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Iran v British Museum

The British Museum made a deal with Iran in 2005 – that Iran would lend artefacts to the British Museum in for an exhibition on ancient Persia, in exchange for a later reciprocal loan of the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran. The loan from Iran went ahead as planned – but once it came to the loan to Iran the British Museum has dragged their heels [1] at every step of the way.

Press TV [2]

Iran vs. British Museum: Who will be the Loser?
Fri, 26 Mar 2010 18:59:56 GMT
By Kourosh Ziabari

In early February 2010, the longstanding conflict between Iran and Britain, over a temporary exhibition of an ancient Persian artifact in Tehran, reached a conclusion that Iran had warned against: the severing of cultural ties with British Museum over the loan of the Cyrus Cylinder.

Cyrus Cylinder is a declaration of kingship, inscribed on the surface of a clay cylinder upon the decree of glorious Persian king, Cyrus the Great, who issued the manuscript following his conquest of Babylonia in 539 BC.

Cyrus Cylinder is a cuneiform tablet which was unearthed in the foundations of Esagila some 2500 years ago. Up on discovery, it was immediately transferred to the British Museum for preservation. The tablet contains scripts and statements which expressively sanctify the Babylonian god Marduk, denounce and condemn the overthrown king of Babylon, Nabonidus, and admire the righteousness and rectitude of the victorious ruler, Cyrus the Great.

The script of Cyrus Cylinder mainly talks about the importance of peaceful coexistence, equality between the human beings, religious freedom and the right of dispossessed people to return to their homelands. It also describes the endeavors of Cyrus the Great who took major steps and made significant efforts to act over the dominated people of Babylonia magnanimously. Therefore, Cyrus Cylinder is oftentimes described as the world’s first charter of human rights.

After the British Museum held the exhibition of “Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia” in 2005, Iranian and Briton officials agreed to have the Cyrus Cylinder sent temporarily to Iran to be exhibited at The National Museum of Iran as one of the main displayed objects. In return, Iran agreed to assist the British Museum to hold an exhibition for the commemoration of Persian king, Shah Abbas, by lending the Museum a number of antique objects and documents on the historical background of Safavid dynasty in which Shah Abbas was one of its most powerful emperors.

Since then, several rounds of negotiations took place between the two sides to review the terms and conditions of the loan. Following a set of failed negotiations in which the British Museum repeatedly refused to adhere to its commitment to dispatch the Cylinder to Tehran, on 6 February, 2010, Iran’s Cultural Heritage Organization announced that it would sever all its cultural ties with British cultural institute.

For clarification, Hamid Baqaie, Iran’s Vice-President and the head of Cultural Heritage Organization told reporters in a press conference that the behavior of the British Museum was “politically motivated” and that his respective organization would lodge a complaint against the Museum to UNESCO. He also went on to say that Iran’s Cultural Heritage Organization would contact museums around the world to inform them about the unfair performance of the British Museum regarding its cultural commitments.

It was explained that problems arose when contrary to the museum’s original commitment that the Cylinder would be sent to Iran on June 2009 for a 3-month display; the museum had cited political unrest in Iran following the June 2009 presidential elections and argued that Iran would not be a safe place to host the Persian artifact. This clearly was a decision based on political motives and an unusual move which some lawyers believe has violated the civil law principle of “pacta sunt servanda” in breach of an internationally recognized agreement which unjustifiably, indicated the political alignments of the British Museum as well as its lack of professional independence as a cultural organization.

Subsequently, in spite of all this, Iran agreed that the exhibition would be rescheduled and the Cylinder would be put on display as of 16 January, 2010, for a period of four months. However, the British Museum neglected the pledge for the second time, referring to unspecified “practicalities” for delaying the fulfillment of its bilateral agreement with Iran.

This time, the British Museum published a surprising press release on January 20, giving information about two newly discovered cuneiform tablets which they claimed as having the same text as the Cyrus Cylinder. They named the finding of the new tablets an “important discovery” despite the fact that the two objects have been stored in the Museum since 1881 and only “their significance has not previously been recognized”, according to Museum officials.

Few weeks later, Iran naturally made the decision for the unconditional termination of cultural ties with the British Museum as it had warned previously.

British Museum’s substandard conduct and unjustified violation of agreement with Iran which Mr. Baqaie accurately branded as politically motivated had the unpleasant feeling of UK’s dramatic intervention in Iran’s internal affairs. This once again highlighted the falsehood of the slogans about professionalism, impartiality, independence and fairness by the Western “liberal society”.

It seems, as a formerly prestigious and distinguished organization, the British Museum has bargained its prominence and reputation over a political plot. and demonstrated a distasteful instance of mixing political and cultural affairs revealing an offensive and dishonest work ethic.

As a subordinate of the UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport, British Museum submissively paid homage to the calls of its respective government for joining the propagandistic stream of anti-Iranian hullabaloo which has encompassed the whole Europe extensively, disrupting the easy flow of cultural ties between the two countries and bringing harm to its reputation in the process.

Although the British officials have so far failed to provide any clear and compelling explanation as to the reasons for the repeated postponement of the loan, it can evidently be perceived that they’re well aware of the impressive and extraordinary impact the exhibition of such a priceless artifact might have on the people of Iran. They know that Cyrus Cylinder is a symbol of Iranian pride and that it will rejuvenate Persian respect as it characterizes the deep roots of Iran’s glorious civilization in the distant past. They also know that the empowerment and veneration of Iranian nation which eyes the revival of its outstanding history by dominating the reigns of science, culture, technology, politics and arts would jeopardize their hegemony.

Influenced by the growing lobby of Iranophobes in the US and Europe, the British Museum has joined a political game in which no authority, government or official will lose; rather, it is the nationals, cultural devotees and intellectuals and those who are admirers of world heritage and supporters of peace and friendship all over the world who will be the eventual losers. British Museum has deprived millions of enthusiastic Iranians from the magnificence and glory of a lost piece of their admirable civilization and ancestral heritage. Moreover, British Museum has thrown away its professional reputation and scientific recognition in an instance by simply becoming the pawn in a political mission given to them by the UK government.