June 7, 2010

Zahi Hawass will make “life miserable” for museums that hang onto disputed artefacts

Posted at 9:00 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

At the conclusion of the conference in Egypt on the restitution of looted artefacts, Zahi Hawass re-iterated a point that he has made in the past, that Museums that he has the power to make life very difficult for institutions that refuse to co-operate to try & resolve cases involving disputed artefacts.

Bloomberg News

Egypt’s Hawass Sees ‘Miserable Life’ for Museums With Relics
By Daniel Williams

April 8 (Bloomberg) — Egypt’s chief antiquities administrator wrapped up a two-day conference among countries that want valuable relics held abroad returned by threatening to make “life miserable” for museums that keep them.

“We will decide together what to do,” said Zahi Hawass, who heads the Supreme Council of Antiquities, at the end of the Cairo conference that attracted 16 delegates and nine observers from abroad. “We will make life miserable for museums that refuse to repatriate.”

Hawass, 62, known for his television documentary appearances in which he unveils new Egyptian archaeological discoveries, later told reporters, “We’re not after anyone. The subject can be discussed, meaning we can negotiate.”

He has been lobbying to get the 3,300-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti from Berlin’s Neues Museum and the Rosetta Stone from London’s British Museum. Today he added a statue of Ramses II at Turin’s Museo Egizio.

Five other countries presented their own wish lists: Peru for items from Machu Picchu housed at Yale University and textiles at the Museum of World Cultures in Gothenburg, Sweden; Greece, for the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum; Nigeria, for bronzes spread out in several collections; Syria, items from the Louvre and Hermitage museums; and Libya, for a statue of Apollo in the Louvre.

Conflict History

International rules and treaties are of little use in getting key relics back because laws regarding their transfer don’t apply before the mid-20th century. Countries that hold them are reluctant to undo the history of conflicts and possession and to break up collections. For instance, Rome has many Egyptian obelisks taken by Roman emperors, scholars said.

Some artifacts were obtained legally, although Hawass referred to his conference as a gathering of “countries that have suffered from theft.” In any case, Hawass bases his demands not on law but on the idea that certain artifacts by right belong to the “motherland” where they were found.

The meeting provided an early glimpse of the difficulties inherent in Hawass’s campaign. The Italian government’s representative at the meeting, Jeanette Papadopoulos, described her country as a major victim of cultural expropriation.

When asked whether Italy is ready to return Ramses II to Egypt, she said, “it won’t be me who will bring it back.”

Last year, the Louvre repatriated frescoes removed from Egypt in the 1980s after Hawass threatened to ban its scholars from exploring in Egypt. The Louvre complied because “serious doubts” emerged about “the legality of their exit from Egyptian territory,” France’s Culture Ministry said at the time.

Hawass said he will organize another meeting next year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Williams in Cairo

Last Updated: April 8, 2010 12:07 EDT

Agence France Presse

Countries list relics they want back
# From correspondents in Cairo
# From: AFP
# April 09, 2010

A CONFERENCE of countries that want antiquities returned from abroad ended today with a wish list of priceless relics housed in Western museums, but it fell short of drafting an action plan.

The two-day conference in Cairo drew representatives from 25 countries, many of them former colonies, who say their heritage has been stolen.

Egypt’s antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said seven of the countries drew up a list of artefacts they wanted back, and the remaining countries were given one month to add items to the list.

“I consider today a historic conference for all the world’s countries that have lost artefacts,” he said.

“We agreed to fight together,” he said. “Cultural heritage has to return to its country.”

“Seven countries have made a wish list. Some have to go back to their governments; they have a period of one month,” he said.

Many of the relics included in the list are in European and North American museums. Egypt demanded six items, including the Rosetta stone in the British Museum and the Dendara temple ceiling in France’s Louvre Museum.

Greece listed the Elgin Marbles, a collection of marble structures removed from the Parthenon in the beginning of the 19th century by Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin and ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Syria demanded five relics, one of them in housed in the Louvre, and Libya listed a statue of Apollo in the British Museum and a marble statue of a woman in the Louvre, according to a copy of the list sent by Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The other countries were Nigeria, Guatemala and Peru.

