Culture

When Persepolis was one of the world’s wonders.

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By Natalia Borys

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Persepolis, the archaeological treasure,[1] Western orientalist vision.  I have never imagined that one day I would wander down the streets of Persepolis, that it would be possible.  This majestic site still makes you feel as in a dream, transfers you in the glorious past, to the magnificent history of mankind, especially for history lovers like me.

From the very beginning of  my arrival in Iran, I can’t wait seeing this wonder of the world: to touch ancient stones, full of history, and to wander through this labyrinth city, symbol of Achaemenid Persia, founded in 550 BC by Darius the Great, “King of Kings, King of the World.”[2]

Why Persepolis? Because it is a symbol of a great civilization that has bequeathed so much to mankind. Moreover, Persepolis is one of the most powerful urban constructions in history, a testimony of its incomparable glory.  The emergence of these majestic ruins in the silence of the dawn is unforgettable, the site still fancies a lot.  At the entry, you are welcome by stone lamassu in the Assyrian style, winged human-headed bulls with curly beards,[3] in astonishing splendour, hit the mind and imagination. These ruins are still impressive, and seeing it makes you travel in time and touch the ancient history, the history of the Achaemenid empire of “King of kings”.

On the way to Persepolis

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The figure of the Royal Glory hovered the kings in many scenes at Persepolis. Western scholars consider it as the representation of the supreme God Ahuramazda, while Iranians think it is a symbolic picture of royal glory.

Arriving in Shiraz, from my budget hotel, I took a taxi to Persepolis. The only way to get to the site is by taxi.  Generally, taxis wait on the spot while tourists roam the site. My taxi driver is joyful, as most of Iranians are, want to chat and discuss politics, greets me with a traditional welcome to Iran,” and drops me off at the entrance telling me that an hour or two is more than enough to visit the site. An hour or two? Me, who dreamt of spending a lot of time there. I let him know that I am going to stay longer. My driver must have cursed me and my love for old ruins. The whole day is more appropriate for this meeting with history.

At the foot of Mountain of Mercy, the ruins of Persepolis , the heart of the Achaemenid Empire, stretch as far as the eye can see. The Persian king’s summer residence, which was burned down by Alexander the Great in 330 B.C.[4] and exhumed by archaeologists in 1931, has revealed invaluable details about the first empire of humanity.

An entrance.

12729168_10153926586153770_2428488603171104707_nIt is hot, very hot. I have to wear jeans, a shawl to cover my head and a gold embroidered tunic (Chanel, as it was noted on it) which I had to buy at the bazaar to comply with the Islamic rules of the country.  The sun is blinding and not a single tree at sight. It is February and it is already hot. I can only imagine how hot is in summer. It must be as hot as Hades.  But my enthusiasm is still high. Persepolis!

Near the entrance, in a small museum, I bought myself an expensive little book about Persepolis. Here is the entrance. Today, twenty-six centuries later, Persepolis is still a breathtaking majesty. Ruins of luminous palaces, ancient cross-shaped tombs carved halfway up the cliff, slender columns exposed to the wind and the sun, lavish low-reliefs, everything here permanently captures your imagination. The visitors in the past, like me today, were speechless facing such splendour, which was built to glorify the Great King and the greatest of the Gods, Ahura Mazda.

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Tachara, or The Palace of Darius.

The rise and the fall of the capital.

Persepolis’ palaces and buildings were built mainly during the reign of Darius I the Great (522-486 BC) who emerged, for some, as the true founder of the Achaemenid Empire and, perhaps, its most remarkable ruler. The embellishments of the vast palatial complex were continued by the successors of Darius I, Xerxes and Artaxerxes, during almost sixty years, without being completely finished. A demonstration of the supreme power the large palatial complex was not intended to be the permanent residence of the king. But everything is so big and majestic! The new city of Persepolis was built with the intention to impress visitors, and to be seen by far with its royal palaces, courtrooms, treasure room, majestic doors and stairways, fortifications and harem. Mission accomplished! If even only few ruins of this past splendour remain, they give you an idea how big and majestic it was.

