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Newly Inscribed Sites: UNESCO’s World Heritage List


bolgarEarlier this month, on June 15th, 2014, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee met in Qatar and accepted application by several countries to have their national heritage sites to be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

It has been said that to explore a site on the list, is exploring outstanding universal values. These are locations which have witnessed and experienced human history, tradition and lives. There are today more than 1,000 sites to visit all over the world.

The recent additions include:

  • Bolgar Historical and Archeological Complex, Russian Federation,
  • Bursa and Cumalikizik, Turkey, the Birth Place of the Ottoman Empire
  • Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey, Germany
  • Caves of Maresha and Bet-Guvrin in the Judean Lowlands, Israel
  • Decorated cave of Pont d’Arc, limestone plateau of the Ardeche River France
  • Erbil Citadel, Iraq
  • Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Makkah, Saudi Arabia
  • Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point, USA
  • Namhansanseong, Republic of Korea
  • Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines –Southern Jerusalem, Battir, Palestine
  • Pergamon and its Multi-Layered Cultural Landscape, Turkey
  • Precolumbian Chiefdom settlements with stone spheres of the Diquis, Costa Rica
  • Pye Ancient Cities, Myanmar
  • Qhapaq Nan, Andean Road System in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile,Columbia, Equador, Peru
  • Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwall) at Patan, Gujarat, India
  • Shahr- I Sokhta (the Burnt City), emergence of first complex societies, Iran
  • Silk Roads, the Routes Network of Chan-an0 Tianshan Corridor, China, Kazakhstan
  • The Grand Canal, China
  • The Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont, Lange-Roero and Monferrato, Italy
  • Tomioka Silk Mill and Related Sites, Japan
  • Van Nellefabrick, Netherlands

Militants Destroy Heritage Tombs and Statues in Iraq


destroyIt has been reported that the militant Sunni Islamists who seized parts of northern Iraq last week, have now destroyed symbols of Iraq’s heritage in the city of Mosul, including statues of cultural icons and the tomb of a medieval philosopher. Witnesses have reported that militants have destroyed a statue of Othman al-Mousuli, a 19th Century Iraqi musician and composer, and the statue of Abu Tammam, an Abbasid-era Arab poet.

The tomb of Ibn al-Athir, an Arab philosopher who traveled with the army of warrior sultan Salahuddin in the 12th century was desecrated after militants took the city. Witnesses said the domed shrine had been razed and a park around it dug up. The militants, whose strict Salafi interpretation of Islam deems the veneration of tombs to be idolatrous, have destroyed several tombs and mosques inside Syria and now in neighboring Iraq where they have seized towns and cities.



Remains of Ancient Plague Victims Found in Egypt


skeletonA team of an Italian Archaeological Mission, have uncovered the remains of an epidemic in Egypt. While working at the Funerary Complex of Harwa and Akhimenru in the ancient city of Thebes (modern-day Luxor) in Egypt, the team found bodies covered with a thick layer of lime, which was historically used as a disinfectant. The researchers also found three kilns where the lime was produced, as well as a giant bonfire containing human remains, where many of the plague victims were incinerated.

The funerary complex of Harwa and Akhimenru, located on the west bank of the ancient city of Thebes is one of the largest private burial monuments in Egypt. Built in the seventh century B.C. for a grand steward named Harwa, it was used continuously for burial after his death. And now, the team of Italian archaeologists have reported discovering the cremated remains of a number of victims of the “Plague of Cyprian” at a funerary complex.

It has been reported according to LiveScience that Cyprian left a gut-wrenching record of what the victims suffered before they died. “The bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength [and] a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces (an area of the mouth),” he wrote. Modern-day scientists have speculated that the disease may have been a virulent case of smallpox or measles. The plague killed two emperors — Hostilian and Claudius II Gothicus —and weakened the Roman Empire.


Mummified Monks Showcased in Capuchin Monastery


monks The Capuchin monastery in Brno, in the Czech Republic has unveiled 24 mummies preserved in their robes, holding the rosary beads and has put them on display.

