April 6, 2007

Tajikistan wants Britain to return Oxus treasure

Posted at 12:56 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Tajikistan’s president would like the British Museum to return the Oxus treasure, part of his country’s heritage, which is currently in their collection.

International Herald Tribune

Britain must return Oxus treasure to Tajikistan, president says
The Associated Press
Published: April 4, 2007

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan: Tajikistan’s president wants Britain to return to his country a collection of ancient gold and silver, known as the Oxus treasure, which is kept at the British Museum, his office said Wednesday.

“The president has given orders to take the necessary steps to return the most valuable artifacts of the Amu Darya treasure,” President Emomali Rakhmon’s office said in a statement.

Amu Darya is the modern name of the Oxus River, which marks the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border.

The Oxus treasure consists of about 170 objects dating from the 5th and 4th centuries B.C., including vessels, model chariots and figures, armlets, seals, finger-rings, dedicatory plaques and coins.

The artifacts were discovered in the 19th century. Much of the collection was bequeathed to the British Museum by a wealthy British benefactor, Sir August Wollaston Franks, who bought the artifacts from merchants and a British archaeologist, according to the British Museum.

Daily Telegraph

Tajikistan demands return of treasure
By Adrian Blomfield in Moscow
Last Updated: 2:05am BST 05/04/2007

Tajikistan’s increasingly eccentric president yesterday demanded the surrender of the Oxus treasure, one of the British Museum’s most celebrated collections, as he stepped up a controversial campaign to restore national pride.

Emomali Rakhmonov made the call after visiting the location where he believes the priceless Persian artifacts from the 5th to 4th century BC were found.

The Oxus treasure, an exquisite example of ancient goldsmithery, forms the centrepiece of the British Museum’s exhibits from the Achaemenid era, when the Persian empire was at its height.

A museum spokesman said that trustees had received no formal request from the Tajik government to return the 170-odd artifacts – including model chariots, armlets and a scabbard – that make up the treasure.

Mr Rakhmonov’s quest seems unlikely to succeed, not least because his case is generally regarded as flimsy. As the treasure is Persian, the Iranian government would have a stronger claim. Historians are not even certain whether the treasure was found in what constitutes present-day Tajikistan.

The bulk of the collection was bought from markets in Rawalpindi and Peshawar by British 19th century adventurers who later bequeathed it to the British Museum.

The demand comes amid growing concern that Mr Rakhmonov is rapidly becoming the latest central Asian leader to establish a personality cult, perhaps in an attempt to impose unity on a country impoverished by a prolonged civil war in the 1990s.

In recent months he has issued a spate of bizarre decrees, banning Slavic surnames and calling on all Tajiks to read a six-volume hagiography of his life.

The British Museum’s Achaemenid exhibits have been the subject of other restitution calls with both Iranian and Iraqi officials calling for the return of the Cyrus cylinder, which contains a unique account of Babylon’s fall to the Persians in 539 BC.

Neither country has made a formal demand for the cylinder’s return, although the British Museum has agreed to lend it to Iran for the first time this year.

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