Edinburgh church hosts campaign to return looted treasure

 The son of suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst is coming to an Edinburgh church tomorrow to call on a Scottish regiment to hand over a looted African drum. Dr Richard Pankhurst will urge the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards to return the ceremonial 16th century drum to its home in Ethiopia. The drum was part of a priceless horde of treasure seized by British soldiers when they invaded Ethiopia more than 130 years ago. Dr Pankhurst, who lives in Addis Ababa, is heading an international campaign for the return of the plunder which was taken from the mountain fortress of Emperor Theodore II at Magdala in 1868. Dr Pankhurst plans to contact Dragoon officers over the weekend and highlight the campaign at a lecture in St John's Episcopal Church, Princes Street, Edinburgh, at 7.30pm on Saturday evening. St John's became one of the focuses of the treasure campaign after Associate Rector the Rev John McLuckie discovered the church owned a sacred altar slab taken in the same invasion. The church returned the slab to Ethiopia earlier this year, sparking huge celebrations in Addis Ababa and the UK-based Ethiopian community. After the slab was returned, campaigners discovered that the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, headquartered in Edinburgh Castle but currently based in Germany, were one of the regiments involved in the nineteenth century Ethiopian campaign. They were part of a huge force sent in to rescue British hostages imprisoned by the Emperor following a diplomatic row. Emperor Theodore freed the prisoners as the British troops approached then committed suicide as Magdala was stormed. After the campaign, British Commander Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Napier ordered that a ceremonial drum found on the site should be cut into three and given to regiments, one of them the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, as battle trophies. Other treasures taken from Magdala included hundreds of ancient illuminated manuscripts, gold and silver crowns and around 10 sacred altar slabs, representing the Ark of the Covenant. One of the slabs was donated to St John's by an officer. The loot was loaded on to 15 elephants and nearly 200 mules and later auctioned to British soldiers to raise prize money. Much of it has ended up in the British Museum, the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, the Victoria and Albert Museum and other private and regimental collections. Dr Pankhurst said: "The drum is the only one of its kind. It is part of Ethiopia's crown jewels and, as such should be returned to its proper place in Ethiopia." Dr Pankhurst became involved in Ethiopian affairs when his famous mother travelled to Ethiopia to campaign against the occupation of the country by the Italian fascists. The family stayed on and Dr Pankhurst eventually became a leading authority on Ethiopian history and culture. He, and a number of other Ethiopian scholars, formed AFROMET - the Association for the Return of the Magdala Ethiopian Treasures - to put pressure on Britain for the return of Ethiopia's cultural heritage.

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