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More than green, white, and red
History of the Iranian flag

Davood N. Rahni
January 15, 2005

The Persian Parade in New York adopted the Iranian flag with the following resolution:

-Whereas a Flag is said to symbolize the beliefs and aspirations of a nation throughout its life,

-Whereas a Flag is an icon that represents the cultural and historical identity and integrity of a nation,

-and Whereas a Flag is the manifestation of a nation's independence, pride, and her unique lifestyles and norms,

It is henceforth resolved that,

The Persian Parade Committee unanimously adopts the historical three colored (Green-White-Red) Flag of Iran with the archaeologically inscribed Lion, Sword and Sun emblem as present in Persepolis as the official Flag of the Persian Parade.

It is further resolved that the selection of this historical Flag as a national symbol should not bemisconstrued as an endorsement by the Persian Parade of political organizations that have also adopted it as their symbols in the past few decades. The Flag does belong to ALL Iranian peoples.

The decision for the adoption of the above Flag is based upon exhaustive deliberations and feedback from representatives of the Iranian American Community of nearly a million strong, and through full participations by organizational board members and civic leaders of our community as present at numerous inaugural meetings of the Persian Parade.

The mythological and symbolic meanings for the Flag are as follows:

Color Green: Appreciation of natural esthetics. Green is a sacred color in Islam attributed to Mohammad's descendents. Green is also denoted in Pire-Sabz (the green pontiff), the Zoroastrian pilgrimage near Yazd.
Color White: Friendship, reconciliation, peace, purity, passage from the material world, Zoroaster's favorite sacred color
Color Red: Sacrifice, revolution, martyrdom, tinkering and dynamical thinking safeguarding the country's and nation's independent and integrity
Lion: Bravery, magnificence
Sun: Warmth, source of energy and life, continuity
Sword: Resistance, strength, triumph, resilience

Pishdadian era (circa 750 BCE)
The first legendary Flag of Iran is said to be the Derafshe Kaviani. It was made of a long rectangular leather apron as used by national hero Kaveh the ironsmith during the reign of King Fereidoun. Ferdowsi the Persian "Homer" referred to this leather apron as the symbol of Iranian independence, resistance, resilience and the revolutionary momentum of the masses revolt against evil invaders. This Flag was decorated with yellow, magenta and scarlet silk string tassels. Kaveh was later pronounced Kavak in Sassanid Pahlavi language meaning "glorious", and so the Derafshe Kaviani was also called, the Glorious Flag of Iran.

Achaemenians Empire (559-323 BCE)
During the Achaemenians, especially the Cyrus era, the Persian Empire Flag was made of up of a kinglike image, rectangular in shape, split into four equivalent triangles. Each two of these four train triangles had the same color. The national Iranian Flag was, however, the same as the Derafshe Kaviani as cited earlier.

Sassanian Dynasty (224-642)
The Flag at this historical juncture was again made of rectangular leather, covered with thin layer of silk ornamented with jewels, in the center of which there was a four cornered star, pointing to the four corners of the world. This is the same star referred to as Akhtare Kaviani (the Kaviani star) by Ferdowsi in the epics of Shahnameh (the Book of Kings). This Flag was larger than the original Derafshe Kaviani installed on a long javelin, the tip of which was shown above the flag. At the bottom of this flag there were woven strings of yellow, magenta and scarlet, hanging from them were large jewels.

The Iranian Flag after the advent of Islam (650-900)
Although there was no universally accepted flag in Iran at the time, one should nonetheless cite the existence of two flags that ultimately became symbols of resistance against the Arabian Islamic invaders:

1. Moslem Khorasani who led the resistance struggle against the invaders mostly in eastern Iran's Khorasan and central Asia, used a large rectangular Flag in solid black and with no other symbols on it.

2. Bobak Khorram Din, who primarily led the resistance struggle against the Arab invaders along the Caspian Sea in today's Mazandaran and Guilan, employed a large rectangular Flag in solid red with no other symbols on it.

