“Where are you from?” My co-worker asked me a couple of days ago.
“From Persia”, I answered.
“Uhm, that doesn't exist anymore, does it?” Was his response.
I hesitated whether I had the energy to explain the source of my answer “Persia” instead of “Iran”. I decided that I would explain it once again in my life and this time try to keep it short and simple.
“Well no, the Persian Empire as Persia refers to, does not exist. But it is the association with that empire that I prefer than the theocratic, Islamic Republic that it has now become.”
That explanation usually asks for an understanding and paradoxically confused expression and nodding. This time I did not get that same old response though.
“But that is the country that you are from, and not Persia…!”
I sighed, there we go. So this time I need to give the painful extended answer that this person required.
“Ok, you're right, but still I don't identify with the current regime because they reflect nothing that I think belongs to me and my country!” The question mark was getting bigger on his forehead and I felt more questions were just waiting to be posed, so I had to be quick and expand my explanation. “You see, Iranians in Iran also see themselves as Persians, even when they call themselves Iranians. It has to do with our 2500 years of grand history, culture and national pride. It has to do with the fact that Persians, even if they're not from the province of Fars,feel Persian because that gives them something to be proud of. If Iranians didn't have their history, their Cyrus the Great, their Xerxes, their Zoroastrism, their ancient national celebrations like Nowruz and Sizdebedar, they would feel miserable. They would feel wretched because if they don't look back at their heroes and their phantasized historic pride, they would have to confront themselves with decadence, destruction and decay.”
My co-worker turned his chair towards me and now was drinking out of his cup of coffee while staring at me with big wondering eyes as if I was an interesting case of cultural anthropological study.
“That sounds rather bitter, the way you sound… are you bitter?”
I took a deep breath and knew that I had this coming once I had answered “Persia” to his first question:
“Let me put it this way, when you think of Iran, what is the first thing that comes to mind?”
We both started laughing, since it was the first time I heard him pronounce that right!
“That's what I mean. And to me, being an Iranian living abroad since childhood, has made this a problem for me. I can't identify with my fellow countrymen anymore. At least not with the ones living in Iran, not with the ones who let their country turn into a pool of decay as it has become!”
“Wow, how vehement! Where did that came from?” My co-worker always knew me as someone who always showed interest in Iran and its political and socio-cultural evolution and had never seen me expose my feelings in such a way about this subject.
“Do you know how disappointing it is when you grow up with stories about how great, rich and important our cultural heritage and political history has been for the world and then to see that same country turn into something that is absolutely unrecognizable from that of what it once used to be? Do you know how much that hurts, how lost one feels… If the only thing that makes you feel proud about your national identity belongs to a destroyed past? What is left for the current Iranian sense of national pride and identity? Nuclear energy? Bombs? Outrageous statesmen whose intelligence is highly questionable?
What news from Iran reaches us on a daily basis? Our high and rich culture or the fact that another of our intellectuals has been raped, flogged and assassinated by the state? Is it our vast and beautiful poetry or science that reaches our media about Iran, or is it yet another shocking statistic that 80% of our fellow countrymen have become addicted to some drug or have become dependent on the money they earn with prostitution. Speaking of which, prostitution is legal in Iran did you know that?”
“What! Is that a joke?!”
“No, it's not a joke, those same high and mighty mullahs who created this regime thought it was funny to take advantage of the crumbled down economy and find a way into making prostitution legal and so made up some ludicrous Islamic rule that allows people to have 'temporary marriages' so they could have prostitution and be a good muslim at the same time!”
My co-worker was flabbergasted with that last piece of information.
“Do you think that this regime has left anyone in the country any form of sanity? Do you think that those people I once knew 20 years ago are the same people now? No, they have turned into people who have become corrupt because society leaves them no other choice. They have become indifferent of politics, because they're not allowed to have an opinion. They have lost their sense of pride because of what their society has done to them. They don't care about their ancient history, their rich culture or their geographical natural heritage. They have become indifferent of others. Everyone has become corrupt, because if you don't you'll starve! My country has been raped and so have all my fellow countrymen. They have culturally and mentally been raped for the last 30 years. And yes, that upsets me. That makes me feel bitter. That makes me want to belong to a peaceful, rich and noble country that I prefer to refer to as Persia!”