Many ordinary Iranians will mark the Day of Cyrus the Great on October 29, which can turn into a politicized event the Islamic government might try to prevent.
While authorities have been making every effort during the past years to keep the Day of Cyrus the Great a low-key event and to dissuade Iranians from visiting his tomb at Pasargadae, blunders by President Ebrahim Raisi and one of his ministers alerted everyone in Iran that Cyrus Day (October 29) is approaching.
Last week, during a visit to Fars Province in southern Iran, where the 6th century BC Achaemenid monuments Persepolis and the Tomb of Cyrus the Great (circa 600-530 BC) the celebrated Achaemenid king is located, Raisi denounced the Achaemenids as "oppressors" while the ancient dynasty, particularly Cyrus the Great are internationally known as champions of human rights and toleration for religious and ethnic diversity.
Culture and Tourism Minister Ezatollah Zarghami made a bigger and more controversial blunder during his visit to Pasargadae last week. In the countryside, where digging too many wells as well as mismanagement of other water resources, have created massive sinkholes across the Iranian plateau, Zarghami suggested that the government should allow more wells around the historic site.
The Cylinder of Cyrus that proclaims the protection of rights
Critics in the press and on social media pointed out that even without new wells, the tomb of Cyrus may disappear in a deep sinkhole any day. Others charged on social media that Zarghami has forgotten that his role is protecting cultural heritage rather than boosting agricultural products.
A commentary on the Asr Iran news website reminded Zarghami that what he suggested was like "planting carrots on a gold mine." Zarghami soon retracted his comment when attacks escalated on social media, but the damage was done.
Social media users such as cultural activist Mohammad Bagher Tabatabai warned Zarghami that "The tomb of Cyrus the Great has a place in the heart of every Iranian. You can never destroy it."
During the past years, particularly after the 1979 Islamic revolution and despite Iranian officials' violent crackdown on pro-monarchy demonstrations, thousands of Iranians visited Pasargadae to pay tribute to the great ancient king. The celebration became a political event in October 2016 when thousands of visitors to the tomb began chanting slogans against the Islamic Republic.
The following year and every year since, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) deployed forces to the region and blocked all roads to Pasargadae to prevent the celebrations. But still, thousands of young men and women somehow managed to gather around the monument and sing patriotic hymns.
The commentary in Asr Iran website noted that "Zarghami has never been a tourist or a tour leader and has no experience about protecting cultural heritage. He is a former IRGC officer who has studied urban planning and industrial management. Although he has been deputy culture minister for cinema for a while, yet, surprisingly, someone like him is assigned to protect the country's cultural heritage."
The commentary reminded Zarghami that tourism can produce more financial resources than agriculture. The website suggested that Zarghami should look at Iran's neighbors such as Turkey and see how they make money from tourism. "Turkey's income from tourism is more than Iran's income from oil. Last year Turkey earned $29.5 billion from tourism," claimed the website citing Anatolia news agency.
In 1979, "hanging judge" Sadeq Khalkhali, who killed hundreds after the revolution, had a plan to destroy all monuments including Persepolis as heretic idolatry, but intellectuals and patriotic Iranians prevented the destruction of the sites. Later, most Iranian officials, particularly former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad realized that they could count on public interest in Iran’s historical heritage to garner support. The blunders by Raisi and Zarghami could signal a return to the ideas of the hanging judge.