The mummified remains of 18th century monks are the only remaining mummies of the 200 Capuchin Crypt monks and supporters of the religious order, who were buried until the end of the 18th century. According to a Brno tourism website, the composition of the rock and the special ventilation system in the buried champers allowed the corpses to be mummified and preserved.

The church is decorated with Baroque sculptured dating to around 1765. Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic and the largest Moravian city.

Ol Doinyo Lengai to be Considered for World Heritage Site


OldoinyolengaiEarlier this spring, WCHV learned that UNESCO has proposed to Tanzania that the area around Ol Doinyo Lengai, one of Tanzania’s active volcanoes and the country’s third highest mountain, be turned into a World Heritage Site. Ol Doinyo Lengai represents exceptional scenic and natural beauty of the country.

Tanzania is currently home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites but a few years ago, the country withdrew an application for the recognition of the EasternArcMountains to actually pave the way for logging and mining in the ecologically sensitive water tower area of the sprawling East African country. Many questions regarding the circumstances surrounding the decision were asked. About the same time, many issues arose over plans to construct a highway across the main migration routes of the great herds in the Serengeti. In addition, plans to mine for uranium mining in the Selous Game Reserve, which is another prized World Heritage Site and the intended construction of a hydroelectric dam at Stiegler’s Gorge, have created major disagreements between Tanzania and the UNESCO over handling of cultural sites by the country.


Teach History of Persian Civilization in California Schools


Interview with Jaleh Niazi

From: Soheila Vahdati

If your child attended school in California, you may have noticed that they essentially have not learned anything about the Persian Empire as part of their school curriculum. All they have been taught is that there was a great, ancient civilization in Greece, and that the Greeks had an enemy whom they often warred with: the Persians! But why haven’t they learned about the Persian Empire as a great, ancient civilization in its own right, rather than defined as the enemy of Greeks?

This is a question that is currently being asked by a group of Iranian-American parents who are set to correct the school history books and give the Persian Empire and Iran’s historya rightful place in the history books. They are a handful of successful professionals who have made the time for grassroots activism in their busy daily lives. They have created a website HistoryAdvocates.com where you can find more about their concerns and activities.

I have had the pleasure to talk to one of the members, Jaleh Niazi, a pediatrician and mother of three, regarding the activism of a group of parents called, ‘History Advocates,’ on the matter.

Vahdati – Why do you think Greek history has a place in the school books, but Persian history does not?

Niazi – Your question is an excellent one with a complicated set of answers.  Let me start by saying that the existence of a certain amount of pro-Greek or pro-Classical bias is to be expected.  This is due to the fact that the civilizations of modern Europe claim the Greeks (and subsequently the Romans) as their direct ancestors, who were, in turn, the adversaries of the various Persian dynasties ruling western Asia from the sixth century BC to the advent of Islam.  It is natural, therefore, to provide more air-time to one’s “ancestors” rather than to those who are viewed as their enemies.  Another reason is that the vast majority of historical texts pertaining to the Greeks and the Persians during antiquity were written by Greek authors.  These texts are more often than not expressions of a Greek-speaking national identity uniting against the ambitions of the considerably larger Persian Empire.

It is important to realize, however, that despite this antagonism the ancient Greeks found much to admire and to emulate in Persians and that there was much interaction between the cultures, with Greek soldiers fighting as mercenaries for the Persians, Greek doctors serving at the Persian court, and Greek women and men adopting the dress and other cultural artifacts of their neighbors to the East.  Even among their enemies, the Persians in the form of the founder of the Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great, had their own fan club as evidenced by Cyropedia, a biography of his life, written by the Greek historian Xenophon in 4th century BC.

iranbastanThis image in the 6th grade history book depicts a Persian soldier as a giant in comparison to a Greek soldier.

Vahdati – But it is the year 2014 now. Isn’t it time to update the view on Persian history?

