Persia is under attack! First came the 300 Spartans; and now the Spiegel article! The 300 were bunch of good looking and brave guys who fought this vast army of nasty looking and savage Persians. Ok. I can take that; even though from that savagery not much is left in me. In fact I could've really used a bit of that when confronting my neighbors, kids, manager, lender, ..., and above all my wife! But all that looks a distant dream now :-)
But what has kept me going in the last few decades is the fact that the first human rights charter has been attributed to Persians. The Cyrus Cylinder, which is a magnificent ancient piece if nothing else, is supposedly inscribed with the human rights charter as decreed by the king of Persia, Cyrus the Great. In fact whenever someone makes too much noise about Iran, that's one of the tricks that I pull out of my hat to conquer them: "See, long before you could say human, we had established his and her rights!"
Cyrus Cylinder: Considered as History's First Declaration of Human Rights
in Ancient Times is today displayed at the British Museum
In the 1970s, the Cyrus Cylinder has been described as the world's first charter of human rights. It was translated into all six official U.N. languages in 1971. A replica of the cylinder is kept at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City in the second floor hallway, between the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council chambers (source: Wikipedia)
But that illusion too was shattered into pieces yesterday when I read the article by Matthias Schulz in Spiegel. Not only Schulz rules out Cyrus as a human rights advocate, he labels him as a despot who is responsible for death of millions. He also claims that the whole affair around the Cyrus Cylinder has rather been a hoax!
UN Treasure Honors
cuneiform document ceremoniously displayed in a glass case
at the United Nations in New York is revered as an "ancient
declaration of human rights." But in fact, argue
researchers, the document was the work of a despot who had
his enemies tortured...
But the Shah knew better. Cyrus, he
announced, was a very special man: noble and filled with love and
kindness. The Shah insisted that Cyrus was the first to establish a
right to "freedom of opinion."...
But I really think Schulz is misinformed here. First, he doesn't have enough data to prove his claims. For one thing, he hasn't provided any incriminating photos or videos! We on the other hand have the Cylinder!! Second, Schulz doesn't understand what it takes to spread human rights and democracy. Case in point: Iraq. In his attempt to spread democracy in Iraq and to drag the Iraqis into civilization, President Bush has had to make some difficult decisions. As a result, over one million Iraqis are dead and few millions are homeless. And the country has been declared a disaster zone. The cost to Americans has been very high too; millions of people have been deprived of essentials in order to pay for the cost of the war. But even then, Mr. Bush is still recognized as the leader of the free world. No one is calling him a despot. In fact he sits at the table with the heads of the civilized states such as Germany and continues to ask for more troops from these countries for expansion of his "democratic" rule. And no one asks him about the human rights violations that have been sanctioned by him.
So why is Schulz attacking Cyrus? Why not go after a living King instead? Perhaps it's because he thinks the dead cannot defend themselves. But believe me that's an incorrect assumption. In fact the demise of the army of Cyrus has been greatly exaggerated! Soon enough you'll see his faithful disciples pouring over the internet giving Mr. Schulz a good lesson in history. And by good we mean the way it will be taught :-)
Of course we cannot deny that millions of people have died as a consequence of the wars of ancient times. But does that mean Cyrus was a despot? One perhaps has to recognize that being tough was the norm in the old times rather than the exception. It was a fact of life that only the strong survive (I wonder how different it is today?). So even if Cyrus had a little soft side that will perhaps qualify him as a human rights advocate!
Another surprising thing is the way Schulz with a stroke of a pen writes off the claim that Cyrus has been the savior of the Jews, even when so much has been written about this:
The Bible describes him as the "anointed one," because he supposedly permitted the abducted Jews to return to Israel. But modern historians have long since debunked such reports as flattery.
But as bad as Schulz's article was, the day wasn't wasted. By the end of the day another article came out, this time by National Geographic, that paints a very different picture of the old Persia. In particular, a line in that article caught my unbiased eyes: "Mainly you see emblems suggesting that something humane went on here." I think that's all I needed to hear!
Persia: Ancient Soul of Iran
I don't think one can claim everything was ideal in ancient Persia. But one also has to realize that ideal is a relative term. Even now, in the 21st century, things are far from ideal. For example we have a sacred piece of document here in the United States, and that's the constitution. But does that mean there are no despots here? No wrongs happen here? Human rights are not violated? Racism has been eradicated? And so on and so forth... Of course not. But that doesn't reduce the value of the constitution.
Now based on this I'll argue that the Cyrus Cylinder, even with all its shortcomings, can be treated as the first declaration of human rights. And Cyrus the Great will obviously get the credit for it. I'll of course leave it to the historians to come out and make the authoritative arguments. But no matter what the outcome of those arguments, for me, and I'm sure for most Iranians, Cyrus Cylinder will always be a sacred piece of our ancient history. And we will continue to praise it as an achievement in the history of mankind.
I do want to point out that I don't think Schulz has anything in particular against Persia. I found another article of his where he had bashed the Italians for fantasizing about the birth of Rome:
Is Italy's Spectacular Find Authentic?
Matthias Schulz, Spiegel, Germany, 11/29/2007
Italy has been rocked by soccer violence, the government is divided and the economy is sluggish. Now archaeologists have entered the scene to save the country's national pride. On a hill in the center of the nation's capital, they have allegedly found the sacred cave of the founders of Rome...
In modern Italy, which loves to bask in the glory of ancient Rome, every child knows the legend. All nations have their myths and symbols. While the French have their Gallic Rooster, the Greeks revere Mount Olympus and the British tell the tale of King Arthur, the citizens of that Mediterranean country south of the Alps venerate two infants -- fathered by Mars, the god of war -- who were set adrift in a basket on the Tiber...
