2015年1月5日 星期一

A Journey in Time .1st stop Tehran: 1 : Azadi Tower (時間之旅 :第一站 . 德黑蘭之一: 自由紀念碑 )

Before I went to Iran during the Christmas and New Year holidays, my image of this middle Eastern country, like that so many others in Hong Kong and perhaps in other lands dominated by Anglo-American media, consisted little more than the bearded, turbaned and thick eye-browed figure of the Islamic fundamentalist Ayatollah Rudollah Khomeini who is supposed to be behind all kinds of terrorisms, suicide-bombings, linked with the followers of Al-Quida and all other kinds of terrorist activities, atrocities and the ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), the undefeated enemy of American-supported Iraq in an 8-year war between the two Islamic states ending only in 1988, the longest conventional war in contemporary history and now intent on developing atomic weapons and hence subject to investigations by the UN and to the trade, financial and weapons embargo by the United States of America since 1996.In short, a pretty tough, belligerent, hostile, strong and extremist country beyond the comprehension of the civilized  world. The truth is of course much much more complex than that. What was Iran and what is the present Iran like?

This is the Azadi Tower (Borje Āzādi‎ in Persian) which means "Freedom/Liberty Tower"  in the Iranian capital Tehran, inaugurated on October 16, 1971 to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the first Persian Empire, formerly called "Shahyad Tower" (or Borj e Ŝahyād‎ in Persian) meaning "King Memorial Tower" because its construction was ordered by the previous Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who was deposed in the 1979 Islamic Revolution which installed Khomeini in power. Its the result of a national design competition won by the architect, Hossein Amanat who ingeniously combined elements of all previous Persian architectural styles from the most ancient Zoroastrian Archaemenid (648-330 BCE) and the most recent Zoroastrian Sassanid (224-651 CE ) dynasties to  post-Islamic Iranian architecture during and after the conquest of Persia by the Muslim Arabs from 633-651 CE. The 164-foot Tower, built with 8,000 computer-designed and produced white marble slabs from Isfahan (another ancient capital of Persia during the Safavid Dynasty (1501-1722 CE) in the 16th Century ) and financed by 500 top Iranian industrialists in the late 1960s, sits atop a museum literally "show-casing" 50 representative samples of Persian civilization from different eras in its long and complicated history from antiquity to the 19th century, including ancient square flagstones, gold sheeting, and terra cotta tablets from Susa (the most ancient Persian capital of the Medes and Persians) covered with uniform cuneiform characters, painted pottery, ceramics, varnished porcelains (like a 7th-century blue and gold dish from Gorgan), an illuminated Koran, miniatures and paintings highlighting milestones in the country's history, represented by two painted panels from the Queen Farah Pahlavi's collections. But its most important exhibit is a replica of the Cyrus Cylinder (named after Cyrus II or Cyrus the Great (c 576-530 BCE ) being one of the most enlightened Persian emperors, who emphasized justice, equality and mutual toleration of different races, religions, gender, customs, cultures and even local autonomy at a time when Persia was a world power whose sovereignty stretched from Greece to the Indus Valley in north India) as the original was "taken" by Britain during its occupation of Iran from 1941-1946 in World War II after attacking Iran (which at the time, like Turkey was neutral) when Shah Pahlavi refused to allow Allied troops to be deployed against German forces from Iranian territory simply because Britain, in league with Soviet Union, was worried that Germany "might" gain control of Iranian oil then under the control of the Anglo-Iranian Company  ) and is now housed in the British Museum.

