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The British Museum’s Armenian Goddess Problem

April 21, 2012

Left, the bust held in the British Museum. Right, Anahit's face on Armenian currency and stamps. / EurasiaNet

Though not nearly as visible as the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles controversy, The Atlantic reports that requests to return a 2,000 year old Armenian bust at the British Museum could become a much bigger cultural and political deal … and it’s a repatriation case that has tough uphill battle written all over it:

To the British Museum, she is “probably Aphrodite,” the Greek goddess of love and beauty. To most Armenians, she is Anahit, an ancient Armenian goddess of fertility. Whoever is on the 1st century BC female bronze head with wavy hair and aquiline nose, it may serve as a political prop in Armenia’s looming parliamentary election campaign.

The bust, housed in the British Museum, is featured on Armenian beauty parlor logos, coins, banknotes and stamps alike. It is better known in Armenia than even the country’s state emblem, a recent TV opinion poll indicated. If asked, many Armenians most likely assume that the head, and a companion hand, are in Armenia itself.

There’s a “Bring the Goddess Home” Facebook page and a petition calling for repatriation of the bust, which was first discovered in 1872.  According to the petition:

Anahit, Goddess of fertility, healing, wisdom, water, and war is an important part of Armenian history, mythology, and culture. According to the website of the British Museum, the fragments (head and hand) of Anahit’s bronze statue were accidently discovered in 1872 by a farmer digging the land in Satagh, south-eastern Turkey. The head made its way via Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and Italy to the dealerAlessandro Castellani, who eventually sold it to the British Museum. The hand was presented to the Museum a few years later.

The widespread turmoil and deportations in the region of historic Armenia have robbed the Armenian people of the very artifacts that would represent the Armenian culture. The historic artifacts, such as the remains of Goddess Anahit’s statue, that have been scattered around the world throughout the many centuries of Armenia’s existence should not be presented to Armenians only through textbooks and encyclopedias. The physical presence of these remains in Armenia will give the Armenian people the chance to visit their history in museums or galleries without having the need to travel more than 2000 miles to do so.


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