Calls for the return of the Axum obelisk to Ethiopia are mounting after the ancient monument was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm in Rome last week.
The 25-metre high granite monument was looted from the holy city of Axum in northern Ethiopia on the personal orders of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, after his troops invaded the country in 1937.
The obelisk was erected in the Italian capital, where it still stands, and has been the subject of an ongoing dispute between the two countries for 60 years. Ethiopia has repeatedly called for the return of the monument.
The Ethiopian authorities have said Italy must be held responsible for the damage. Several large chunks from the top of the obelisk crashed to the ground during last week's thunderstorm. The Committee for the Return of the Axum Obelisk, which met on Friday, said the damage would not have been caused if the ancient stele had been returned.
“Ethiopia has asked for the return of the monument for the last three years but the Italian government does not have the will to return it,” the committee said in a statement. “That is why we hold the Italian government responsible for the damage.”
Ambassador Teshome Toga, the minister for youth, culture and sports, has been leading calls for the return of the obelisk - one of the most sacred artefacts in Ethiopian history.
Italy has now indicated it may return the obelisk which is more than 3,000 years old and weighs 160 tonnes. Its reasons for not doing so had centred on the fact that moving the monument could damage it.
"This is indeed a good time to send the obelisk back," junior culture minister Vittorio Sgarbi said, according to the BBC. "Now that it has already been damaged, we might as well give it back. It would be meaningless to restore it first and then send it back."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
Help make quality journalism about crises possible
The New Humanitarian is an independent, non-profit newsroom founded in 1995. We deliver quality, reliable journalism about crises and big issues impacting the world today. Our reporting on humanitarian aid has uncovered sex scandals, scams, data breaches, corruption, and much more.
Our readers trust us to hold power in the multi-billion-dollar aid sector accountable and to amplify the voices of those impacted by crises. We’re on the ground, reporting from the front lines, to bring you the inside story.
We keep our journalism free – no paywalls – thanks to the support of donors and readers like you who believe we need more independent journalism in the world. Your contribution means we can continue delivering award-winning journalism about crises.