Saturday, September 21st is the United Nations International Day of Peace. I am excited to join British filmmaker, Jeremy Gilley, whose award winning documentary Peace One Day has successfully created peace-building and reconciliation over the past few years. His theme this year is, "Who will you make peace with?"
The date of September 21 is to annually coincide with the opening of the General Assembly (GA). President Obama and the new President Rouhani of Iran are both scheduled to speak on the first day of the 68th GA General debates on September 24. On September 26th, all Member States are invited to participate in the UN's GA on Nuclear Disarmament.
I am especially excited about this year's GA meeting as my birthplace of Persia/Iran has a new President. Mr. Rouhani claims he wants to bring about more positive changes. The first step toward making that happen would be for him and his advisors to take a peek at the UN's copy of the Cyrus Cylinder which comes from Ancient Persia.
The Cyrus Cylinder is considered to be the 1st ever declaration of human rights. It is a clay tablet inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform and describes the royal ancestry of King Cyrus the Great, who founded the Persian Empire and brought harmony into the multicultural society of his time in 539. B.C. This is followed by a description of how he treated his conquered subjects. It describes how he established peace and abolished forced labor. King Cyrus was considered as a liberator who respected cultural diversity, not a conqueror.
If only this upcoming GA were taking place at the same time the King Cyrus Cylinder was on display at the MET. This summer with the support and generosity of the British Museum, where it is housed, the Cylinder went on a five city tour for the first time ever in U.S. history, as part of a show called "The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia." I can imagine all of the 193 world leaders coming to view it together, gathering around it to celebrate and learn from this model of peace and unity from 2600 years ago.
For the past 10 years I have been carrying the torch of King Cyrus's message into my practice with youth. In fact, the mission of our Manhattan Multicultural Summer Youth (MMSY) Program is directly inspired by the Edict of Cyrus the Great. During two weeks every summer, students are encouraged to memorize the UN's 30 articles of the Declaration of Human Rights. Apart of our mission statement is "to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by developing multicultural competency and embracing a culture of peace among adolescents in all societies."
It was truly a blessing to be able to celebrate our program's 10th Anniversary with the arrival of the King Cyrus Cylinder here in NYC. Our festivities began at the St. Francis of Assisi Church, where we gathered prominent Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders to discuss the Cylinder and how its message is still timely in our diverse society. We had a full house.
MMSY students attended the Cyrus Cylinder exhibition at the Met where we had a private tour. Our guest speaker was Director of UNESCO Office in NY, Mr. Philippe Kridelka, who talked about the importance of bridging unity and harmony among youth in a multicultural society. We were disappointed at how empty the exhibition was compared to other halls in the museum. As excited as I was for my fellow New Yorkers to see this historical world heritage artifact, our media did not feel it warranted enough interest or merit to give it the coverage it deserved.
Looking at the Cyrus Cylinder mesmerized the students. Watching them, I couldn't help but think back to my first introduction to Cyrus when I was 10 years old in history class. Our class was full of diverse people of all religions and ethnicities, learning about harmony in a multicultural society. This shaped our identity and pride in our ancient history, especially because King Cyrus was buried in Shiraz, Pasargadae, Iran. This also happens to be the birthplace of President Obama's Senior Advisor, Valerie Jarrett.
As one of my students wrote to me later
Thinking back through many history courses I have taken, many have passed over Cyrus the Great and his profound impact on modern human rights, world culture and political society. The old age warning "those who forget history are doomed to repeat it" carries intense relevancy here. We need to know the importance of what Cyrus accomplished so that we can interpret his words for our time and implement the message of tolerance."-- Elise Bupp Studying History and Human Rights at Hunter College
Growing up in Tehran before the Islamic Revolution, I lived in a diverse neighborhood of Muslims, Zoroastrians, Baha'is, Assyrians, Christians and Jews. Each year, my neighbors and I would gather to celebrate the Festival of Fire, a Zoroastrian holiday that takes place just before the Persian New Year (Nowruz), singing, laughing and jumping over bonfires lit in the middle of our block. It is one of my happiest childhood memories.
In 2010, the UN passed a resolution to officially recognize the first day of spring, March 21 as the International Day of Nowruz. In 2009 UNESCO added Nowruz to the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Many countries across the Middle East, Europe, Asia and all over the world celebrate Nowruz. This is just one example of the legacy Cyrus has left.
I am endeavoring in the 21st Century to continue to follow in King Cyrus's footsteps to promote Human Rights.
As a Persian girl, I am also envisioning the new President of Iran, Mr. Rouhani, as well as all the other World Leaders, bringing back to their countries plans which integrate King Cyrus's message. We all know that great leaders bring, not fear, but stability to their people, as well as harmony with their neighbors.
Can they make these ancient wisdoms/ideas finally come true? I don't know, but I do know that the new Iranian President will have a much better chance of accomplishing this if he acknowledges that our modern country is the birthplace of Human Rights.