By A.J. Cave
in Memory of Richard T. Hallock
"Parnaka says to Harrena the cattle-chief:
Adukanaisa, in 16th Year of King Darius.
Ansukka wrote this order; Maraza delivered it to Harrena.
What Parnaka, uncle of the Great Darius, said was done by Harrena and the clay fragment bearing the order of the Great King was routinely archived by the imperial administrators of Parsa.
source: Oriental Institute
Sovereign nations used to be generally immune from the jurisdictional reach of American courts and it was left to the Executive Branch of the government to decide when the presumption of immunity could be waived to allow a lawsuit brought against a sovereign. In 1976, United States Congress decided to replace the politically motivated ad-hoc decision making of the Executive Branch with a legal statute and the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act was codified in law. In 1996 an exemption was made to this law, if the sovereign nation was considered a "state sponsor of terrorism".
In September of 1997, a suicide attack on a popular shopping mall in Jerusalem killed five and left over 100 wounded. Hamas claimed responsibility. Two Hamas operatives were quickly arrested by the Israeli police and brought to trial and were subsequently convicted by an Israeli criminal court and punished.
In 2001, American survivors and families of the victims of the 1997 Hamas suicide bombing sued Hamas and The Islamic Republic of Iran in the United States Federal Court in the District of Columbia, a landmark case on grounds that Hamas was a terrorist organization financed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Since Hamas had no known assets in the United States worth pursuing, the Islamic Republic with deep oil revenue pockets was clearly the chief target of the plaintiffs.
With no diplomatic relations since 1979, in 1984, the U.S. Department of State designated the Islamic Republic of Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, so the Federal Court agreed and the sovereign immunity of Iran was waived for the purpose of the lawsuit.
Islamic Republic of Iran ignored the lawsuit and failed to appear in the U.S. Federal Court to refute the charges brought against her.
As they say: 'Ignorance of law is not a defense."
Without any of the defendants appearing in court, the case was quickly decided and in September of 2003, millions of dollars were awarded in default judgment to the plaintiffs and another $300 million was added to the default judgment in punitive damages, bringing the total judgment to $423.5 million.
But the plaintiffs soon realized that winning such a staggering sum in judgment was one thing, collecting it was an entirely different beast.
Commercial assets of the Islamic Republic in the United States were frozen after the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979; a long line of plaintiffs with judgment won from other lawsuits against the Islamic Republic had been trying in vain for years to collect against such iced assets; and a frantic search for the riches of the former Shah did not unearth any hidden millions of dollars.
Curse of the 300
In 2004, the Oriental Institute of Chicago University returned 300 clay tablets from the Achaemenid Administrative Archives to Iran and the media publicity that followed caught the eyes of the Rubin vs. the Islamic Republic legal team. A lawsuit to collect on the judgment was brought quickly in the Federal Court in Illinois, and the court was asked to confiscate the remaining 'Persepolis Fortification Tablets' still in care of the Oriental Institute, as property of the Islamic Republic to compensate the victims and their families.
At first, Chicago University's legal team took on the defense of the 'Persepolis Fortification Tablets' as a third party, stating that the Islamic Republic of Iran was reluctant to entangle with the United States courts due to the ongoing hostilities between the two governments.
The Federal Court was not amused.
The claim was rebuked by the judge presiding over the case by stating that 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, Chicago University invoked the old legal principle of sovereign immunity, stating that governments cannot be sued just like ordinary citizens, but could not make the claim on behalf of the Islamic Republic.
In 2006, the Islamic Republic of Iran finally entered the legal proceedings to assert her rights.
While going after frozen assets of the Islamic Republic had serious competition, Persian antiquities held by various museums across the United States had not been considered a part of official Iranian-owned assets to pursue.
The Rubin plaintiffs made a connection: ancient footprints of the Persian Kings were tied to the shoes of modern Iranian Islamic Republic.
In addition to the lawsuits brought against the 'Persepolis Fortification Tablets' and the Choga Mish collection held at the Oriental Institute, they sued Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History for its Herzfeld collection: a collection of Persian archaeological objects collected by Herzfeld during 1920s and 1930s, probably without the permission of the Iranian government, and sold to the Field Museum in 1945. Perhaps that was why Herzfeld never took detailed notes during his excavations.
Rubin plaintiffs also filed separate lawsuits against Boston's Museum of Fine Arts and several Harvard University art museums, all with impressive collections of Persian antiquities, claiming such works of art still belonged to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Sins of fathers visited upon the sons and daughters...