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An enthroned king, two incense burners, a “Median” chiliarch reporting to the king, a towel-bearer, a weapon-bearer, and two pairs of “Persian guards flanking the scene. Who is the king? as Iranian scholars claim, Artaxerxes was still young and had no grown up crown prince. This was evidently the crown of Artaxerxes I, while the former was worn by Xerxes. The audience is held under a royal baldachin with tasselled edges falling in front. Above, five superimposed rows of soldiers.

Persepolis emerged from oblivion in the Middle Ages, when monks, European travellers and notables, in addition to other visitors, reussisited the memory and the past glory of the city. The city was so famous that in 1971, the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, chose the site to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire. If the shah Pahlavi was impressed by the site and dreamt of reviving it, the ayatollahs demanded to destroy the site, as well as other pre-Islamic ruins. To destroy the site would have been a crime against humanity, it was hopefully avoided by a tireless campaign by the governor of Fars Province, lawyer Nosratollah Amini, and the strong protest of Shiraz residents. From 1979, the majestic ruins of Persepolis were classified a UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

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The double griffin protome capital. Since the best opinions to date are that the griffin capital may have been intended for the Unfinished Gate at Persepolis. They became famous by being the symbol of “Homa”, Iranian national airline.

Scholars still try to figure out, what was the main purpose of Persepolis. For some of them, Persepolis was a religious city, a national sanctuary, used to celebrate the Zoroastrian Iranian New Year, called the Nowruz, during the vernal equinox. Some of them think, it was set up as an astronomical city, while others still believe that it was built to impress and to show off the Achaemenid imperial power.  Nevertheless, we now know that over and above its sacred and religious character, Persepolis was also conceived as an administrative and political capital. Archaeological excavations, as well as the cuneiform tablets prove it.

The Hall of hundred columns and its stairways. The Immortals.

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Gate of all Lands, human-headed winged bulls serving as “guardians”.

Today, the visitor ascends the Persepolis platform by climbing up a grand double-flighted staircase, called the Great Double Staircase, was most likely built under Xerxes I. It is composed of two flights of stairs each contains111 steps. These large grey limestone steps measure 7m wide and only 10cm high (which enabled horses to access the other side of the walls) offer visitors a glimpse of what awaits him. The entrance, the Gate of All Lands, was used to welcome visitors and delegations that came from all the satrapies or provinces of the Persian Empire to give allegiance to the Great King.

These monumental staircases are one of the masterpieces of Achaemenid art. They are decorated with low-reliefs representing different people of the Empire bringing offerings to the Great King.  This staircase was lucky to avoid the destruction! It was buried under Apadana roof’s fall when Persepolis was burned down, it is perfectly preserved.

The entrance was flanked by two colossal bulls of 5.5m high and carved on a 1.5m pedestal. They observe and guard the entrance in order to protect the city from any threat from the outside. [5] On the underside and the head of the bulls, one could read an inscription in old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian, proclaiming the greatness of Xerxes, the I am Xerxes the Great King, King of Kings, King of lands and King of many peoples, who by the grace of Ahura Mazda, constructed this Gateway of All Lands”.

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Xerxes’ inscription “A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created yonder sky, who created man, who created happiness, of man, who made Xerxes king, one king of many, one lord, of many lords. I am Xerxes the king, Great king of Kings, king of countries containing many kinds of people…”

Undoubtedly, their creators were inspired by the Assyrian tradition, given their resemblance to the bulls of Sargon Palace in Khorsabad.  Like their counterparts, these half-human, half-bulls were considered a mythical symbol of royalty, a reflection of royal power and a kind of guardian angel of the Great King and the Achaemenid Empire as a whole.[6]

