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SacklerI recently went to visit the Sackler Gallery’s exhibit: The Tsars and the East: Gifts from Turkey and Iran in the Moscow Kremlin. When I walked through the Iranian portion of the artifacts on display, I was blown away by the immaculate and masterfully crafted golden maces, gem inlaid swords, ceremonial horse trappings, and silk tapestries gifted to the Russian Empire in exchange for coveted trade routes or trading compacts. I was impressed to see that these exquisite indicators of my heritage have been held in the Kremlin Treasury since the 16th and 17th centuries are still in such pristine condition!
I also came to realize that the ancient art of diplomacy might be the way of the future. In the times of the Sefavid Shahs and Ottoman Sultans, customized gifts were part of the diplomatic conversation. Valuable treasures were presented to political authorities in order to ensure economic and political agendas. The Russian government, in an attempt to improve relations with the US, has made the simple yet powerful gesture of sharing these historic artifacts with the Smithsonian here in DC. As I kept walking around, I was gradually reminded of the Persepolis artifacts on loan at the University of Chicago. In 1933 these tablets were provided to the University to be translated and preserved. Now they are the point of much controversy, gradually making their way through the courts of the United States. (You can read the details about the case on NIAC’s main site, with our extensive coverage here). These tablets are in danger of being seized and sold to the highest bidder in order to compensate victims of a 1997 terrorist attack in Jerusalem.
It must be considered that the tablets are not only central to the Persian community, but that the destruction of any of these artifacts would be a loss to the historic community of the world. In 1933, Iran trusted the University of Chicago to preserve and protect the rich heritage contained in the tablets. Similar to the artifacts presented in the Sackler Gallery, the tablets are symbols of cultural trust and valuable tools of international cooperation and understanding.
I might be far off point, but does anyone else see the potential in all of this? I think there is an important role for “museum diplomacy” in our outreach to Iran. A victory–through protecting these tablets in the US judicial system–would be a show of progress and respect towards an ancient heritage and a newly emerging global partner.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well–allowing these priceless artifacts to be seized just as President Obama is beginning to reach out to Iran would be disastrous for any chance of a diplomatic breakthrough.  But you can help!  Fill out our action alert today and help protect our ancient culture and ensure successful diplomacy at the same time. Tell President Obama to prevent the auction of priceless Persepolis artifacts!

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