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Today Iran Threatens Ancient Iranian Landmark

 

 

10 May 2002

 

By Shapour Suren-Pahlav

 

 

The Iranian archaeologist peered down upon the enemy through stone portals that have withstood 2,500 years of weather and warfare. "See the factories? See the pollution?" said Hassan Rahsaz, who heads conservation efforts at Iran's best-known relic of ancient Iran. "This may be the biggest threat ever faced by Persepolis."

 

Industry and urban life are marching toward the graceful columns and tiered courtyards of "Pârsegerd" (Persepolis - Greek for "city of Persians") – like an invading desert army. Winds carry the menace from a few miles away: car exhaust, fumes from petrochemical plants, clouds that spill acid rain.

 

The thickening smog from Shiraz the provincial capital of Fars province, and its gritty factories and towns on its outskirts work like sandpaper on the porous stone, experts say. They fear the stunning details on its friezes and monuments could disappear in decades if the growth continues unchecked. "This was once a center of ancient civilization. And now we are under siege by modern civilization," said Rahsaz, whose father was part of early excavations at the site 50 years ago.

 

Resting at the foot of craggy mountains 440 miles south of Tehran, Persepolis was an awe-inspiring center for ceremonies and worship during the Achaemenid dynasty (550-330 BCE) – the second Iranian dynasty after the Medes, and the first significant empire of ancient world. Centuries later, its fate is a matter that transcends archaeology, touching on politics and questions about Iran's identity in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

 

After 1979 revolution, not only no resources were funneled toward Iran's many ancient sites, but a policy of de-Iranianisation has set in motion – particularly those predating the emergence of Islam in the seventh century. At Persepolis, the clerics expelled teams of foreign conservationists.

 

Earlier this month, a group of Iranian lawmakers and intellectuals issued an unusually blunt open letter demanding the Islamic regime urgent conservation efforts at Persepolis to avoid a "national catastrophe."

 

"We are fighting development and the pressure of a growing population," said Mohammad Hassan Talebian, a top researcher at the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization. "I'm very, very worried about the future of Persepolis."

 

Conservationists are seeking a buffer zone around the site and appealing to factory owners to install better pollution controls, said Talebian. "We can't tear down the homes and factories. Trying to stop them from coming closer is all we can do," he said.

 

Persepolis is extremely sensitive to pollution. Much of the stone is rich in calcite, which forms the basis for limestone and marble. The acids in air pollution directly attack the alkaline calcite.

 

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  Khalkhali is reporting to his master!

 

One section of the site has been covered with a roof to block acid rain and modify temperature variations. But it also has built up damaging humidity.

 

Studies are under way to identify the most damaging pollutants and develop a protection strategy. It is our duty to save Persepolis," Mosayeb Amiri, the head archaeologist at the site. "The name Persepolis is synonymous with the name of Iran."

 

Almost immediately after 1979 and rise of the clerical regime to power, they have began a vigorous campaign to cleanse all references to the Iran's pre-Islamic past. In 1979, Khomeini's right-hand man, the Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali, known as the "hanging judge", in an unsuccessful attempt tried to bulldoze Persepolis.

 

Khalkhali was known for his antipathy towards pre-Islamic Iran as in 1979 he wrote a book "branding king Cyrus the Great a tyrant, a liar, and a homosexual" and "called for the destruction of his mausoleum at Pasargadae.

 

 

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