Niazi – Well, it comes as a relief that modern scholarship has made great strides in providing a balanced investigation of the Persian Empire.  Thanks to the work of archaeologists and other specialists, the many positive features of the empire founded by Cyrus the Great in the sixth century BC highlight the lasting contributions of the Persian Empire to civilization. According to the latest scholarship, the Persian Empire, which was the largest empire ever at its time, not only introduced new ideas of governance and cultural tolerance, but positively influenced many of the other civilizations, including those of the Greeks and the Romans.  In the words of Professor John Lee(1) who on our groups behalf, is currently collaborating with the California State Board of Education (CSBE) on revisions to the Framework: “some may protest that there is not enough room in the curriculum to treat every ancient civilization. It is hardly possible, however, to argue that Achaemenid Persia should be excluded for lack of space. Achaemenid Persia played a central role in the development of the ancient world. For two centuries it was the largest empire the world had ever seen, spanning Egypt, Europe, the Near East, Central Asia, and South Asia. The Achaemenids created an enduring legacy that has influenced everything from ideas of rulership to the development of gardens and irrigation.”   Professor Lee suggests that Alexander, whom we idealize as a great ruler, actually was heavily influenced by the Persian method of governance.  According to Julian Raby(2) Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire is credited with freeing the Jews and allowing them to return to Jerusalem to build the Second Temple and “reshape” Judaism.  In the words of Professor David Stronach (3) the world renowned expert on Iranian archaeology, Cyrus is the only ruler who is mentioned in laudatory terms in the Bible.  According to the director of the British Museum, Professor Neil McGregor, “(Cyrus’s) method of governance as portrayed by the Greek writer Xenophon, in the book “Cyropaedia” was well known to our Founding Fathers, including Jefferson!”  According to him, Jefferson kept multiple copies of the book and “referred to it regularly.”

Vahdati – Then why is it not reflected in the US school books? Why aren’t our children learning about a civilization that not only shaped great leaders of the past, but may have influenced the thinking of the Founding Fathers’ of the United States of America?

Niazi – As we explored this question with our children’s teachers, it became apparent that they had to adhere to strict guidelines from the CSBE, which limited their ability to teach updated information.  These Content Standards were introduced as a bill and had to be ratified in the State Legislature.  But why were the Standards so unrealistic and skewed against the Persians. According to Professor Lee, the Western colonialist in the nineteenth century in order to justify their exploits began to portray other civilizations in a negative light, including the Persian Civilization.  Also, more recent finds and excavations were not available at the time the Content Standards were formulated.  We are told that Achaemenid Persia (550-330 BC), as a separate topic, is now very commonly a subject of discussion at international meetings for the study of Greek History.  In fact, there is a lag at this point between the latest scholarship and what is being taught in our schools.

Vahdati – How is the content of school history books defined, and how does it get modified or updated?

Niazi – If you look at the Content Standards for 6th grade, when ancient history is first introduced to our young students, there are particular civilizations/cultures that are required to be taught, namely, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Kush, Hebrew, Ancient Greece and Rome.  Under the subsection, Persian Wars, in the Greek section, the students are to be briefly introduced to the Persian Empire.  Unfortunately, that little exposure is fraught with misinformation.  In the sixth grade history textbook of our children, “History Alive” 2004 edition*, a fictional letter is written by a Greek soldier to a loved one who is on his way to fight those “murderous invaders,” of course, referring to the Persians.

Vahdati – Is your goal then to have the Content Standards modified and updated?

Niazi –  Of course. But there has been a freeze on the upgrade of the Content Standards since 1998.  This freeze is proposed to be lifted by a current Senate Bill, SB-1057, which just passed in the Senate on May 29, 2014.  While our ultimate goal is to change the Content Standards, currently we are working on the Framework.

Vahdati – What is Framework? Does it also need legislature approval?

Niazi – I should first explain the difference between Content Standards and Framework. The Content Standards is in outline form and is the absolute guideline which the Framework is based on. The Framework is a more detailed explanation of the Content Standards. It is currently being revised by CSBE based on a previous bill by Senator Hancock SB 1540, which became law in September of 2012.

With the revision of the Framework we have an opportunity to provide accurate inform- ation for the Persian subsection in the Greek section. Professor John Lee has already written a proposed revision for that section of the Framework.