It is believed that the two above plain Flags had no figurative or other expressive symbols on them, since Islam, denouncing the worship of idols, had strongly forbidden against such symbols.

Ghaznavi Kings (998-1052)
Sultan Mahmoud Ghaznavi, the founder of the first Persian dynasty after the Arab invasion who reinstated the use of symbolic expressions on the Iranian Flag. This solid rectangular black Flag had in its center inscribed a golden moon.

Sultan Mahmoud Ghazavi is also credited as the first, whom inspired by Lion's inscription on the walls of Perspolis and silverware left from 2600 years ago, began using the lion as a national symbol. It was indeed during Sultan Mahmoud's rein when an archeological plate with a lion inscribed on it, a sun on its shoulders, and its right hand raised, was excavated in Rey. We now have historical evidence to conclude that although both the lion and the sun emerged on our Flag 700 years ago, the lion image alone had appeared on the Iranian Flag from at least 950 years ago. We must also emphasize that the Lion and the sun were inscribed on the walls of Persepolis 2500 years ago.

Many scholars believe Iranians used the sun to represent a reemergence of Mitra in their culture after the advent of Islam, as the use of figurative imagery of Mitra herself was prohibited by Islamic decree. In Mehrism/Mithraism's ascension to paradise, the fourth step is attributed to lion and the sixth one attributed to the sun.

The lion as icons for Iranians
As eluded to earlier the lion symbolized power, decisiveness, and strong leadership with justice and equity in mind since antiquity. Again with the advent of Islam and the adoption of Shiisim in Iran, this lion was manifested with close association to Ali, the Prophet Mohammad's cousin, thus the Ali's lion (shire Morteza Ali) as known in the Medieval Iranian literature. Although the Atabakan-e Pars and Khawrizmshaian dynasties at times utilized Flags that were black or red, the lion, nonetheless, remained an integral component of their Flag.

The sun for Iranians has remained a symbol of permanence, energy, life, light and illumination and enlightenment, cleanliness and absolution, the driving force behind the cycles of animals and plants. It has been regarded as the celestial body that plays a crucial role in human life since pre-historic antiquity. Sun as the symbol of Mithraism, Mazdaism, Monism and Mehr faiths in Persia preceded Christianity for almost 1400 years; Mithraism is said by some to be the precursor of Christianity, as evident by archeological ruins in the lower level of the Vatican.

The Safavid Dynasty (1502-1736)
Shah Esmail killing Uzbek leader Mohammad Sheybani in a battle near Merv, 1510
The Safavids were the descendents of Sheik Joneid, who himself was one of Sheikh Safiuddin Ardebili's grandsons. There is evidence that the lion and sun symbol appeared on Sheikh Joneid's Flag. One can therefore recognize the regular and continuous use of the lion and the sun on Iranian Flag representing the national identity since 1400 CE, notwithstanding the inevitable dynastic changes in the government. Among the Safavid kings, Shah Esmail and Shah Tahmasb were the only ones who adopted Flags without the lion and the sun. Shah Esmail's Flag was triangular green with a moon on top, while Shah Tahmasb's was a green triangle with a sheep on top, since he was born in Farvardin (Capricorn zodiac).

The Afsharieh Dynasty (173-1805)
The Iranian Flag had one solid color: black, red or green since the Sassanids through the Safavids. Nader Shah Afhar removed the black and replaced it with white while maintaining the other two, red and green. He still maintained the triangular geometry of the Flag with the lion and the sun but no sword in the lion's hand.

The Zandieh (1750-1794)
This was a very short period in Iranian history and we do not know what their Flag looked like.

The Qajar Dynasty (1779-1924)
The Iranian Flag became a four-cornered rectangle for the first time one during the reign of Agha Mohammad Khan. The triangular shaped Flag therefore, as "inspired" from the Tazian (Arab) invasion of nearly a millennium earlier, was finally put to oblivion. This king is the one who integrated in the two-edged "Ali" sword as it had appeared in certain Safavid era Flags with the lion and the sun, thus the lion, sun and sword as we still have it integral of the Flag today. The sword was always regarded as a symbol for power, justice and people's resistance, and thus had socio-cultural but equally significant religious meaning. A royal crown appeared above the lion for a short period during the Qajar Fath-ali shah.

