DK: Having traveled for your film across the countries that were part of Cyrus’ Empire how much of his historical legacy is still present today be it architecturally or philosophically?
CK: Cyrus’s philosophical legacy survives today, more so in the West than in the country of his birth. Cyrus’s philosophy of ‘benevolent power’ may well have shaped America’s constitution. And since most of Western Europe modeled its constitutions after America’s, Cyrus may well have helped shape Western civilization, as we know it.
Architecturally little remains of Cyrus’s legacy. Cyropolis (The City Of Cyrus) in northern Tajikistan, still referred to by locals as “Kurkad” (short for Kurosh Kadeh), is but a mound of rubble today. We managed to film the last remaining brickwork visible on the mountain of dirt, which was once a massive fortress marking the northeastern-most border of his empire.
Furthermore the ruins of his capital city, Parsagarda, in southwestern Iran, are threatened by natural as well as man-made elements. The humidity resulting from the Sivand Dam, due to be inaugurated this Spring is expected to cause irreparable damage to Cyrus’s palatial ruins.
Even worse, the dam will forever engulf the site of one of Cyrus’s most historic battles. The rumors that both Parsagarda and Persepolis will be submerged under water are false and only empower those seeking to activate the dam. But the Tang-e Bolaghi will be lost forever and this will be a devastating loss to Cyrus’s legacy.
The entrance of Tang-e Bolaghi is the confirmed location where Cyrus won his decisive victory over the Median forces of Astyages. Cyrus considered his victory at Tang-e Bolaghi so important that Nicolaus of Damascus, Polyaenus, and Strabo all tell us that Cyrus chose the site of Parsagarda, just outside Tang-e Bolaghi, as his new capital, to commemorate his victory over Astyages. In other words, if not for Cyrus’s victory at Tang-e Bolaghi, the Persian Empire would have never existed. This sacred battleground will be lost to the Sivand Dam forever.
Imagine if the U.S. Government decided to flood Gettysburg, the hallowed battleground where the North won its decisive victory over the Confederate army of the South during America’s Civil War. Americans would be up in arms. Yet Iranians, unaware of the historic importance of Tang-e Bolaghi, allow their heritage to be slowly wiped away in the name of “progress.”
DK: Your film suggests that Cyrus’ ideals may well have influenced Western Democracy, and even the American Constitution and Bill of Rights. Could you develop?
CK: America’s founding fathers took ideas from many sources. Aristotle probably provided the blueprint for America’s democracy. But democracy does not necessarily guarantee human rights. In fact, it can lead to tyranny by the majority as it did in democratic Athens.
It is the U.S. Bill Of Rights, which makes America’s democracy so powerful. And I believe Cyrus had a direct influence on America’s Bill Of Rights.
In the Bible and the Cyropaedia, two of the most influential books read by the framers of America’s Constitution, Cyrus exemplifies how granting citizens basic, god-given rights not only won’t pose a threat to government but will even strengthen it.
But affording rights to citizens was risky business. Most rulers played it safe and followed Machiavelli’s ominous advice that “It is better to be feared than loved.” But America’s founders broke with tradition and chose Cyrus’s policy of ‘benevolent government’ for their new nation.
I reached this conclusion when I discovered five copies of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia at the Library Of Congress in Washington D.C. Two copies belonged to Thomas Jefferson, the author of the U.S. Constitution (one in Greek, the other in Latin). Another would have almost certainly belonged to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson’s closest confidant and another framer of America’s Constitution. The curator told me that there were many more copies of the Cyropaedia before the fire of 1851, which destroyed much of the library.
But for confirmation we only need to look at the U.S. Constitution itself. The laws which held together the Persian Empire such as the separation of church and state, freedom of religion, and the right to life, liberty, and due process are virtually reincarnated in America’s Constitution. The similarities between the United States and ancient Persia are not coincidental and neither was their meteoric rise to power.
DK: Your documentary must have required a great deal of research. Which experts did you consult on the subject and what were your sources?
CK: I drew on many sources for my research. First and foremost was Dr. David Stronach, who, despite his stature and fame in the field of Archeology, was the most generous and humble of scholars. Dr. Maria Brosius, Dr. Cliff Rogers, Dr. Jennifer Rose, Dr. Kamyar Abdi, Dr. Mathew Stolper, Dr. William Sumner, Dr. Shapur Shahbazi, and many others played a significant role in helping me develop a clear and credible picture of the man who was Cyrus The Great.
