"Stay Awake you won't die
today, Stay Awake ..." - Cyrus Kar in
[Koroush], great King, King of Kings, Achaemenian King, King of the
It's a fascinating story : That
of a quest of an Iranian-American
in search of his roots. Or is it a quest that every Iranian expat has somewhat
undertook if not physically at least subconsciously in the past 27 years for
anyone who has left Iran due to War, Revolution, or Terror that followed the
Islamic Revolution of 1979? In the aftermath of September 11Th, Iran
was labeled by US President George W. Bush as part of an Axis of Evil
paradoxically in an equally religious terminology that has often been used by
Islamic Fundamentalists over the years to qualify the US or Israel. A strange
rhetoric unexpected to be used by the President of the most powerful nation in
the world and oldest Democracy. A paradoxical designation also for a country
like Iran whose ancient roots dig deep in the history of Humanity as a Cradle
of Civilization and whose founder, Cyrus the Great, was to establish the
very first Declaration of Human Rights nearly 2500 years ago. An act also
recorded in the Bible and Torah for which a fragile mud-baked brick cylinder,
today in display at the
Cyrus Kar, an Iranian-American, became
an identifiable face on CNN news reports for being wrongfully imprisoned and in
violation of his Constitutional Rights. He went to
Darius KADIVAR (DK): Much has
already been written on your dangerous predicament in
Cyrus KAR (CK): Most people don't realize that I
had already invested some $200K and two years of my life into this project by
the time the war with
With so much time
and money invested, we couldn't simply forgo Cyrus's conquest of
So we literally
retraced Cyrus's conquests through
When we entered
But we never reached El Kasr Hill, our final filming destination. Something I will always regret.
DK: What is a typical day or night like in Abu Ghraib ? Did you have any contacts with your other crew members ?
CK: I was in Abu
Ghraib for only a few hours before I was taken away to
A typical day at
But far more difficult was coming to terms with my feelings of abandonment and betrayal by my fellow-countrymen. The same military, which I had served honorably, was now dishonorably imprisoning me. They knew we were innocent, yet they made no effort to release us. They didn't tell us anything. So the same questions haunted me day after day. How long were they going to keep us? Is anyone doing something to get us out? Are we stuck here for the duration of the war?
I didn't see my
cameraman again until my first court hearing 50 days later. I had requested him as a witness mostly
to get him out of Abu Ghraib if even just for a day. The hearing was intended only for
me. But I told the three judges
that I would not leave without my cameraman. They informed me that there was nothing
they could do for him. But a few
days later I was told that Farshid would be released with me. Perhaps the pressure to release me had
finally superseded the mind-numbing bureaucracy of the
We were reunited
on July 10, 2005 at
DK: Did you ever lose hope of not being heard of abroad or not to see your family again?
CK: I was allowed a phone call to my family
DK: Was Cyrus the Great and his ideals in your thoughts while on detention in that remote and infamous Iraqi prison camp ?
CK: The irony was inescapable. Here we were, making a film about a man
who many consider "The Father Of Human Rights" while our own basic rights were
being violated. I compared Cyrus's
Both Sadam Hussein
and Nabonidus, the king of
2. Both were minority kings, who ruled over a majority. Sadam Hussein, a Sunni, ruled over a majority of Kurds and Shiites, and Nabonidus, a follower of the Moon-God Sin, ruled over a majority of Marduk worshippers.
But here the similarities end. Unlike U.S. Forces, Cyrus managed to keep his image as 'liberator' from slipping to "occupier." We even know how he did it.
In his famous clay
cylinder, Cyrus tells us in his own words that he did not allow any looting to
take place: "I did not allow any troublemaker to arise. Marduk's city of
Cyrus granted amnesty to enemy fighters. According to Xenophon, Cyrus told Babylonian soldiers, "You shall dwell in the same houses and work the same farms; you shall lie with the same wives and have control of your children just as now. But you shall not have to fight either us or anyone else again."
