Iran Isn't all Persian
By Vahid Isabeigi
May 16, 2002
One of the exponentially growing tendencies amongst the Iranians today is to
reject the fact that they are Iranian while by just sticking to the ambiguous and
less-inclusive term of Persian, which addresses only half of Iran's multi-ethnic
population while ruling out the other half, who are equally proud of their Iranian
Heritage thanks to their intermingling with the indigenous people of this area over
the centuries. This inadvertent attitude of generalising Iranians into just being
Persians, which has recently gained momentum, poses some very detrimental and deleterious
consequences for the ethnical integrity of Iran.
For centuries, we have proven to our neighbours with nefarious intentions that Iran
can burgeon and blossom both economically and socially as a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual
society while retaining its glorious mother tongue, Persian, which is adored by all
minorities co-existing within the boundaries of Iran. In comparison to Turkey, where
if you are a Kurd, your chance of obtaining some paramount jobs in some selected
fields is immediately derailed and you are utterly deprived of the right to practice
your culture, Iran has never been notorious for belittling or suppressing its multi-ethnic
population. In comparison to Iraq, where the state explicitly snubs its citizens
of Turkmen, Kurdish, and Assyrian origin by means of a steady policy of pacification
leading to some momentous and notable ethnic clashes, Iran has always been deemed
as the most tolerant country in the region in terms of its permissiveness of the
prosperity of miscellaneous diverse cultures within its frontiers.
Ethnic clashes, fueled by neighbours to menace Iran's multi-lingual structure, have
always formed the fulcrum of major threats facilitating the spectre of secession.
This dreaded word of secession has impinged substantially on the mutual foreign relations
of Iran with neighbouring countries. Will Iran ever divide into several countries?
Above all, are the minorities living in Iran content with being Iranian and speaking
Persian as their lingua franca while at the same time retaining their distinct cultures?
While this being a very hypothetical question, the answer of which could vary overwhelmingly
from one region to another, the general public opinion, based on most observations
denotes the willingness of most minorities to remain Iranian.
On the other hand, while Iran's neighbours are primarily culpable for threatening
the ethnical integrity of Iran, this newly-arisen attitude of Persians to generalise
all Iranians as being Persians has already started to show its adverse and unfavourable
ramifications. Recent indignant feedback of various minorities from all corners of
Iran illustrates their discontentment, though definitely not as much as minorities
in Turkey or Iraq, with this intensifying rejective propensity of Persians whereby
they, Persians, have started to take it for granted, implicitly, that all minorities
should call themselves Persian. This is a monstrous ideology disrespecting the precarious
multi-ethnic structure of Iran.
Over the centuries, most of Iran's minorities ranging from Azaris to Kurds and from
Lors to Arabs, have been granted equal rights in administrative and political posts.
However, current trends portray an equivocal and conflicting picture. Most Iranians
living in the West, when they meet someone from Iran, ask them the question of are
you Persian? rather than are you Iranian?. While some people ascribe this
tendency to the mounting enmity of the West against Iran and Iranians due to the
adversity of the policies of the Islamic Republic, which has clearly instigated most
people to take refuge behind the word Persian rather than Iranian, it is irrefutable
that Persian is not synonymous with Iranian and although many non-Persian Iranians
are also affectionate to the word Persian, this is not a valid reason for one to
call every Iranian Persian. I find our so-called prolific Iranian-American Community
of 2 million primarily to blame for not having engaged in politics enough to stave
off the circulating stereotypes against Iranians on the American Media. Why aren't
we interested in representing Iranians abroad and forming an Iranian Lobby despite
constituting one of the most prosperous and best well-educated communities of the
This demonstrates that there has apparently been growing an aversion to the word
Iranianamongst some Persians, who emphatically advocate the resurrection of
the name Persia to supersede Iran and predictably Persian for replacing Iranian.
Fine but, what is Persia? What is its extent of inclusiveness? While this is still
being an imponderable, within today's borders of Iran, Persia would more or less
encompass Yazd, Esfehaan, Kermaan, Fars, Semnaan, Markazi, Tehraan and some other
portions of the central plateau. How justifiable and scrupulous is it to rule out
the other half of Iran's population by endeavouring to derive an inadvertent term
to represent us? I'm from Iranian Kordestaan and have for years been rather proud
of my Iranian identity. Am I not part of this nation for being Kurdish and for not
being Persian? How about Azaris, who make up one third of the total population of
Iran? What should they call themselves? This erroneous term of Turkic (since it totally
rules out the intermarriages) which is as mistaken as calling all Iranians Persians?
Don't the proponents of this tendency ever take into account the multi-cultural nature
of Iran and the lurking danger of secession, which is a tangible threat to the vulnerable
balance of the Iranian population?
Why does this mentality keep ruling out the fact that Medians, the ancestors of today's
Kurds and also most of Azaris, have had an equal share in the formation of this nation
as Persians? Azaris have contributed to the stability of the Iranian nation immeasurably
in a huge multitude of administrative, commercial, and industrial fields. In exchange
what did they gain? They ended up being labeled as [I]Tork-e Khar.[/I] How justifiable
is this sentiment? Despite such belittling statements, Azaris have always been with
Iran. However, who can guarantee the continuation of this unity in the face of proliferation
of such blatant racist slurs?
At least we (non-Persians) are kind enough to appreciate the glamour of the Persian
Culture and absorb it as an inseparable part of our life, something demonstrating
our adherence and devotion to Iran and to the Persian language. All we are asking
for is that some Persians steer clear of this uncaring stance. For instance, one
of the most striking examples of this attitude is to call Nourooz The Persian
New Year, which technically excludes non-Persian Iranians who also celebrate
and own Norouz as enthusiastically as Persians. Wouldn't it be more tactful to call
it Iranian New year, thus augmenting the scope of people celebrating it since
it has for centuries been celebrated by not only Persians, but also Azaris and Kurds
(two descendants of Medes)? Why should I, as a Kurd, be compelled to call myself
Persian abroad within the community of Iranian Diaspora in order to mingle with them?
Why is everything Iranian abroad, ranging from food to customs and music, being hidden
behind the cover of Persian? Does that imply to say that we non-Persians have been
utterly ineffectual and incompetent at contributing to the prosperity of this great
There is also this very mesmerising example of current inhabitants of Khoozestan.
As you might discern, The petroleum extracted from the Province of Khoozestan almost
constitutes the cream of Iranian Economy by providing us with the bulk of our petroleum,
which still forms more than 85% of the total exports of Iran. Even in the harshest
days of the Iran-Iraq War, Khoozestaanis opted to side with Iran despite the so-called
intense enchantment of Arab Nationalism preached by Iraq to lure Khoozestaanis towards
themselves. This stems from their satisfaction with being Iranian. What is more,
up till now, there has never been a significant attempt of separation supported by
the people of Khoozestaan. In exchange, what did they gain? Just this pervasive and
rampant anti-Arab stance of Persians, which obviously rules out the 2% of the Iranian
Please do not misunderstand me since I truly adore the Persian Language along with
the immense cultural contributions of the Persian People in Iran. I have got absolutely
no problem with the name Persian since I completely respect and love it as it stands
for 51% of the total population of my homeland, Iran. However, should that entail
me to change my identity? I mean, I am a Kurd, not Persian, but extremely proud Iranian;
hence, why should I call myself Persian? Above all, why should I let Persian encroach