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Did the Cyrus Cylinder bridge the gap?


25 April 2011



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LONDON, (CAIS) -- Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum (BM) was in Iran to return the Cyrus Cylinder, a 20cm Ancient Iranian clay cylinder, often described as the world's first charter of human rights back to UK. In seven months on loan from the BM to the National Museum of Iran (NMI) it has been seen by more than two million Iranians, claimed by Iran.


MacGregor believes that the cylinder -- and objects like it -- can do what politicians often fail to do and bring antagonistic countries closer together. It is not diplomacy, MacGregor asserts, since he is not advancing the agenda of a government post. Instead, he is honouring the original vision of the BM's founders, who wanted the institution to be a resource and forum for debate available to everybody in the world, "native and foreign". "I don't understand politics," he says. "It takes a completely different set of skills and experiences", writes Ben Hoyle for The Time.


There is however, no high-level diplomatic dialogue between London and Tehran, and the political relationship consists chiefly of dressings down from the British about Iran's nuclear programmes, rather than appalling human rights record. This was the same Foreign Office that through the BBC Persian, known as the "Ayatollah BBC" orchestrated the fall of the former regime in Iran and the rise of despotic Mullahs to power.


During McGregor visit to Tehran, Jane Marriott, the senior British diplomat in Tehran, releases a media-pleasing statement that "the Cyrus Cylinder demonstrated Persia's leading commitment to human rights. We would like to see modern-day Iran take up this mantle again and adhere to the international instruments on human rights that it has signed".


Observing MacGregor up close with senior members of a regime that Iranians have hopelessly tried to topple from power, you wonder at first if he is quietly enlarging the common ground between them all the time, that the loan of the cylinder has created a rare forum for human rights to be talked about in Iran. Then you realise he is too idealistic, as this is the superpowers’ game of chess; - the totalitarian-theocratic regime is going about their daily business of abusing human rights and pillaging Iran – while the Western powers keep the regime in check, to be a villain state in the Middle-East and to act as a scarecrow, to sell their arms to the Persian Gulf’s rich but gullible Arabs states. After all, the Mullahs are doing what their Western masters who brought them to power to do in 1979.


Unfortunately, the victims here are the Iranian peoples, their country and national-heritage, as neither the 'benevolent ancestor' nor his Cylinder or the good-hearted BM director can rescue them from the dirty game of international politics.


Cyrus Cylinder

Cyrus the Great Cylinder was found during a British Museum excavation at Babylon in Iraq in 1879, and has been in the British Museum since that time. It was originally inscribed and buried in the foundations of a wall after Cyrus the Great, considered by Iranians as the ‘Father of Nation’, captured Babylon in 539 BCE.


The Cylinder records that aided by the god Marduk, Cyrus took Babylon without any struggle, restored shrines dedicated to different gods and repatriated deported peoples who had been brought to Babylon. It was this decree that allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Because of these enlightened acts, which were rare in antiquity, the Cylinder has acquired a special resonance, and is valued by people all around the world as a symbol of tolerance and respect for different peoples and different faiths. These are the qualities for which Cyrus is revered in the Hebrew Bible.


Two fragments of a tablet were also found in the19th century British Museum excavations in or near Babylon. These fragments were identified by experts at the Museum in January 2010 as being inscribed with parts of the same text as the Cylinder but do not belong to it. Initially, they show that the text of the Cylinder was probably a proclamation that was widely distributed across the Persian Empire (550-330 BCE). In August 2010, however the extracts of Cyrus the Great Cylinder were also discovered in China.


The extracts were carved with cuneiform inscriptions on two fossilised horse bones. They were initially dismissed as fakes because of the improbability of ancient Persian texts turning up in Beijing, but following an in-depth research, the BM specialist Irving Finkel was convinced of their authenticity.  With the findings become clear that the proclamation were widely distributed beyond the borders of the Persian Empire.


Although the Cyrus Cylinder is called the world's oldest human rights document, Eurocentrics, anti-Semitics and Muslim fundamentalists alike claim it was common in Mesopotamia for a king to begin their rule with such reform declarations, despite the fact that no such a creed has ever been discovered to support their claim.


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