Bas-relief of Cyrus in Sydney's Bicentennial Park. Courtesy of "Cyrus the Great" Website
By Kourosh Parsi
January 1994. I received a phone call from my ever-enthusiastic friend, Homer Abramian. He told me he was convinced that the Ethnic Affairs Commission (EAC) of New South Wales would approve a hefty grant of $50,000 for a Persian festival. He said he had been corresponding with the Chairman and he was given a personal guarantee about the grant. He also added that one of the very rich Sydney-based Iranian merchants had accepted to cover the other $50,000 to $60,000. He said that it was time to organize an ideal Persian festival".
Well, this is the way it started. For the sake of brevity, we will have to ignore the minor insignificant details which followed. For instance the detail that the EAC gave us $15,000 instead of $50,000 and the merchant gave us $6,000 instead of $60,000! In the meantime, the budget for the festival reached $200,000! We will also ignore the insignificant detail that a good number of the Iranian population of Sydney turned against us when they found out our plans for the biggest Persian festival ever held overseas.
It was pretty ambitious all right. The program spanned over ten days with a magnificent opening ceremony in the majestic Curzon Hall, a grand performance of Persian music and dance in the Sydney Opera House. Seven intensive days of seminars regarding Persian culture, arts, literature, history, archaeology, religion and other issues with participation of more than 20 scholars from all around the world, a special festival for children, dance performances in the middle of the city of Sydney, a special Persian traditional music concert by the Dastan group who were brought to Sydney direct from Iran...
This was not exactly what we had planned back in December 1993. This was what actually happened. We wanted a much more harmonious festival. The reality was much harsher.
Back in December, Homer, still agitated by Shamloo's account of Ferdowsi and Zahak suggested we erect a statue of Ferdowsi in Sydney. He was quite convinced he would get approval. Despite my utmost respect for Ferdowsi, I knew that no Western government would approve of a statue of a turbaned man to be erected on its land. The connotations and the physical resemblance to the usual attire of the ruling clergies of Iran would not pass by unnoticeable. I had a better idea.
This was not because he had the same name. It was not even because I had always liked him and had made him my role model. It was simply a pragmatic and possibly achievable task. I believed we should erect the bas-relief of Cyrus the Great instead of Ferdowsi!
Why ? Well, firstly, he was an accepted international figure associated with peace and freedom. Secondly, he is considered a messiah in the Bible and referred to as "Zol-Qarnain" in the Qoran, so no religion will be offended by his statue. Thirdly, he was the first inventor of the policy known today as multiculturalism, also in vogue in 1994 Australia. Lastly, he was the first Emperor of Iran, the person who created Iran from segregated provinces of Parsa, Mede, and Partha. A person who created Iran not by sword but by forgiveness, on the pillars of respect and human equality, with a vision far ahead of his time.
Homer and others accepted my reasoning. We informed Lewis Batros, the Sydney-based Assyrian artist of our plans and I provided him with some drawings.Since I was in charge of ten million other things, some members of the organizing committee said they would look after everything.
September 1994. We have less than two months left and nothing has been done about the statue, yet. They want me to take over the project (although I'm still continuing with the ten million other things and also working night shifts in the hospital emergency room).
Panic button is pressed: Urgent meeting with Ms. Mary Demech, head of Community Relations, Australia Council for the Arts. Luck, grant approved for $5,000. We still have $9000 to go. Urgent phone call to the United States to Ms. Mehravar Marzbani: HELP! Sold: money will come, find a place to put the statue!
Where should we put it? Homer and Fariborz Rahnamoon had a meeting where they met the chairman of the Bicentennial Park. Micahel Photios, the minister for Multicultural Affairs, who was our patron was also there.
Fariborz was quick to ask the minister to talk to the chairman of the park. Can a park authority reject a minister's wish ? In Australia, yes.