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A lamassu is an Assyrian protective deity, often depicted as having a human’s head, a body of a bull or a lion, and bird’s wings. In art, lamassu were depicted as hybrids, with bodies of either winged bulls or lions and heads of human males. The motif of a winged animal with a human head is common to the Near East. Assyrian sculpture typically placed prominent pairs of lamassu at entrances in palaces, facing the street and also internal courtyards. They were represented as “double-aspect” figures on corners, in high relief. From the front they appear to stand, and from the side, walk, and in earlier versions have five legs, as is apparent when viewed obliquely. Lumasi do not generally appear as large figures in the low-relief schemes running round palace rooms, where winged genie figures are common, but they sometimes appear within narrative reliefs, apparently protecting the Assyrians

In the north end, we could see the royal guard, known as the Immortals,[7] as well as the parade in procession with horses and chariots while carrying the royal throne. The procession of gift-bearing delegations is one of the most spectacular elements of the staircase.  During this ceremony, 23 delegations from all satrapies bring offerings and gifts.

Beyond the emotion, grandeur and decadence of the site.

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A royal tomb.

I regrettably have to leave the ruins under a burning sun. Persepolis is undoubtedly breathtaking. It is a wonder of the ancient world. I think of all the other sites of Antiquity and Mesopotamia which weren’t as lucky as Persepolis, and suffered the ravages and damages of recent wars in Iraq and Syria. The Iranian government, however quite reluctantly, has protected its ancient and pre-Islamic history, other regimes and governments did not protect their sites. When I asked Iranians about Achaemenid treasures, stored in Louvre and other world museums, they told me that probably this Iranian past is better guarded there. It is hard to argue about it. Luckily, the great Persepolis adventure lasts, the site continues to reveal its secrets and to make its visitors travel in the glorious past of the Achaemenid Empire of ” the King of Kings …”.

[1]  Founded by Darius I in 518 B.C., Persepolis was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire. It was built on an immense half-artificial, half-natural terrace, where the king of kings created an impressive palace complex inspired by Mesopotamian models.  The importance and quality of the monumental ruins make it a unique archaeological site. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/114/

[2]  Darius the Great was engraved “I am Darius the Great King, King of Kings, King of countries containing all kinds of men, King in this great earth far and wide, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenid, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage”in Naqsh-e Rostam.

[3] A lamassu is an Assyrian protective deity, often depicted as having a human’s head, a body of a bull or a lion, and bird’s wings. In art, lamassu were depicted as hybrids, with bodies of either winged bulls or lions and heads of human males. The motif of a winged animal with a human head is common to the Near East. Assyrian sculpture typically placed prominent pairs of lamassu at entrances in palaces, facing the street and also internal courtyards. They were represented as “double-aspect” figures on corners, in high relief. From the front they appear to stand, and from the side, walk, and in earlier versions have five legs, as is apparent when viewed obliquely. Lumasi do not generally appear as large figures in the low-relief schemes running round palace rooms, where winged genie figures are common, but they sometimes appear within narrative reliefs, apparently protecting the Assyrians

[4]  After having conquered the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great ordered the destruction of Persepolis in 330 B.C.  According to sources, the fire in the city was ignited to satisfy the whim of his concubine, Thais, while some, like Diodorus Siculus and Strabo considered it revenge for the abuses committed by Xerxes in Athens and in the Greek temples in 480 B.C. In any case, this fire put an end to a city, thereafter said to be frozen in time, with its ruins and its cuneiform tablets waiting two millennia to share their secrets.

[5] Borrowed from Assyrian iconography, the bulls were associated with the monstrous creatures of Chaos allied with Tiamat (the Goddess of salt water) in the Babylonian poem Enuma Elish, and represented a new allegory of the king’s dominance over the forces of evil.

[6] Each guardian of the door has a curly, geometric beard and curly hair – traits of the Great King himself – a crown or a cylindrical tiara decorated with two rosettes and sepals. These two imposing lamassi stood guard in the direction of the Path of Processions to ensure the palace was protected.

[7] The elite corps of which numbered 10’000 infantrymen and formed the royal guard

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The teaching of the putsch attempt of July 2016 in the Turkish schools: towards a new representation of the social in Turkey?