If SB-1057 is passed, then the Content Standards change and there would be an opportunity to add Persian Civilization as a distinct civilization of the ancient world.  Also, the upgrade for the current Framework will be stopped and a more fundamental change would be needed.

Vahdati – If this bill passes, then could we assume that your work is done?

Niazi – No. If SB-1057 passes, it is not guaranteed that the updated curriculum would contain the Persian Civilization as a distinct civilization, but the committee which most likely would be looking at this ( Instructional Quality Commission (IQC)), is already aware of our concerns . Our role is to continue to advocate for the latest scholarship of Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian History in the Content Standards, facilitating the process in anyway.

Vahdati – Now, after talking about the History Advocates’ concerns, let us talk about the actions. What specific steps are you taking to redress this issue?

Niazi – First, we contacted world renowned scholars in the field and obtained their support in redressing this issue. Such scholars would play an important role in providing the content for the revised curriculum.

We then wrote a letter to CSBE to voice our concerns, which has resulted in several meetings and ongoing collaboration.  As a result, we are working with the CSBE to update the Framework for all the history content of grades K-12 as it pertains to Ancient Persian History all the way through modern Iranian History and Iranian-American demographics in California. A high-ranking CSBE representative has been open to our concerns and helpful in suggesting ways to make changes.  He has also asked for expert opinion on reformulating the Framework and we have put him in contact with our scholars.  Sometime in late June or early July, recommendations for the upgrade of the Framework will be accepted by CSBE which will be reviewed and finalized by September.  We continue to serve as a liaison between the scholars, who have expressed an interest in updating the Framework and CSBE.  The actual recommendations for revisions to the Framework to the CSBE will actually be made by us, the concerned parents, based on our scholars’ recommendations.   Prof. John Lee, for example, has already provided us with specific recommendations for a particular part of the Framework.

We also met with TCI, the publishing company for the 6th grade history book, “History Alive”, with the help and attendance of a high-ranking official from the CSBE, and the CEO and senior officials of TCI.  In that meeting, we voiced our objections to the slanderous language used to describe Persians and the lack of adequate coverage of the Persian Civilizations. The TCI officials apologized for the 2004 edition of the 6th grade history book and pointed to their 2011 edition, which has taken out the derogatory sentences, but still is lacking any substantial information on Persian Civilizations.  This edition has not been recommended by the State yet, because it still has many deficiencies. TCI also promised to provide an updated supplementation on their website for teachers who opt to use it, but to my knowledge this hasn’t materialized yet.

We also have been in touch with our senator, Senator Loni Hancock, who not only has given us her full support, but has been extremely helpful in guiding us through the process.  We continue to reach out to other representatives to educate them about the issue.

The CSBE tells us that School Districts are in charge of buying new books and supplemental material with funds allotted to them.  Berkeley Unified School District has been extremely open to our criticism and has reportedly alerted all of their teachers to this fact.  However, the infamous book, “History Alive!”2004 edition is still being taught in the district.   It is unfortunate that the same 2004 edition is being used to teach our youngest daughter’s sixth grade class this year, despite BUSD (Berkeley Unified School District)’s awareness and concern about this issue.

I should add that on the side, we have taken many steps to gain support and awareness of this issue.   We contacted the Getty Villa and the San Francisco Asian Art Museum and wrote a joint letter to the Superintendent of California Schools to inform him of the significant Cyrus Cylinder Tour that was happening this year in the United States.

Vahdati – How can other parents and Iranian-Americans in general join you and the grassroots movement?

Niazi – Of course. For the Iranian-Americans in California the unbalanced portrayal of ancient Persians is perplexing and at times demeaning, but for all of our children the lack of accurate history, especially in a global environment, can add to a lack of awareness and understanding of other cultures, especially with regards to the Middle East.

