Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has opened an exhibition at the National Museum of Iran showcasing hundreds of ancient Iranian artifacts returned to the country from Belgium after decades of legal battles.
The antique collection was returned to Iran on Thursday Dec. 24. This came after an appeals court in Belgium’s eastern city of Liège ruled in September 2014 that the country’s authorities restitute 349 smuggled artifacts to Iran. The legal process has lasted 33 years.
Praising the efforts made by the Iranian legal team in returning the valuble antiques, Rouhani said the move showed the resolve of the government in “safeguarding the rights of the Iranian nation.” He noted that such cultural exhibitions can help “defuse Iranophobia” in the world.
The stolen artifacts comprising of 221 clay and 128 bronze antiques had been discovered in Khorvin, Savojbolagh County, Alborz Province, 80 kilometers (49 miles) northeast of the Iranian capital and date back to the end of the second millennium and the first millennium BC and are some 3000 years old.
In 1965, a French woman who had acquired an Iranian nationality due to her marriage to an Iranian professor and had been living in Iran for some 18 years, with the help of a Belgian diplomat began to gradually transfer to Belgium the collection.
After the Iranian government was informed of the existence of this antique collection in a Museum in Ghent, Belgium, it filed a lawsuit in the Belgian courts in 1981 and made the claims that these artifacts had been illegally transferred out of the country, belonged to Iran, and as such must be returned home.
Following Iran’s demand in 1981, a Brussels court ordered the seizure of the pieces and their preservation at the Museum of Brussels University, pending a final verdict. The court of first instance ruled out Iran’s claims as the rightful owner in 1998 and again in 2012 the claims were rejected due to pass of time. Iran made an appeal to the Belgian court and finally in September 2014, the court of Appeals established Iran’s ownership of Khorvin’s collection of antique artifacts and ruled that they be returned to Iran.
Iranian officials have filed several other lawsuits in courts in Britain, France, Turkey, and Pakistan for the return of smuggled artifacts over the past years.