Washington DC – Thousands of priceless artifacts from Persepolis that are on loan to the University of Chicago risk being auctioned off to the highest bidder. In an effort to defend the collective cultural heritage of Iranian Americans, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has secured pro bono representation from with Mayer Brown LLP with connection to the case, Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran.
The civil suit, a response to a 1997 Hamas attack in Jerusalem, was originally filed against the Iranian government in 2003. The suit is based on the argument that the Iranian government is ultimately responsible for the Hamas attack, because one of the bomb makers was allegedly trained in Iran.
As restitution, victims of the attack have sued to seize and auction off Persian artifacts on display at various museums, including the University of Chicago, since the 1920s. The case is pending before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
“Satisfying a court judgment out of assets that are part of a group of people’s cultural heritage will inflict unnecessary and irreparable damage on them,” said Babback Sabahi, and associate at Mayer Brown LLP and NIAC’s attorney of record on the case.
The Chicago federal court has so far allowed the suit to proceed, for now rejecting the University of Chicago and Iran’s claim that the artifacts are property of the government of Iran, and as such are subject to sovereign immunity.
“These are priceless artifacts and belong to the people and descendants of the Achaemenid Empire,” said Djamshid Foroughi, of NIAC’s Board of Directors. “As Iranian Americans, we simply cannot allow our heritage to be auctioned off.”
The plaintiffs have sought to seize the ancient Persepolis tablets from Chicago Museum and sell them to private buyers in the open market.
“They [the artifacts] detail the movement of people and goods around different parts of the empire,” said Gil Stein, director of the University’s Oriental Institute. “It’s the first time we have been able to see how the empire functioned. No other scientifically excavated archival source exists anywhere.”
The case may set a significant legal precedent, and has put university scholars, historians, museum heads and the Iranian-American community on the same side of an important effort to protect Iran’s cultural heritage from being auctioned off and commercialized.
“This will be a prolonged legal battle, but we will be involved in it at every stage to ensure that the Iranian-American voice is heard,” said Parsi.