The Bush Administration on the other hand embarked on a "De-Baathification" policy, which sent thousands of former Baath party members fleeing to their nearest insurgency group.
We also know that
Cyrus spared the life of Nabonidus.
According to Eusebius and Josephus, Cyrus even appointed him governor of
Carmania in southern
These are but a
few differences, which demonstrate just how far ahead of his time Cyrus really
was. In other words, Cyrus treated
the Babylonians with respect. Had
U.S forces treated Iraqis with the same dignity, I'm quite certain they would be
regarded today as liberators. But I
can personally attest to their inhumane behavior, which is quite unusual for
DK: You were born in
CK: I'm not a conspiracy theorist. But something happened around the mid
19th century, which changed the West's perception of ancient
Before the 1850's, Xenophon was the West's main source for Persian history. Xenophon, a Greek mercenary in the employ of a genuine Achaemenian Prince, portrays the Persians as heroes who exercised benevolent power. This, along with the glowing accounts of the Old Testament, boded well for our Persian forefathers.
But after 1850,
the West's official source for Persian history suddenly became Herodotus. So determined was the West in effecting
this change, that it even called Herodotus, "The Father Of History." Herodotus was a Greek living in
This became the
West's official stance on ancient
I believe the
sudden shift from Xenophon to Herodotus was a conscious and deliberate effort by
the West to promote democracy. By
opting for Herodotus, the West severed its ties with the East, solidifying its
European identity and linking its history directly to Athenian democracy. At the same time anti-democratic
strategy worked. Today, democracy
and human rights are seen as "Western Values, not only by the West but even by
its detractors in the
truth has been the biggest victim in this Herodotian agenda. In fact, most historians know that the
first practicing democracy and the first human rights legislation, in recorded
history, both find their origins in
Our film is truly revolutionary in that, for the first time, the world's leading scholars reveal the origins of what we have come to regard as "Western Values."
DK: What kind of Man was Cyrus ?
CK: If I had to describe Cyrus The Great in one word, it would be 'honorable.' All his other characteristics were built atop bedrock of 'honor' in the true Iranian tradition found in Ferdowsi's 'Shahnameh.'
everything I've read, his unwavering honor made him a universally admired
figure. His soldiers worshipped
him. The Jews called him "Messiah"
and Iranians called him "Father."
He was even liked by his enemies.
The Greeks called him "Law Giver," the Babylonians welcomed him as
Marduk's elect. Some states such as
Dr. David Stronach, perhaps the world's foremost authority on Cyrus The Great, sums it up best: "For the first time in human history, Cyrus used his great power to improve the human condition rather than degrade it."
There have only
been a handful of such leaders throughout history. But Cyrus was the first, which makes him
a truly revolutionary figure.
DK: Having traveled for your film across the countries that were part of Cyrus' Empire how much of his historical legacy is still present today be it architecturally or philosophically?
CK: Cyrus's philosophical legacy survives
today, more so in the West than in the country of his birth. Cyrus's philosophy of 'benevolent power'
may well have shaped
little remains of Cyrus's legacy.
Cyropolis (The City Of Cyrus) in northern
ruins of his capital city, Parsagarda, in southwestern
Even worse, the
dam will forever engulf the site of one of Cyrus's most historic battles. The rumors that both Parsagarda and
The entrance of
Tang-e Bolaghi is the confirmed location where Cyrus won his decisive victory
over the Median forces of Astyages.
Cyrus considered his victory at Tang-e Bolaghi so important that Nicolaus
of Damascus, Polyaenus, and Strabo all tell us that Cyrus chose the site of
Parsagarda, just outside Tang-e Bolaghi, as his new capital, to commemorate his
victory over Astyages. In other
words, if not for Cyrus's victory at Tang-e Bolaghi, the
Imagine if the U.S. Government
decided to flood
DK: Your film suggests that Cyrus' ideals may well have influenced Western Democracy, and even the American Constitution and Bill of Rights. Could you develop ?
It is the U.S.
