Iran threatens to keep artefact
September 17, 2010
LONDON: It was not an easy decision for the British Museum to lend one of its most treasured artefacts to a country with which Britain has a notoriously prickly relationship.
So curators in London are paying close attention to an Iranian threat not to return the famous Cyrus Cylinder – now embroiled in political intrigue in the Islamic republic.
The 6th century BC Babylonian object, sometimes described as the world’s first human rights charter, arrived in Iran at the weekend and is due to be displayed for four months at the national museum.
In a ceremony on Sunday the President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, draped a Palestinian-style keffiyeh scarf over the shoulders of a bowing actor dressed as the ancient Persian king Cyrus.
He also described Cyrus reverentially as ”king of the world” – a striking phrase in a country where pride in Iran’s pre-Islamic past, encouraged by the shah, has been downplayed since the 1979 revolution.
For Mr Ahmadinejad’s domestic enemies, this was another glaring example both of his self-promotion and a religious-nationalist agenda.
”Isn’t it correct that the Cyrus Cylinder belongs to Iran?” asked the conservative Keyhan newspaper. ”Isn’t it true that the British government stole this valuable and ancient object of ours? If the answer to these questions is positive, which it is, why should we return [it] … to the party which stole it?”
The correct answer, insists the British Museum, is the cylinder was not stolen but excavated in Babylon, Iraq, in 1879.
In recent times, relations strained to breaking point with the expulsion of British Council staff from Iran, the launch of the BBC Persian TV channel, and the violent aftermath of last summer’s disputed presidential election.
The cylinder is due back in London in January.
”There is no sense that this is anything other than a loan,” the museum said.
”This is part of our ongoing relationship with the national museum of Iran which both institutions value as a cultural dialogue independent of political difficulties.”
Critics point to the irony of the President’s celebration of the cylinder as ”a charter against injustice and oppression” as he oversees unprecedented human rights abuses.
Guardian News & Media