Friday, June 10, 2005

Denigration of History And the Mocking of the National Flag

I translated this article two years ago, and every time I read it I too become choked with tears. It was written by the great Iranian scholar Shojaedin Shafa during the St. Petersburg Jubilee in May 2003, which celebrated the city’s founding by Peter the Great. It was published in Asre Emrooz.



By Prof. Shojaedin Shafa

Among this week’s exciting international events, the celebrations in the Russian republic marking the 300th anniversary of the founding of St. Petersburg hold a special place. Forty heads of states, hundreds of renowned political and cultural figures from around the world, and countless reporters and journalists from the international press have come here for the ceremony. Although the event is very interesting in itself, it is of particular interest to me as an Iranian. As I see it, the hundreds of thousands who shall come to the city for the celebration in the future will have the opportunity during their stay to visit the world’s most beautiful museum, and to be dazzled by its treasures of pre and post Islamic Iranian art, the most extensive and the most illustrious of its kind. I’ve visited this city in the past (when it was called Leningrad), spending hours upon hours looking at the most extensive display of Sassanian ceramics or the world’s largest display of Persian handicrafts, succeeding, however, to see only but a fraction of the assortment. Perhaps the reader is herself aware of the museum’s possession of the one of a kind 2500-year-old Persian rug, the oldest rug in the world.

However, it is not the collection of Persian art in the Hermitage or St. Petersburg libraries’ huge holdings of Persian manuscripts that have inspired me to write today. I’m impelled to write by the recollection, brought forth by the present ceremonies, of an important and notable event in our own nation’s contemporary history; recollections which, although very bitter for our generation, can in retrospect bear a constructive message for Iran’s future generations.

Thirty years ago, our own nation witnessed a celebration of similar international dimensions, hosting even more heads of states, cultural and political figures, and representatives of the world press to honor an occasion designated as the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire by King Cyrus the Great. Just as the founding of a large city by Peter the Great is being celebrated today, that day the founding of a vast Empire by King Cyrus the Great was honored and celebrated. However, with the important difference that if king Peter was a reformer, he was at the same time so selfish and brutal as to send thousands, including his own son, to their death, whereas Cyrus the Great, a reformist Monarch, was also so enlightened and compassionate as to found his nation’s throne, that of the world’s oldest Monarchy, upon the world’s first ever declaration of the freedoms of thought and religion. In the Torah, Cyrus is referred to as a messenger from God and the liberator of the oppressed. And Hegel, founder of the philosophy of history, considers his reign as marking the commencement of the historical period in the true sense.

This fact is reflected in all other aspects of the comparison as well. If according to the contemptuous and raging words of George Ball (an American statesman during the Persian Centennial) the host of honors Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was nothing but a low-born Cossack who hosted the ceremony in order to convey himself as a descendant of Cyrus, then by the same calculation the host of honors in St. Petersburg today is an ex-Soviet KGB agent in need of conveying himself as a follower of the Romanoffs. Needless to say, American statesmen are making no such declarations today. If according to some, Iran’s economy at that time was in such dire states that it did not allow for such commemoration, the same can be said of the Russian economy today, for the present Russian annual income is hardly any higher than the annual income in Iran thirty years ago. However, American “experts” feel no need for such a warning today. If there was talk of human rights violations in Iran at that time, today we can also find much commentary on “Chechnya” in the international press, yet not a single commentary by human rights defenders in protest against celebrating the founding of St. Petersburg. Quite the contrary: In Russia or outside Russia, no newspaper, no radio station, no television channel, no human rights organization, no economist and no intellectual can be found who is raising his or her voice in protest.

Let us not forget that the denigration of the ceremony honoring Cyrus the Great and the Persian Empire was instigated by a number of Iranian groups themselves, acting in opposition to the reigning monarch at the time. But this unique occasion did not involve the Shah only. It involved the history of Iran. It involved the culture and civilization of Iran. It involved our national honor and prestige. It involved an old Nation that after 1400 years of defeat, occupation, mass slaughter, annexation and decline, once again rose---at a time when the majority of the people around the world knew very little of Her---to show the world Her historic identity and individuality. She demanded Her designated and rightful place among the greater family of Civilization, a place rightfully reserved in the Third Millennium for what Hegel called “the first nation that made history”; a place for a nation civilized and full of life, not a third world country with no honor and prestige.

Choked with tears and with a heavy heart I write: The celebration of 2500 years of a history and culture which from the beginning formed one of the pillars of civilization---bearing in mind Her role and responsibilities in the history of culture and civilization---was the most unique and home-born of its kind in the entire 20th century.

The denigration of such a dignified and prestigious ceremony by pointing fingers at this or that person in the most miserly and ignoble manner (for some negligible abuse in connection with the service provided for the guests or the purchase of tents for Persepolis) was like punishing an entire population for this or that man’s petty crime, particularly as the alleged abuse would be incomparable either with the wheeling and dealing (on the scale of hundreds of millions of dollars) behind the American Bicentennial celebrations (1976), or the multi-billion dollar grand larceny perpetuated by the Mafia of a republic which today celebrates the 300th anniversary of the founding of its former capital.

What I can conclude from these facts and pass on to the next generation of Iranians is this: Every flaw and imperfection in our country during the celebration honoring Cyrus and the founding of His Monarchy also exists in a country where the founding of St. Petersburg is being celebrated today, but even the most radical and extreme opponents of the Russian leader, whether inside or outside Russia, fully comprehend that where the history and prestige of Russia and her people are concerned, there is no place for the display of personal vendettas, because to denigrate a nation’s history, identity and culture is to thoughtlessly slander and mock her flag. That if this truth of history is snubbed, the result would be the coming to power of such entities as the Islamic Republic, whose head of radio and television networks---precisely the very instruments that should assert Cyrus’ national prestige---can make the claim, in a “very scientific speech”, that Iran before Islam had no history and no civilization, and that all she possesses today she owes to a culture and civilization delivered to her through Islam courtesy of sword-wielding Arab bandits.

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