A priceless 18th century crown from Ethiopia is set to make its way home after it had been hidden in the Netherlands for two decades. A refugee from Ethiopia, Sirak Asfaw, found it in a suitcase in the Netherlands and decided to keep it for two decades till it was safe to return it back to Ethiopia.
The crown, which is a gilded copper headgear, features a glorious depiction of God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the 12 disciples. It is thought that it was a gift to the Church by a powerful warlord called Welde Sellase 100 years ago.
Asfaw became a refugee after he fled the blood-filled "Red Terror" rule of the Communist government or the Derg. He fled to the Netherlands in the late 1978. The rule of the Derg was so repressive that it resulted in many Ethiopians running away from their country. Asfaw would host other refugees at his Rotterdam flat throughout the 1980s and the 90s. And it is from this experience that he encountered a man who had this crown in 1998. He simply had to get it back for the love of Ethiopia.
He told the BBC, "Most people don't really care about this cultural heritage. I'm loyal to Ethiopia." With this logic, he insisted that the crown be returned to Ethiopia. But at that point, he was a man clouded in a lot of uncertainty about the security of the crown, and the security of his own life because of the crown.
"I looked into the suitcase and saw something really amazing and I thought 'this is not right. This has been stolen. This should not be here. This belongs to Ethiopia." He told the man that the crown "will not leave my house unless it goes back to Ethiopia".
He was conflicted about what to do with the stolen crown. He was torn because he did not want to hand it to the country that had forced him to flee in the first place. It was the same regime that had made it possible for the crown to be stolen. And so he decided to be the guardian of the crown until he felt sure and safe about what to do with it. He had it in his apartment for 21 years. There was just a lot of pressure from other Ethiopians to return back the crown.
Abiy Ahmed's appointment as the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia gave Asfaw the confidence to begin the steps to return the stolen crown.
He contacted Arthur Brand, a renowned arts person in the world. "I explained to him, look, either the crown will disappear or you [will], if you continue like this," Brand said.
"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."
While they are waiting for action from the Ethiopian government, the artifact is currently being stored at a high-security facility in the Netherlands. The crown has been secured in this facility with the consent of the Dutch police. Because of the intrinsic and priceless symbolic value of the crown, and the cultural weight and relevance it possesses, it is only right that the crown be returned home safely.
Header image credit - AFP