The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
LONDON, (CAIS) -- Iran on Thursday began filling a dam despite warnings from archaeologists that its reservoir will flood newly discovered antiquities and could damage Iran's grandest site, the ancient Persian capital of Persepolis.
At the inauguration ceremony, attended by Energy Ministry officials, pipes were opened for water to start flowing into an artificial lake created by the dam spanning the Sivand River, 840 kilometers (520 miles) south of the capital, Tehran. The lake waters will be used for irrigation for the area's farmlands.
Iranian state-run television said Thursday that the dam was opened "on the order of the President" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, although the hardline Iranian leader did not attend the inauguration.
The launch was delayed for months to give time for excavations by international archeological teams in the area of the reservoir after an appeal for help from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The work has yielded significant discoveries such as a road believed to be the Royal Passage of the Achaemenids, a powerful dynasty in ancient Persia in the 6th century B.C., as well as an Achaemenid village, with a cemetery and inhabited caves dating back 7,000 years.
Iranian intellectuals and activists have condemned Tehran government for going ahead with the dam, calling it a "stupidity." Others have appealed for worldwide help and threatened to take up the matter with international institutions.
Archaeologists say flooding from the dam will submerge the Royal Passage — also called the Royal Road — which linked Persepolis to Susa, two capital cities in ancient Persia, as well as some of the 130 ancient sites along the Tang-e-Bolaghi, a mountain path traversed by the Sivand River.
There are also concerns that humidity, spreading through underground waters from the dam, could damage the nearby Persepolis.
The sprawling ruins of Persepolis, Greek for "City of Persians," are famed for their grand double stairway rising to the wide terraced audience hall with 72 columns. Sacked by Alexander the Great about 330 B.C., millions visit the ruins every year, mostly Iranians but also foreign tourists.
The damage could also hit Pasargadae, an ancient capital built by Cyrus the Great sometime after 550 B.C. that also holds his tomb.
Both Persepolis and Pasargadae, only 30 kilometers (19 miles) and 8 kilometers (5 miles) away, are on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.
The Iranian government has not shown much concern for ancient Persian sites, unlike the country's more recent Islamic monuments.
The official IRNA news agency quoted Vice President Rahim Mashaei, who is also the head of the Cultural Heritage Organization, as saying Thursday that the "opening of the Sivand Dam is no danger for Pasargadae" but did not mention the Royal Passage or Persepolis.
Archaeologist Parviz Varjavand said "irreplaceable human heritage" would be lost. "This ruling establishment gives no value to Iran's cultural heritage. It is an act of stupidity and obstinacy," he said.
"We are filing a lawsuit against the government with a local court ... if we can't stop them through Iranian courts, we will take the issue to international bodies," lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah said.
Dadkhah, from the Center for Protecting Human Rights, warned that the dam will also reduce waters in another lake, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) away and harm the environment. The Center is a non-government organization led by Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi. It was banned by the Iranian government last year.
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