Ali Asghar Mounesan, the Head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHTO), said that Americans injured in a 1997 suicide bombing in Jerusalem were to seize ancient Persian artefacts from a Chicago museum to satisfy a $71.5 million court judgment against Iran, which they had accused of complicity in the attack.
“Consequently, the ICHTO, in consultation with the foreign ministry and the Legal Department of the President’s Office, held several meetings with the Supreme National Security Council and finally recruited a native lawyer to pursue the case,” the Fars News Agency quoted Mounesan as saying in a Farsi report.
He added that Iran’s lawyer in the Chicago court filed a case on Iran’s opposition to the seizure of Achaemenid artefacts and the Islamic Republic formally entered the judicial process of returning the clay tablets and fragments.
“Our attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court’s ruling and fortunately with their efforts the US Supreme Court ruled that American defendants cannot seize the artefacts from the Chicago museum as compensation.”
Mounesan went on to say that this is a very big achievement and a great victory for Iran, which is the result of diplomatic and legal efforts made by the Islamic Republic’s government. He noted that after years of struggle this 84-year-old problem was resolved to bring back the Iranian Achaemenid tablets.
The US Supreme Court on Wednesday, in an 8-0 ruling, upheld a lower court’s decision in favour of Iran that had prevented the defendants from collecting on the judgment, which Tehran has not paid, by obtaining antiquities held at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. The important Persian cultural artefacts, on loan from Iran to the museum since the 1930s, include clay tablets boasting some of the oldest writing in the world.
The lawsuit stems from a 1997 attack in which three members of Hamas movement blew themselves up at a crowded pedestrian mall in Jerusalem, killing five people and injuring about 200 others.
Several of the injured, including lead defendant Jenny Rubin, and their relatives, sued Iran in the Federal Court alleging it had provided material support for the attackers.
The court agreed, awarding them $71.5 million. Iran refused to pay, prompting the defendants to target precious artefacts, including the Persepolis Archive, thousands of ancient tablets and fragments, many inscribed with Elamite writing, on loan since 1937 and held at the Oriental Institute.
The Persepolis Fortification Archive and Persepolis Treasury Archive are two groups of clay administrative archives found in Persepolis dating to the Achaemenid Persian Empire. The discovery was made during legal excavations conducted by the archaeologists from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in the 1930s.
Thousands of clay tablets, fragments and seal impressions in the Persepolis archives are a part of a single administrative system representing continuity of activity and flow of data over more than fifty consecutive years. These records can throw light on the geography, economy, and administration, as well as the religion and social conditions of the Persepolis region, the heartland of the Persian’ Great Kings from Darius I the Great to Artaxerxes I.
Persepolis administrative archives are the single most important extant primary source for understanding the internal workings of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. But while these archives have the potential for offering the study of the Achaemenid history based on the sole surviving and substantial records from the heartland of the empire, they are still not fully utilized as such by a majority of historians.