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Iran threatens to cut cultural ties with UK over Cyrus Cylinder row

Following the latest delays to the loan of the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran [1], the country’s government is now threatening to break cultural connections with the UK in the hope that this will speed up resolution of the problem. The first step in this exercise is the cancellation of a British play that was due to be performed at a festival in Iran.

Tehran Times [2]

January 16, 2010
Iran threatens to cut cultural ties with Britain over Cyrus Cylinder loan
Tehran Times Culture Desk

TEHRAN — Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization (CHTHO) director, who is also a vice president, said on Thursday that Iran would cut cultural ties with Britain if they cannot come to an agreement with the British Museum concerning the Cyrus Cylinder loan.

“We are currently talking to them about the issue and if the discussions produce the outcome that Britain doesn’t want to fulfill the previous agreement, undoubtedly, we will cut cultural ties with Britain due to our previous ultimatum,” Hamid Baqaii told the Persian service of IRNA.

Iran has been waiting to receive the Cyrus Cylinder on loan from the British Museum since 2005 after the National Museum of Iran loaned the British Museum a number of artifacts for the “Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia” show in London.

The cylinder was to put on display in an exhibition at the National Museum of Iran on January 16, but officials at the British Museum said last week that would be a delay in sending the artifact.

They said that the decision to postpone sending the artifact to Iran was made due to a recent discovery of two cuneiform tablets in BM’s collection of Babylonian art, which contain passages with remarkable similarities to those found on the cylinder.

But Iranian government sees political reasons for the delay as it occurs in the wake of turmoil following Iran’s disputed presidential election.

“If we catch the Britain killing time in sending the Cyrus Cylinder, we will inform the world that Britain is forcing cultural issues into the political arena,” Baqaii noted.

“At present, the cultural and academic centers of Britain and CHTHO are collaborating, but on this matter, they need to cooperate with us,” he said.

Considered the world’s first declaration of human rights, the Cyrus Cylinder is a document issued by the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great in the form of a clay cylinder inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform script.

The cylinder was created following the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, when Cyrus overthrew the Babylonian king Nabonidus and replaced him as ruler, ending the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

The text of the cylinder denounces Nabonidus as impious and portrays the victorious Cyrus as pleasing to the chief Babylonian god Marduk.

It goes on to describe how Cyrus had improved the lives of the citizens of Babylonia, repatriated displaced peoples and restored temples and cult sanctuaries.

The cylinder was discovered in 1879 by the Assyro-British archaeologist Hormuz Rassam in the foundations of the Esagila, the main temple of Babylon. Today, it is kept in the British Museum in London.

Tehran Times [3]

Iran cancels performances of British troupe at Fajr festival
Tehran Times Art Desk

TEHRAN — Iran has cancelled the performances of a British play on Friday.

“Grand Inquisitor” was to be staged by veteran British stage director Peter Brook at the 28th Fajr International Theater Festival, which will take place in Tehran from January 22 to 31.

“Inviting Peter Brook to stage ‘Grand Inquisitor’ produced extremely divergent reactions. Some have declared they won’t tolerate performances of his troupe in Iran,” the Public Relations of the festival announced in a press release.

Last week, the Iranian Majlis asked its National Security and Foreign Policy Committee to consider a proposal to reduce the level of relations with Britain.

The Iranian government has accused Britain of involvement in Iran’s post-election unrest.

In addition, Vice President Hamdi Baqaii, who is also the director of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization, threatened to cut cultural ties with Britain if the British Museum does not fulfill its obligation to loan the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran for an exhibit.