The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
LONDON, (CAIS) -- Islamic Republic has overruled critics and started filling a new dam in the parched south of the country that will drown 137 ancient archaeological sites and could threaten the mausoleum of Cyrus the Great.
Thousands of activists have rallied and petitioned the government not to flood the dam, which is only seven kilometres (four miles) from Pasargadae -- the first capital of the Persian Empire.
During a visit to the area earlier this month, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Islamic regime's president ordered the inauguration of the Sivand dam. Once operational, the dam will supply water for irrigation as well as provide hydroelectric power.
But it will also drown parts of the Bolaghi valley area, a mountain pass with ancient settlements dating back to 5,000 BCE.
And protestors are worried that increased humidity from the lake could damage the sandstone tomb at Pasargadae of King Cyrus the Great, who founded the second Iranian dynasty, the Achaemenid empire in 6th century BCE.
Cyrus the Great remains a revered figure for Iranians as the conqueror of the ancient Mesopotamian city of Babylon and author of the Cyrus Cylinder, a declaration in cuneiform seen by some as the world's first assertion of human rights.
His mausoleum is an imposing construction rising 10 metres (32 feet) amid the ruins of the ancient capital with a base of six monumental stone steps leading up to his mausoleum.
Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi and fellow human rights lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah have lodged a complaint on behalf of 3,000 Iranians against Cultural Heritage Organization (CHO) head Esfandyar Rahim Mashai the close ally to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and IR Energy Minister Parviz Fattah.
"We demand that the flooding be immediately halted but despite the sensitivity of the issue the court has not taken a decision yet," said Ali Dadkhah.
"We have expert studies and documents that prove the dam will drastically change the ecology of the region and damage the tomb when flooded," he said.
"We have to choose wisely between flooding a dam which is useful for a limited period and cultural heritage that links the past, present and future of this land," said Dadkhah.
The lawyer won two lawsuits last year to prevent damage to sites in the historic city of Isfahan, which raised concern that the authorities were not paying enough attention to Iran's ancient heritage.
These involved the construction of a tall building in Naqsh-e Jahan Square, which which was reduced by several floors, and a subway route under historic Chahar Bagh Street.
The Islamic regime has rejected any criticism that is is less than attentive to Iran's pre-Islamic past in Isfahan, Pasargadae or elsewhere. It insists that flooding the dam will stop the moment there is any proof of a risk to Pasargadae, and points to the importance of its completion for the local community.
The lake produced by the dam will be 11 kilometres (seven miles) long and will hold 92 million cubic meters of water, increasing the amount of fertile land in an region by 9,000 hectares (22,239 acres).
The authorities are also claiming the water from the dam will help local communities stem a salinization process that has put 28,000 hectares (71,166 acres) of farmland in jeopardy.
Pasargadae lies 70 kilometres (30 miles) from the former Achaemenid capital Persepolis, Iran's best known ancient site, which is visited by hundreds of thousands of Iranian pilgrims, and thousands of foreign tourists each year but is too far away to be threatened by the dam.
It will take takes up to a year to fully flood the dam, and the ICHTO says it could be halted if experts proved humidity posed a threat to the nearby sites.
"We have invited foreign specialists to join our own people currently working at the site and we hope to have enough data within a few months to decide whether flooding should stop," ICHTO research chief and cleric Taha Hashemi claimed.
"The ministry of energy is obliged to halt the operation if we find the slightest evidence that the humidity is damaging to the tomb," said Hashemi, who was in charge of the ICHTO's legal affairs under former president Mohammad Khatami.
After Pasargadae was recorded as aWorld Heritage Site in 2004, the organization appealed to international archaeologists to join excavation operations on the site.
The teams discovered 7,000-year-old inhabited caves and pottery ovens, wine-making facilities dating back to Sasanian dynastic era (224-651 CE) and remains of the Imperial Road connecting the Achaemenid capitals of Persepolis and Susa.
Despite scepticism voiced by critics, Hashemi falsely insists that excavations in Bolaghi Valley have been completed and that there is nothing significant left to be unearthed.
"All the excavating teams wrote there is no problem to flooding the dam," he calimed, dismissing speculation that the current government prefers preserving Islamic heritage to pre-Islamic relics.
"We stand firm against any threats. There is absolutely no difference between pre-and post Islam.
"I am not surprised by the protests and I truly appreciate people's concern. Old civilizations were built by water; one must be careful with modern day dams."
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