“We are waiting for the other countries to present their wish list. Then we can go and fight,” Mr Hawass said.

“It doesn’t mean that if you have a statue in the museum, you own the statue. No, it belongs to us,” he said.

But the conference, touted as the first of its kind, fell short by not laying out an action plan to retrieve the items.

Mr Hawass described international regulations on antiquities as “insufficient” but the conference did not call for an amendment to a UN convention on stolen antiquities that applied to thefts after 1970.

Mr Hawass said the countries had to confer again before drawing up steps they would take but warned of apparently drastic measures.

“I am not going to talk to you about what we are going to do; we have to decide together. Some of us will make the lives of some of those museums that have artefacts miserable,” he said.

It was not clear whether he was talking about museums that housed stolen goods or those that displayed relics long excavated from their countries of origin.

The flamboyant archaeologist, who says he has overseen the return of 5000 relics since he became head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in 2002, suspended ties with the Louvre last year to win the return of five fragments stolen from an ancient Egyptian tomb.

He said he hoped to reach agreements on such relics as the bust of Queen Nefertiti and the Rosetta Stone through negotiations.

Both Berlin’s Neues Museum which has the bust on display and the British Museum have so far refused to even lend the artefacts to Egypt.

ANSA (Italy)


(ANSAmed) – ROME – The Rosetta Stone, the bust of Nefertiti, the Elgin marbles, Moctezumas feathered crown, and Inca treasures are just a few examples from the long list of works of art that departed from their country of origin, and whose owners would now like to see them returned. This thorny issue is at the centre of a two-day conference on the protection and return of cultural heritage organised by Cairos Supreme Council of Antiquities, which aims to analyse the current situation, draw up a thorough list of claims and decide on a common strategy. The man behind the event, which ended today, is the general secretary of the Egyptian organisation, Zahi Hawass, who since 2002 has become well-known for his contribution to the cause, namely the struggle to bring home the numerous items of Egyptian handiwork residing in all four corners of the globe, 31,000 of which have been returned to Egypt in the last eight years. He was at the centre of last years wrangling with the Louvre, and broke off relations with the Paris museum until it returned fragments of a fresco from an Egyptian tomb in Luxors Valley of the Kings. Relations are equally strained between Zawass and Berlins New Museum, the current guardian of the prestigious bust of Nefertiti, which Egypt wants to see returned, though the Germans, who claim to have legitimately purchased the item a century ago, are refusing to budge. Among the most famous disputes is the one surrounding the Rosetta Stone, which was found by the French in 1799 and handed over two years later to Great Britain. Other famous examples include the Statue of Hemiunu, which is also in Berlin, and the statue of Ramesses II in Italy. Zawass told the closing press conference that about thirty countries including China, Greece, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Spain and Italy had taken part in the event, each country having claims to present to the Council. Zawass said that the countries involved were sending a strong message to the world, showing that they are prepared to fight together for their lost heritage. Each country has suffered alone, especially Egypt, and we will fight together, he said. The representative for Greeces Ministry of Culture, Elena Korka, agreed, noting that this conference demonstrates the importance to many countries of joining forces. This is not a question of legality but rather one of good will, and this cannot be summed up in a paragraph of a legal document, she added. Greece has spent thirty years asking London for the return of marble from the Parthenon taken by Lord Elgin in 1800 and currently housed in the British Museum. During todays meeting, it was agreed that a conference is to be held every year and a list of countries involved in the initiative is to be drawn up and announced in about a month. A helping hand may come from a change to the Unesco Convention, which bans the export and the possession of antiquities stolen after 1970, although participants in the conference would like the date to be moved back, giving them a legal way of obtaining exhibits purloined earlier. Zawass strongly condemned the theft of these works, accusing museums and their role in the buying and selling of stolen handiworks. As part of the conference, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities has put on an exhibition of works recently repossessed by Cairo, including the limestone bust of Amenhotep III, which has been brought back from London, the statue of Nefer-Renpet and that of the priest of the god Monthu, returned from Germany and the Netherlands respectively. (ANSAmed).

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