My research was further supplemented by many books most noteworthy of which were ‘The Cambridge History Of Iran,’ ‘Encyclopedia Iranica’ and Pierre Briant’s, ‘From Cyrus To Alexander.’
DK: Several directors hope to make a feature film on Cyrus such as British director Alex Jovey and Iranian American Kayvan Mashayekh (The Keeper : The Legend of Omar Khayyam ). Given your knowledge on this historical figure which Hollywood actor or from Iranian Cinema could best encompass Cyrus’ personality?
CK: Unfortunately I’m not familiar with any Iranian actors, many of who would undoubtedly do great justice to Cyrus’s image. But among Hollywood actors, I agree with my good friend Kayvan Mashayekh, who believes Clive Owen would capture Cyrus strong yet gentle nature. My second choice would be Benicio Del Toro
DK: Your documentary is still in production, when do you hope it will be out and where will it be distributed (Cinema or TV)?
CK: My film has languished due to lack of money. I have, so far, spent over $250,000 to complete pre-Production and am in the process of raising another $400,000 to finish post-Production which includes editing, sound, music, special effects, etc.
Once we raise the necessary funds, the film should be released within six months. I’m hoping to broadcast it to the combined, worldwide audiences of PBS and BBC. They are the most respectable outlets and offer the most reach since they are not pay channels.
I’m humbled by how many Iranians have rallied to our cause. Every single one of them is recognized on our website www.spentaproductions.com. I am truly honored by the trust and hard-earned money working Iranians are investing in me and my ability to bring something significant to the screen. I’m hoping a single wealthy donor will come forward to bring this project to a speedy conclusion.
DK: What would Cyrus the Great think of Ahmadinejad's comments on Israel being wiped out were he alive today?
CK: If we put politics aside and consider this question from a purely historical sense, it becomes quite clear that Cyrus recognized Judah, which is present-day Israel, as the Jewish homeland even 60 years after it had been destroyed by the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, who burned its capital Jerusalem to the ground and deported over 40,000 Jews to Babylon to serve as slaves.
60 years later, when Cyrus conquered Babylonia, he freed all its slaves including the Jews, whose numbers had swelled to almost 200,000 according to Pierre Briant and David Stronach. But it was what he did afterwards, which is in direct conflict with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments. Cyrus sent armed soldiers to escort the Jews back to Judah, and even paid to have their capital, Jerusalem rebuilt.
In other words, Cyrus created a new Jewish state, where none had existed for over six decades. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s seems bent on doing the exact opposite. He wants to wipe out a Jewish State, which has existed for almost six decades.
As a student of Persian history, I’ve learned that being Iranian is about more than just being born on the real estate, which comprises today’s Iran. It implies a set of values. The name Iranian by definition means “noble” or honorable. In fact, pre-Islamic Iranians referred to those who behaved dishonorably as “un-Iranian.”
Therefore, as a champion of truth and righteousness, its safe to say that Cyrus would have considered Mr. Ahmadinejad’s denial of the well-documented Holocaust and calls to wipe Israel off the map as lacking in honor.
DK: Given a quarter of a century of historical revisionism preached by the current Islamic Regime in Iran, do you feel that young Iranians today, particularly in Iran but also in the Diaspora, are aware of their pre-Islamic ancestry?
CK: Today, most Iranians can name the wives of the prophets Mohammad, Ali, and Hussein. But most cannot name the wife of Cyrus The Great. Her name of course was Cassandana, and she bore Cyrus five children.
It seems to me that Iran’s pre-Islamic history is just as important as its Islamic history. So why has Iran’s Islamic alter ego never made peace with its pre-Islamic history?
History forms our identities. Iranians are among the lucky few who can truly be proud of their history. But they first need to know about it and understand the significant role their ancestors played in shaping human civilization.
Our film is a small but important investment in future-generation Iranians inside and outside Iran. Films make learning fun. They’re faster and more entertaining than books. I believe a factual film about Cyrus The Great is important to complete the Iranian identity. <