Who Owns What? Who Owns the Moment?
Monday, September 30, 2013
In the mid-3rd century CE, Shapur I, the second king of Persia’s Sassanid Empire, defeated Roman forces in their eastern provinces. Among his victories was his capture of Valerian, a Roman general at Edessa, now Urfa, in Turkey. Shapur’s success against the Romans was the subject of many rock carvings, including one at the Necropolis just north of Persepolis.
While the image of Shapur humbling Valerian is striking, the setting for this particular version of the event is even more dramatic. The tomb of Darius the Great, who died in 486 BCE, is also among the other features of the Necropolis. The visitor can only imagine the sound and sight of workers carving Shapur’s achievement into the same rock face. Clearly, the decision intended to make a statement about Persian leadership over generations. Who owned this moment?
While we were at Persepolis, at bit earlier in the day, we walked through the majestic ceremonial site of halls and palaces, trying to absorb the details of what actually occurred here. Subject nations would arrive to celebrate the ancient Persian new year, pay their taxes, and stay for two weeks, then return home. Messages in various languages were carved into the columns, as well as scenes of archers, priests, and animals. A common motif was a lion devouring a bull, the sign of spring defeating winter….important because Persians marked the new year in March, even as modern Iranians do. These ancient families exchanged gifts, the same occurs now. What would the ancient children receive? What games would they play? What would their squabbles look like, and who would tattle on whom? Would a little one learn to walk here to delight her noble parents? Who owned these moments?
UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites program properly designated Persepolis as a very important location, of course, and yet, as we encounter this place now, in 2013, our drive to see it in another ways tugs at our heritages. The Islamic Republic of Iran cares for it, among the country’s other historical buildings and sites. Iran has many thousands of mosques that are well over 400 years old. Who owns the precious meditative time that passes in them still? Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) assist in surveilling these sites to help ensure that people do not damage them. Who owns what, in this case?
Personal encounters at Perspepolis are magical and transcend international boundaries. Who owns the moment of watching a child try to chase down a tiny lizard?
Who owns the moment of encountering elderly Iranian women, chatting in the shade while nibbling on delicious dark chocolate candies? (They shared.) Who owns the moment of my asking to photograph them, and my seeing one lovely woman take the ring from her finger and use it to hold her scarf under her chin…so the ring would show in the photograph?
Who owns the moment of our coming upon a couple who were heating up their lunch as part of their picnic? We all laughed when they showed us what was in their cooking pot…pizza!
Who owns the laughter that we shared and sent out into the ancient air at Persepolis? Well, all of us, really.
Can we get laughter and such shared moments on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List? Let’s try, at least, to count such times as very important especially as they add to our personal and collective global understanding.