Netherlands to return stolen 18th Century crown to Ethiopia after refugee hid it for 21 years

Sirak and Brand with the artefact
Sirak and Brand with the artefact

Hidden for 21 years in a Dutch flat, an 18th Century Ethiopian crown finally heads home.

The crown was stolen from the East African country dubbed the horn of Africa, which is a rugged, landlocked split country split by the Great Valley in the late 90s.

Sirak Asfaw, an Ethiopian who fled to the Netherlands in the late 1970s, reportedly discovered the crown in the suitcase of a fellow Ethiopian on a visit.

He realized there and then, that the crown was stolen, an act he greatly abhors. He then confronted his visitor, insisting the crown was not moving an inch unless it is sent back to where it belongs.

Sirak protected it for 21 years until he felt it was time to return the crown.

“Most people don’t really care about this cultural heritage,” he told the BBC. “I’m loyal to Ethiopia.”

“Finally it is the right time to bring back the crown to its owners – and the owners of the crown are all Ethiopians,” the management consultant said.

Sirak said for years, he had been scared unending that the Dutch government could confiscate the artefact.

“You end up in such a suffocating situation, not knowing who to tell or what to do, or to hand over,” he said. “And of course, afraid that the Dutch government might confiscate it,” Sirak told BBC.

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“I had fire alarms all over my house, eight or something like that. Really scared!”

With the election of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last year, Sirak felt the time to return the ancient piece home is now.

He contacted Arthur Brand, known as the “Indiana Jones of the art world”, for help returning it home.

“I explained to him, look, either the crown will disappear or you [will], if you continue like this,” Brand said of his discussion with Sirak on how to get the piece back to Ethiopia in a BBC interview.

“I said if the people who were involved at the time got knowledge of it, the risk was that they would come back and would take the crown from him.”

He then sought the consent of the Dutch police, which was granted, and subsequently kept the artefact in a secured location.

“It’s an amazing piece. It’s very big, I feel pity for the people who had to wear it on their heads because when you wear this for a couple of hours your neck hurts,” he said.

Sirak and Brand are now waiting for the Ethiopian government to get in touch with the Dutch authorities to plan the return of the crown.

“I want this crown to be a symbol of unity and togetherness,” Sirak said. “The crown will be celebrated by all of us Ethiopians, even Africans.”

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