Stolen 18th century crown returned to Ethiopia

24 Feb 2020

A rare Ethiopian crown from the 18th century that was stolen and has been missing for two decades, was returned to Ethiopia on 20th February after it was discovered in the Netherlands.

The crown was received by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Minister of Culture and Tourism, H.E. Dr. Hirut Kassaw, and other senior officials.

The Dutch Government, led by the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Sigrid Kaag, facilitated the handover with the belief that “it has a duty to restitute this important artefact back to its country of origin.”

The gilded copper crown, which features depictions of the Holy Trinity and Christ’s disciples, went missing from Holy Trinity Church in the village of Cheleqot in 1993 and was discovered in Rotterdam in October 2019, in the custody of Sirak Asfaw, a Dutch national of Ethiopian origin. Asfaw told the AFP in an interview that he found the crown in a suitcase left behind by a guest to his apartment.

According to a statement by the Dutch government, “Last year, Asfaw got in touch with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through the mediation of art detective Arthur Brand, to discuss how to return this important cultural artefact to Ethiopia. From that point on, all parties worked together on the best way to restore the crown to its rightful owner.”

“We’re honoured and delighted to have been able to facilitate the rightful return. This is the crowning achievement of returning this heritage to its rightful place.”

~Sigrid Kaag, Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation

Following the handover, the crown went on display at the National Museum in Addis Ababa, and then will be returned to its original place in the church in Cheleqot.

The crown is taken to the National Museum in Addis Ababa

“Today Ethiopia receives a precious crown stolen several years ago and taken to the Netherlands. I am grateful to Sirak Asfaw and the Netherlands government for facilitating its return,” Prime Minister Abiy said in a tweet.

The bronze crown is thought to be one of just 20 of its kind in existence.

…museums urged to return stolen artefacts

Last year, on her debut visit to the United Kingdom, the Minister of Culture and Tourism, H.E. Dr Hirut Kassaw called on all museums and others who retain Maqdala heritage in their collections to return the artefacts to their rightful home.

The minister made the remarks during the historic ceremonial handover of locks of hair belonging to one of Ethiopia’s most popular Emperors – Tewodros II – at the National Army Museum in London.

Applauding the National Army Museum for the “brave and principled decision to return the Emperor’s hair,” the Minister said, “…for Ethiopians, these are not simply artefacts or treasures but constitute a fundamental part of the existential fabric of Ethiopia and its people…[I urge] all concerned to consider the intrinsic value of the items in their collections which are of far greater significance to Ethiopians than to those who removed them.”

Ethiopians celebrate the historic return of Emperor Tewodros’ hair at the National Army Museum in London

As part of her trip to the UK, the minister also visited the British Museum, the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum and St. George’s Chapel in Windsor.

In discussions with the British Museum, the Minister formally requested the return of 11 replica Arks of the Covenant, taken following the Battle of Maqdala, that are currently privately stored at the British Museum.

“The Arks act as spiritual anchors for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and are more than just artefacts,” the Minister emphasised.

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