Ethiopia Asks World To Return Looted Treasures

Roundup: Media's Take

Meera Selva, The Independent (London), 04 Oct. 2004

Wander around Axum, a sleepy town in northern Ethiopia, and it is impossible to ignore the giant pit that has been dug right in the centre of town. It is to be filled with the Rome Obelisk, a 1,700-year-old carved granite stone that was hauled away by the Italians in 1937 during Mussolini's brutal occupation of the country.

Sipping macchiato made from an imported Italian coffee machine, 24-year- old Akul explains just why the stone should be returned."It is our history and we are proud of it. They the Italians cannot be proud of their history in this country so they have no right to keep it."

Akul and others like him have found an unexpected champion in their fight to have their antiques returned.

Professor Richard Pankhurst, son of Sylvia, grandson of Emmeline and nephew of Christabel, the trio of suffragettes who won for women the right to vote in the UK, has taken up the Ethiopian cause.

Sitting in the study of his home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, surrounded by grandchildren, he talks of how important it is that Europe returns the treasures it stole from the African country."The youth of this country deserve to see the treasures produced by their ancestors," he said."It is very important for them to feel a sense of pride in their country, and to know that they are from a civilisation that produced great things."

Professor Pankhurst, 77, and his family are almost Ethiopian treasure in themselves. His mother's tomb was given pride of place at the front of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Adaba. She was one of the few Westerners to notice and oppose Italy's occupation of Ethiopia. People in Addis still remember how she fought for Ethiopian independence, and eventually moved to the country to edit a newspaper. In many ways, the country suited her perfectly.

Except for the Italian invasion, which lasted from 1935 to 1941, the country had never been colonised, and the status of women in Ethiopia was in many ways better than it was in England. Women could own property and keep their own name after marriage long before they were given the same rights in England.

After she died, in Ethiopia, in 1960, Professor Pankhurst took up her mantle. In 1962, he set up an Institute for Ethiopian studies in the grounds of Addis Adaba University. He left the country in 1976, just after the socialist dictatorship, known as the Derg, took power, but later returned and settled in Addis. He is currently research professor at the institute.

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