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Will the Cyrus Cylinder return to Britain once the four month loan to Iran ends?

The British Museum after months of prevaricating proceeded with the plans to loan the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran [1] – but already, the hard line newspaper Kayhan is calling for it not to be returned at the end of its loan.

Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies [2]

Hard-line daily Kayhan called for not returning Cyrus Cylinder to Britain
Tuesday, 14 September 2010 14:56
By Golnaz Esfandiari*

LONDON, (CAIS) — Islamic Republic President, Mahmud Ahmadinejad on Sunday attended the unveiling in Tehran of the Cyrus Cylinder, which is on loan from the British Museum. The cylinder dates from the 6th Century BCE and is believed by many to be the first charter of human rights. It will be on public display for four months.

The unveiling took place at a ceremony at Iran’s National Museum that was turned into a platform for Ahmadinejad and his controversial chief of staff Esfandiari Rahim Mashaei to promote their brand of religious nationalism. (Read here for more about the recent attempt by Ahmadinejad to promote new religious nationalism and hard-liners’ reaction to it.)

The ceremony — during which Cyrus the Great, the founder of the first Persian Empire, was described by Ahmadinejad as the King of the World and Mashaei suggested that the ideas and status of the ancient Iranian king were like those of the prophets — was highly unusual in the Islamic republic, where in the past 30 years there’s been a decided lack of interest in the country’s pre-Islamic past.

At Sunday’s ceremony, which was reportedly attended by a number of the Islamic Republic officials and foreign dignitaries, there was an obvious attempt to connect Iran’s ancient past with some of its current history. Ahmadinejad was apparently trying to appeal to a new constituency among nonpolitical types and tap into discontent with the clerical establishment, while at the same time trying to keep his hard-line supporters happy.

During the event, the Islamic Republic president put a keffiyeh, which is part of the uniform of the pro-government Basij militia, around the neck of a man dressed as Cyrus the Great. In a dispatch titled “Cyrus The Great Becomes A Basij Member,” the hard-line Fars news agency wrote that when Ahmadinejad decorated “Cyrus the Great” with the black-and-white keffiyeh, all the foreign ambassadors and other guests present at the ceremony stood up.

Two men, one dressed as an Achaemenid soldier and the other as a member of the Basij, were also honored by Ahmadinejad with keffiyehs, described by official news agencies as “the symbol of the resistance and honor of the Iranian people.”

The move was criticized by many Iranians, who said it was ‘insulting,” “humiliating,” and “painful” to watch.

Blogger Enteghad (Criticism) questioned the move. “Why is Cyrus the Great, the symbol of Iran, being decorated with the symbol of another country — Palestine?” asked the blogger.

Another blogger, Andishe, was also angered by the “insulting and unwise” move, saying, “How can one mix two very different symbols that go against each other? Keffiyeh is the symbol of bloodshed, war, and terrorism in Palestine and Lebanon. Keffiyeh is the symbol of the Arabs and Palestinians. Look at what Cyrus the Great and the Iranian civilization have to say and look at what Ahmadinejad and Velayat Faghih (the rule of the Supreme Jurist) have to say.”

Others were outraged that Ahmadinejad, internationally criticized for human rights abuses in Iran, praised the cylinder as the embodiment of human values.

“The Cyrus Cylinder represents respect for human beings’ greatness and basic rights,” he said. The cylinder, he said, emphasizes that everyone is entitled to freedom of thought and choice and also underscores the necessity to fight oppression.

The opposition Jaras website reacted by calling the cylinder “a stranger in its own home” and writing that Cyrus the Great has the right to be shocked to hear Ahmadinejad saying that “Cyrus said that every nation is free to accept me as their leader or not.” The opposition accuses Ahmadinejad of massive fraud in last year’s presidential vote.

The Cyrus Cylinder is on loan to Iran by the British Museum in London after a dispute in which Iran threatened to cut ties with the institution. The cylinder was last in Iran in October 1971.

Iran’s hard-line daily “Kayhan” suggested over the weekend that Iran should keep the cylinder and not return it to the “thieves.”

“There is an important question: Doesn’t the cylinder belong to Iran? And hasn’t the British government stolen precious ancient artifacts from our country? If the answers to these questions are positive, then why should we return this stolen historical and valuable work to the thieves?!”

Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies [3]

The British Museum justifies the loaning of the Cyrus the Great Cylinder to the Islamic Republic
Saturday, 11 September 2010 05:33

LONDON, (CAIS) — The following is the British Museum’s response statement sent to CAIS (10th September 2010 at 19:22), titled: ‘The British Museum lends the Cyrus Cylinder to the National Museum of Iran’.

The British Museum is lending the Cyrus Cylinder to the National Museum of Iran for an exhibition that will open for four months in Tehran on 12th September. Together with two fragments of contemporary Cuneiform tablets, it will be the centrepiece of an exhibition that celebrates a great moment in the history of the Middle East. The loan reciprocates the generous loans made by the National Museum of Iran to the Forgotten Empire and Shah Abbas exhibitions in 2005 and 2009 at the British Museum.

The Cylinder was found during a British Museum excavation at Babylon in Iraq in 1879, and has been in the British Museum since that time. It was originally inscribed and buried in the foundations of a wall after Cyrus the Great, the Persian Emperor, captured Babylon in 539 BC. The Cylinder is written in Babylonian cuneiform by a Babylonian scribe. 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. These are the qualities for which Cyrus is revered in the Hebrew Bible. The two fragments of tablet were also found in 19th century British Museum excavations in or near Babylon. These fragments were identified by experts at the Museum earlier this year as being inscribed with parts of the same text as the Cylinder but do not belong to it. They show that the text of the Cylinder was probably a proclamation that was widely distributed across the Persian Empire. As Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum has said, “You could almost say that the Cyrus Cylinder is A History of the Middle East in one object and it is a link to a past which we all share and to a key moment in history that has shaped the world around us. Objects are uniquely able to speak across time and space and this object must be shared as widely as possible.”

In recognition of the fact that the Cyrus Cylinder is truly a part of the world’s cultural heritage, the Trustees of the British Museum are eager that as many people as possible should have an opportunity to see it, particularly in Iran where Cyrus the Great is held in special reverence. Although political relations between Iran and the UK are at the moment difficult, the Trustees take the view that it is all the more important to maintain the cultural links which have been so carefully built up over a period of years and which could in themselves lead to a better relationship based on dialogue, tolerance and understanding. Colleagues in Iran’s museums are part of a world-wide scholarly community in which the British Museum plays a leading role.

Niall FitzGerald, Chairman of the British Museum said “The British Museum has a long standing policy of lending its unparalleled collection as widely as possible across the world to benefit the greatest number of world publics. This cultural exchange is a vital part of the Museum’s commitment to being a Museum for the world. 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.”

Baroness Helen Kennedy QC, human rights lawyer and Trustee of the British Museum said, “The Cyrus Cylinder is an ancient artefact of great symbolism and it is absolutely right that the British Museum fulfils its promise to loan it to the Museum in Tehran. This is part of the reciprocity from which we in Britain have also benefited. Art and culture can sustain relationships between the people of nations even when diplomacy is strained. 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.”

“One of the chief tasks of our generation is to build a global community, where peoples of differing ideologies can live together in respect and harmony,” said Karen Armstrong, author and commentator on religious affairs and a British Museum Trustee. “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.”

Artinfo [4]

British Museum Loosens Grip on Cyrus Cylinder
Published: September 14, 2010

LONDON— After several wavering pauses, the British Museum has finally committed to lending the Cyrus Cylinder — the very artifact that British Museum director Neil MacGregor has described to Bloomberg as “the history of the Middle East in one object” — to the National Museum of Iran. The cylinder is central to a Tehran exhibition that, having already opened on September 12, will be on display for another four months.

Dating back to the 6th century BC reign of Cyrus the Great, the cylinder has been housed in the British Museum since its discovery in 1872. This is the first time the artifact has been physically removed from Britain, though the seed for the loan was originally planted back in 2006, when the Museum of Iran presented the exhibition “Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia.” Yet due to the widespread protests then occurring throughout Tehran, the British Museum refrained from enacting the loan at that time, waiting, instead, for the political situation to settle.

Further complicating the object’s rightful locale is the ambiguity regarding its true historical impact. Since the cylinder was first discovered, amid the ruins of Babylon, scholars have disagreed about the meaning of the object’s inscriptions. While some historians believe that the cylinder exemplifies the world’s first charter of human rights, others maintain that the inscriptions are merely an instance of political propaganda.

Nuanced and unsettled implications aside, MacGregor has noted that all objects have the unique capacity “to speak across time and space.” He has recently admitted, too, that the cylinder “must be shared as widely as possible.”