Iran HeritageIHF
The Cyrus Cylinder

Chief Executive’s Review - Year Ending 31st December 2014

Dr John CurtisMy first year in charge of IHF has proved to be challenging but rewarding. We have sought to build on the strong foundations laid during the past 19 years, and our ambition is to expand IHF and ensure that it is a Foundation that is sustainable and is prepared for the future. Part of this process involves “institutionalising” the Foundation, ensuring that the governance structure is fit for purpose, providing it with an endowment, and introducing a membership scheme. One of the recent changes has been to set up a Management Board with responsibility for day to day executive decisions, consisting of Vahid Alaghband, Alireza Rastegar, Ali Rashidian, Bardia Panahy and the CEO.

The year started in spectacular fashion with a pioneering and innovative conference on Iran’s natural heritage that was intended to be “a catalyst symposium to spark measurable change”. The initiative to hold this conference came largely from Maryam Alaghband, and the conference was organised together with Morad Tahbaz of the Persian Wildlife Foundation. As well as drawing attention to the serious problems threatening the environment in Iran, the conference served to show that IHF was concerned with natural heritage as well as cultural heritage, and indeed the two are often interlinked.

The importance of protecting the environment in Iran was subsequently recognised at the annual Norouz Gala dinner at the Grosvenor House Hotel, when funds were raised to sponsor an IHF environment fellowship at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London. Once again, the dinner proved to be a very enjoyable occasion and best thanks are due to Maryam Alaghband and the ladies of the Norouz committee for organising it with their customary flair and attention to detail.

The other conference in 2014 which IHF had a hand in organising was on ‘Connections between India and Iran’ at the CSMVS (formerly Prince of Wales) Museum in Mumbai, India. This conference was timed to coincide with the exhibition at CSMVS of the Cyrus Cylinder, following its hugely successful tour of the USA sponsored by IHF America. In Mumbai, IHF had the honour to sponsor the conference, and we are very grateful to Mr Byram Jeejeebhoy for helping to arrange this sponsorship.

From June onwards we initiated the new arrangement of having events wherever possible on the first Wednesday of each month, and between then and the end of the year we had lectures or panel discussions on subjects as diverse as Iranian theatre, Persepolis, Iranian art in the Islamic period, the impact of the growth of the Iranian oil industry on perceptions of cultural heritage, natural heritage (a film on the depletion of Lake Urmia), and to end the year, a discussion about the tradition of Iranian food. The food event was deliberately pitched at the end of the year to provide an opportunity for celebrating Yalda, the ancient Iranian festival marking the winter solstice. It is of course the mandate of IHF to cover all aspects of Iranian heritage and the events programme is intended to reflect this.

As usual during the year we awarded grants for academic and other projects and we were able to sponsor a number of events. These are all described in the report below, but here I would just like to draw attention to this very valuable but often underestimated service that IHF provides. In this way, and through our partnership arrangements with six prestigious UK institutions, we do much to promote and sustain interest in the cultural heritage of Iran. It is to be hoped that in the future we will be able to extend the very valuable institutional partnership programme, hopefully by providing short-term placements for Iranian students and scholars at UK universities and museums. Such arrangements will, we believe, do much to build capacity in Iran.

After the very successful Cyrus Cylinder tour in 2013, 2014 proved to be a quiet year for IHF America, but it is gratifying that the work of Simon Retttig, who was the IHF Fellow at the Freer Sackler gallery in Washington 2013–2014, came to fruition with the much acclaimed ‘Nasta’liq’ exhibition (13th September 2014 – 3rd May 2015). At present IHF America is ticking over under the watchful eye of Mandana Fard in San Francisco. We are aiming to embark on a more active programme at the end of 2015.

Towards the end of the year we began to roll out our new Friends of IHF membership scheme. After nearly 20 successful years it is clearly an overdue development. We have many thousands of people on our mailing list, but no clear idea of the number of supporters. We need to be able to identify a hard core of people who are committed to the support of Iranian cultural heritage. Friends pay an annual subscription of £100, and for this they get free access to all monthly events, discounted prices on conferences and other special events (including the Norouz gala dinner), and invitations to events that are only open to members (including an annual reception). Apart from providing much needed revenue for IHF, the membership scheme provides an opportunity for individuals to demonstrate their support for IHF and the promotion of Iranian studies.

From a personal point of view one of the highlights of the year was a visit to Iran in May to attend the 12th Annual Symposium on ‘The Archaeology of Iran’ where I gave a paper on ‘A Reconsideration of the Oxus Treasure’. In an accompanying special exhibition were some remarkable finds from recent excavations by the Iranian Centre for Archaeological Research, including finds from a Scythian cemetery at Meshkinshahr in Azerbaijan, Parthian textiles from a salt mine in Shahrabad in Zanjan, Sasanian stucco ornaments from Barz Qawala in Luristan, and Qajar period tiles and antiques found in Tehran. This conference in Tehran was followed by a symposium in Malayer on the archaeology of the town and its environs; here I talked about the abandonment in the early Achaemenid period of the nearby site of Tepe Nush-i Jan. After this, the Iranian Cultural Heritage Department kindly arranged for Vesta Sarkhosh and myself to visit Khorramabad Museum where we were shown about 100 silver vessels and other objects, part of the so-called ‘Western Cave Treasure’ (Kalmakareh). Many of these remarkable objects are inscribed with the name of an Elamite king called Ampirish and they allegedly date from the 7th or 6th century ??. When this hoard has been properly studied, and if all or most of the objects are proved to be genuine, this hoard has the potential to revolutionise what we know about the history of Iran in the period before Cyrus the Great.

This review gives me a chance to thank all those who during the year have worked tirelessly in the IHF office. Denise Lyrintzi left us at the end of March and has now returned to North America, and in April we were joined by my former British Museum colleague Astrid Johansen, who has taken responsibility for organising our expanding public programme. Nahid Assemi continues to run the small grants programmes, and Alice Piller Roner is responsible for accounts and the website. Lastly, I would like to single out for special mention Bardia Panahy, our Honorary Treasurer, who keeps the IHF accounts in good order on an entirely voluntary basis. To him and everybody else I extend my heartfelt thanks, and I am confident that moving forward we have a team in place to take IHF from strength to strength.

Dr. John E. Curtis, OBE, FBA
Chief Executive Officer