Iran cuts ties with British Museum

Gareth Harris, 08.02.2010
Iran retaliates over Cyrus Cylinder loan delay
Hamid Baghaei, head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organisation (ICHHTO), has cut ties with the British Museum (BM) after it delayed the loan of the Cyrus Cylinder. The sixth-century artefact was due to go on display at the Iran National Museum in Tehran last month.

The decision was announced during a press conference on Saturday according to the Tehran Times. But a spokeswoman for the British Museum said that the decision came as a “great surprise”, and added that the museum had finally agreed to loan the object to Iran only last week.

“At a special meeting on Tuesday 2 February, the trustees of the British Museum confirmed their intention to lend the Cyrus Cylinder, plus recently discovered associated fragments of clay tablet, to the National Museum in Tehran in the second half of July.

This decision was conveyed in a telephone conversation to the ICHHTO on the same day, and was confirmed in a letter to Hamid Baghaei, vice president of Iran, on Friday 5 February,” she said.

The BM was to have lent the cylinder to Iran in exchange for several Persian treasures that it displayed last year in its Shah Abbas show.

Lending negotiations began last autumn when BM director Neil MacGregor reassured Baghaei that the BM "is very much hoping to send the Cyrus Cylinder on loan... but as with all our international loans, details and practicalities will have to be discussed."

But in January the loan was delayed when two pieces of cuneiform tablet in the BM collection were found to be inscribed with the same text as the Cyrus Cylinder.
According to the Tehran Times, Baghaei said the British Museum was not only a cultural place but is also a political centre. “We intend to send letters to museum officials around the world, suggesting that they take a lesson from our experience. If they want to collaborate with the BM, they must receive the approval of the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs beforehand in order to avoid any problems."

The Cyrus Cylinder, created following the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539BC, is regarded by many as the world's first declaration of human rights.