A federal judge has ordered to confiscate and put on auction a collection of invaluable Persian relics, currently in the possession of Chicago University's Oriental Institute, to compensate victims of the 1997 bombing in Israel.
Tehran, 1 July 2006 (CHN) -- While the world is seeking for peace through highlighting the cultural values of different countries through which political disputes may be settled down, it seems that Iranian historical relics have fallen victim of political crisis.
By ruling to confiscate the valuable collection of Persian relics held in trust at University of Chicago, and rejecting the ownership of Iran over these artifacts, an American federal judge has added fuel to the fire of the recent political crisis (see story).
While in today's world, the United Nations and its sub-branch, UNESCO, are trying to bring different nations closer together through highlighting the importance of culture to combat political tensions, it seems that issuing of this order has just worsened the situation.
Thousands of ancient clay tablets containing information about the life and languages of the people of the Persian Empire were discovered in Persepolis, Iran, in 1933 by archeologists of the Oriental Institute of Chicago University and were lent to this institute due to its request to carry out more studies on them. These clay tablets are 2500 years old, through which historians were able to find detailed information about the lifestyle of the people who lived in Ancient Persia centuries ago. 300 pieces of these tablets were returned to Iran two years ago upon mutual agreement between Iranian cultural heritage authorities and the Oriental Institute of Chicago University. Ignoring Iran's undisputed right over these invaluable artifacts, an American federal judge ordered to confiscate these ancient relics and put them on auction to compensate Israeli families who lost members in a bomb explosion in Ben Yehuda Mall on Sept. 4, 1997 under the false pretext that Iran was partly responsible for this explosion and has to pay for it now!
Nine years ago, on Sept. 4, 1997, suicide bombers set off explosive devices in Ben Yehuda shopping mall, a popular tourist destination in Jerusalem, killing five and leaving an approximately 200 wounded. Out of those who were injured in the blast, five Americans decided to sue Iran on grounds that the government sponsored the attack. After winning his clients a $ 71.5 million rule against Iran, Rhode Island lawyer, David J. Strachman, argued that institutions such as the University of Chicago illegally removed historical relics from archeological sites in Iran during the 1930s, rendering those items the property of the current Iranian government.
Strachman made international headlines last year after representing the families of victims killed in the 1997 attack in Israel. As a result of Strachman's landmark suit against Hamas, which had claimed responsibility of the said suicide bombing, a federal judge awarded $116 million in damage to the victims and orphaned children, allowing the families to pursue the seizing of the assets of Hamas in the United States.
Arguing that Iran was also responsible for the bombing because of its support from Hamas, Starchman asked the Federal Court to confiscate Iran's assets in the US, including its ancient artifacts in Chicago University, as compensation to the families of the victims. When Iran did not show up in court, the judge ruled for the plaintiffs by default, awarding them damages of $423.5 million. Though a victory for Strachman and his clients, that left his the task of collecting from Iran's assets in the US. Among them the collection of Persian artifacts housed at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. Moreover, referring to Chicago University's claim linking Iran's absence in the court to its past experiences with the American legal system, in a decision published 23rd of June 2006, Manning ruled the university's "brazen accusation that the courts of the United States are hostile to Iran and that, as a result, Iran should be excused from bothering to assert its rights, is wholly unsupported."
In response to this decision, the university invoked an ancient legal principle, known as sovereign immunity, which holds that governments can't be sued just like ordinary citizens. "It was only one of several lines of defenses we've offered," said Joe Brennan, vice president and general council for the Field Museum.
Lawyers of the University of Chicago appeared in Federal District Court at the ending days of the year 2005 and argued that it needs to protect Iran's rights to the property, even though Iran declined to come to court. The university's lawyers argued that though Iran had not asserted that defense, it was doing it on Iran's behalf. The University of Chicago claimed the Iranians were gun-shy because of bad experiences with the American legal system; however, this claim was rejected by the United States District Judge, Blanche M. Manning, in Chicago who ruled in favor of Strachman and his clients. Still, university lawyers maintain their optimism and commitment towards keeping the Persian artifacts in Chicago University.
Now after 6 months and despite the efforts made by University of Chicago, once again the federal judge has rejected the key defense by this university in a lawsuit over rights to ancient Persian artifacts including some invaluable cuneiform inscriptions.
Based on a report recently released by Chicago Tribune, the next step which will be taken by Rhode Island lawyer is to auction the pieces to compensate victims of Middle Eastern violence on the false grounds that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism.
The judge's rebuke of University of Chicago left several other lines of defense still to be heard. The case, which also involves the Field Museum, comes back to court for another hearing later in July. Brennan says that his party is "confident of winning", although he declined commenting on the judge's ruling since the case is still open.
According to Chicago Tribune, the judge's decision is bound to ripple through the American museum community as it has been announced at a time that American museums are facing tough questions about how they acquired certain collections.
From the University of Chicago's perspective, this might be a case of injury about to be added to insult. Strachman said he will move to translate the judge's ruling into cash for his clients. "Shortly, we are going to be asking for a judicial sale for the purpose of raising funds to satisfy the judgment," quoted Chicago Tribune as Strachman saying.
Charles Miller, a spokesman for the US Department of Justice, said, "We are reviewing the courts' ruling."
This is while, in several recent cases involving US citizens and foreign nations, the Department of Justice intervened and claimed the national interest is better served if such disputes are resolved through diplomatic negotiations rather than legal suit, an argument revived in the University of Chicago case.
By following the case, Iran's government is trying to prove its ownership over these relics and return them to their homeland at any price. Iran's Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki warned that if the US denies Iran's rights to its properties and asserts to satisfy judgments by the Federal Court, Tehran will reciprocate the action.
According to Iran's state news agency, IRNA, Mottaki gave assurances that all the Iranian centers active in the business have placed the affair on their agenda and will follow it. Condemning this decision taken by the court, Mottaki said: "Americans have committed an anti-cultural measure by issuing the recent rulings," adding that Iran would naturally follow up the case in UNESCO and other related organizations.
"True, a ruling has been issued and has not yet gone into the stage of enforcement, but on the whole, it marks an indecent cultural move taken by the U.S," said Mottaki.
Anyway, it seems this unjust decision which has been made by the United States Federal Court, will not only worsen the current political tension but also will result in more cultural chaos. By permitting the court to auction some of the most invaluable Persian historical relics, which are considered as part of the Persian identity and its cultural heritage, and insulting the national feeling of more than 70 million people who enjoy one of the most ancient civilizations in the world, the United States, who claims it is the sole protector of justice and respects the cultural values of all nations, who also claims it does not have any problem with the people of Iran, but with the government alone, will violate all the ethical rules.
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