on the abovementioned date, but no verdict was issued.
The Oriental Institute holds 8000 to 10,000 intact and about 11,000 fragmented tablets, as estimated by Gil Stein, the director of the university’s Oriental Institute.
The tablets were discovered by the University of Chicago archaeologists in 1933 while they were excavating in Persepolis, the site of a major Oriental Institute excavation.
The artifacts bear cuneiform script explaining administrative details of the Achaemenid Empire from about 500 BC. They are among a group of tens of thousands of tablets and tablet fragments that were loaned to the university’s Oriental Institute in 1937 for study. A group of 179 complete tablets was returned in 1948, and another group of more than 37,000 tablet fragments was returned in 1951.
Photo: one of the tablets inscribed in Old Persian kept at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute