349 ancient Iranian artifacts have arrived in Iran from Brussels after Iran’s long dispute over their ownership was resolved by a court in Liege, Belgium and the items were declared to be the property of Iran.
The artifacts are from the Khurvin region in Alborz Province and were illegally removed from Iran about 50 years ago and at one point were put on exhibit in Ghent, Belgium.
The artifacts date back to between 3,000 and 3,500 years ago. Iran made several attempts to reclaim them; however, several Belgian courts denied Iran’s legal right to the artifacts. In November, at last, an appellate court in Liege announced that these antiquities are the property of Iran and ruled that they should be returned to the Iranian government.
The items were returned on a chartered flight at a cost of $200,000. Iran’s Cultural Heritage officials were sent to Belgium to receive the artifacts and prepare them for the transfer. The flight arrived at Mehrabad Airport on Thursday December 24.
The items were received by Massoud Soltanifar, the president’s cultural adviser and head of the Cultural Heritage Department, who expressed happiness at Iran’s legal victory in the Belgian court, adding that the items soon will be put on exhibit in Iran’s National Museum.
Iran has two other important lawsuits in U.S. and European courts regarding the return of ancient artifacts, according to Soltanifar. One of them involves the Achaemenid Tablets in the U.S. and the other covers artifacts from the Chaghamish region in Khuzestan, and that legal battle is also reaching its final stages.
Tens of thousands of Achaemenid tablets discovered in digs in the 1930s were loaned to the University of Chicago and have not been returned. In addition, other ancient artifacts from Khuzestan that were loaned for three years to the Oriental Institute of Chicago in 1942 were not returned.
In September of 2013, the U.S. government returned an Iranian silver griffin goblet dating back to 7 BCE as a symbolic gesture to reflect the easing of tensions between the two countries.
The collection of artifacts from Khurvin arriving in Tehran consists of 221 ceramic objects and 128 bronze objects. They were transferred to the National Museum with special police escort on Thursday.
The National Museum already has 228 other items unearthed at archaeological digs in Khurvin, and the returned objects from Belgium are to be added to that exhibit.
The Khurvin artifacts have reportedly been packed up for more than 15 years, and according to an earlier court order, no one was allowed to unpack them until the lawsuit to determine their lawful owner was resolved. Since the artifacts have been in packing for so long, they will need to undergo some restoration before being put on exhibit.
The items were taken out of Iran in 1965 by a French national identified as Ms. Wolfcarious and taken to Belgium through a Belgian diplomat who has not been identified in the court case. Wolfcarious had Iranian citizenship through her marriage to an Iranian academic, Professor Maleki.
In 1982, when the Iranian government discovered that the ancient artifacts were on exhibit in Belgium in the city of Ghent, it began a lawsuit in Belgian courts, claiming they had been smuggled out of Iran. The Iranian government held that the items were the national property of Iran and were removed from the country illegally.
Wolfcarious reportedly claimed that she had bought them from locals and had receipts to show that, but Iran maintained that according to Iranian law, these items had to be declared to the government and were not the property of any single Iranian to be sold to anyone.
The items have now arrived in Iran after a 33-year fight in the courts and will be put on exhibit alongside their corresponding artifacts in their home country.