When Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, many of the region’s most precious artifacts were on loan to a museum in Amsterdam.
This kicked off a two year legal battle over where The Netherlands should return the priceless collection of gold and jewels: to Ukraine or to the four Crimean museums that lent the objects.
Now, “the Dutch court says only sovereign countries can claim objects as ‘cultural heritage.’ So since Crimea is not a country, the artifacts will go back to Ukraine,” as reporter Teri Schultz tells our Newscast unit. “The judges say there a Ukrainian court can settle the question of who actually owns the precious items.”
Schultz adds that “Crimea is expected to appeal, so the collection will remain in Amsterdam for the next three months and Ukraine will help pay to store it.”
Russia’s annexation of Crimea was widely condemned by the international community.
When the exhibit opened at Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum in 2014, it was billed as a historic exhibition highlighting the best of Crimean historical artifacts. “Never before has Ukraine made so many prize archaeological exhibits available on loan: stunning artifacts made of gold, including a scabbard and a ceremonial helmet, and countless precious gems,” the museum said in a press release.
The collection included a lacquered box from China that made its way to Crimea over the Silk Road, and a gold ceremonial Scythian helmet that was “split in half during excavations but has been restored to its former glory following painstaking restoration work.”
Ukrainian officials are celebrating the decision. President Peter Poroshenko said it “means that not only is the Scythian gold Ukrainian. Crimea is also Ukrainian. Crimea is ours, period. That follows from the decision of the court in the European country,” as The Washington Post reported.
Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, wrote in a tweet that “Scythian Gold is coming back home – to Ukraine. I’m sure, it will also return to Ukrainian Crimea.”
And as expected, Russia is angry about the court’s decision. Russia’s Culture Ministry said in a statement that the court “ignored the principle of keeping archaeological finds in indissoluble connection with the history and culture of a location where they came from,” and called for the items to be returned to Crimea, according to the state-run TASS news agency.
Curator and Crimean archaeology specialist Valentina Mordvintseva organized the exhibition. She told The New York Times that her “opinion is that items that were excavated at one place and remained there for several centuries should be returned to the same museums.”
The Times describes a pointed exchange between Mordvintseva and a bystander:
“While Ms. Mordvintseva was speaking to a reporter, an unidentified man approached and scolded her in Ukrainian, she said. ‘You should suffer for the Crimea,’ she translated later.
‘These objects are cultural heritage, things that are meant to unite people,’ she said. ‘What will people think of these things if they visit the Kiev museum and see Crimean treasures?'”