The lawsuits were no longer just a fight for seizure of commercial assets owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran, but a fight for the seizure of precious Persian antiquities held by museums, regardless of who owned them.
Christie's Auction House in London
included a stone relief fragment of an Achaemenid Imperial Guard for auction
with an estimated price tag of £200,000 to £300,000.
Iran's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) submitted a legal complaint to a British Court in London, claiming ownership of this priceless work of imperial art, and asking for a halt on the sale of the precious cultural property and return it to Iran. To prove her ownership, a documentary film and pictures of the excavations carried out in Parsa and a complete report of the Oriental Institute's archeological works were submitted to the court.
The relief, part of the stairway of Apadana Audience Hall in Parsa built by Khasayar-sa (Xerxes), was unearthed in 1933 during archeological excavations by the Oriental Institute. It was auctioned in New York in 1974 and was sold and re-sold to a French collector who kept the piece for 30 years in her private collection in France.
It is not clear how the piece was taken out of Iran in the first place and why the government of Iran did not take any legal action in 1974 to stop her cultural property from being auctioned off and sold in the United States.
The British Court refused to rule in favor of the Islamic Republic and referred the case to the Appeal Court for further investigation. The Appeal Court also rejected Islamic Republic's claim, arguing that the historical relic had previously been sold twice in New York without any objection on the part of Iranian government.
They say it was also suggested to the Islamic Republic that she should purchase the Achaemenid relief fragment. But apparently the suggestion was rejected by Iranian authorities because they believed that purchasing the ancient artifact would legitimize the illegal act of smuggling cultural properties.
In October of 2007, after two years of struggle to reclaim the Achaemenid Imperial Guard, it was sold again to an anonymous buyer by Christie's for £580,500 (about $1.2 million). According to their website, similar artifacts from Achaemenid era have been sold by Christie's over the years.
Decades of neglect in reclaiming the Achaemenid Imerial Guard and returning it to Iran resulted in losing a priceless piece of Persian cultural heritage which belongs to all the Iranians.
While international conventions have banned stealing or illegally transferring cultural properties of one nation to another, refusal of the British Court to put cultural ahead of political considerations and to recognize Iran's ownership claim over the Achaemenid Imperial Guard fragment in good faith in order to facilitate a return to civility and diplomacy, violated moral if not legal international obligations of nations and undoubtedly added to feelings of hostility between the two governments.
Legal wheel goes round & round...
After 4 years of legal wrangling, Persepolis Fortification Archive is still caught in the net of American legal system and is likely to remain captive for a number of years to come while the legal battle for Persian antiquities unfolds in various courts across the United States.
While Chicago University's efforts to preserve the integrity of the Persepolis Fortification Archive are highly commendable, the defense of the Achaemenid Administrative Archives, cultural heritage of ancient Persia, falls squarely on the shoulders of the Iranians themselves.
However, after some 70+ years, the measured academic pace of Oriental Institute's scholarly research on Achaemenid Administrative Archives has finally turned into a feverish race against time in the capable hands of Professor Matthew Stolper, one of the world's leading experts in late Babylonian historical and legal texts, with interest in Arya and Elamite languages and Achaemenid history, who is devoting his life to complete this extraordinary task at hand.
The Oriental Institute is in need of additional grants to complete its critical work using state-of-the-art imaging technologies. More volunteers could not hurt either!
All hands on deck, so to speak...
But while the Persepolis Fortification Archive
is just one of the many
projects at the Oriental Institute,
slated for return upon completion of research, and their loss under such
unfortunate circumstances would no doubt impact the prestige of such a renowned
institution and the status of other artifacts currently on loan to the Institute
for study as well as Institute's access to similar objects in the future,
Achaemenid Administrative Archives, on the other hand, are rare, unique and the
only contemporary material evidence from the inside of the Achaemenid imperial
administration and their loss will have a profound impact on piecing together
the history of the Persian Achaemenids from the Iranian perspective with the
imperative to know more about how their ancient civilization evolved over time.
Islamic Republic's refusal to appear in United States courts to defend herself against real or imaginary charges will only make her an easy target of endless civil litigations and would result in more and more lawsuits with the default judgments starting to add up to billions of dollars: a significant barrier to the normalization of diplomatic relationships between the two sparring governments, when cooler heads are elected to lead each sovereign nation.
