Sunday, July 11, 2004

Museum diplomacy with Iran

THE ART NEWSPAPER - NEWS: "Museum diplomacy with Iran
As tensions between Tehran and the West escalate over Iran�s nuclear programme, cultural institutions in the US and Britain are strengthening ties with their Iranian colleagues

By Charmaine Picard
Tensions between Iran and the EU continue to escalate over the issue of whether Tehran�s nuclear programme is designed to make weapons. The US is demanding that a deadline be set for UN weapons inspections in the country and fears are increasing of another conflict in the Middle East.

Yet all is not aggressive confrontation between Iran and the West. Behind the scenes, cultural and scholarly exchanges are taking place. These, rather than direct diplomatic interventions, often produce political effects that cannot be achieved by any other means.
In a signal instance of cultural diplomacy, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago has returned a set of 300 ancient clay tablets to Iran in what amounts to the first US-led repatriation of archaeological objects to the country since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The artefacts, which were handed back personally by the director of the institute, Gil Stein, in May, form part of a collection of tens of thousands of inscribed tablets, written in the obscure Elamite language, excavated by researchers from the Oriental Institute in 1933 at Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Persian Empire. The objects date to 500 BC, the Achaemenid era, and are attributed to the reign of Darius I (509-494 BC).

Technically the artefacts have been on loan to the Oriental Institute from Iran since 1937 for study and transliteration. In 1948 the institute returned a group of 179 complete tablets to Iran and an additional 37,000 tablet fragments in 1957. The remaining tablets will be returned as they are translated."


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