October 23, 2010

Cyrus Cylinder visits Tehran – for four months

Posted at 6:11 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

More coverage of the fact that the go-ahead has finally been given for the loan of the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran by the British Museum. The loan was promised in reciprocation to one made by Iran in 2006, but finally went ahead only after Iran threatened to cut all cultural ties with the institution.

Bloomberg News

British Museum to Lend Iran the Cyrus Cylinder for Four Months
By Farah Nayeri – Sep 10, 2010 7:24 PM GMT

The British Museum said it will lend Iran an ancient artifact known as the Cyrus Cylinder for a period of four months, allowing the treasure to be featured in an exhibition opening Sept. 12 at the National Museum of Iran.

“You could almost say that the Cyrus Cylinder is a history of the Middle East in one object,” said Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, in an e-mailed media release. “Objects are uniquely able to speak across time and space, and this object must be shared as widely as possible.”

The Cylinder, a 539-530 B.C. artifact dating back to the reign of Cyrus the Great, is inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform, and has been described as the world’s earliest charter of human rights. It has been at the core of a dispute with Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization, which cut ties with the museum in February for delaying the loan.

The British Museum originally promised to loan the Cylinder to Iran after its 2005-6 exhibition, “Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia.” In October 2009, following widespread protests in June 2009 against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the museum said that it was monitoring the Iranian political situation to make sure the loan was made in the best possible circumstances.

The loan was further delayed in January 2010 when the British Museum said it discovered, in its own collections, inscriptions similar to the Cylinder’s on two pieces of cuneiform tablets from Babylonia.

Al Jazeera Blogs

The Cyrus Cylinder, Wikipedia and Iran conspiracies
By Teymoor Nabili in Middle East
on September 11th, 2010.

The British Museum has finally lived up to its promise to lend the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran for display.

An artifact documenting the conquest of Babylon by the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE, the cylinder has been in the possession of the British Museum since its discovery in 1879.

Presumably because they feared another Elgin Marbles scenario, the museum board last year reneged on the promise of a loan, even though Iran made no demands for permanent ownership of the piece. It seems those worries have now been laid to rest.

Now to my mind, this particular dispute pales in comparison to the story of the Persepolis Tablets. Those are artifacts that truly do belong to Iran but which are being held hostage at (not by) the University of Chicago, where they were supposed to be analysed and preserved. Instead they have become one of the more egregious examples of American litigation culture gone mad.

But that’s a different story for another day. (Meanwhile, learn more about it http://www.niacouncil.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Resources_persepolis “>here).

The Cyrus Cylinder story has thrown up a much more interesting scenario – an apparent tussle of opinions in the shadowy world of hard drives and “independent” editors that comprise the Wikipedia industry.

Here’s the background:

For many years the Cyrus Cylinder has been referred to as “the world’s first human rights charter”. The British Museum describes the relic thus:

“It records that, aided by the god Marduk, Cyrus captured Babylon without a 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.

In May 2007, Wikipedia’s own description of the cylinder said:

“The Cyrus Cylinder has been described as the world’s first charter of human rights, and it was translated into all official U.N. languages in 1971. A replica of the cylinder is kept at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City

But that was before Iran’s presidential election last year, and the subsequent ratcheting-up of anti-Iranian activities.

Wikipedia’s current entry tells an entirely different story.

Now we see a strenuous attempt to portray the cylinder as nothing more than the propaganda tool of an aggressive invader, and a complete dismissal of the suggestion that the cylinder, or Cyrus’ actions, represent concern for human rights or any kind of enlightened intent.

Gone also are the eariler references to Cyrus’ immense reputation throughout the ancient world, as documented in the Old Testament and by the people of Babylon themselves.

And if you take a look at the page detailing the history of edits made to the page, you’ll see a large number of re-writes during 2009/2010.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible that I’m seeing a conspiracy where there really is none. The language and actions of people who lived two and a half thousand years ago are always going to be open to differing interpretations, and every Wikipedia page is a haphazard jumble of diverse thoughts from unconnected people, isn’t it? But how to explain the sudden and radical reversal in the consensus of Wikipedia editors?

I can’t help but wonder whether, just maybe, this could be the much more deliberate product of a specific interest group attempting to denigrate all things Iranian, however tangential their relationship to the present Islamic Republic.


Cyrus cylinder, world’s oldest human rights charter, returns to Iran on loan
Deal agreed after Tehran threatens to cut cultural ties with British Museum
Friday 10 September 2010 14.51 BST

A Babylonian artefact sometimes described as the world’s first human rights charter is to go on display in Iran after Tehran threatened to cut ties with the British Museum if it did not lend the object.

The Cyrus cylinder is a 6th century BC clay object inscribed with an account in cuneiform of the conquest of Babylon by the Persian king Cyrus the Great. It arrived in Iran today and will go on display soon at Iran’s national museum for four months, state TV reported.

Iran said it was in a dispute with the British Museum for months over its request for a loan of the object and had repeatedly threatened to cut ties with the institution. At one point, a senior Iranian cultural official accused the museum of turning a cultural issue into a political issue.

The loan discussions, which began last October, took place during a time of tension between the two countries. Tehran is under pressure from the west over its nuclear programme, and it has accused Britain and other foreign governments of interfering in its domestic policies by stoking the street protests that followed the disputed presidential election in June 2009.

The British Museum said it acted in good faith throughout the negotiations and has a policy of cultural exchanges with other nations independent of political considerations.

The object’s inscription describes how Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539BC and captured the last Babylonian king. It also tells of how he then freed many people held captive by the Babylonians and arranged for them to return to their homelands. It does not mention the Jews brought to Babylon as slaves by Nebuchadnezzar, but their freedom was also part of that policy.

State TV said a delegation from the British Museum accompanied the artefact and another British expert would soon arrive to arrange its display.

The Cyrus cylinder is often called the world’s oldest human rights document, but it was common in Mesopotamia for kings to begin their rule with such reform declarations, according to the British Museum.

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