‘Forty years of waiting is over,’ announced a headline in the daily Tehran Emruz this week. The story under the headline, however, was not about the return of ‘The Hidden Imam’ or anyone associated with him. It was about Cyrus the Great, the Achaemenid King of Kings who founded the Persian Empire 2569 years ago.
Well, it was not Cyrus himself who was returning home to jubilant headlines. The story was about a clay cylinder which is one of the prize possessions of the British Museum in London. The cylinder was discovered by a British archaeological mission in the 19th century, but its historic importance was not established until the 1960s.
The cylinder is covered with inscriptions in Old Persian in cuneiform that sound like a royal decree. The inscriptions were decoded and translated some 50 years ago but the cylinder’s connection to Cyrus was not established until 1970. Experts now concur that the inscriptions amount to the first declaration of human rights inasmuch as they uphold freedom of religion and the equality of human beings.
In 1970, the Shah, then about to celebrate the 25th centenary of Cyrus’ Empire, tried to persuade the British to send the cylinder to Iran for public exhibition. The British refused.
Thus began ‘ The Forty Years of Waiting’ the Iranian media are referring to.