It was during the Mohammad Shah reign that the three colored flag (horizontal equal stripes of green on top, white in the middle, and green on bottom) and a lion, sun and sword as inscribed or evolved in our history for at least over 2500 years, was officially chartered as the Flag representing the Nation of Iran (Persia) worldwide.

During Nasser-eddin Shah, the crown, as it had for a short period been accepted, was removed, presumably to differentiate the national Flag from the monarchy. Mozaffar-eddin Shah officially endorsed the Mashrootiat (Monarchy system) as adopted in part from the French and Belgian systems of government and consistent with the unique cultural and religious traditions in the country. The 1906 Constitution cites in its Fifth Amendment: "The Official Flag of Iran is the three striped colored green-white-red with a lion and sun in its center. No mention of the royal crown is cited herein."

The Pahlavi Dynasty (1925-1979)
This Flag remained the official Flag during the reign of Pahlavi. During the Pahlavi reign, a royal light blue Flag with a royal emblem as below developed for the sole purpose of representing the Pahlavi family. During the latter decades of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the three-colored only Flag without the lion, sun and the sword was regarded as the National Flag (Melli) and employed by the retailers and private sectors.

Islamic Republic (1979-)
In 1979, the newly established Islamic republic of IRAN removed the lion and the sun, and replaced it with a calligraphic Arabic word design in the Flag center that could either be read as "Allah" (GOD) and or Laelaha Ellallah (there is no God but one almighty God). Then, a repetitious word Allaho Akbar (God is the greatest) was placed along the white stripe in both the green and the red sections. For a short period in 1979-80, this was the sole flag of Iran. The same had also been regarded as the National flag of Iran during the Pahlavi rein.

Some Organizations in the Iranian American Community of nearly _ million strong have adopted the Flag below to represent their nostalgic cultural ties to their motherland of origin, while reaffirming their commitment to their adopted land.

A Flag as it continues to evolve throughout the history of nation does belong to the nation as whole. For instance, the historical three-colored green-white-red Flag of Iran and the lion-sun-sword in its center belongs to ALL people of Iranian heritage. So, if this Flag is also adopted by political organizations as their symbols, this in and of itself would not exclude its continuous use and proprietorship by the Nation. The political establishment and specific forms of government come and go in history, but a nation's legacy, as exemplified by its values, norms, symbols and aspirations remains eternal.

New York-based reporter Dr. Davood N. Rahni is a novice commentator on cultural and political affairs. By profession, he is professor of chemistry, environmental science and environmental law. An excerpt of this flag chronology was presented by Dr. Zia Ghavami at a recent Persian Heritgae organizational meeting.

1. This article is in part the translation of the original article on the History of Iranian
Flag in this issue of PHM by Dr. Zia Ghavami, M.D..
2. Lion and the sun emblem, the three thousand years old symbol By Nasser Entegha
Iranica Encyclopedia Ehsan Yarshater Columbia University Project
3. The History of lion and the sun By Ahmad Kassravi
4. The Iranian Flag and the its lion/sun emblem by Saeed Nafissi
5. The Mazdisna Literature Ostad Ebrahim Pourdavood
6. The History of Iranian Flag by Dr. Nosratollah Teymourtash
7. The Persian History by Dr. Mohammad Moein
8. The Iranian Constitution (1907) The Iranian Parliament
9. The Ancient Iranian History Moshiroddolah Pirnia
10. The Poetry Anthology Ahmad Shamloo
11. The current Official Flag of Iran
12. Iranian national flag
13. Historical Flags of Iran
14. The Ethnic Flags of Iran
15. History of Iranian Flags Directory

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Davood N. Rahni



Book of the day

Three volume box set of the Persian Book of Kings
Translated by Dick Davis

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