By Golnaz Esfandiari,
RFE/RL; photos by Majid Asgaripour, Mehr News Agency
Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on Sunday attended the unveiling in Tehran
of the Cyrus Cylinder, which is on loan from the British Museum. The cylinder
dates from the 6th Century BC and is thought by many to be the first charter of
human rights. It will be on public display for four months.
Mahmud Ahmadinejad examines the Cyrus Cylinder at the National
Museum in Tehran.
The unveiling took place at a ceremony at Iran's National Museum that was turned
into a platform for Ahmadinejad and his controversial chief of staff Esfandiari
Rahim Mashaei to promote their brand of religious nationalism. (Read
here for more about the recent attempt by Ahmadinejad to promote new
religious nationalism and hard-liners' reaction to it.)
The ceremony -- during which Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire,
by Ahmadinejad as the King of the World and Mashaei suggested that the ideas
and status of the ancient Iranian king were like those of the prophets -- was
highly unusual in the Islamic republic, where in the past 30 years there's been
a decided lack of interest in the country's pre-Islamic past.
The Cyrus Cylinder at the National
Museum in Tehran
At Sunday's ceremony, which was reportedly attended by a number of Iranian
officials and foreign dignitaries, there was an obvious attempt to connect
Iran's ancient past with some of its current history. (For more pictures of the
here.) Ahmadinejad was apparently trying to appeal to a new constituency
among nonpolitical types and tap into discontent with the clerical
establishment, while at the same time trying to keep his hard-line supporters
During the event, the Iranian president put a keffiyeh, which is part of the
uniform of the pro-government Basij militia, around the neck of a man dressed as
Cyrus the Great. In a dispatch titled "Cyrus The Great Becomes A Basij Member,"
hard-line Fars news agency wrote that when Ahmadinejad decorated "Cyrus the
Great" with the black-and-white keffiyeh, all the foreign ambassadors and other
guests present at the ceremony stood up.
Two men, one dressed as an Achaemenid soldier and the other as a member of the
Basij, were also honored by Ahmadinejad with keffiyehs, described
by official news agencies as "the symbol of the resistance and honor of the
The move was criticized by some Iranians, who said it was 'insulting,"
"humiliating," and "painful" to watch.
Blogger Enteghad (Criticism) questioned the move. "Why is Cyrus the Great,
the symbol of Iran, being decorated with the symbol of another country --
Palestine?" asked the blogger.
Another blogger, Andishe, was also angered by the "insulting and unwise" move,
saying, "How can one mix two very different symbols that go against each other?
Keffiyeh is the symbol of bloodshed, war, and terrorism in Palestine and
Lebanon. Keffiyeh is the symbol of the Palestinians. Look at what Cyrus the
Great and the Iranian civilization have to say and look at what Ahmadinejad and
Velayar Faghih (the rule of the Supreme Jurist) have to say."
Others were outraged that Ahmadinejad, internationally criticized for human
rights abuses in Iran,
the cylinder as the embodiment of human values.
"The Cyrus Cylinder represents respect for human beings' greatness and basic
rights," he said. The cylinder, he said, emphasizes that everyone is entitled to
freedom of thought and choice and also underscores the necessity to fight
The opposition Jaras website reacted by calling the cylinder "a stranger in its
own home" and writing that Cyrus the Great has the right to be shocked to hear
Ahmadinejad saying that "Cyrus said that every nation is free to accept me as
their leader or not." The opposition accuses Ahmadinejad of massive fraud in
last year's presidential vote.
The Cyrus Cylinder is on loan to Iran by the British Museum in London after a
dispute in which Iran
threatened to cut ties with the institution. The cylinder was last in Iran
in October 1971.
Iran's hard-line daily "Kayhan" suggested
over the weekend that Iran should keep the cylinder and not return it to the
"There is an important question: Doesn't the cylinder belong to Iran? And hasn't
the British government stolen precious ancient artifacts from our country? If
the answers to these questions are positive, then why should we return this
stolen historical and valuable work to the thieves?!"
Copyright (c) 2010 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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