A fact that seldom reaches the outside world is the deep admiration and pride that the modern Iranians have for their founders. They cannot avoid remembering the great Achaemenid Empire that started under Cyrus the Great in 560 or 559 BC and ended with the arrival of Alexander the Great in 331 BC. It is not surprising that Alexander is considered as “the cursed” since he terminated a dynasty that had ruled over Persia for two hundred years.
I was aware of the Nowruz festivities, Iran’s New Year that also is the first day of spring, when everybody goes en masse to the ruins of Persepolis, but the celebrations for the “Day of Cyrus the Great” are new to me.
Based on historical records, Cyrus the Great is being remembered on October 29, the date on which he entered Babylon in 539 BC. Since this city was the ancient capital of the world that included modern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Israel, the Persian King Cyrus was soon recognized by all these countries as their legitimate ruler.
Since Cyrus the Great is buried at Pasargadae, this is where the Iranians come together. This year, the gathering was moved back one day to compensate for the leap year in the Iranian and Gregorian calendars. October 28 fell on a Friday, the weekend in Iran, and people from near and far flocked to Pasargadae. They started gathering around Cyrus’ tomb on the night before, creating unknown traffic jams on the roads which eventually had to be closed down. Social media, however, shared images of the devotees shouting slogans praising the king. Every Iranian still knows the words of Darius’ prayer for his people: “May Ahuramazda protect this country from invaders, famine and lies!”, although some historians doubt the authenticity of these words.
President Rouhani of Iran kindly commented that Persepolis is one of the invaluable and unique remains of the ancient history and had appreciative words for the ingenuity, the wisdom, and the management skills of his ancestor. However, the most senior Ayatollah in the holy city of Qom harshly criticized these gathering because Iran has so long been oppressed by kings, adding that the Iranians today live in a revolutionary and Islamic country.
Poor Cyrus, who respected the customs and beliefs of all nations, and truly deserved to be called “Great”. Translated in today’s vocabulary, we should say that he was famous for his achievements in human rights, politics and military strategy. After all, he laid the foundations for a central administration and a government that worked to the benefit of his subjects. It is sad to see how his great principles have been turned into a political and religious discussion, something he definitely did not want.