The Iranian


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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


March 12, 2001

Confusing everyone about our identity

A friend who lives in the UK, recently said that a globe recently purchased from W.H. Smiths, a large chain of book/stationary shops, for his son's school project had Arabian Gulf on it. It did not really surprise me since the Brits have always used any chance to divide and rule. One such tactic has been to encourage the Arabs.

But I must say as someone who has spent most of his adult life in the West, we Iranians have succeeded in confusing everyone about our identity and cultre, ourseleves included ["Bring back Persia"]. I have also come to believe that we Iranians have diluted our identity by over-educating foriegners. In our eagerness to defend the Iranian image outside we have created confusion about the name of the country, the name of our people, the name of our seas and the name of our language.

Is the country Iran or Persia? Are we Persians or Iranians? Farsi or Persian? And because of the questions we have created we are not helping the fight to keep the Persian Gulf, Persian.

The English name for our language is Persian. Yet because of our blind patriotism we have confused the people in the West by imposing Farsi -- the word used in the Persian language, which in reality is not even Persian but the Arabic name for our language. Small point? Read on.

When our forefathers in the 1930's asked to change the country's name, they were so eager to escape the colonial powers' influence and establish Iranian rights over their own affairs that they did not think about the consequences. One consequence is that because of the phonetic inadequecies of the English alphabet, Iran and Iraq sound the same.

This may seem insignificant. However, it has made it very easy for average Westerner who is very provincial and has very little knowledge outside his small sphere to consider Iran as part of the Arab world. Small point but it adds up.

More importantly, it contributes to the dilution of our identity. By calling the country Iran, we broke the link between the country's name and the Persian Gulf. The Brits cleverly refused to accept Iranian Gulf and it provided them with the perfect divide and rule tactic between us and the Arabs.

After the revolution, in their eagerness to take the lead in the Moslem world, the Islamic Republic forgot the basic historical fact that Iranians chose Shiism as means of unification in order to preserve their own culture. It did not defend Iranian rights and was happy in its competition to be more Arab than the Arabs until it was rudely and disastrously awakened by Iraq's war. By then it was too late. The Arabs intensified their efforts to use the name Arabian Gulf.

You only need to look at the language used in the shipping and oil industries. All the tanker brokers are using the term (Arabian Gulf) and would not dare use the historical name (Persian Gulf), see the relevant sites for shipbrokers. It applies to trade journals in the oil industry (look at the Internet sites for McGraw Hill's Platts or Petroleum Argus). Olympic Airlines is now using Arabian Gulf in all its literature.

The use of this term was spilling into less specialist areas and general use. Action by Iranians in exile and late action by the IRI representatives has now caused some commercial organizations feeling like pigs in the middle to use the term Middle East Gulf.

I am pessimistic that we can get agreement about this issue as we Iranians are often incapable of reaching consensus or organizing ourselves effectively. Yet every one of us is proud of our history and is aware of our constant struggle against Arab influence.

Please beware that our bind patriotism on the one side and our ignorance of history on the other, directly leads to a dilution of our identity. Let's accept that the English name for our language is Persian and its equivalent in German, French etc. The country is called Iran and the people are Persians.

A.R. Beigie


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