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Crime against humanity
Auctioning off Iran's ancient artifacts


July 17, 2006

The decision by U.S. District Judge Blanche M. Manning allowing the sale of ancient Iranian artifacts which are in possession of the University of Chicago to settle a lawsuit by American survivors of a bombing in Israel in 1997 will establish a precedent which will further damage the image of the United States and will lead to more litigation by survivors of Western financed bombings and assassinations from around the world. 

For example, which governments supported Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war?  Who looted the Baghdad National Museum and how did the stolen objects end up in Western museums? The same judge would regard as absurd moving the Washington monument to Iran as compensation to the civilian survivors of Saddam’s chemical attacks.  The items at the University of Chicago were loaned by a different Iranian government in 1935.

If Iran is legally responsible for action taken by Hamas, then who would be responsible for killings done by MKO and other terrorist organizations which are sponsored by the West?  If Hamas was responsible for the bombing, the Palestinian authorities should compensate for the crime.

A government in power has no greater right over ancient artifacts than any other governments would have over the people of the country where they were produced.

Selling of priceless artifacts, for any financial gain, regardless of cause and/or which individual is selling them, is a crime against humanity.  What did the ancient Persians have to do with the atrocities of Hamas which was created in recent years?  What proof is there that the money used to purchase or produce those bombs came from Iran?

The lawsuit will drastically affect the Western museums whose holdings primarily belong to other countries.  A related issue is how these museums acquired such treasures in the first place?  If this lawsuit succeeds, no museum items will be displayed outside the country of origin.  Moreover, any court that would not reject this decision betrays the ethical, moral, and cultural beliefs of by its citizens.

Legal procedure rules in the United States provide that a defendant who fails to respond after being served with a notice of lawsuit will lose by default judgment.  This rule does not justify in anyway seizing the assets of a country which has received a default judgment against it, as the assets belong to the people of that country not the government.

There is no moral justification for a government to seize treasures belonging to people whose rulers are antagonistic toward its interest.  It is obvious that politicians or political parties do not have ownership rights to national resources and treasures.

A country’s cultural heritage should be preserved for the benefit of all people, not treated as a commodity to be traded.  While sympathy must go out to victims and their families, dispersing the resources amongst the survivors will not bring the victims back, nor come near to compensating them for their loss.  It would be a travesty to deny the people of other countries access to the antiquities of Iran by giving them to private individuals.

In this time of heightened international political acrimony, it is essential that governments respect the people of a nation even when they harshly disagree with its leaders.  From a pragmatic view, it is illogical to seek reconciliation for better relations when national treasures of a country are being auctioned off.  Such action will undermine efforts by people of good faith to improve relations between countries with a history of antagonism between them.

Dr. Mohammad Ala, Professor of Management teaches in Iran, China, and the USA. He is the founder and board member of,, and

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