July 28, 2005

Axum Obelisk re-erection discussed with UNESCO

Posted at 1:17 pm in Similar cases

In many cases concerning repatriation of cultural treasures, the party currently holding the artefacts claims that if they are returned then they will not be looked after properly. Ethiopia is starting to prove that this will no be the case with the Axum Obelisk by consulting extensively with UNESCO about the best way to re-erect the Obelisk in its original location.

Sudan Tribune

Ethiopia to discuss historic obelisk re-erection with UNESCO
Thursday July 28th, 2005 00:16.
ADDIS ABABA, July 27, 2005 (Xinhua) — An Ethiopian delegation left for France on Wednesday to discuss ways of re-erecting the historic Axum obelisk with the United Nations.
The Axum obelisk, weighing 160 tons and standing 24 meters high, is around 1,700 years old and has become a symbol of the Ethiopian people’s identity. In 1937, the invaders of fascist Italy dismantled and took it on the orders of Benito Mussolini. Italy returned the monument to the northern ancient town of Axum in April.

The delegation, led by Minister of Culture Teshome Toga, left for the headquarters of UNESCO to discuss studies conducted by Ethiopia and the organization concerning the re-erection of the obelisk as well as to set a timeframe for the re-erection.

He said the delegation will return with a specific timetable for the archeological studies and other necessary preparations.

“The re-erection of the obelisk should be done safely,” he said, adding that Ethiopia has been jointly working with UNESCO on the re-erection site.

In addition to efforts exerted for the return of its heritage, Ethiopia has conducted archeological, basement studies as well as other preparations needed for the re-erection of the obelisk, according to the minister.

Teshome said the government believes that it would be useful to engage the company that transported the obelisk from Rome and the consultant company in the re-erection process.

He said the Italian government will cover the cost needed for the re-erection of the obelisk.

Following the signing of two agreements by Italy and Ethiopia, in 1956 and 1997, Ethiopia formed a national committee for the return of the obelisk.

Ethiopia is one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world. The first known civilization in Ethiopia was that of the mighty Aksumite Kingdom.

Having established itself in 1,000 BC, in northern Ethiopia, it eventually spread over all of northern and even central Ethiopia. The ancient city of Axum, which was started by the Aksumites, was Ethiopia’s first capital city.

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  1. Matthias Ripp said,

    07.28.05 at 3:22 pm

    I am looking forward to see the AXUM Obelisk erected again…

  2. DR.KWAME OPOKU said,

    10.29.07 at 7:40 pm


    The return home of the final piece of the Axum obelisk to Ethiopia is an undoubted victory for Ethiopia, Italy the rule of law and democracy
    The Ethiopians must be congratulated for their persistent and unwavering struggle for the return of a cultural object and a symbol of their identity which was forcibly removed by the Italian fascists under Benito Mussolini in their attempt to colonize Ethiopia some 68 years ago. Years of protests, anger and anguish have preceded this final and historic victory of Ethiopia. All Africans must rejoice with them, in the hope that this signals a new beginning in our relationship with former colonizing European powers as far as the return of stolen or illegally transferred cultural objects are concerned. France, Great Britain, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Holland, Belgium and the rest of those countries, whether former colonizers or not, such as Austria and Switzerland, should take note of this historical event for which the Italians are to be congratulated.
    It surely was not an easy task to convince many Italians who, like the rest of Europeans, have been subjected to false propaganda for many decades by the so-called experts who claim that it is legal and right to deprive others of their cultural objects through the use of force. They have been convinced that if you are strong enough, you can take whatever you want from another country, particularly, African and Asian countries and keep it despite claims for return by the countries of origin. They have been taught that Resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, the Conventions of UNESCO and other bodies discouraging such practices and urging the settlement of outstanding disputes are not binding and should therefore be ignored.
    They have heard important museum directors, from museums such as the Louver, The British Museum, Musée du Quai Branly, Museum für Völkerkunde Wien, Ethnologisches Museum, Staatlische Museen zu Berlin, The Art Institute of Chicago, Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence, Prado Museum, Madrid and others state that these stolen objects are now part of the culture of the countries which stole them and are now keeping them. The supporters of Mussolini’s fascists in Italy must have seen this return as a final and definite confirmation of the defeat of their racist ideology which places the African at the bottom of their racist ladder of human development: a return to Africans of the 160-tonne obelisk which El Duce himself has ordered to be taken to Rome as a war trophy. The return of such cultural objects to their owners should be seen as part of a long-term process to discard racist and imperialist superiority complexes. These racist complexes have hindered in the past the observance of the principles of equality and the respect for human rights in Europe and elsewhere.
    The return of the obelisk is also a triumph for the rule of law and democracy. The rule of law is incompatible with the use of force and certainly the acquisition of cultural objects, whether in war or in peace through the use of force cannot be considered as compatible with democracy. You cannot preach democracy and resort to the use of force to deprive other nations of their cultural objects. I am well aware that there are many voices in the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, and elsewhere who do not think the use of force to remove cultural objects from Asia and Africa have anything to do with the rule of law and human rights. Some may consider the return of these cultural objects as a necessary catharsis.
    The return of the obelisk also gives the lie to those museum directors who act as if the removal of stolen cultural objects from their countries will somehow affect their cultural identity. Italian culture will surely survive the removal of the Axum obelisk. Will the British, French, German and Austrian cultures survive the removal of stolen African cultural objects from their countries? Will Berlin survive the return of Nefertiti to Cairo?
    What can the reader do to help this process of restitution? The main problem, as far the average reader is concerned, is the absence of information on what objects have been stolen from which country and by which country. Many museums do not even list most of these items in their handbooks or catalogues and keep them safely in their depots.
    A first step would be to consult the internet sites of movements such as the African Reparation Movement to see the list of stolen items from your country or other countries. If there are museums near where you live, visit them to see if you can look at some of these objects and try to ask questions. You should also look at the UNESCO homepage to find some literature on the subject.
    The main problem for us as Africans is the lack of interest on the part of most of our governments for this issue. Many have not even bothered to request from the former colonial governments for the return of our cultural objects which were taken away during the colonial period. You must ask why. Many of our intellectuals and museums experts have also kept a deafening silence. Many of our countries have not even bothered to ratify the UNIDROIT and UNESCO Conventions on this matter. It almost looks as if our leaders are not interested in cultural matters. Where then is the famous pride in our culture?
    Kwame Opoku,Vienna,29 October

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