Given the current political tensions, however, realistically it is unlikely that the U.S. courts would rule in favor of the Islamic Republic in similar cases, even if the Iranians start to put in an appearance; effectively practicing some sort of de facto American foreign policy that is legally solely reserved for the U.S. State Department.
Justice is not blind like the King's Law.
Which court would not give boxes full of clay lumps to sympathetic plaintiffs and their families, suffering from life-altering mental and physical wounds, to ease their pain and make their lives as comfortable as possible?
Who does not want to see men who have the blood of innocent on their hands punished?
But as the ancient Babylonians used to pray: "My Goddess, lay thy punishment on he who is sinful, be merciful that the innocent not be destroyed."
As the result of this landmark lawsuit, Rubin vs. the Islamic Republic, not just the remaining Achaemenid Administrative Archives, some 8,000 tablets and 11,000 fragments, held at the Oriental Institute by the order of the United States courts, are in the danger of being seized, divided and sold in auctions, but all the Persian antiquities in museums have become the subject of unbridled legal greed. The ultimate loss will belong to the Iranian cultural heritage, without making any real impact on the bloody behavior of extremist individuals and governments.
The families of U.S. marines killed or wounded in a 1983 bombing in Beirut have joined the Rubin lawsuit and are trying to apply any money garnered from the Achaemenid Administrative Archive against a $2.7 billion judgment against the Islamic Republic which they won last year. Others are likely to follow suit.
The initial intent of the United States Congress in legislation against terrorism was to ensure that terrorist regimes could not injure Americans with impunity. However, the impact of a legal decision in favor of the Rubin plaintiffs would undoubtedly have other adverse impacts, far beyond the fate of the Achaemenid Administrative Archives: it could unintentionally bring all the American museums with vast collections of antiquities to their knees with endless litigation to either prove legal ownership of such cultural properties of many ancient civilizations that were looted by the west or have them seized by the increasing number of plaintiffs desperate to collect on millions of dollars worth of judgments.
It could possibly put the entire holdings of antiquities of all the American museums on a shelf for sale to the highest bidders.
source: Oriental Institute
Achaemenid Administrative Archives are literally boxes and boxes full of dust and clay fragments and their historical value rests with the data collected from the entire set by highly specialized scholars, no more than 20 in the entire world.
Their commercial value, however, is harder to estimate. Judging from the case of the Achaemenid Imperial Guard in London, it is unlikely that the Islamic Republic would buy back the collection in art auctions. As small lumps of extremely fragile clay, they are not 'works of art' to be framed and put on a wall to be admired. So the commercial value of them is perhaps highly overstated.
In a bizarre twist of fate, seizure and sale of Achaemenid Administrative Archives, the priceless imperial administrative records, will not only do irreparable harm to Persian Achaemenid history by destroying the wholesome integrity of the few remaining direct material evidence of their reign, it will indirectly accomplish what the Islamic Republic of Iran dares not do publicly: destroy the continuity of modern Iranians with their proud and glorious Persian history.
In the case of all the Persian antiquities held by American museums, a favorable judgment for the plaintiffs would no doubt be ruinous for the museums and its true impact cannot be predicted. The museums would either have to litigate and take their chances with the courts; settle out of court for huge sums of money; or hand over the precious antiquities for sale.
Gold is greed...
With vast holdings of Persian antiquities in British, French, German and other western museums, it is yet to be seen whether staggering legal judgments pending against American collections would entice the Europeans to test their respective legal systems in regards to such emerging international legal issues, where legal courts are bearing down on foreign policy.
Iranians themselves could bring lawsuits to reclaim their long lost looted natinal treasures from various western museums.
Who knows if a lawsuit could be brought successfully against the British Museum, challenging the ownership of the Cyrus Cylinder
by the museum who 'acquired' the historical object from an Assyrian raider of antiquities?
They say, in a letter to Darius III, Alexander wrote: "I crossed into Asia, wishing to punish the Persians!"
As the old saying goes: "A fool throws a stone into a well, which a hundred wise men cannot pull out."
Alexander destroyed a great empire in vain and ended up destroying himself in the process. By the end of his barbaric folly,
the dead outnumbered the living.
When a world ends, will words remain?
Roxana Romance is the story of Roxana who married Alexander the Great, King of Macedon, who defeated the last Great King of the first Persian Empire. They say it was a love match.
The third chapter of the novel: 'Axis of Empire' is about the horror of burning of Parsa [Persepolis] by Alexander. It puts Achaemenid Administrative Archives in context of time and place. It is provided here by the author in pdf format.
... Payvand News - 09/24/08 ... --