So with regards to your question of how to join this movement, we would say:

  • Sign the petition,  http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/ancient-persian-history and pass the word, asking your friends to sign it, too. Educate your friends and family about the importance of this bill.  SB-1057, though important for our cause, is not limited to Persian Civilizations alone.  It is a bill which is requiring regular updates to what is taught to our children based on the latest scholarship.  This is an essential bill which will keep Californian students updated with the most recent findings and scholarship in history and social sciences.
  • On our website, www.historyadvocates.com, there is a page “What You Can Do” where we have provided a template for other parents to write to the School Boards. There is also a least of Talking Points, and supplemental educational material to be shared with school districts.
  • Like our Facebook page, “Ancient History Advocates” so we can inform you of the latest developments on the issue.

Should you have any specific suggestions or know of any scholars who would be interested in working with the CSBE please contact us at historyadvocates (at) gmail.com

Vahdati – Thank you for your efforts. I wish you all success.

Niazi – Thank you for giving me the opportunity to educate the public about our concerns.

* TCI’s (Teachers’Curriculum Institute) is a publisher, which is responsible for content and publishing of a significant portion of California school books.

** SB 1057



1-      Professor John Lee teaches Ancient Greece, Achaemenid Persia, and History of Warfare at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

1-      Julian Raby is the Director of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian.

2-      Professor David Stronach is an Emeritus faculty of the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California at Berkeley


Abu Dhabi’s Louvre Displays Treasures in Paris


1a7d4528The Louvre Museum is the world’s most visited museum, attracting up to 10 million visitors annually and it used to be just one in the world until the United Arab Emirates agreed to pay 400-million-euros ($553 million) over 30 years to house a branch in Abu Dhabi in a deal signed with the French government in 2007 according to Reuters.

Abu Dhabi hopes to eventually lure tourists to its own branch of the Louvre museum, once the doors are open to the public in December 2015. However, some of its treasures have gone on display at the Louvre in Paris until July 28, 2014.

“Birth of a Museum: Louvre Abu Dhabi” is a presentation of works from across the globe, which will eventually be part of the Abu Dhabi museum’s permanent collection which has been built up with the help of advisers from the Paris Louvre. These items include a gold bracelet decorated with lion heads crafted in Iran nearly 3,000 years ago, a Virgin and child painting by Giovanni Bellini and paintings by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

The museum which was designed by architect Jean Nouvel is a 64,000-square-meter (690,000-square-feet) structure, and one of three museums planned on an island near the center of Abu Dhabi.

The plans to open a Gulf branch of the Louvre originally sparked major concerns in France. However, such worries were brushed aside by the French government.

UAE is France’s largest trading partner in the Middle East, and Abu Dhabi also hosts France’s only military and naval base outside of Africa, and the only French-speaking university in the Gulf, a campus of Paris’s Sorbonne University. In 2010, the UAE also invested over 2 billion euros into France primarily in real estate acquisitions. The Louvre agreement includes sharing expertise in the acquisition of works of art and curatorship, as well as training and apprenticeships for future Emirati curators.

China to Demolish Fake Sphinx


China’s Fake SphinxA Chinese replica of the iconic Sphinx will be dismantled and demolished after an Egyptian ministry complained about the structure as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald and other news outlets. The massive copy of the ancient statue in the northern province of Hebei has drawn a lot of criticisms from the Egypt’s ministry of antiquities which has complained to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) about the imitation.

China has been known for copying Western goods ranging from running shoes to champagne, and also building up its replica reputation with a miniature Mount Rushmore, an Eiffel Tower and an entire Austrian village. In the case of sphinx replica, the officials of cultural park on the outskirts of the provincial capital Shijiazhuang have stated that the imitation has always meant to serve only as a temporary scene for shooting movies and television dramas and that they are very respectful to world cultural heritage and express our apologies for any misunderstanding.

It has been reported that the film reported by the Chinese was supported by an entertainment conglomerate based in southern China’s Hangzhou. The movie features a range of worldwide cultural heritages.

Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities called on UNESCO to implement the convention it signed in 1972 concerning the protection of the world’s cultural and natural heritage. The 1972 UNESCO convention states that the right of identification, presentation and transmission of monuments to the future generation belongs only to the state that owns them. It emphasizes the importance of safeguarding and protecting unique monuments, as they are considered irreplaceable property to the people.