Looted 18th century crown returned to Ethiopia

By Elias Meseret, Associated Press

A rare and looted crown from the 18th century has been returned to Ethiopia after it was discovered in the Netherlands two decades ago.

The Dutch government facilitated the handover “with the belief that it has a duty to restitute this important artefact back to Ethiopia”, the office of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said.

It shared photos of a smiling Mr Abiy holding the ceremonial crown.

“This is a historic day for us,” said Hirut Kassaw, Ethiopia’s minister for culture and tourism.

The ancient crown inside the office of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (The Office of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed via AP)

The religious crown went missing in 1993 and was discovered in Rotterdam in October.

“I still don’t know how this crown and the other items were looted and taken out of Ethiopia,” the culture minister said, adding that several other items were stolen, including a cross.

Ethiopia, like many African nations, has been outspoken about seeing artefacts returned home from museums and private owners around the world.

Last year, the National Army Museum in Britain said it would return two locks of hair from the widely revered Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros.

The Dutch government said in a statement that the crown was the property of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

It said the crown went missing from the Holy Trinity Church in the village of Cheleqot.

For years, the crown was in the hands of Sirak Asfaw, a Dutch national of Ethiopian origin, the statement said.

Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed, right, officially hands over the crown to tourism minister Hirut Kassaw (The Office of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed via AP)

He reached out to the foreign ministry last year “through the mediation of art detective Arthur Brand, to discuss how to return this important cultural artefact”.

“He told us someone gave it him to look after it. But after realising it was of Ethiopian origin, he refused to return it back to the owner and kept it for 21 years,” the culture minister said.

The crown is on display at Ethiopia’s national museum in the capital Addis Ababa for a few days and will then be returned to its original place in the church in Cheleqot, the minister said.

The Dutch minister for foreign trade Sigrid Kaag attended the handover ceremony.

“We’re honoured and delighted to have been able to facilitate the rightful return,” Ms Kaag said.