Open Letter to the Prime Minister of Italy 
From: Indereas Eshete andRiichard Pankhurst
POB 1896 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 14 June 2001

H.E. Signor Silvio Berlusconi
Prime Minister of Italy

 Your Excellency,

May we bring to your attention the vexed question of the Aksum obelisk. As you may know, it was looted from Ethiopia on the personal orders of Benito Mussolini in 1937, and, in violation of ItalyÕs obligations, has still not been returned. These obligations, as you are doubtless aware, are embodied in two international agreements:

  1. The Italian Peace Treaty with the United Nations, which came into force on 15 September 1947. In Article XXXVII Italy undertook to return to Ethiopia, within 18 months, all loot taken from Ethiopia. 
  2. The bilateral Italo-Ethiopian Agreement of April 1997, which dealt specifically with the obelisk. In this agreement Italy promised to return it within that same year (1997).
May we further draw Your ExcellencyÕs attention to the fact that we are now half way through the year 2001, and that, so far from honouring the above-mentioned obligation to return the obelisk, no action has yet been undertaken even to dismantle it with a view to meeting ItalyÕs treaty obligations. We would add that the Italian GovernmentÕs procrastination has aroused intense indignation in Ethiopia, as well as among scholars of Ethiopia and Africa, throughout the world.

Petitions for the return of the obelisk have been signed by EthiopiaÕs leading historian, the late Tekle Tsadik Mekuria, the leading artist, Maitre-Artiste Afewerk Tekle, the leading playwright, Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin, and by numerous other intellectuals, as well as a former Prime Minister, Mikael Imru, and a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dejazmach Zewde Gabre-Sellassie.

  • Messages from a galaxy of scholars have been published, from countries as far apart as USA, UK, Germany, Russia, India and Japan. Such scholars include the leading British historian of Africa, Thomas Pakenham, and the well-known historian of Italy, Denis Mac Smith.
  • A petition in Aksum for the obeliskÕs return was signed by no less than 15,000 citizens of the small town. It attracted the largest number of signatories to any petition ever launched in Ethiopia.
  • The restoration of the obelisk was demanded unanimously by the Ethiopian Federal Parliament.
  • His Holiness Abuna Paulos V despatched an urgent appeal to His Holiness Pope John Paul, the only recorded case in which an Ethiopian Patriarch has addressed a Roman Pontiff since the early 17th century.
  • Lovers of justice throughout the world, including Italy, have repeatedly voiced their concern on the obelisk issue.
Such popular demands for the return of the obelisk to its rightful home have been voiced by the Ethiopian Government. Trusting the word of the Italian Government, the Ethiopian Ministry of Posts went so far as to issue a set of postage stamps in September 1998, commemorating the actual return of the obelisk.

The Ethiopian National Committee for the Return of the Obelisk issued a statement on 20th November 2000 declaring that: ÒThe time required to effect the return of the obelisk does not exceed the end of the year 2000Ó. The Italian Deputy Foreign Minister, Signor Rino Serri, responded, during a visit to Addis Ababa, by promising the obeliskÕs return within months.

So far, Your Excellency, Ethiopia, in relation to the obelisk, has lived on nothing but promises that have not been honoured. We feel the time has come, under Your ExcellencyÕs leadership, to redeem ItalyÕs reputation by honouring treaty obligations without further delay.

Trusting to see swift action on the part of your Government,
Yours faithfully,
Andreas Eshete, Professor
Richard Pankhurst,Professor