Bring back Persia
It is not just about a name
By G. Motamedi
February 26, 2001
In the mid 1930s the ministry of foreign affairs of the government of
Persia issued a decree to all foreign diplomatic delegations in Tehran
prohibiting them from referring to the country as "Persia", requiring
them to call it "Iran" instead.
This strange act met no significant resistance at home, given the totalitarian
nature of the regime, widespread illiteracy, and the intelligentsia's lack
There was international disapproval but no effective measures were taken
to reverse it. After all, the world was on the verge of another global
war. Besides, who would be responsible for the internal affairs of a nation
other than that nation itself?
The hidden rationale, according to anecdotal reports, lied in the political
ties between the then government of Persia and the Nazi regime in Germany.
This undeclared alliance was based on common political ambitions of both
regimes against Britain and Soviet Union.
There were significant activities by the Nazis and their organized supporters
in Tehran. As witnessed by many Iranians studying in Germany at the time,
the Nazis honored Persians because of their "Aryan roots".
It is believed that close advisors to the Reza Shah suggested replacing
Persia with Iran (which possibly derives from "Aryan") as a show
of solidarity with the Germans. Even without documented proof of this story,
it is difficult to think of another reasonable explanation.
A generation after that unwise decision, no one recognizes us as the
nation that inherited the heritage of the Persian empire. No history book
is teaching students who we are as Persians. Instead, we are Iranians with
no connection to the past.
One may argue that those good old days of the Persian empire belong
to the past. And according to some self-critical intellectuals, the Persian
empire might not have been so glorious anyway. They say we have to think
about our present situation and worry about the future. What good would
a name do?
Wise thinking, in a sense. But could anyone ignore the power of national
pride in building the future? It is not just about a name, it is about
national identity. No nation and no honest leadership would give up on
a hard earned national identity.
Some may try to console themselves that not all Iranians are Persians.
The fact of the matter is that the boundaries are blurred anyway if you
are considering the genetics of the case. That is not the basis of this
argument. Far from it.
Nations have been formed around major cultural elements such as language,
traditions and religion. Nations consisting of people with different ethnical
or religious backgrounds, share enough of these cultural elements to feel
they belong to one nation.
This normally happens over centuries. The longer these common ties,
experiences and sufferings, the stronger the solidarity of a nation. The
whole advantage of feeling part of a nation is its spiritual power that
helps us move forward.
The way we look at modern Persian nationalism is like a defensive mechanism
against backwardness -- not chauvinism against any other nationality or
ethnic group inside or outside our country. The glorious past is just a
reminder to ourselves of the hope for renewed success in the future.
Is there really any validity to that piece of paper sent to foreign
embassies in Tehran more than sixty years ago? We were never asked if we
agreed with the name change. Why should our children living abroad remain
shy Persians who introduce themselves quietly as "Persian... you know...