CAIRO: “It is a historical day, Zahi Hawass, President of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and Chair of the International Conference for the Protection and Repatriation of Cultural Heritage, said on Thursday.
In a two day conference held in Cairo on April 7 and 8, 25 countries victim of cultural pillage gathered for the first time to discuss and fight for the restitution of their heritage. Present were countries such as Greece, Italy, China and Syria, along with Latin-American countries such as Peru and Mexico.
But the countries accused of retaining illegally acquired artifacts, such as France, England and Germany, were absent from the conference. “We did not invite them. If they ask, they can participate, Hawass said. “We thought that we, the countries who suffer, should meet first.
The US, who had not been invited, nevertheless participated in the conference upon their own request.
“I never thought that this dream will come true, Hawass said, referring to the conference as the first meeting that addresses the question of stolen cultural heritage on an international scale. “We are not alone any more, we will fight together, said Hawass.
The conference was an opportunity for the participating countries to formulate a “wish list of artifacts that should immediately be returned. Egypt’s priority still lies on the Nefertiti bust currently in Berlin and on the Zodiac exhibited in the Louvre.
“Ownership does not expire, Egypt’s ambassador to the conference, El Reedy, said: “All the monuments abroad must be returned, there is consensus among us. And Zahi Hawass added: “No matter if it was taken out of the country illegally or legally, we want if back.
Unfortunately, the conference lacked concrete proposals on how to achieve the restitution of the monuments in question: “We will not tell you what we are going to do, Hawass said, explaining that this first meeting aimed at addressing the problems and not the solutions.
“Some of us will make the life of museum directors difficult, he said, nevertheless acknowledging that there will be no concrete measures such as cutting diplomatic ties or delivering an ultimatum to certain museums in order to get the artifacts back. Concrete steps will be determined during a second conference next year.
There has also been no formal demand to amend the UNESCO resolution of 1970 concerning the protection and restitution of stolen artifacts which is, until now, not applicable to artifacts stolen before 1970. But: “We consider inviting representatives of UNESCO next year, Hawass said.
This conference is the first of its kind and will be convened annully.
Next year’s meeting is scheduled for April 2011 and will possibly be held in Greece. “We hope that we will be 60 countries next year, Hawass concluded.