October 29, 2010

Iran wants to emphasise that the Cyrus Cylinder belongs to their country, not the British Museum

Posted at 12:54 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Although it only has the Cyrus Cylinder on a short term loan, there are hopes in by some in Iran that it will be registered (by Iran) as an Iranian artefact, emphasising the fact that although it may not be kept in the country, it still belongs to them.

Tehran Times

September 21, 2010
Iranian society calls for national registration of Cyrus Cylinder
Tehran Times Culture Desk

The Iranian Society of Architecture Luminaries has proposed that Iran register the Cyrus Cylinder on the National Cultural Heritage List.

“We should seize this opportunity caused by the arrival of the Cyrus Cylinder in the country to register it on the list,” society director Alireza Qahhari told the Persian service of the Mehr News Agency on Monday.

“If we register the Cyrus Cylinder on the list now, we can make the arrangements to register the artifact on the UNESCO list,” he added.

“Although the Cyrus Cylinder is not kept in Iran, it belongs to the country and we should emphasize this fact by national and international registration of this artifact,” Qahhari stated.

The Cyrus Cylinder is currently on display at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran. The British Museum has loaned the artifact for a four-month show at the Iranian museum.

The cylinder was unveiled during a ceremony attended by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, British Museum director Neil MacGregor and several other British and Iranian officials on September 12.

“The Cyrus Cylinder is a precious item that sets a lofty criterion for judging the performance of rulers,” Ahmadinejad said in the ceremony.

Many Iranian officials have been outraged by the remarks he made in praise of the artifact and the personality of Cyrus the Great.

The cylinder was discovered in 1879 by the Assyro-British archaeologist Hormuz Rassam in the foundations of the Esagila, the main temple of Babylon. It was transferred to London and was kept at the British Museum.

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 artifact was last displayed in Iran 40 years ago.

The Hindu

September 17, 2010
U.K.-Iran — triumph of ‘soft’ power diplomacy
Hasan Suroor

It may better relations between the West and Iran, says a British commentator.

In a refreshing break with the daily dose of gloomy headlines about the current state of British-Iranian relations, there was, at last, something to cheer about last week as the “soft” power of art and culture trumped hard-nosed diplomacy.

In what the Financial Times called a “rare act of diplomatic accord between the U.K. and Iran”, the British Museum moved to end a long-simmering row with Tehran over one of its most prized possessions of Persian provenance — the Cyrus Cylinder, a terracotta document written by the Persian king, Cyrus the Great 2,500 years ago and often described as the “first charter of human rights”.

Last year, Iran asked to borrow it for an important exhibition and was miffed when the British Museum, after initially agreeing to it, put off the loan at the last minute citing academic reasons following the discovery of two related new objects. There was fury in Iran. The Iranian Government alleged that the decision was politically motivated and its Cultural Heritage Organisation reacted by snapping ties with the British Museum.

However, after some deft diplomatic footwork on both sides the dispute has been happily settled and the Cylinder is now in Tehran — and on show as the centrepiece of a four-month-long exhibition at the National Museum of Iran on great moments in the history of West Asia. The two museums have a history of cooperation and the row over the Cylinder appears to have embarrassed both.

The British Museum sought to smooth ruffled feathers in Tehran by showering praise on its Iranian counterpart for its “generous loans” in the past. It said the exchanges between the two institutions were independent of “political considerations”.

“The British Museum has a positive and ongoing exchange of skills and objects with colleagues at the National Museum of Iran which has played a key part in recent exhibitions. The Trustees have reaffirmed their view that exchanges of this sort are an essential part of the Museum’s international role, allowing valuable dialogues to develop independently of political considerations,” said its chairman Niall FitzGerald.

Neil MacGregor, director of the Museum, said the loan had an “extraordinary value”.

“This is a document that speaks of respect for the rights of other peoples and of different ways of worshipping. It is very hard to look at the Cyrus Cylinder without being reminded of that view of government and human relationships,” he said.

Links histories

Describing the Cylinder as “a history of the Middle East in one object”, Mr MacGregor said: “At this moment, the loan has an extraordinary value. This is an object that links the histories of Iran, Iraq and Israel. Cyrus was a major figure in the Jewish and Christian traditions.”

To critics who objected to the loan questioning Iran’s human rights records, his response was: “An object that speaks of dialogues between nations and religions is more appropriately lent now that at any point in the last generation. The trustees take the view that it is always important that cultural relations and the dialogue of scholars continue, irrespective of any political difficulties.”

Baroness Helena Kennedy, an independent human rights lawyer and a trustee of the Museum, said the loan was an “act of faith”.

“To present this particular temporary gift to the people of Iran at this particular time is an act of faith which will have profound meaning and value,” she pointed out.

Karen Armstrong, one of Britain’s most respected commentators on religious affairs who is also trustee of the museum, called for efforts to develop a culture where “peoples of differing ideologies can live together in respect and harmony”.

“At a time of political tension, it is essential to keep as many doors of communication open as possible. We all have much work to do to build a peaceful world. This cultural exchange may make a small but timely contribution towards the creation of better relations between the West and Iran,” she said.

A symbol of tolerance

The Cylinder, written in Babylonian cuneiform by a Babylonian scribe, was found during a British Museum excavation at Babylon in Iraq in 1879, and has been in the British Museum since then. The document has come to be regarded as a symbol of tolerance and respect for other peoples and faiths and, critics say, it has special resonance for our troubled times.

The Museum sums up its historical significance thus: “It (the Cylinder) records that … 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.”

This is not the first time that the Cylinder has caused tension between the two countries. There was anger in Iran when a request for a loan by the Shah in 1971 was turned down by the British Foreign Office. Peace was restored when the British Museum, ignoring Whitehall’s advice, obliged the Shah. The Cylinder became the star attraction at an exhibition held in Iran in October 1971 to commemorate 2,500 years of the Persian monarchy.

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