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Celebrating an Ancient Persian Heritage of Tolerance

By Jeff Baron, Staff Writer, IIP Digital (website managed by the U.S. Department of State)

Celebrating an Ancient Persian Heritage of Tolerance
A party organizer puts candles on a cake emblazoned with a likeness of Cyrus the Great.

Washington - Iranian Americans and others from Iran’s diaspora around the world have been celebrating the man many consider their nation’s greatest ruler - even though he died 2,600 years ago.

October 29, which is thought to be the anniversary of Cyrus the Great’s arrival in Babylon after it fell to his army, has become an international day of commemoration of Cyrus. He united the Medes and the Persians, founded the Achaemenid Dynasty and ruled from the Indus River to the Mediterranean, but he is celebrated mostly as a pioneer in human rights for proclaiming tolerance for all religions and condemning forced labor.

One party in his honor - complete with a giant cake bearing his likeness - filled the rooftop lounge of a luxury apartment building 18 floors above a prosperous Washington suburb on the night of October 30. It was the Iranian American Civic Society’s contribution to the international Cyrus celebration.

Abbas Alaghebandian said that in keeping with Cyrus’ vision of tolerance, the party was not connected to any political point of view or religious group. “We have invited Jewish families, Baha’i, Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian - we have so many other kinds of people here. I wanted to show that we are all the same,” he said.

“The separation of religion and politics was introduced by Cyrus,” said Bahram Bahramian, one of the guests.

“W e have invited Jewish families, Baha'i, Muslim, Christian, Zarathustrian. ... I wanted to show that we are all the same,” says Abbas Alaghebandian.

The evening was a celebration of Persian culture as well as Cyrus himself, with traditional poetry, dance, music and food. Bahramian said the event and others can remind Americans - and young Iranian Americans - of the richness of one of the oldest cultures in the world, which he said needs a bit of public relations to become better known and better understood.

Cyrus has benefited from good public relations over the centuries, and not just from Iranians: The Greek writer Xenophon depicted him as the ideal ruler, and the Bible and the Roman historian Herodotus praise him.

His modern reputation was bolstered by the discovery in 1879 of a clay cuneiform cylinder in excavations of Babylon. The Cyrus Cylinder records his thanks to Babylon’s god for his victory and his proclamation of religious tolerance and justice.

A copy of the cylinder, a gift from Iran in 1971, has a prominent spot outside the General Assembly chamber at the United Nations. The U.N. calls the cylinder “an ancient declaration of human rights.”

Cyrus' Cylinder: Considered as History's First Declaration of Human Rights
in Ancient Times is today displayed at the British Museum.
British Museum, London

Cyrus even figures in international relations 2,600 years after his death. In an October 26 interview with the Voice of America, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized the current Iranian government but said, “We are trying to remind people that it was Cyrus the Great who had one of the first human rights declarations in the history of the world.”

... Payvand News - 12/05/11 ... --

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