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Comfy UN History

UN Treasure Honors Persian Despot

By Matthias Schulz
A 2,500-year-old cuneiform document ceremoniously displayed in a glass case at the United Nations in New York is revered as an "ancient declaration of human rights." But in fact, argue researchers, the document was the work of a despot who had his enemies tortured.

Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi was planning a record-breaking gala. First he proclaimed the "White Revolution," a land reform program, and then declared himself the "Light of the Aryans." Finally, in October of 1971, he had taken it upon himself to celebrate "2,500 years of the Iranian monarchy." The organizers of the celebration had promised to deliver "the greatest show on earth." The Shah had 50 opulent tents set up amid the ruins of Persepolis. Invited dignitaries included 69 heads of state and crowned monarchs. The guests consumed 20,000 liters of wine, ate quail eggs with pheasant and gilded caviar. Magnum bottles of Château Lafite circled the tables.

At the high point of the festival, the Shah walked to the grave of Cyrus II who, in the 6th century B.C., had conquered more than 5 million square kilometers (1.9 million square miles) of land in a long and bloody war.

Critics at the time complained that $100 million (€63 million) was a lot of money to spend celebrating the ancient Persian king. "Should I serve heads of state bread and radishes instead?" was the Shah's brusque rejoinder.
Religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini, still in exile at the time, was also quick to issue his scathing criticism: "The crimes committed by Iranian kings have blackened the pages of history books."

But the Shah knew better. Cyrus, he announced, was a very special man: noble and filled with love and kindness. The Shah insisted that Cyrus was the first to establish a right to "freedom of opinion."^

'Ancient Declaration of Human Rights'

Pahlevi also ensured that his view of history would be taken to the United Nations. On Oct. 14, just as the party in Persepolis was in full swing, his twin sister walked into the United Nations building in New York, where she handed a copy of a cuneiform document, about the size of a rolling pin, to then Secretary General Sithu U Thant. Thant thanked her for the "historic gift" and promptly praised it as an "ancient declaration of human rights."

Suddenly even the UN secretary-general was insisting that Cyrus "wanted peace," and that the Persian king had "shown the wisdom to respect other civilizations."

Then Thant had the clay cylinder (which contains a supposedly particularly humane decree by Cyrus II dated 539 B.C.) displayed in a glass case in the main UN building. And there it continues to lie today, directly adjacent to a copy of the world's oldest peace treaty.

Those were grand gestures and grand words, but in the end it was nothing but a hoax that the UN had fallen for. Contrary to the Shah's claims, the cuneiform degree was "propaganda," explains Josef Wiesehöfer, a scholar of ancient history at the University of Kiel in the northern Germany. "The notion that Cyrus introduced concepts of human rights is nonsense."

Hanspeter Schaudig, an Assyriologist at the University of Heidelberg in the southwestern Germany, says that he too would be hard-pressed to see the ancient king as a pioneer when it comes to equality and human dignity. Indeed, Cyrus demanded that his subjects kiss his feet.

The ruler was responsible for a 30-year war that consumed the Orient and forced millions to pay heavy taxes. Anyone who refused stood to have his nose and ears cut off. Those sentenced to death were buried up to their heads in sand, left to be finished off by the sun. Did the UN simply believe this historical lie -- concocted by the Shah -- without any further examination?

'The UN Made a Serious Mistake'

Art historian Klaus Gallas, who is preparing a German-Iranian cultural festival to take place in Weimar next summer, has now brought the matter to the public's attention. During his preparations for the festival he discovered the inconsistencies between the Shah's claims and the Cyrus decree. "The UN made a serious mistake," says Gallas.

Despite having been contacted by SPIEGEL several times, the organization has declined to comment on the incident. Indeed, the UN Information Service in Vienna continues to insist that many still consider the cuneiform cylinder from the Orient to be the "first human rights document." The aftermath of the hoax has been disastrous. Even German schoolbooks describe the ancient Persian king as a pioneer of humane policies. According to a forged translation on the Internet, Cyrus even supported a minimum wage and right to asylum.

"Slavery must be abolished throughout the world," the fake translation reads. "Every country shall decide for itself whether or not it wants my leadership."

more at: Falling for Ancient Propaganda: UN Treasure Honors Persian Despot - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

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