One of NIAC’s top priorities is to protect the Persepolis Tablets, priceless artifacts that provide a unique first-hand account of life in the Persian Empire. The Persepolis Tablets are a part of our rich heritage that should continue to be shared at museums and universities. Unfortunately, lawyers seeking damages against the Iranian government have filed suit against American museums and universities to seize and auction the Tablets and other Persian artifacts. NIAC has led the Iranian-American community’s efforts to protect the Tablets, fighting in the courts, the Congress, and even the White House to protect them. In order to permanently secure these and all other priceless Persian artifacts under threat, NIAC is working with Congress to change the law to protect all cultural artifacts held by American museums and universities so our heritage will never again come under attack.
The Iranian-American community must work to ensure that this irreplaceable part of human history is protected.
A Senate committee voted to make it easier for individuals to seize and auction off priceless ancient Persian antiquities held by American museums and universities in order to collect court judgments against the Iranian government. Already, lawyers are in court trying to seize the Persepolis Tablets – priceless 2,500 year-old artifacts that provide a unique first-hand account of life in the Persian Empire under Darius the Great. If this proposal becomes law, the Persepolis Tablets are almost certain to be confiscated from the universities and museums and sold to the highest bidders.
This proposal by Senator Menendez (D-NJ) will soon be considered by the full Senate as part of its latest Iran sanctions bill – which builds on the broad Central Bank of Iran sanctions spearheaded by Senator Menendez just last December. This is perhaps one of the starkest examples yet of how broad sanctions punish ordinary Iranians and Iranian Americans, not the Iranian government.
A ruling by a Massachusetts District Court yesterday determined that the antiquities housed at Harvard University and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts are not the property of the Iranian government and thus cannot be seized as part of a court case against that government. While the decision was a victory for the university and museum community and Iranian Americans who do not want to see priceless cultural relics confiscated and auctioned off to the highest bidder, it does not apply to artifacts outside of Massachusetts.
Iranian Americans and the museum community concerned about the possible seizure of precious Iranian artifacts won an important reprieve in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals today. The appeals court reversed a lower court decision that refused to consider if the artifacts were immune from seizure under the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). That law states that items used by foreign governments for non-commercial purposes are protected from lawsuits, but Iran’s government initially refused to assert sovereign immunity.
Washington, DC - The campaign to save the Persepolis Tablets is quietly gaining momentum, as NIAC and some of the nation’s top universities work to protect thousands of priceless cultural artifacts at risk of being seized by lawyers and auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Since 2006, NIAC has led the Iranian-American community’s efforts to protect the Persepolis Tablets, a unique collection that provides the world’s only first-hand window into daily life in Persepolis 2,500 years ago. We have fought on all fronts—in the media, the courts, the Congress, and even the White House—to protect these precious artifacts so that they remain available for everyone to enjoy and appreciate.
NIAC is focusing on the best approach to protect the Persepolis Tablets: permanently closing a loophole in U.S. law to permanently secure the Persepolis Tablets and all other priceless Persian artifacts in the United States. Successfully amending the law will ensure that no one’s culture or heritage will ever again come under attack in the courts.
In 1933, a team of archaeologists from the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute were clearing the ruined palaces of Kings Darius, Xerxes, and other Achaemenid rulers when they came upon a startling discovery— tens of thousands of clay tablets, all records from the height of the Achaemenid Persian Empire in the reign of Darius the Great.
These tablets survived the destruction Persepolis and would provide the world’s only window into Persia of 2,500 years ago—through which we hear the words of ancient men and women just as their own hands wrote them and see the impressions of their seals just as their own hands pressed them into the clay.
In an unprecedented act of trust, the entire collection was sent to Chicago in 1936 on indefinite loan for conservation, analysis, and publication. Thousands of the tablets have been recorded and published. Even now, more than 75 years after the discovery, work on the tablets is producing a stream of new results and sometimes startling discoveries. While many have been returned to Iran, thousands of tablets remain to be recorded and analyzed.
Professor Matthew Stolper
The effort to understand our history as told by the Tablets is led by Professor Matthew Stolper, head of the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project. For decades, he has studied and catalogued the Persepolis Collection. He is one of very few experts who can translate the Tablets from Elamite into English, and thereby reveal the story of day-to-day life in the Persian Empire under the Achaemenians. He expects to spend the rest of his working life harvesting this priceless knowledge and building a team to keep this work going.
While NIAC and some of our nation's top universities are fighting to protect the Tablets so that they can continue to be studied and enjoyed by all people, Prof. Stolper and his team of scholars from across the country and around the world are working urgently to translate and catalogue the complete Persepolis Collection. But the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project depends on the generosity of private individuals to make that research possible, so please support this indispensable work by donating here.
To learn more, please visit the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project website. Annual reports detailing the PFAP’s work for 2006-07, 2007-08, and 2008-09 are also available. You can view videos of Project team members describing the urgent importance of the Archive, the Project’s introduction of digital methods to preserve it, and the application of these methods. And, you can follow ongoing news at the PFAP’s blog.
The court case over the Persepolis Collection is the latest chapter in an ongoing lawsuit, first filed in 2000, seeking to collect on a judgment against the Iranian government for its role in supporting a Hamas bombing in Jerusalem in the 1980's. While the plaintiffs won the original suit, they have not been able to collect the entirety of a $400 million judgment awarded in damages. Having found a loophole in a law recently passed by Congress, lawyers for the plaintiffs are seeking to seize and sell the artifacts that make up the Persepolis Collection.
In addition to the Persepolis Tablets at the University of Chicago, Persian artifacts at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, the University of Michigan's Museum of Art and Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, the Detroit Institute of Arts, Harvard University, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts are all in danger of being seized.
Nobody has suffered more under the current Iranian government than the Iranian people and the Iranian-American community supports justice for all victims of the Iranian government. However, our community believes justice can only be obtained by targeting the government of Iran, not by looting the history and identity of Iran’s people. It would only engender further injustices if we allowed this case to create a precedent in which no cultural artifacts were safe from lawsuits against foreign governments.
Therefore, protecting the Persepolis Tablets is a critical priority for the Iranian-American community. Culture, heritage, and history are not the property of governments—they belong only to the people. Museums are a place of cultural interactions and appreciation. They are a place that should transcend politics. Lawyers seeking to collect damages from the Iranian government should go after the Iranian government, not our culture and history, which belongs to no government.
Political & Legislative:Statement by the Archaeological Institute of America