In a fiery speech to parliament October 21, outspoken businessman and pro-reform MP Bahram Parsaei lambasted President Rouhani for suppressing Iran’s pre-Islamic history.
Representing the city of Shiraz, home to the 2,500 year-old ruins of Pasargadae, the capital of the Achaemenid Empire, Parsaei had proposed naming October 29 as a day in honor of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. Parsaei accused Rouhani of shelving the proposal by referring it to the Supreme National Security Council.
Though Rouhani and other Iranian leaders often tout Iran’s rich pre-Islamic culture when speaking abroad, at home, celebrations of pre-Islamic culture are treated as a security threat.
Dozens of the Islamic Republic's authorities, including the Prosecutor-General of Shiraz, have denounced the annual gathering at Cyrus' mausoleum as against the norms of an Islamic society. Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamadani has also lambasted people for paying homage to Cyrus, accusing them of being against Iran’s Islamic Revolution.State-run Fars News Agency quoted Hamadani as saying, “I wonder how they can gather around Cyrus’ tomb and chant the same slogans (about Cyrus) that we chant about our Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei).”
Though not yet registered in official calendars, October 29 has long been observed by Iranians as the international day of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the first Persian Empire, who is widely believed to be the first defender of human rights in the history of mankind. His human rights charter is inscribed on a clay cylinder currently housed at the British Museum.
On October 29, 539 BC, Persian soldiers commanded by Cyrus the Great entered the city of Babylon (about 50 miles south of modern Baghdad) without encountering any resistance. The king’s first order in Babylon was to release thousands of captives including people of Jewish descent. Cyrus allowed all slaves and captives to return home, rebuild their communities, and re-establish their religious practices or accompany him as free men to Iran.
While many Jews returned to their homes, an unknown number of them followed Cyrus back to Iran, where they settled in places such as Isfahan, central Iran.
Cyrus' mausoleum is located near city of Shiraz, 684 kilometers (425 miles) south of the capital, Tehran.
However, the Islamic Republic's security forces have done their best in recent years to stop people celebrating the day. Last year, Shiraz residents received threatening text messages warning them not to assemble at the mausoleum, roads were blocked, and a heavy presence of security, intelligence, and Baseej militia forces were deployed. Nevertheless, thousands of people converged on the site to pay homage. An unknown number of people were arrested for taking part in the observance.
Visiting Austria July 4, Rouhani boasted at a joint press conference with his Austrian counterpart in Vienna, "Iran has been so friendly to the Jews that Iranians even sheltered them in Babylon --- and because of that, Jewish people owe Iranians a big debt of gratitude."
Referring to the comments, Parsaei accused Rouhani of “profiteering” politically from Iran’s pre-Islamic history abroad while suppressing it at home.
"Such great personality [Cyrus] is treated as an outsider in his own country and place of birth,” lamented Parsaei.