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Persian Antiquities in Peril: A Legal and Cultural Panel Discussion

Press Release by Iranian American Bar Association

Presented by:

  • Dr. Matthew Wolfgang Stolper, Professor of Assyriology in the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago
  • Dr. Patty Gerstenblith, Director of the DePaul College of Law's Program in Cultural Heritage Law
  • Sue Benton, Esq., Partner, Winston & Strawn LLP and Lead Counsel for the Chicago Field Museum
  • Dr. Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago

Date: Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Time: 5:45pm - 8:00pm CST
Location: University Center, 525 S. State Street, Chicago, IL 60605

In September of 1997, three Hamas suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowded pedestrian mall in Jerusalem, killing five and wounding nearly 200. Several of the American victims sued the government of Iran, accusing it of being complicit in the attack, and won a $412 million default judgment. In seeking to satisfy that judgment, the plaintiffs have gone to court to seize ancient Persian artifacts being held by the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, the Chicago Field Museum, several Harvard University museums, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Most of these artifacts date back 2,500 years, to the earliest days of the Persian Empire.

source: Oriental Institute

The plaintiffs' cases are currently pending in federal court in Chicago and Boston. The museums have all entered the cases to prevent the artifacts from being seized; the Field Museum, the Harvard University museums, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts argue that they, and not the government of Iran, own the artifacts. The University of Chicago's Oriental Institute has not made that argument - stating that the artifacts in its possession are "on loan" from the government of Iran. Thus the case against the Oriental Institute will most likely turn on the meaning of "commercial activity" under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which was originally passed by Congress in 1976.

If the plaintiffs succeed, the artifacts may be dismantled and sold at auction. If this happens, the IABA believes that not only will the archaeological value of the artifacts be compromised, but the museums are also worried about the likely chilling effects such a decision would have on scholarly exchanges. The National Iranian American Council, an Iranian American lobbying organization, is separately concerned about the cultural impact resulting from a decision to seize the artifacts, and has tried to persuade the federal court in Chicago to deny the plaintiffs' request.

Head of Colossal Bull Figure from Entrance of Hundred Columned Hall (built c. 485 - 424 BC) at Persepolis (built c. 520 - 330 BC)
Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago

In an effort to raise awareness about these cases and to further explore their cultural and scholarly impact, the Chicago Chapter of the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA) will host a panel discussion on Wednesday, June 10 from 5:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the University Center, 525 S. State Street, Lake Room, Chicago. The panelists include Dr. Gil Stein and Dr. Matthew Stolper of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, Dr. Patty Gerstenblith of the DePaul University College of Law, and Sue Benton, lead counsel for the Chicago Field Museum. To reserve space for this event, please visit

IABA is a non-religious, independent organization and is not in any way affiliated with any other organization. IABA is not a lobbying or advocacy group, but primarily an educational organization. As such, IABA seeks to educate and inform the Iranian American community about legal issues of interest, and to ensure that the American public at large as well as our representatives and other government officials are fully and accurately informed on legal matters of interest and concern to the Iranian American community.

Attorney Hermine Valizadeh, President of the Chicago Chapter of the Iranian American Bar Association is available for commentary on this most important case and can be reached directly at or 312-321-4810. Or for additional information on this program, please contact Masoud Naseri at 312-840-3183 or at

Tickets are free for IABA Members, $10 for non-Members, and $5 for students. Please note seating is very limited. If there is availability on the day of the event, tickets will cost $15 at the door for members and non-members and $10 for students.

To RSVP, please visit this link to purchase tickets.

... Payvand News - 06/05/09 ... --

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