The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
(CAIS) -- For
the people protesting against it, a new dam [Sivand] near these sun-drenched
ruins may be more than an environmental upheaval: in it they scent an affront to
the country's pre-Islamic identity.
2,500 years, the mausoleum of Cyrus the Great has stood on the plain at
Pasargadae in southern Iran, a simple but dignified monument to a king revered
as the founder of the mighty Persian Empire. But some fear the dam and reservoir
pose a threat to the ancient structure.
say the project may increase humidity in the arid area near the city of Shiraz,
which they believe could damage the limestone mausoleum.
may seem far-fetched – regime’s officials dismiss it -- but the row
highlights deep cultural faultiness in attitudes to the Islamic Republic's
wealth of pre-Islamic relics.
is an illegal project which will harm our historical heritage," said
Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a lawyer campaigning against the Sivand Dam and an
associate of Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.
accuses the authorities of not paying enough attention to sites dating from
before the Arab Muslim invasion of Iran in the 7th century: "They don't
care about pre-Islamic history."
regime’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad officially inaugurated the dam, some 7
km (4.5 miles) away from Pasargadae, in April. Cyrus the Great built the capital
in the 6th century B.C.E. and is believed to be buried there.
by bare and tawny hills, Pasargadae is one of Iran's eight world heritage sites,
though it is not as well preserved or famous abroad as Persepolis, erected by
Cyrus' successors closer to present-day Shiraz.
Iranians still see Cyrus the Great as one of their greatest historical heroes,
and the Father of the Nation, who arguably created the first world empire and
showed tolerance towards different faiths of his era.
conquered Babylon in today known as Iraq in 539 B.C.E. and freed the Jews held
in captivity there. He is also credited with authoring a decree inscribed on a
clay cylinder which some have described as the first charter of human rights.
are really proud of him. He was unique," said a man in Shiraz who gave his
name as Reza Hosseini.
regime’s officials say the dam is needed to help farmers irrigate land to grow
corn, rice, tomatoes and other agricultural produce. They have promised to
closely monitor any climatic changes that result from the dam.
regime’s Vice President Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, another hardliner who heads
the state culture and heritage organization, has suggested groups "opposing
the Islamic Republic" are behind the protests.
is far from here," said one guard at the dam site, which is slowly filling
up. "There will be no damage."
in the provincial capital Shiraz -- renowned as a city of poets, roses and
beautiful mosques, as well as for its imperial Persian ruins -- are not so sure.
complain of contradictory information about the dam's potential impact and say
they do not know what to believe.
there is even a tiny possibility of damage to historical monuments we have to be
very careful," said shop owner Omid Nejati, selling hand-woven wool and
silk carpets, one decorated with a motif of the mausoleum of Cyrus the Great.
the dam itself, even one of the farmers it is supposed to help was sceptical.
don't have water problems," said the 35-year-old man, declining to give his
name because of the issue's sensitivity as he took a break from working the
dam was a project to create job opportunities for people from other areas."
the mountains in the distance lies the Bolaghi Valley, which will be flooded as
part of the project.
teams have in the past few years excavated the area, believed to form part of a
Persian royal road and to hold 137 archaeological sites, ahead of the planned
Fardanesh, a consultant of the UNESCO, said nobody could tell for sure what the
dam's impact might be. There was justified concern, but "no proven
risk" to Pasargadae.
his book The Soul of Iran, American-Iranian journalist Afshin Molavi describes
how Cyrus was praised by the Shah but criticized by the British-backed Muslim
clerics and communists who toppled him in 1979.
the 1979 fall of Iranian regime, one prominent ayatollahs, Sadeq Khalkhali
branded Cyrus a tyrant, liar, homosexual, Jew-lover and even called for the
destruction of his mausoleum as well as that of Persepolis. "Fortunately,
cooler heads prevailed," Afshin wrote.
so, not much remains of Cyrus' Pasargadae: his multi-tiered mausoleum is the
most impressive building even though it was looted and emptied long ago.
parched surroundings make it hard to imagine that lush gardens once encircled
the imposing cenotaph before Alexander, the Macedonian warlord in 330 B.C.E.
crushed the dynastic empire Cyrus had founded around 330 B.C.E, his armies
looting and burning Persepolis.
the government didn't listen to us," said Dadkhah. But 4,000 people have
signed his protest petition against the dam, he added: "I never give
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