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The title page of the school prospectus 2017-2018 of the Turkish Ministry of Education
The title page of the school prospectus 2017-2018 of the Turkish Ministry of Education

By Camille de Felice

Translated by Anis Arioua

After few weeks of the event of July 15, 2016 during which a section of the Turkish army had sought to seize power by force, During the school year 2016-2017, students of high and elementary schools noticed that a special commemoration program has seen include in their curriculum a special commemoration program consisting of reviewing the putsch attempt and the popular mobilizations that followed. [1].

While the first week was almost exclusively devoted to activities about the « 15-July »[2] – often referred to as the « Legend of 15-July » or even « Victory of Democracy of 15-July »[3] in the speeches of the government and in the press, the first day of classes has nonetheless had the particularity, like A theater play, of being entirely determined by the Ministry of National Education. With a relatively small margin of maneuver, the teachers had to respect the precise directives that the ceremony dedicated to the 15-July held in all schools of Turkey must be almost identical : the discourse, written by Ankara, the theater plays reproducing the events of the putsch, exhibition with photos of the « heroes » of July-15, recitation of poems, and, finally, distribution of a brochure detailing the official version, validated by the regime, of this unavoidable event of the Turkish socio-political life today.

This first day of school set the tone for a whole year of celebrations that was extended until October 29, 2017. Among the organized activities, I can mention the writing of letters in which students could freely express their emotions and impressions, the visits the « places » of 15-July or namely squares and streets, occupied by the population who were mobilized by the government’s calls to defend and claim democracy, the visits to families of heroes and local « martyrs », making boards with citations, drawings and pictures of those who « made 15-July by sacrificing themselves for their country and to preserve democracy » as well as the production of short films, available on the internet site of the schools, including the Ministry of National Education.

During this year of activities, organized in the schools, the government produced a new brochure to be distributed in schools for the beginning of the 2017-2018 scholar year featuring schoolchildren’s works. In parallel with the publication of this special fascicle, the events of the 15th of July have begun to be integrated into the regular curriculum, since sub-chapters are devoted to this subject in the textbooks, in particular in social sciences, but also of Turkish and religion. Nevertheless, the integration of this subject in the schoolbooks has not been carried out homogeneously; only books, published after 2016 included it in the program. However, it is to be expected that gradually the 15-July will be included in other manuals, including those of history, in the coming years.

Eda Saygi 15-7 panosu (1)

In addition to the teaching in the schools, of this attempted putsch, certainly elevated to almost the rank of new year zero by several personalities close to or members of AKP, it is a new representation of the society that is promoted by this way. Indeed the school remains the ideal place, which each authority seeks to seize for ideological purposes in order to impose a representation of the social legitimizing the domination of a group on another one or even by others.

In this case, this involves writing a new history of contemporary Turkey. In fact, when writing history which is an inevitable process during the construction of historical facts, some elements are silenced, the forgetfulness, which is necessary to the foundation of the nationalist discourse according to the sociologist Anthony D. Smith. [4]

The historian Francois Audigier emphasizes the fact that through the disciplines of the social sciences, especially the triad history-geography-civic education- there is a will of the authority to achieve ideological objectives by not only seeking to communicate concepts and values to the next generation but also to transmit, in an underlying way, a shared representation of the given world, to place a consensual referent, acceptable for all. Because of the compulsory nature of the school for the entire population of a state, it remains a privileged place for the fight for symbolic power and the enforcement of a certain representation of the social. The lessons taught are de facto the dominant and orthodox theories of a society at a given epoch.

