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Heritage Director Denies Pasargadae Shutdown As Cyrus Day Approaches

Pasargadae gathering on Cyrus Day in October 2016, turned into a political protest.

The director of Fars Province’s Cultural Heritage Organization (CHO) has dismissed the authenticity of a purportedly official statement declaring that Cyrus the Great’s mausoleum, Pasargadae, would be closed to the public from October 27 to 30.

Last year on October 28, a large crowd spontaneously gathered at Pasargadae to pay tribute to Cyrus the Great and the gathering turned into a protest against the Islamic Republic.

Now, speculations are rife that the authorities will simply shut access to the site, in time to prevent any gathering.

“CHO and the Fars governor-general have not yet decided on Cyrus the Great’s International Day or celebrating it at Pasargadae on October 28,” Fatemeh Rezaei said.

“Statements recently circulated with the governor-general and CHO logos are fake and invalid,” Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) cited Rezaei as saying.

Warning against further “extrapolations,” Rezaei insisted that the decision to keep Pasargadae open to the public on Cyrus the Great’s International Day had not yet been resolved.

Recently, a statement bearing official logos was widely circulated on social media declaring people would be barred from participating in annual ceremonies commemorating Cyrus the Great’s day at Pasargadae, which is near Shiraz, the capital of Fars Province in southern Iran.

“In respect to ‘anti-revolution’ petty groups abusing [Cyrus’ day] for their political ends, the Pasargadae touristic complex will be shut down from October 27 to October 30,” the statement read, adding, “All roads leading to the complex will be blocked by the authorities.”

The statement triggered an avalanche of criticism.

People gathering at Pasargadae to celebrate Cyrus the Great’s International Day and pay homage to the founder of Persian Empire have made headlines in recent years.

Conservatives and close allies of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are bitterly against commemorating any non-Islamic event, particularly those related to the monarchy and pre-Islamic Iran.

However, in a letter to Culture and Islamic guidance minister, Shiraz MP Bahram Parsaei called on Iran’s decision makers to formally celebrate the day.

It’s time to celebrate Cyrus the Great’s day (October 29) with an official state ceremony, he wrote.

The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) published a copy of the reformist MP’s letter to the minister.

Parsaei urged Abbas Salehi to prepare a plan for celebrating the international day with an official state ceremony to present Iranian civilization and culture to the world.

A copy of the letter was sent to the Intelligence and Interior ministries, the justice department, the National Heritage Organization, and the governor-general of Fars Province, ISNA reported.

Last year, thousands of people gathered at Pasargadae chanting slogans against Iran’s ruling system, angering security forces and leading to the detention of several people.

Protesters reportedly chanted, "Iran is our homeland; Cyrus is our father," and “Clerical rule is synonymous with only tyranny, only war,” and “Freedom of thought cannot take place with beards,” an explicit reference to the theocratic leaders currently in power.

Furthermore, referring to Prince Reza Pahlavi, the heir to the throne of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, many people chanted, “Happy Birthday, Prince.”

Pahlavi, who lives in exile in the United States, was born on October 31 in Tehran, and his other given name is Cyrus.

The exiled prince on his Facebook account described the slogans chanted in his favor at Pasargadae as “My best birthday present, ever.”

Immediately after the gathering, Fars Prosecutor-General Ali Salehi announced, “The main leaders and organizers of this gathering who chanted heteroclite slogans against the Islamic Republic’s values have been arrested.”

Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamadani, one of the Shi’ite sources of emulation, also joined the conservatives’ chorus to condemn the gathering at Pasargadae.

Fars News Agency quoted Hamadani as saying, “These people are against the revolution. I wonder how they can gather around Cyrus’ tomb and chant the same slogans (about Cyrus) that we chant about our supreme leader.”

Reportedly, he also quoted the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as saying, “Those who remembered Cyrus were anti-revolution.”

Nevertheless, there are some grand ayatollahs and Shi’ite sources of emulation who commend Cyrus the Great as a fair and just king.

Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi and late Allameh Tabatabaei are among senior Shi’ite clergy who deeply respect Cyrus the Great.

It is not yet clear how many people gathered at Pasargadae last year. However, a cultural activist based in the city of Isfahan, Shaheen Sepanta, told Radio Farda that according to unofficial estimates 15,000 to 20,000 people were present.

Though not yet registered on official calendars, October 29 has long been designated as the international day of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire who is widely believed to be the first defender of human rights. His human rights charter is inscribed on a clay cylinder currently kept at the British Museum.