Louvre brings ‘unprecedented’ show to Tehran

The Louvre’s tour of Iran reflects France’s determined use of cultural diplomacy as it seeks to rebuild traditional ties with Iran. (AFP)
Updated 07 March 2018
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Louvre brings ‘unprecedented’ show to Tehran

TEHRAN: Journalists flooded Iran’s National Museum on Monday for the arrival of more than 50 artworks from the Louvre — the first major show by a Western museum in the country’s history.
The show reflects France’s determined use of cultural diplomacy as it seeks to rebuild traditional ties with Iran, even as their officials hold tense talks over political and security issues.
The doors were unsealed for journalists at the National Museum in central Tehran, which is currently celebrating its 80th anniversary, a day ahead of the public opening.
Among the items shipped over by cargo plane were a 2,400-year-old Egyptian sphinx, a bust of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and drawings by Rembrandt and Delacroix.
“Some were definitely easier to transport than others,” said Judith Henon, one of the experts sent by the Louvre.
“Our Iranian partners really liked the sphinx, but it weighs close to a ton and was extremely complicated to put in place.”
The show marks the culmination of two years of work since a cultural exchange agreement was signed during a visit by President Hassan Rouhani to Paris in January 2016.
“Relations between France and Iran are old and profound because France was a pioneer of archaeological exploration here,” Jean-Luc Martinez, president of the Louvre, told AFP.
“This completely unprecedented exhibition... allows us to make the link between this glorious moment and relations that date back to the 19th century.”
France has deep cultural ties with pre-revolutionary Iran, and the National Museum itself was built by a Frenchman, Andre Godard, in 1938.
While Britain and Russia battled for political influence in 19th century Persia, it was the French who led the way in archaeological affairs.
“France had priority on cultural questions in the late 19th century and was the only one doing digs in Iran,” said Julien Cuny, one of the Louvre’s curators for the Tehran show, and an expert on Iran.
So as not to hand over everything to Britain and Russia, the Persian monarchs handed control of certain issues to other countries, and cultural affairs ended up largely with France.
“As a result of that, it was the French that set up the antiquities service here in 1930,” said Cuny.
That helped preserve France’s reputation among Iranians even as that of Britain, the United States and Russia plummeted in the years ahead of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
“Back in the day, the British were looking for oil while we were doing archaeology, so our relations have focused on positive things. It’s an image that has stuck,” said a French diplomat.
The irony is that the show opens just as France and Iran find themselves in a tense diplomatic moment.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was Monday in Tehran to inaugurate the Louvre show, but more importantly to hold difficult talks over ballistic missiles and interventions in the region.
Iran’s conservative press accused him of insulting the Iranian people with his criticisms of the missile program and labelled him a “lackey” of US President Donald Trump.
The cultural domain offers a chance to focus on the positive re-engagement between France and Iran, which has also been seen in a number of trade and investment deals involving carmakers Peugeot and Renault as well as energy giant Total since the 2015 nuclear accord.
University links are another branch, with some 1,700 Iranians currently studying in France.
“This exhibition reflects the shared ambition to bolster our relations. We want to say that Iran is coming back to international normalization,” said a diplomat accompanying Le Drian.


Indonesian fishermen return home after release from Philippines militants

Updated 20 September 2018
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Indonesian fishermen return home after release from Philippines militants

  • With the release of the trio, all Indonesians abducted by Filipino militants before 2018 have been released
  • Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines wil boost security cooperation in the Sulu Sea, which is a busy maritime area for fishing boats and cargo vessels transporting coal from Indonesia to the Philippines

JAKARTA: After 20 months being held hostage by militants in the southern Philippines, three Indonesian fishermen were finally reunited on Wednesday with their respective families at the Foreign Ministry.

Vice Foreign Minister A.M. Fachir handed them over from the government to their respective family representatives in a ceremony which was held without media presence.
 
"The condition on the field was getting more difficult. But we made the most of our contacts and assets on the field, and with the Philippines government support we were able to get them released,” Fachir said in a statement from the ministry. .
 
Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, the Foreign Ministry’s director for protection of Indonesians abroad, said the handover was held in private because “it was not a cause for celebration.”
 
“We are grateful for their release, but we still have two Indonesians who were abducted on Sept. 11 and we don’t want to hurt their families’ feeling,” Iqbal said.
 
The three fishermen are Hamdan bin Saleng, Sudarling bin Samansunga, and Subandi bin Sattu, who hail from Selayar and Bulukumba in South Sulawesi province. They were freed from their captors on Friday in Sulu province on the southern Philippines.
 
Rudi Wahyudin, a representative of Sattu’s family, said the family members were devastated during the 20 months Sattu was held hostage but they tried to keep their hopes up by keeping in touch with the foreign ministry to get updates of efforts to release him and his fellow fishermen.
 
“It’s normal for people in our village in Bulukumba to migrate and work abroad. Now his wife has asked Sattu to quit working overseas and find another job close to home instead,” Wahyudin said.
 
Indonesian ambassador to the Philippines, Sinyo Harry Sarundajang said the military attache and he flew to Zamboanga City to pick up the three men, after the embassy received information of their release from the West Mindanao Command.
 
“We thank President Duterte and the Philippines government for their attention and cooperation on this matter. It was a long and delicate process to release them and we had to be very careful because we didn’t want anyone to become victim in the process,” Sarundajang said at the press conference.    
 
According to the ambassador, the three men were moved and had to island-hopped to various small islands on the Sulu archipelago as their captors were avoiding the Philippine military operation.
 
The three men were working as crew members in a Malaysian fishing boat when they were abducted in the waters of Sabah in Malaysia on Jan 2017.
 
Iqbal said there are about 6,000 Indonesians working in fishing vessels in Sabah. Since 2016, there has been 34 Indonesian citizens who were kidnapped by armed militants in the southern Philippines and 13 of them were fishermen who were abducted from their vessels in the waters of Sabah.
 
With the release of the trio, all Indonesians abducted by Filipino militants before 2018 have been released.
 
“We are now working to release the two fishermen who were abducted on Sep 11. We have expressed our concerns to the Malaysian authority on the lack of security on their waters,” Iqbal said.
 
He added that Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines would boost security cooperation in the Sulu Sea between the three countries, which is a busy maritime area for fishing boats and cargo vessels transporting coal from Indonesia to the Philippines.
 
The three neighboring countries agreed in May 2016 to launch joint patrols in the area following a series of hijacking and kidnapping of Indonesian vessels and crew members. The initial maritime patrol was launched in June 2017 and was beefed up with air patrols in Oct 2017.