Eskisehir Burcu Ekinci 28.09.2017 ilk ders 15 temmuz

The introduction of references to July 15 in some schoolbooks is a part of a larger range of school reforms that can be traced back to 2012 and to many notable changes that were approved at that time. When changes occur at the program level, there are also variations in the selection paradigm of what will be taught which are taken into consideration. While retaining a majority of the essentials of the Turkish school traditions, there is a desire to establish the 15th of July as a fundamental date, constitutive not only of Turkish history but in a more transcendent way of its destiny and identity ; being comparable – and in fact compared – to the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, to the victory of Canakkale during the Great War or to the declaration of the Turkish Republic in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Education represents for all governments a space to invest in order to establish a certain representation of the social and so, in this case, some idea of Turkey. In this, Recep Tayyib Erdogan, the actual Turkish president, poses himself as a competitor of Mustafa Kemal, by looking to establish his own vision of Turkey but also the national and civic identities. His ambitious aim to overcome and supplant the legendary figure of Ataturk and to reconnect with the Ottoman tradition, that assigned to the territory of Anatolia and to Turkish people, a status of a regional leadership even of the Muslim world.

[1] DE FELICE Camille, L’enseignement du 15-Juillet dans les écoles turques : rupture ou continuité dans le processus de fabrique du citoyen républicain ? Observatoire de la Vie Politique Turque, décembre 2017

[2] 15 Temmuz Destanı

[3] 15 Temmuz Demokrasi Zaferi

[4] SMITH Anthony D., Nations and nationalisms in a Global Era, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1995

The impossible mission of infiltrating the Spanish border in four days.

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By Valentina San Martin, translated by Cécile Guiraud

A successful arrival

Amid tensions between Brussels and Rabat[1], it is within a few days that more than 850 African migrants succeeded to reach the Spanish enclave Ceuta from Morocco, pushing through the border fences to do so.

On February 20th, 2017, by 3:30 am, around 600 sub-Saharan migrants tried to enter in Ceuta and “359 succeeded”, claimed the enclave prefecture in a statement.

After breaking the doorways with shears and hammers, they reached the European Union. According to a prefecture spokesperson, these events had already taken place “in the same area, which is difficult to monitor, on February 17th, 2017, where 498 migrants succeeded to enter in the territory at the same spot”.

Rabat-Brussels dispute.

Since Rabat and Brussels have loosened their ties, the country hinted that they could relax the control they have on migrants who, once on the Spanish soil, can seek asylum and get settled in the EU. A dispute does exist between Morocco and the EU regarding the interpretation given to a free-trade agreement on farm and fishing products. In an arbitration given at the end of January, the European Court of Justice stated that the agreement did not apply to Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that is now controlled by Rabat. The trade exchanges between Morocco and some European countries are therefore being subject to postponement[2].

On February 6th, 2017, the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture had warned Europe that it was getting exposed to “real risk of spate in the migratory tides”[3].

The good relationship between Spain and Morocco have not been altered

The head of the Spanish government, Mariano Rajoy, has however considered that Morocco had done everything possible to restrain this new wave of refugees. After long journeys, they are thousands to wait in Morocco for the opportunity to push through the fences and to enter in Ceuta or Melilla.

“The Moroccan security officials have put all their efforts together et and I am grateful to them” he said in a press conference in Malaga, on the southern coast of Spain. “What happens is that there are difficult battles” he followed, describing as “wonderful” the collaboration with Morocco and claiming that the relationship between the two countries had never been better[4].

What next?

During the night, the local news El Faro de Ceuta was able to film dozens of young Africans in the streets of Ceuta. They danced with joy and kissed the ground of the Spanish enclave crying “Thank you, God” or “I am in Europe!”.

According to Isabel Brasero, spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ceuta, there haven’t been any serious casualties among them. “We have transferred eleven people to the hospital, eight needed stitches and three had to get a scan”, she said. According to the authorities, two civil guards and one immigrant were attended for more serious wounds.

The temporary accommodation centre for migrants is overflowed by asylum applications: “we have around 1400 people in the centre for a reception capacity of 512”, explained the prefecture’s spokesperson.

To offer them a shelter, the spokesperson has asked for lots of tents and a field kitchen, which should be installed on the parking of the neighbouring horse-riding centre. The NGO has also given to each migrant a kit with new clothes, shoes, and blankets while it was rainy and windy.

