February 24, 2009

Takht-e Jamshid in trouble

It’s possible you’re familiar with this story from some of NIAC’s previous reports, (background, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), but nearly 12,000 priceless artifacts from Takht-e Jamshid (Persepolis) are in danger of being auctioned off as punishment for Iran’s support for terrorist groups.
The University of Chicago is the current home for the only existing collection of tablets providing a first-hand account of daily life in the Persian Empire.  Every other depiction of the great civilization that stretched across most of the known world 2500 years ago comes from Roman, Greek, Arab, or Biblical histories; the Persepolis artifacts represent the only inside glimpse into the society of Darius the Great.  And it’s all currently in danger.
Families of the victims of terrorist attacks sued Iran in federal court because of Iran’s material support for Hamas and Hezboallah, and were awarded damages of more than $400 million.  Not surprisingly, Iran has refused to pay, claiming a well-established international norm known as “sovereign immunity.”  That’s where an enterprising lawyer comes in.
David Strachman of Rhode Island has made it his mission to seize the priceless artifacts to be sold to the highest bidder as remuneration for the victims’ families.   According to Strachman, “All Iran has to do is pay the judgment. If they came to terms with us, we wouldn’t be here.”
But here we are.
Interestingly enough, the Department of Justice under President George W Bush repeatedly argued for the protection of the tablets.  According to Matt Stolper, the chief caretaker of the tablets at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, “Here I am in this odd position of responsibility for something that could be destroyed on my watch.  If it’s taken away or broken up, it’s completely irreplaceable.”
NIAC has worked since 2006 to preserve the integrity of this piece of ancient Persian heritage, and in the coming days we will be asking President Obama and the Justice Department to intervene in this case.  The President has the power to prevent these tablets from being auctioned; President Clinton took similar action in 1998.  You can help by writing President Obama and asking him to step in and protect this priceless bit of history.
Please take a moment and write to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.  Thank you.
-the NIAC team

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