Paris, 3 Jul. (IPS) Iran and the United States are engaged in a new confrontation, this time on cultural and juristical level, as Tehran has threatened to retaliate if Washington moves to auction off invaluable ancient Persian artefacts to compensate victims of a Hamas bombing in Israel.
"If America lays claim to Iranian assets to implement some of its courts' rulings, it will face a similar measure from Tehran" Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told the official Iranian news agency IRNA.
According to a report on Wednesday by The Chicago Tribune, 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.
Mottaki said parliament had adopted a law in 1999 which would authorize Iranian courts to file suits against foreign governments which take such action against Iranian interests.
A federal judge has ordered to confiscate and put on auction a collection of invaluable Persian relics to compensate victims of the 1997 bombing in Israel.
"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 US," he said.
Survivors of the bombing in a Jerusalem shopping district that killed five people were US visitors who filed a federal lawsuit against Iran over its financial support for Hamas, the Islamic militant group that now heads the Palestinian government.
"The University of Chicago is legally obliged to return Persepolis pieces", the head of Iran's National Museum, Mohammad Reza Kargar, was quoted as saying by state television.
He said there has been correspondence between the museum and the University of Chicago to repatriate the artefacts -- an invaluable collection of clay tablets bearing ancient cuneiform script which have been in its care since the 1930s.
The university previously returned some 300 pieces in its collection to Iran in 2004.
“The decision by U.S. District Judge Blanche M. Manning to allow liquidation of ancient Persian artifacts on loan to University of Chicago in order to settle a lawsuit by American survivors of a bombing in Israel will establish an alarming precedent which will further damage U.S. image and open a flood gate of litigation by survivors of American-financed bombings around the globe”, pointed out Mr. Daniel Pourkesali, an Iranian scholar, adding: “First of all if Iran is legally responsible for any hostile action taken by Hamas then the reverse is also true”.
“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”, said the Iranian State-owned Centre for National Heritage.
“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”, it added in a story dated from Tehran.
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.
Based on a report recently released by The 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.
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 archaeological sites in Iran during the 1930s, rendering those items the property of the current Iranian government.
By ruling to confiscate the collection of Persian relics held at the University of Chicago, the American federal judge has added fuel to the fire of political crisis”
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 artefacts 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 defences we’ve offered”, said Joe Brennan, vice president and general council for the Field Museum.
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.
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”, the CNH said. ENDS ARTEFACTS 3706