Stolen Artifacts Returned To Iraq From Syria
April 30, 2008
Yesterday, workers at Iraq’s National Museum received more than 700 antiquities, which had been stolen from the museum during the chaotic times following the fall of Baghdad, at the beginning of the Iraq war five years ago. Included in the returned artifacts were things such as golden necklaces, daggers, clay statues, pots, among other things. The items were displayed briefly during a ceremony that was attended by Syrian and Iraqi officials. Syrian authorities had seized the items from traffickers over the past 5 years. Arrangements were then made to hand them back to Iraqi officials last week in Damascus. Mohammad Abbas al-Oreibi, the Iraqi acting state minister of tourism and archeology, was instrumental in negotiations with Syria. He plans to visit Jordan soon, in an attempt to persuade authorities there to turn over more than 150 items that they’ve seized from traffickers as well.
“This was a positive initiative taken by Syria, and we wish the same initiative to be taken by all neighboring countries,” he said. “The treasures contain very important and valuable pieces.”
After the ouster of Saddam and his government officials in April 2003, looting broke out in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. Museums were ransacked and thousands of items were stolen. The collections in the museums told the story of around 7,000 years of civilization in the Mesopotamia, including ancient Babylonia, Sumeria and Assyria. It’s been a struggle over the past 5 years for Iraqi and other world culture officials to recover the stolen items, with little success being seen. There are still approximately 3,000-7,000 pieces that are believed to be missing. In that number, approximately 40-50 are thought to be of great historic importance. According to Dr. Muna Hassan, the leader of the committee that is working to restore the artifacts, while artifacts have been recovered in the past, the ones that Syria returned are the largest quantity. It is hoped that other countries will follow Syria’s lead. According to Syrian authorities, some of the antiquities traffickers have been arrested.
The items recovered in Syria were packed into 17 boxes and shipped back to Baghdad by plane. While an exact figure of their worth was not given, Hassan did say that the items collectively were worth millions of dollars. Currently negotiations are underway with several other countries, including United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Italy for the return of more of the stolen antiquities.
Like museums here in the United States, the National Museum of Iraq is an important reminder to it’s citizens of their cultural heritage. At this time, the museum remains closed to the public, because of continued violence in the area, lack of security and poor condition of the site. Hopefully, as security continues to increase in Baghdad, the museum will eventually be able to be reopened, so that Iraqi citizens and tourists alike, can enjoy the history within it’s walls.