BEIRUT: Iraq on Sunday received hundreds of trafficked antiquities from Lebanon.
The artifacts had been in Nabu Museum, a private institution in Lebanon’s Byblos region, and the handover took place at the National Museum, with the items given to Iraq’s embassy in Lebanon.
“A total of 337 artifacts were handed over, 331 of which are cuneiform and six others that were among 32 disputed pieces,” said Lebanese Culture Minister Mohammed Wissam Al-Murtada. “Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese committees verified that the six pieces belong to Iraq, so it was decided that they should be handed over as well.”
Al-Murtada described the handover as “a gesture embodying cooperation between Lebanon and Iraq in the cultural field.”
Speaking about whether or not these disputed artifacts had been smuggled from Iraq, he said: “Lebanon’s General Directorate of Antiquities had previously revealed in a 2018 report that some pieces may have Iraqi origins.”
He added that the ministry “consequently assigned a committee of technical specialists to look into these disputed pieces.”
Archeology expert Dr. Jaafar Fadlalah told Arab News: “The owner of the Nabu Museum, who is a well-known businessman, obtained the antiquities displayed in his museum either by buying them from markets specialized in antiques or from auctions. When they were displayed in the museum, some of these pieces were found to belong to either Syria or Iraq.
“These artifacts should thus be returned to their rightful owners, while the disputed pieces remain in place until their ownership is proven. This is a rule followed in all museums around the world.
“During the wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, a large number of antiquities were lost, and some of them were seized later, either during smuggling operations or found in antique shops.
“However, several artifacts may still be stored by those who acquired them but never displayed them, so it is impossible to know where they are and who their rightful owners are.
“The ceremony that was held at the National Museum to hand over the pieces to the Iraqi authorities is to encourage collectors to preserve the antiquities."
He said that Lebanon had previously returned many pieces “without any celebrations” because they had been seized either during smuggling operations or found in local markets.
Nabu Museum owner Jawad Adra emphasized the “ongoing communication” with countries of the region to revive and preserve heritage, and that this understanding “annoys smugglers because we embarrass them.”
The General Directorate of the Internal Security Forces announced on Sunday the recovery of 300-year-old antiquities belonging to the ancient Saint John Church in Byblos, after they were stolen in late January.
It said that three people had been arrested. One was Lebanese, another was Syrian, and the third was Egyptian.