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... of Iranian Peoples in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caucuses



December 29, 2005

What strikes the first time visitor to Central Asia is the backwardness of the region as a whole. It is as if time has come to a halt. Their language, their music, their dress, and their culture resemble those of ours, but from centuries ago. It seems that at some point in history after the contact with the motherland was severed, everything stood still.

We know that following the turmoil of the Mongol invasion and the Timurid rule, the Uzbeks gained ascendancy in Transoxiania (the area beyond Amu Darya) and asserted themselves as the dominant force, only to lose out to the Russians who were engaged in the "Great Game" with the British in the 19th Century. Subsequently, and with the advent of the Soviet Union early in the 20th Century, the Steppe was carved out into various Soviet republics.

The Iranian influence, however, has always been felt strongly in these regions. From Kashgar to Dushanbe, and from Khujand to Bukhara, it is still the undercurrent of Iranian culture that shapes the identity of the people of these lands.

In a place like Uzbekistan, where a Turkic language is spoken, the abundance of Farsi words in the Uzbek tongue is mind-boggling. It seems the Uzbeks use considerably more Farsi in their speech than do the Azeri Turks in Iran. Announcement at the Tashkent Airport always start with "deqqat konid" ("take note" in Farsi) followed by the message in Uzbek. In sentences using the "not only*,but" form, the Uzbeks say "na faqat*,balkeh" which is also a Farsi formation. Words for basic things like water, food, meat, bread, money, guest, days of the week, etc. are all Farsi.

I give these examples to drive home the point that the Iranian cultural and historical influence in Central Asia is so deep-rooted that even in a nation like Uzbekistan where the majority are of non-Iranian stock and where the government in the last decade has embarked on a chauvinistic assertion of the nation's Turkic identity, the footprint of Iranian culture is easily discernible.

There is a substantial Tajik population in Uzbekistan, mostly concentrated in the two provinces of Samarqand and Bukhara, These areas, despite their Tajik majority, became part of Uzbekistan when the Soviets redrew the boundaries in 1929. To this day, most inhabitants of Samarqand and Bukhara, regardless of their ethnicity, are-as a necessity- fluent in both the Tajik and Uzbek languages.

Tajikistan, on the other hand, is a nation of Iranian stock. Although an unwarranted, faint trace of an inferiority complex, similar to that of the Afghans, also comes over the Tajiks, when faced with an Iranian, they are nevertheless proud of their heritage and see themselves as heirs to an ancient civilization with distinct Iranian characteristics.

Tajikistan is a neglected land. The Soviets did very little to develop this country and raise the living standard of the people during their 70 years of rule. Thanks to the civil war that followed their independence after the collapse of the Soviets, the Tajiks are an impoverished people with the lowest per capita income in their neighborhood. One hardly sees any cars in the streets of its cities and its roads and other infrastructure are in a state of disrepair. There is very little industry and their agriculture revolves around cotton farming; a legacy of the state-controlled Soviet farm co-ops. Their political system too, is a leftover from the Soviet era with the old communist boss still holding the reigns of power.

South of Tajikistan lies Afghanistan; another neglected nation of Iranian People. Since it separated from Iran a few centuries ago, this country too has been on a downward spiral. Their wars with the British and the Soviets, their internal strife emanating from tribal feuds and competition among warlords have sapped the energy of this proud people, reducing the country to a lawless state with a destitute population. After years of war and the final intervention of the American and other forces, the central government today is barely in control of the capital city while the rest of the country is essentially a no man's land.

Following the Soviet Union's exit from Afghanistan and their subsequent collapse which led to independence for the Central Asian Republics, the government of Iran has been unable to exert much, if any influence in this region. The clerical regime's preoccupation with the Palestinian cause and Lebanese politics, among other things, has led to their near complete neglect of the boundless opportunities that lie in these newly independent nations for Iran and everything Iranian.

At the same time, the decade of 1990's saw Turkey expanding its sphere of influence in the Central Asian region from Turkmenistan to Kyrgyzstan, promoting commerce, travel and tourism and investing close to $10 Billion in the countries of the region including Afghanistan.

Pakistan, too, made great headway into Afghanistan during the same time period. They were, ultimately, and in spite of Iran's feeble semblance of objections, able to propel their proxy government; the Taliban, into power. It is universally known that the Taliban would still be in charge there had it not been for the September 11 events.

All the while, Iran has been waiting in the sidelines, unable to benefit from the drastic transformations taking place all over this region. Their only venture so far has been the promise of some future token investments in Armenia. The priorities of the Islamic Republic don't seem to be in tune with the dynamics of their immediate surroundings.

The Iranian regime's lack of geopolitical foresight has resulted in setbacks in all fronts. From Afghanistan to Iraq and from Central Asia to the Caspian Basin, Iran has stood helpless, watching other powers, regional and otherwise, usurp what should rightfully belong to the Iranian People.

Iran has a great deal to gain by lending support to her kinfolk in the area. Countries like Afghanistan and Tajikistan; land-locked and devoid of much resource or infrastructure, can use Iran's economic assistance to improve their living standards. Iran can help modernize their agriculture and diversify the types of crops that are produced.

Iranian investments can promote light industries to take root, providing employment to the locals and creating revenue for the state. Iranian healthcare professional can train their counterparts in these countries, improving healthcare and reducing infant mortality.

Commerce and tourism can also be promoted among these neighboring nations. There are virtually no limits for Iran, as a regional power, in increasing her influence in these predominantly Farsi speaking countries while at the same time bringing much needed help to our impoverished brethren.

A Commonwealth of Iranian Nations, inclusive of all Iranian Peoples in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caucuses will ensure that freedom, economic prosperity, and a high standard of living is ultimately shared and enjoyed by all members of the Iranian Family.

For letters section
To Shahriar Zahedi

Shahriar Zahedi


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