But the legend is simply too fabulous to die. It is recounted in school textbooks and displayed on banners. There are stamps that portray the kindhearted wolf and tourist offices that attract visitors with the famous mythical tale.
After reading the above story, one will realize that Schulz is really just a legend killer :-) His stories are obviously interesting to read. But somehow I cannot appreciate his attempts at killing the legends of nations. Legends are best left alone. Why ruin a good story like that of Santa Clause or Rostam and Sohrab? Why ruin the magic by unraveling a good illusion?
Moral of the Story: When Schulz
attacked the Birth of Rome legend, the British, the French and the
Persians stood by. When he went after the Cyrus Cylinder, the British and
the French remained silent. By the time he got to the tale of King Arthur,
there was no one left standing :-) Time to stop this legend killer now!
Tomb of Cyrus
About Cyrus Cylinder:
Discovered in 1879), the Cyrus Cylinder, also known as the 'Cyrus the Great Cylinder', is an artifact consisting of a declaration issued by the emperor Cyrus the Great of Persia inscribed in Babylonian (Akkadian) cuneiform on a clay cylinder.
What follows is a translation of the Cyrus cylinder, paraphrased from "The Ancient Near East, Volume I: An Anthology of Pictures", edited by James B. Pritchard:
(one line destroyed)
... [r]ims (of the world)... a weakling has been installed as the enu [Sumerian title for king] of his country; [the correct images of the gods he removed from their thrones, imi]tations he ordered to place upon them. A replica of the temple Esagila he has ... for Ur and the other sacred cities inappropriate rituals ... daily he did blabber [incorrect prayers]. He (furthermore) interrupted in a fiendish way the regular offerings, he did ... he established within the sacred cities. The worship of Marduk, the king of the gods, he [chang]ed into abomination, daily he used to do evil against his (i.e. Marduk's) city ... He [tormented] its [inhabitant]s with corvee-work (lit. a toke) without relief, he ruined them all.
Upon their complaints the lord of the gods became terribly angry and [he departed from] their region, (also) the (other) gods living among them left their mansions, wroth that he had brought (them) into Babylon. (but) Marduk [who does care for] ... on account of (the fact that) the sanctuaries of all their settlements were in ruins and the inhabitants of Sumer and Akkad had become like (living) dead, turned back (his countenance) [his] an[ger] [abated] and he had mercy (upon them). He scanned and looked (through) all the countries, searching for a righteous ruler willing to lead him (i.e. Marduk) (in the annual procession). (Then) he pronounced the name of Cyrus, king of Anshan, declared him to be(come) the ruler of all the world. He made the Guti country and all the Manda-hordes bow in submission to his (i.e. Cyrus') feet. And he (Cyrus) did always endeavor to treat according the justice the black-headed whom he (Marduk) had made him conquer. Marduk, the great lord, a protector of his people/worshipers, beheld with pleasure his (i.e. Cyrus') good deeds and his upright mind (and therefore) ordered him to march against his city Babylon. He made him set out on the road to Babylon going at his side like a real friend. His widespread troops - their number, like that of the water of a river, could not be established - strolled along, their weapons packed away. Without any battle, he made him enter his town Babylon, sparing Babylon any calamity. He delivered into his (i.e. Cyrus') hands Nabonidus, the king who did not worship him (i.e. Marduk). All the inhabitants of Sumer and Akkad, princes and governors (included), bowed to him (Cyrus) and kissed his feet, jubilant that he (had received) the kingship, and with shining faces. Happily they greeted him as a master through whose help they had come (again) to life from death (and) had all been spared damage and disaster, and they worshiped his (very) name.
I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, legitimate king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four riims (of the earth), son of Cambyses, great king, king of Anshan, grand-son of Cyrus, great king, king of Anshan, descendant of Teispes, great king, king of Anshan, of a family (which) always (exercised) kingship; whose rule Bel and Nebo love, whom they want as king to please their hearts.
When I entered Babylon as a friend and (when) I established the seat of government in the palace of the ruler under jubilation and rejoicing, Marduk, the great lord [induced] the magnanimous inhabitants of Babylon [to love me], and I was daily endeavoring to worship him. My numerous troops walked around in Babylon in peace, I did not allow anybody to terrorize (any place) of the [country of Sumer] and Akkad. I strove for peace in Babylon and in all his (other) sacred cities. As to the inhabitants of Babylon, [who] against the will of the gods [had/were...., I abolished] the corvee (lit.: yoke] which was against their (social) standing. I brought relief to their dilapidated housing, putting (thus) an end to their (main) complaints. Marduk, the great lord, was well pleased with my deeds and sent friendly blessings to myself, Cyrus, the king who worships him, to Cambyses, my son, the offspring of [my] loins, as well as to all my troops, and we all [praised] his great [godhead] joyously, standing before him in peace.
All the kings of the entire world from the Upper to the Lower Sea, those who are seated in throne rooms, (those who) live in other [types of buildings as well as] all the kings of the West land living in tents, brought their heavy tributes and kissed my feet in Babylon. (As to the region) from ... as far as Ashur and Susa, Agade, Eshnunna, the towns of Zamban, Me-Turnu, Der as well as the region of the Gutians, I returned to (these) sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their former inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great lord, all the gods of Sumer and Akkard whom Nabonidus has brought into Babylon to the anger of the lord of the gods, unharmed, in their (former) chapels, the places which made them happy.
May all the gods whom I have resettled in their sacred cities ask Bel and Nebo for a long life for me and may they recommend me (to him); to Marduk, my lord, they may say this: "Cyrus, the king who worships you, and Cambyses, his son, ..." ... all of them I settled in a peaceful place ... ducks and doves, .... I endeavored to fortify/repair their dwelling places...
(six lines destroyed)
... Payvand News - 07/17/08 ... --