October 3, 2019
We are scattered to the wind, a savage act of brutality in the 1970’s shattered the Ethiopian monarchy and induced a horrific bloodletting throughout the country that turned millions of Ethiopians into asylum seekers. The Derg’s “Red Terror” not only eradicated more than 500,000 Ethiopians, it also created a void that led to the disappearance of countless historical artifacts.
One of these artifacts was an 18th century Ethiopian crown that was stowed away in the luggage of one of the endless stream of Ethiopians who fled their homeland to seek shelter in America, Europe and beyond. The story starts off with the arrival of Sirak Asfaw who fled Ethiopia in the late 1970s and found safety in the Netherlands.
Once Sirak settled in the Netherlands, Sirak made it a point to help others behind him. Over the next decade and a half, he hosted a litany of Ethiopians who likewise bolted overseas in a desperate attempt to escape persecution or worse. Sirak opened up his home to friends and strangers alike and provided a respite to Ethiopians who sought protection from harm in the Netherlands.
Unbeknown to Sirak, one of his guests had a most priceless treasure packed in his suitcase. As fate would have it, the guest—whom is not identified—left his luggage behind only for Sirak to discover an Ethiopian crown hidden in it. Sirak confronted the unnamed person and initially insisted that the crown be returned back home.
After seeking advice about what to do with the crown, he realized that the regime in Ethiopia in 1998 would not be the best place for this most amazing artifact. Caught between the rock of protecting the crown and the hard place of despotism that was rampant in Ethiopia, Sirak decided to become the guardian of the priceless artifact.
Last year, things changed. With Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s ascension to leadership, Sirak felt comfortable that the crown would not just disappear again once it is returned home. That is when Sirak contacted Arthur Brand, a renowned art detective to figure the next steps. Once the authenticity of the crown was established, the process of returning this important piece of Ethiopia’s history back home was initiated.
To their great credit, the Dutch government stepped in and contacted authorities in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian crown is currently being stored in a high-security facility in the Netherlands. Steps are being taken at this exact moment to ensure proper transfer and that the crown will be kept in safe conditions once it is returned to Ethiopia.
Though the return of this important historical artifact back to Ethiopia is significant on its own, there is a broader story of a more valuable gift that the crown represents. The greatest treasure in the world are not jewels but love, compassion and goodwill. The Netherlands’ grace in accepting refugees, Sirak’s decision to payback the kindness by hosting his fellow Ethiopians and the unselfishness of all parties involved to give back instead of hoarding is the treasure that is truly priceless.
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