Switzerland returns Mesopotamian treasures to Iraq

Switzerland returns Mesopotamian treasures to Iraq
Switzerland returns Mesopotamian treasures to Iraq

On May 24, Federal Councilor Elisabeth Baume-Schneider handed over three archaeological cultural objects of great importance to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Iraq, Fouad Hussein. These Mesopotamian objects, which are between 1700 and 2800 years old, had been confiscated as part of criminal proceedings in the canton of Geneva. The restitution took place at the Federal Office of Culture (OFC), where the objects are the subject of an exceptional exhibition open to the public until June 7, 2024.

This is the fifth restitution of objects to Iraq by Switzerland since 2005, and by far the largest. The three objects in question are two large Assyrian reliefs from the 8th century BC, from the important archaeological site of Nimrud-Kalhu, and the royal bust fragment from the 2nd-3rd century CE, from the ancient city of Hatra (all located in present-day Iraq, in the Mosul region).

The returned objects are part of Mesopotamian heritage and appear in the categories of Iraqi cultural property most under threat. To date, UNESCO has included three Iraqi sites on the list of World Heritage in Danger, including the site of Hatra. The objects were discovered and documented during official excavations in 1856/57, 1959 and 1976. They subsequently left Iraq illegally on an unknown date and under unknown circumstances.

Switzerland and Iraq are parties to the 1970 UNESCO Convention to Prohibit and Prevent the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. With the law on the international transfer of cultural property (LTBC), which ensures the implementation of the Convention for Switzerland, the Confederation intends to contribute to protecting the cultural heritage of humanity and preventing theft, pillaging as well as illicit export and import of cultural property.

The three Mesopotamian objects were definitively confiscated as part of criminal proceedings in the canton of Geneva in 2023 and entrusted, in application of the LTBC, to the OFC in order to be returned to their country of origin. This restitution underlines the common commitment of Switzerland and Iraq in the fight against the illicit transfer of cultural property.

The three objects returned to Iraq will exceptionally, because of their first-rate historical and artistic importance, be the subject of a documented exhibition at the headquarters of the Federal Office of Culture, in the National Library building. Swiss. The exhibition runs from May 24 to June 7, 2024 and can be visited freely from Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

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