Bill Of Rights, which makes
In the Bible and
the Cyropaedia, two of the most influential books read by the framers of
rights to citizens was risky business.
Most rulers played it safe and followed Machiavelli's ominous advice that
"It is better to be feared than loved."
I reached this
conclusion when I discovered five copies of Xenophon's Cyropaedia at the Library
Of Congress in
confirmation we only need to look at the U.S. Constitution itself. The laws which held together the Persian
Empire such as the separation of church and state, freedom of religion, and the
right to life, liberty, and due process are virtually reincarnated in
DK: Your documentary must have required a great deal of research. Which experts did you consult on the subject and what were your sources ?
CK: I drew on many sources for my research. First and foremost was Dr. David Stronach, who, despite his stature and fame in the field of Archeology, was the most generous and humble of scholars. Dr. Maria Brosius, Dr. Cliff Rogers, Dr. Jennifer Rose, Dr. Kamyar Abdi, Dr. Mathew Stolper, Dr. William Sumner, Dr. Shapur Shahbazi, and many others played a significant role in helping me develop a clear and credible picture of the man who was Cyrus The Great.
My research was further supplemented by many books most noteworthy of which were 'The Cambridge History Of Iran,' 'Encyclopedia Iranica' and Pierre Briant's, 'From Cyrus To Alexander.'
DK: Several directors hope to make a feature film on Cyrus such as British director Alex Jovey and Iranian American Kayvan Mashayekh (The Keeper : The Legend of Omar Khayyam ). Given your knowledge on this historical figure which Hollywood actor or from Iranian Cinema could best encompass Cyrus' personality ?
CK: Unfortunately I'm not familiar with any Iranian actors, many of who would undoubtedly do great justice to Cyrus's image. But among Hollywood actors, I agree with my good friend Kayvan Mashayekh, who believes Clive Owen would capture Cyrus strong yet gentle nature. My second choice would be Benicio Del Toro
DK: Your documentary is still in production, when do you hope it will be out and where will it be distributed ( Cinema or TV) ?
CK: My film has languished due to lack of money. I have, so far, spent over $250,000 to complete pre-Production and am in the process of raising another $400,000 to finish post-Production which includes editing, sound, music, special effects, etc.
Once we raise the necessary funds, the film should be released within six months. I'm hoping to broadcast it to the combined, worldwide audiences of PBS and BBC. They are the most respectable outlets and offer the most reach since they are not pay channels.
I'm humbled by how many Iranians have rallied to our cause. Every single one of them is recognized on our website www.spentaproductions.com. I am truly honored by the trust and hard-earned money working Iranians are investing in me and my ability to bring something significant to the screen. I'm hoping a single wealthy donor will come forward to bring this project to a speedy conclusion.
DK : What would Cyrus the Great think of Ahmaninejad's Comments on Israel being wiped out were he alive today ?
CK: If we put politics aside and consider this question from a purely historical sense, it becomes quite clear that Cyrus recognized Judah, which is present-day Israel, as the Jewish homeland even 60 years after it had been destroyed by the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, who burned its capital Jerusalem to the ground and deported over 40,000 Jews to Babylon to serve as slaves.
60 years later, when Cyrus conquered Babylonia, he freed all its slaves including the Jews, whose numbers had swelled to almost 200,000 according to Pierre Briant and David Stronach. But it was what he did afterwards, which is in direct conflict with Mr. Ahmadinejad's comments. Cyrus sent armed soldiers to escort the Jews back to Judah, and even paid to have their capital, Jerusalem rebuilt.
In other words, Cyrus created a new Jewish state, where none had existed for over six decades. Mr. Ahmadinejad's seems bent on doing the exact opposite. He wants to wipe out a Jewish State, which has existed for almost six decades.
As a student of Persian history, I've learned that being Iranian is about more than just being born on the real estate, which comprises today's Iran. It implies a set of values. The name Iranian by definition means "noble" or honorable. In fact, pre-Islamic Iranians referred to those who behaved dishonorably as "un-Iranian."
