Egyptian antiquities in danger in Ukraine

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As Russian military operations in Ukraine enter their second week, Egyptian archaeologists highlight the need to protect Egyptian antiquities at the Odessa Archaeological Museum in Ukraine. They even demanded the return of Egyptian antiquities to ensure their protection.

Art historian Konstantin Akinsha said in a February 16 Wall Street Journal article that Ukrainian people and archaeologists fear that the current war will lead to the loss of dozens of archaeological, historical and artistic collections. In 2014, the Donetsk Regional Museum of Local History lost 30% of its collection when it was hit 15 times by anti-tank missiles. About 150,000 artifacts were destroyed.

Bassam el-Shammaa, an Egyptology researcher and senior tourist guide, told Al-Monitor: “There are several archaeological and art museums in Ukraine, including the Odessa Museum in the south of the country, which is one of the largest Ukrainian museums. and includes hundreds of Egyptian artifacts. He is currently in great danger due to the escalation of military operations between Moscow and Kiev. It is important to protect these Egyptian antiquities and bring them home to preserve our ancient history.

According to the museum’s official website, “The Archaeological Museum of Odessa houses the only collection of Egyptian antiquities in Ukraine. …The collection … currently has more than 400 pieces covering periods of ancient Egyptian history, from the predynastic period to the Ptolemy period.

Shammaa urged official Egyptian authorities to submit a request to protect Egyptian antiquities and recover what they can. “Airstrikes during military operations cause great destruction to many facilities. Archaeological museums could be targeted next. There have been many warnings about this lately.

In a statement on February 24, UNESCO expressed its deep concern over the ongoing military operations and the escalation of violence in Ukraine. It calls for “respect for international humanitarian law, in particular the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols (1954 and 1999), in order to ensure the prevention of attacks on cultural heritage in all its forms”. .”

Shammaa noted that Egyptian antiquities in the Odessa Archaeological Museum include pieces dating from prehistoric and dynastic areas, as well as the ancient and middle kingdoms of Egypt, in addition to the Ptolemaic period. “Their condition is very good, which makes it possible to move them. The incident of the Rio de Janeiro museum fire in Brazil should not happen again. Hundreds of very unique Egyptian artifacts have been devoured by the fires inside the museum. We could not save our civilizational heritage back then,” he said.

The huge fire that devastated the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro in September 2018 destroyed 700 unique pieces of Egyptian antiquities, which were considered the largest and oldest collection of Egyptian antiquities in South America. At the time, Egyptian archaeologists were demanding to impose conditions on international museums to ensure the protection of Egyptian antiquities, according to a report published by Asharq Al-Awsat on September 5, 2018.

Meanwhile, The Guardian quoted global arts organization Getty on March 1 as saying that “millions of works of art and monuments are at risk from Russia’s assault on Ukraine.”

Ahmed Badran, professor of ancient Egyptian history and civilization at Cairo University’s Faculty of Archeology, told Al-Monitor: “The collection of Egyptian artifacts in the Odessa Museum is the oldest collection of Egyptian Antiquities in the Countries of the Former Soviet Union. This collection is currently threatened by Russian military escalation in recent days.

Badran explained that the collection of Egyptian artifacts came to the Ukrainian museum in 1825, with the donation of a number of Egyptian antiquities by IP Blaramberg, one of the founders of the Odessa Archaeological Museum. “There is no clear evidence of how Blaramberg collected these pieces. Furthermore, the French physician Antoine Clot, who headed the Egyptian medical administration during the time of Muhammad Ali Pasha (1805-1848), has donated a large number of Egyptian artifacts to the museum,” he said.

He pointed out that “Odessa museum artifacts include colorful coffins, bronze statues of Egyptian deities, canopic utensils used to preserve entrails, papyrus, human mummies and jewelry.”

“For a long time, the exact count of the Odessa Museum’s collection of Egyptian antiquities remained unknown. The museum states that it includes 400 Egyptian antiquities. But other data and information indicates that the museum houses around 800 pieces, but some of them were lost due to neglect after Blaramberg’s death,” Badran said.

Shamma agreed and added, “Egyptian antiquities belong to Egyptian lands, regardless of why they were taken out of Egypt and regardless of their number.

Badran finds it legally and diplomatically difficult to recover Egyptian artifacts from the Ukrainian museum. “These pieces left Egypt before its accession in 1970 to the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which allows the recovery of objects taken illegally from their country of origin. Under Egyptian laws applied until 1983, the sale and gift of antiquities to foreigners was permitted. The Egyptian authorities will encounter many legal difficulties in recovering these antiquities, but they can appeal to international institutions such as the United Nations, UNESCO and the International Council of Museums to protect Egyptian artifacts from destruction due to the war in Ukraine.

Al-Monitor attempted to contact the Odessa Archaeological Museum to inquire about Egyptian artifacts. No response has been received to date.

An official source from the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity: “It is very difficult to recover Egyptian antiquities from Ukraine because they were given as gifts and not illegally. Yet, it is necessary to protect these artifacts from destruction since they represent the history of Egyptian civilization. If there is even a single piece that has been illegally transferred to Ukraine, we will officially demand its return under any circumstances.

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