The Cyrus Cylinder written in Akkadian cuneiform script in the name of the Persia's Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great, dates from the 6th century BCE, was discovered in the ruins of Babylon in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in 1879 and was created and used as a foundation deposit following the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 BCE, when the Neo-Babylonian Empire was invaded by Cyrus and incorporated into his Persian Empire. It may justly be called the world's first "Human Rights Declaration" . A translation of the cuneiform inscription on the cylinder is inscribed in golden letters on the wall of one of the galleries leading to the museum's audio-visual department.
To parallel the human rights proclaimed in the Cyrus Cylinder and opposite to it, there's a similar plaque listing the so-called Twelve Points of the "White Revolution", a revolution from "above" intended by the reformist Shah Pahlavi in 1962 to stave off the "Red Revolution" by Socialists consisting of some 12 elements that were introduced over a period of 15 years, with the first 6 introduced in 1962 and approved by a national referendum on January 26, 1963 but the revolutionary program has since been further amended to include other elements. It's a fairly progressive program of agrarian, economic, ecological, educational , social and political reforms including inter alia,
(1) Land Reforms Program which abolishes "Feudalism": the government bought the land from the feudal land lords at what was considered to be a fair price and sold it to the peasants at 30% below the market value, with the loan being payable over 25 years at very low interest rates, making it possible for 1.5 million peasant families, who had once been little more than slaves, to own the lands that they had been cultivating all their lives. Given that average size of a peasant family was 5, land reforms program brought freedom to approximately 9 million people, or 40% of Iran's population;
(2) Nationalization of Forests and Pasturelands, not only to protect the national resources and stop the destruction of forests and pasturelands, but also to further develop and cultivate them. More than 9 million trees were planted in 26 regions, creating 70,000 acres (280 km²) of "green belts" around cities and on the borders of the major highways;
(3) Privatization of the Government Owned Enterprises, manufacturing plants and factories by selling their shares to the public and the old feudal lords, thus creating a whole new class of factory owners who could now help to industrialize the country;
(4) Profit Sharing for industrial workers in private sector enterprises, giving the factory workers and employees 20% share of the net profits of the places where they worked and securing bonuses based on higher productivity or reductions in costs together with Workers' Right to Own Shares in the Industrial Complexes where they worked by turning Industrial units, with 5 years history and over, into public companies, where up to 99% of the shares in the state-owned enterprises and 49% of the shares of the private companies would be offered for sale to the workers of the establishment at first and then to the general public;
(5) Extending the Right to Vote to Women, who previously did not enjoy suffrage although this measure was criticised by some of the clergy;
(6) Formation of the Literacy Corps, so that those who had a high school diploma and were required to serve their country as soldiers could do so in fighting illiteracy in the villages. In 1963 approximately 2/3 of the population was illiterate, with 1/3 found mainly in the capital city of Tehran;
(7) Formation of the Health Corps to extend public health care throughout the villages and rural regions of Iran. In 3 years, almost 4,500 medical groups were trained; nearly 10 million cases were treated by the Corps;
(8) Formation of the Reconstruction and Development Corps to teach the villagers the modern methods and techniques of farming and keeping livestock. Agricultural production between 1964 and 1970 increased by 80% in tonnage and 67% in value;
(9) Formation of the Houses of Equity where 5 village elders would be elected by the villagers, for a period of 3 years, to act as arbitrators in order to help settle minor offences and disputes. By 1977 there were 10,358 Houses of Equity serving over 10 million people living in over 19,000 villages across the country;
(10) Nationalization of all Water Resources, introducing projects and policies to conserve and exploit Iran's limited water resources. Many dams were constructed and five more were under construction in 1978. It was as a result of these measures that the area of land under irrigation increased from 2 million acres (8,000 km²), in 1968, to 5.6 million in 1977;
(11) Urban and Rural Modernization and Reconstruction with the help of the Reconstruction and Development Corps, building public baths, schools and libraries; installing water pumps and power generators for running water and electricity;
(12) Educational Reforms to improve the quality of education by diversifying the curriculum  to adapt to the necessities of life in the modern world with Free and Compulsory Education and a daily free meal for all children from kindergarten to 14 years of age. In 1978, 25% of Iranians were enrolled in public schools alone. In that same year there were 185,000 students of both sexes studying in Iran's universities. In addition to the above there were over 100,000 students pursuing their studies abroad, of which 50,000 were enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States.;
(13) Price Stabilization and campaign against unreasonable profiteering (1975): owners of factories and large chain stores were heavily fined, with some being imprisoned and other's licenses being revoked. Sanctions were imposed on multi-national foreign companies and tons of merchandise stored for speculative purposes were confiscated and sold to consumers at fixed prices; 
(14) Free Food for Needy Mothers and for all newborn babies up to the age of two and Introduction of Social Security and National Insurance for all Iranians which provided for up to 100% of the wages during retirement.;
(15) Stable and Reasonable Cost of Renting or Buying of Residential Properties (1977): controls were placed on land prices and various forms of land speculation.
(16) Introduction of Measures to Fight against Corruption within the bureaucracy: Imperial Inspection Commission was founded, consisting of representatives from administrative bodies and people of proven integrity.
In sum, the Liberty Tower and the associated museum is the epitome of the country's long and complicated history, ancient and modern.
It's really ironic that, since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, its designer Amanat, a Baha'i, was exiled from Iran because Khomeini does not favor religious pluralism in Iran.The Bahá'í Faith ( Ad-Dīn al-Bahā'ī in Arabic) is a monotheistic religion emphasizing the spiritual unity of all humankind founded in the 19th century by the Persian Bahá'u'lláh based upon 3 core principles: that there is only one creator God ; that all major religions have the same spiritual source ie. the same God and that since all human beings are created equal, diversity of race and culture should be appreciated and accepted. According to the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith, the aim of human life should be to learn to know and to love God through such methods as prayer, reflection and serving fellow human beings.
It was a real pity that our tour guide did not give us sufficient time to actually go inside the museum to have even a quick look.

(To be con'td)