In a ceremony on Sunday President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad draped a Palestinian-style keffiyeh scarf worn by Basij militiamen over the shoulders of a bowing actor dressed as 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 Ahmadinejad’s domestic enemies, this was another glaring example both of his self-promotion and a religious-nationalist agenda that arouses their deepest suspicions.
“Isn’t it correct that the Cyrus Cylinder belongs to Iran?” asked the Keyhan newspaper, mouthpiece of hardline conservatives. “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 that the cylinder was not stolen but excavated in Babylon, Iraq in 1879. Its loan was a triumph of cultural diplomacy for Neil MacGregor, the museum’s director, after relations between London and Tehran were strained to breaking point with the expulsion of British Council staff from Iran, the launch of the BBC Persian TV channel, and the violent and repressive aftermath of last summer’s disputed presidential election.
The loan reciprocates those made by Iran’s national museum to the successful Forgotten Empire and Shah Abbas exhi… >>>