Nevertheless, it could then be more complicated. The Ceuta enclave is, with Melilla, the only land border between the African continent and the European Union. In these difficult times where nationalist right-wing European party is gaining popularity, a more thorough monitoring could soon be implemented.

While the migratory flux is often assimilated with long and dangerous journeys and a difficult arrival, the disembarkation of February was rather surprising. The international relations remained intact, no one died or was seriously wounded. The event was followed by some singing once arrived on the European land: the crossing went extraordinary well. But what about the international community? Could this sudden arrival frighten a few Europeans? We’ll see. In the meantime, the migratory mission that some wish it were impossible may have a breach, and it is Ceuta.

[1] Claimed by Morocco, the enclave is, with Melilla, the only land border existing between the African continent and the EU. It is a transit point for illegal migratory flux coming from sub‑Saharan Africa and going to Maghreb.  Since the mid-2000s, eight km long of barred double-fencing.

[2] Learn more on this issue on https://www.letemps.ch/monde/2017/02/20/pres-300-migrants-ont-force-frontiere-ceuta; http://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/2017/02/06/maroc-union-europeenne_n_14631432.html (both in French)

[3] http://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/2017/02/06/maroc-union-europeenne_n_14631432.html (in French)

[4] https://www.lorientlejour.com/article/1036261/plus-de-850-clandestins-forcent-la-frontiere-de-ceuta-en-4-jours.html (in French)

The Ottoman Empire : is it back to life in modern day Turkey?

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By Camille de Félice.

Translated by Matthew Hall.

The period following the attempted coup d’état on 15 July 2016 in Turkey has been characterised by efforts to reshape our understanding of historic events. This historical revision is a regular occurrence in Turkish history since the foundation of the Republic in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who placed an emphasis on the pre-Islamic history of the Turkish people and considered that the Ottoman Empire was reactionary and needed to be consigned to the past. This wish to manipulate history saw a turning point through the arrival in power of the AKP (Justice and Development Party) in 2002. The AKP, which inherited the tradition of political Islam in Turkey, has positioned itself to be the voice of a majority that had been too often ignored and even held in contempt by the elites during Atatürk’s rule, and its takeover of political power allowed Turkey to reclaim the Islamic and Ottoman eras as their own. The increase of symbols representative of Ottoman power[1] that are sometimes used as decorations, such as stickers on car windscreens and mobile phone cases, as well as the large number of cafes bearing the name ‘Ottoman’, the growth of ice-cream sellers dressed in clothing corresponding to the image that Europe has of the Ottoman Empire and the popularity of this style in furniture shops, feature among those of the imperial legacy that were previously suppressed. Read the rest of this entry »

Financing projects for disadvantaged children worldwide : The United Nations Annual International Bazaar 2016

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By Nataliya Borys

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Music around the world.

The 22 November 2016 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva there was an annual United Nations bazaar’s event, presented as “one of the most significant events in the life of the UN community in Geneva.”[1] What is that, this international bazaar? Which is the goal of this bazaar? Can common people take part in it? Our reporter and editor-in-chief, Nataliya Borys, wanted to know more about this event and could participate in this bazaar as a journalist of GIMUN. Read the rest of this entry »

A Ladder to Damascus – A film review

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by Leandra Hildbrand and Larissa Spescha

“A ladder to Damascus” is a 2013 drama directed by the Syrian filmmaker Mohamed Malas. It was screened at the “International Oriental Film Festival of Geneva” which took place from 4th to 13th of April. Read the rest of this entry »

7 Days in Kigali, and how genocide ripped through Rwanda

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By Yura Azevedo, translated by Lucy Cumming

On Monday 7th April, Rwanda paid tribute to the most extreme genocide in history – 800,000 deaths in less than one hundred days – and one of the bloodiest wars of the 20th century. A mere 20 years ago: the Rwandan Tutsi genocide. Read the rest of this entry »