Therefore, as a champion of truth and righteousness, its safe to say that Cyrus would have considered Mr. Ahmadinejad's denial of the well-documented Holocaust and calls to wipe Israel off the map as lacking in honor.
DK: Cyrus, before asking the following question I'd like to remind our readers that in October 1971, the late Shah of Iran proudly celebrated 2500 years of Persian Monarchy with hundreds of foreign dignitaries, Kings and Queens in Persepolis and delivered a historical speech in front of Cyrus' Tomb at Pasargadae. The ceremony was bitterly criticized in the Western Anglo-Saxon Press as a waste and was to some degree misunderstood in Iran dividing the intelligentsia between pro's and con's. Yet 27 years after the revolution the DVD of the film that was directed by famed journalist Shahrokh Golestan and narrated by the Legendary Orson Welles remains a favorite to this day as one of the best-selling Iranian films on that period. Recently the current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmaninejad (See article ) claimed to even want to rebuild the royal tents identically to what they were back in 1971. Have Iranians and their leaders, during the past centuries, failed to see in Cyrus' Legacy, anything else than just a set of ruins rather than his humanistic message that could have maybe benefit them both ?
CK: I'm no expert on Iranian politics. But it seems to me that neither pre-revolution nor post-revolution Iranians ever understood the essence of Cyrus The Great. Cyrus was the vehicle by which Iranian values were spread across much of the ancient world.
The late Shah saw Cyrus as a means to showcase his monarchy to the world. Yet by excluding the common people from taking part in the celebration, he defied the very values Cyrus stood for.
Perhaps we are too critical of the late Shah because we expected more from him. We don't expect much from Mr. Ahmadinejad and his cohorts other than to leave their Father's house standing while they occupy it. Mr. Ahmadinejad, after all, is the product of a movement, which sought to level Persepolis and plans to surrender Tang-e Bolaghi to the deep waters of the Sivand dam. One of its founding members, Mr. Khalkhali even wrote a book titled, 'Kourosh-e Doroughin-e Jenayat-kar (The False and Criminal Cyrus).
So if Mr. Ahmadinejad is considering rebuilding the royal tents as they were in 1971, he should be commended for it. If he stops the impending inauguration of the Sivand Dam, he might even realize a level of popularity hitherto unseen in post-revolutionary Iran.
DK: Given a quarter of a century of historical revisionism preached by the current Islamic Regime in Iran, do you feel that young Iranians today, particularly in Iran but also in the Diaspora, are aware of their pre-Islamic ancestry ?
CK: Today, most Iranians can name the wives of the prophets Mohammad, Ali, and Hussein. But most cannot name the wife of Cyrus The Great. Her name of course was Cassandana, and she bore Cyrus five children.
It seems to me that Iran's pre-Islamic history is just as important as its Islamic history. So why has Iran's Islamic alter ego never made peace with its pre-Islamic history?
History forms our identities. Iranians are among the lucky few who can truly be proud of their history. But they first need to know about it and understand the significant role their ancestors played in shaping human civilization.
Our film is a small but important investment in future-generation Iranians inside and outside Iran. Films make learning fun. They're faster and more entertaining than books. I believe a factual film about Cyrus The Great is important to complete the Iranian identity.
DK: Thank you Cyrus for your time and we look forward to seeing your film soon.
Cyrus' Cylinder: Considered as History's First Declaration of Human Rights
in Ancient Times is today displayed at the British Museum.
©British Museum, London
A well documented website on Persepolis and Coronation Celebrations created by Portuguese Web Artists.
Cyrus the Great
Memorial created by Artist Lewis Batros in
We are Awake by Cyrus KADIVAR
Shah bee Shah by Jahanshah JAVID
Iran to rebuild spectacular tent city at Persepolis by Robert TAIT (Guardian)
Ahmaninejad sets up international conference in Tehran to establish the Truth on the Holocaust by Robert TAIT (Guardian)
About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant.
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