Friday, May 09, 2014

Remarks by His Excellency Dr. Sok An, at the Transfer Ceremony of the Statue of Duryodhana New York, May 7, 2014

His Excellency Dr. Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister
Minister in charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers
at the Transfer Ceremony of the Statue of Duryodhana  
New York, May 7, 2014

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am much honored to represent the Kingdom of Cambodia to receive and bring the Statue of Duryodhana back to our homeland where he belongs. The story of Duryodhana started more than one thousand years ago when King Jayavarman IV decided to depict the famous battle of the Hindu epic Mahabharata in Prasat Chen, one of his temples. After a long 40-year journey, surviving civil wars, looting and smuggling, the Statue had travelled through Thailand, United Kingdom, Belgium and the United States of America. Duryodhana is about to say good-bye now to this beautiful country and their people who helped him regain his freedom, and return home.

This remarkable day marks a milestone in our policy concerning the protection of cultural heritage that the Royal Government of Cambodia has been implementing tirelessly.

The facts are now established. The odyssey ends here. This precious cultural property and symbol of our heritage has regained its rightful owners!
We are honored and delighted to officially receive the Statue at this moment.

On behalf of the people and the Royal Government of Cambodia led by Prime Minister Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to all the parties concerned for their respective contributions to such a great achievement. Also, our warm congratulations go to all those who, throughout the investigation process and litigation before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, have ensured the strict enforcement of legislation on illicit trafficking in cultural property. Their professionalism was exemplary and they deserve respect and praise.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to start by thanking Mr. Simon Warrack, who was, over 10 years, the first to find a link between the statue of Bhima currently in exhibit in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, and its pedestal at the Prasat Chen Temple in the remote site of Koh Ker in the northern part of Cambodia. Taking this opportunity, I have the great pleasure to share with you that the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena has just reached an agreement to return Bhima to his birthplace. 
I would also like to congratulate the École Française d'Extrême-Orient (“EFEO”), specifically Mr. Eric Bourdonneau and Mr. Bertrand Porte for their incredible work on the statue of Prasat Chen that could definitely help demonstrate the Cambodia’s rights to the Statue of Duryodhana. The extraordinary story of this recovery could not have happened without his deep knowledge, his intellectual power and his relentless efforts. We do not forget that UNESCO’s friendship, commitment and expertise was a real asset not only in this case, but also for the preservation of the Cambodian culture.

Moreover, the main architect of this success was the US Attorney Office for the Southern District of New York, particularly Ms. Sharon Levin, Chief of Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit, and her team as they have been so exceptionally flexible, dedicated, and stringent. We strongly value her cooperation, patience and effectiveness.  

My thanks also go to the investigation team of the US Department of Homeland Security for their hard, constructive and complex work.

Furthermore, I wish to thank H.E. Mr. CHAN Tani, H.E. Mr. HAB Touch, and APSARA National Authority as well as other members of the Cambodia team for their efforts and hard-work.

I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to the media for their contributions for raising awareness on the seriousness of the issue of artifact looting in our modern world.

More importantly, my heartfelt thanks go to the Government of the United States of America, especially the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, for their commitment to preserve cultural heritage of humanities and their strong willingness to promote friendship and cooperation between the two countries.

Back in Phnom Penh, the nation will celebrate the Welcome Home of Duryodhana and Balarama. They will join the two other witnesses of the great battle recounted in the Mahabharata, called the Pandavas – Sahadeva and Nakula, whose effigies recently returned to Cambodia last June, on the occasion of the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee, through the generosity and contribution of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For the interests of universal visitors, our National Museum will recreate the similar scene of the duel between Bhima and Duryodhana from Prasat Chen in Koh Ker temple complex, showing all the nine pedestals with their respective “returned” and marked “still missing” statues.

I am sure that not only Cambodia, but also the whole world will rejoice to witness the end of the dispersal of such a homogeneous series of emblematic statues. Consequently, they will once again return home, as part of a set that is seen as the pinnacle of universal art in sculpture.

In closing, the Royal Government of Cambodia appeals to other museums and art collectors around the world to follow the example of returning plundered treasures to their rightful owners as part of the worldwide campaign for the protection of cultural heritage.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much for sharing our joy and taking part in this celebration of the hearts and minds.
I thank you all for your kind attention.

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