Ethiopia’s government retrieved a priceless 18th-century crown that a former refugee had kept hidden in his apartment in the Netherlands for two decades.
The handover took place at a ceremony in the capital, Addis Ababa, attended by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch minister for foreign trade and development cooperation.
Sirak Asfaw, the one-time refugee who is now a Dutch citizen, fled Ethiopia during the late 1970s during the so-called “Red Terror” purges. He found the gilded crown, which features images of Christ and the Twelve Apostles in 1998 in a suitcase left behind by a visitor.
The crown had “disappeared” from the Holy Trinity Church in Cheleqot, a village in northern Ethiopia, the Dutch government said in a statement.
Sirak assumed the crown had been stolen but worried it would “just disappear again” if he returned it to Ethiopia’s leaders, so he kept it in his apartment in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam, he told AFP last year.
Only after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018 did Sirak feel comfortable handing it over. He then contacted Arthur Brand, a renowned Dutch art detective, who brought the story to the Dutch government’s attention.
Kaag, the Dutch minister, said in a statement Thursday: “We’re honored and delighted to have been able to facilitate the rightful return.”
Abiy thanked the Dutch government for organizing the artifact’s return, according to a report from state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate, which noted that the crown is thought to be one of just 20 in existence. By Thursday afternoon, the crown was on display at Ethiopia’s National Museum.