One early morning after having finished another night shift I felt like going for a drive in the park. The park was very close to my hospital. Deep inside I did not believe that this whole statue business would become reality. When I was driving around, however, certain things looked familiar. The Persian-style water fountains, the top of the metallic structure in the park which actually resembled the tomb of Cyrus in Pasargade. So, there was hope after all!
I quickly rang Fereshteh Sadeghi, who is a graphic artist. She came down to the Park with me and understood what I meant. The rest was history. Fereshteh and I worked on the design of the back of the statue while Lewis was working on the front. Out of more than ten designs, we agreed upon one of them which depicts people of different nationalities in peace and harmony symbolizing the concept of human rights and multiculturalism. The outline of Australia embraces the atlas of the world while the whole concept is immersed in the first known declaration of human rights by Cyrus. It looked fabulous.
I prepared a proposal for the park including all the designs. It was promptly rejected. But they had not seen the last of me. I will not bother you with details but it took quite a bit of flexing of political muscle to finally get them to accept our proposal. Even despite that, they wanted to put the statue somewhere right out of sight! The wrestling continued. An Iranian architect and Mr. Hashem Kamal continued the negotiation with the park and took up the job of constructing the base.
30 October 1994. This is the day of unveiling of the bas-relief. The statue is still at Lewis' home! Last dollars are paid, courtesy of International College, Spain, and the statue is carried to the site by a crane. There is only one hour left before the guests of honor arrive and the statue -- about four meters high, is just being erected. It is made of a light material and needs to be enforced with cement. Lewis says there is no time for cement and we just have to make sure it does not fall!
The honorable guests arrived. Like Mr. Bastani-Parizi, Mr. Abolghasem Parto, Dr. Eslami-Nodushan, the late Dr. Kurosh Aryamanesh (who was so happy that day) and so many other scholars, members of parliament and media.
The wind was strong and I was truly worried that the relief might fall and Cyrus's statue might kill one of the scholars. Wouldn't that make news? A great scholar killed in the unveiling of the statue of Cyrus! Great! If there is a battle between Ahriman and Ahura, and if Cyrus was truly an instrument for Ahura, this is the best opportunity for Ahriman to impart a crucial blow to the forces of Ahura by making the statue fall.
While these paranoid thoughts were going through my mind, a strong wind blew and the statue moved slightly, or at least I thought so. That was it. I could not take any chances. Suddenly the sprinkler system started and some members of audience got wet! At the same time the microphone was disconnected and Ms. Denesh's speech was interrupted.
Yes. I was right. The Ahriman has started attacking and seconds the statue will fall, marking a drastic end to a long fought battle. I had to do something. I moved the statue. Hashem was standing there.
-Hashem Jaan! -Yes. -Get up there. -What? -Get up the base and hold the statue from behind. It's going to fall! -What?! -I said it is going to fall. -No! It's not going to fall -YES! It is going to fall and YOU WILL BE RESPONSIBLE.Get up there NOW!
Poor Hashem must have sensed my serious concern. He did get up. I felt better and relaxed. The rest of the ceremony went smoothly. The whole place was so beautiful. The statue was surrounded with more than 30 flags of Iran from ancient times till the recent. To the left of the statue was the ever magnificent Derafsh Of Kaveh, a symbol of freedom.
Beautiful day, beautiful people. Some of those people are not with us anymore but their memories will remain with us forever. It is the memories which count, which make a difference. Like Cyrus, gone long time ago, his memories still alive, still making a difference. That night we got a security person to sleep near the statue (to prevent a possible act of sabotage by forces of Ahriman).
The base of the statue was made of bricks and fairly ugly. About a year after the festival, The Iranian Cultural Organization (a different group from the one which organized the festival) constructed a beautiful base for the beloved bas-relief.
Yes. This statue is not just the statue of Cyrus. It is a symbol of achievement. It is a symbol of mutual effort, of Iranians working together and achieving together. It is a symbol of Iranians making their mark on a new land, and it has made us feel at home down under.
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