Thursday, 16 September 2010

Will Iran lay claim to Cyrus Cylinder?

The Guardian has an alarmist article [Ian Black and Saeed Kamali Dehghan"Iran lays claim to British Museum's Cyrus Cylinder" Guardian, 15 September 2010] which suggests that having borrowed the Cyrus Cylinder from the British Museum, Iran "might not" give it back. This seems however another bit of journalistic "Iran Bashing" that the western media are dishing out to the public these days rather than a concrete story.

The 6th century BC Babylonian object, arrived in Iran at the weekend on a four month loan to the national museum.
In a ceremony on Sunday President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad draped a Palestinian-style keffiyeh scarf worn by Basij militiamen over the shoulders of a bowing actor dressed as Cyrus. He also described Cyrus reverentially as "King of the World" – a striking phrase in a country where pride in Iran's pre-Islamic past, encouraged by the shah, has been downplayed since the 1979 revolution. For Ahmadinejad's domestic enemies, this was another glaring example both of his self-promotion and a religious-nationalist agenda that arouses their deepest suspicions.

"Isn't it correct that the Cyrus Cylinder belongs to Iran?" asked the Keyhan newspaper, mouthpiece of hardline conservatives. "Isn't it true that the British government stole this valuable and ancient object of ours? If the answer to these questions is positive, which it is, why should we return [it] … to the party which stole it."

[...] it seems destined to be the centre of controversy for as long as it stays in Tehran. Elyas Naderan, a fundamentalist MP, criticised the government for inviting British ambassador Simon Gass to Sunday's reception.

Ayatollah Makarem-e-Shirazi, an influential cleric, denied rumours that he wanted to see the cylinder. "He never visits any exhibition apart from Qur'anic ones," a statement said.

Critics on the left point to the irony of the president's celebration of the cylinder as "a charter against injustice and oppression" as he oversees unprecedented human rights abuses. The opposition Jaras website called the object "a stranger in its own home". Cyrus would have been shocked to hear Ahmadinejad invoke his name, it said.

The Cyrus Cylinder was not found in Iran, but excavated in Babylon, which was part of Cyrus' realm back in the sixth century BC.

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