Not ALL speak Persian

Reading through comments, under articles related to the Iranian identity and its diverse nature, maybe one more article, further elaborating the subject, would not hurt. Some things may become repetitive, so I would like to ‘warn’ readers that they might not find the article very interesting unless they have followed related subjects before.

Beside angry comments which usually bring no arguments, some opposing ones do bring arguments that have been helpful in somehow assessing how various views hover around, and where they may come together. Unfortunately many opposing comments bring up issues which have wrongly been interpreted as being denied, or even mentioned, in my previous articles.

Nevertheless I do understand that such comments often bode well with those viewers who do not bother to read the article and go straight to the comments section, and in case they see a comment blasting at the author for purportedly having claimed something, they assume that the author had indeed (there or before) mentioned what the respective comment had brought up! This is an old and somewhat solid measure of misinformation, though in the long run (in an open and transparent medium) it can have less of an effect.

In my last article “Not pan-Turkism“, I had brought up the subject of Iran’s identity, again. There were some interesting comments under the article and I wish to go through some of them.

One commentator says “No one forced Persian on Azeris. There is one official language, since the constitutional revolution. Just because the country has one official language, it does not mean it is forced. The country can’t have 30 official languages.” Let me give a tiny little food for thought! Did anyone FORCE the Islamic regime on Iranians? The Islamic regime of Khomeini organised a referendum and got approval of unprecedented proportions. Doesn’t that make the IRI an incredibly legitimate one? No, it doesn’t.

First of all the Iranian regimes of the past century have not respected their own constitutions! Secondly, while a regime does not accept the participation of opposition in elections in a fair and transparent manner, then it cannot base its legitimacy on the approval it got in the past. Beside this, let’s focus on the subject of the comment; the official language! Having one single official language for all of Iran is nothing wrong, though it is not absolutely necessary. The comment actually does not argue AGAINST anything I had written, but somebody reading it might think it does.

Is Persian forced on ALL Iranians? Yes, in schools, in case you do not speak Persian you cannot pass and there are many Iranian regions where locals simply do not know much about Persian. I have never said that we shall not teach our children Iran’s official language! The official language was established in Iran’s first constitution, in 1906, in which the people of Azerbaijan, Gilan etc heavily participated. And that is one of the most important signs that Iran is not based on a one-nation (depending on how we define nation) or one-ethnicity, philosophy, whether be it Persian, Azeri or else. The same constitution, and even Iran’s current one, has never been truly applied, and they both give Iranians democracy of some sort, and their own rights for practising and promoting local languages and traditions!

Many people may justly argue that if English is used in America, why not use ONLY Persian in Iran? I do agree with one very simple argument, that it would be more practical and much simpler for ALL of Iran not to just write in Persian (Farsi) but even to speak in Persian, and Persian only. Persian is a beautiful, rich and old language! But I am also a strong believer in freedom and human rights. If the people of one of American states spoke a local language and would choose to establish that language, and that language only, as the official language (not English at all) then that would be the reality.

Americans freely have largely chosen English. Some American states have official LANGUAGES (plural), while the whole US has no official language. Iran being such a large and diverse country would be best run decentralised, not necessarily a federation, but definitely decentralised, in a way that regions would be able to devise various local policies and plans according to what their respective populations demand. This would reduce greatly the possibility of discrepancy in policies on local realities and desires, which are very often different from one place to another. Can one compare the people of Baluchistan to those of Gilan? They are likely more different than, let’s say, Sicilians and Portuguese!

The same commentator continues “The Turks/Mongols that attacked Iran were barbarians, but it doesn’t mean they are associated with Azeris.” This is indeed something I had mentioned in the article. Iran’s Azeri population call themselves Turks, and other Iranians call them Turks too. So, they have some things in common with those Turks who migrated to Iran! How much they have in common? That’s nothing certain. But in common they do have some things, especially the language, which is similar to other Turkic languages.

Let’s be clear on one thing; why do some people call Mongols or Turks who invaded Iran barbarians? Were they barbarians? I doubt they were nice to their enemies anyway. Has any Iranian, after having read Iran’s history written by various people of prejudice, thought why some people are considered barbarians while others civilised? I have also seen many Iranian nationalists calling Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar a barbarian because he killed tens of thousands of people in Kerman, and he was a Turk, though nonetheless an Iranian. Was he a barbarian? Yes, he definitely was a man of limited humour, at best! He was a ruthless man.

But, the funny thing I have always found is that the same nationalistic Iranians talk about how big and glorious Iran was, and they long for those days of imperial and majestic oriental triumphalism. What the hell people! Wasn’t the same blood-thirsty Agha Mohammad Khan, a barbaric Turk, who united this same old bloody empire you talk about? Didn’t the same mass-murderer unite and re-create Iran? Then you say he was an uncivilised Turk who killed the ethnic Persian people of Kerman? Big, really big, smell of hypocrisy here! Nationalists must make their minds! What about Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar who subdued all of Iran except Azerbaijan, whose actions caused famine in Tabriz?

And what about Shah Ismail Safavi who cared no less if his Sunni opponents were Fars or Turk? His men showed no mercy! There was indeed almost no Fars-Turk issue with our historic tyrants. All they cared about was power! Either you stick with the ‘civilisation’ of Aryanism and Persianism, or with modern Iranian imperialism where barbaric Turks have been the cause of the foundation and preservation of the Persian Empire you so avidly take pride in! I definitely do not condone Iran’s tyrants whether they were Turks, Persians etc, but the fact of the matter is that usually the same people who call Turks barbarians (even the historic Turks) take pride in the same empires those barbarians created and defended! Anyway, the other interesting thing is that historically speaking the winner has always been called barbarian by those who were defeated.

Greek philosophers called then-Persians savages and barbarians, and evidence is aplenty in Plato’s and other Greek philosophers’ rich and beautiful literary works cursing Xerxes and Persians in general. Romans called then-Germans barbarians! And Persians called then-Turks barbarians! Chinese called Mongols barbarians! Turks have never really called anybody barbarians as far as I know. Germans have never really called anybody barbarians either. Even British or Americans do not have a similar tradition.

So, it seems that those historians of one or two millennia back used to call their enemies barbarians, no matter what. And peoples who did not have such an old and rich tradition of writing have not joined the crowd of barbarian-bashers, or at least there is no evidence left. Were they really barbarians? I think everybody was a barbarian back then. And if they weren’t barbarians, they were very often doomed to be taken over and even slaughtered by barbarians! It all seems to be public relations, archaic style. Now you call them terrorists. Then they were called barbarians. You call your enemies barbarians, they call you barbarians. Whoever won in the end burnt all the books and called the other barbarians!

And the same commentator ends with “Finally the immigrants to Tehran are from all over the place in Iran. That is a problem in any 3rd world country. Azeris are generally economically much better off than other Iranians.” Yes, immigrants to Tehran are from all over the country. This part of the comment also does not ague AGAINST anything I had written, but there are some points worth clarification. Modern Iranian regimes of the past decades have invested heavily in Tehran and in some other more central areas of Iran. The reasons are not likely ethnic, but the facts exist. Protesting against such discriminatory investment policies are justified.

One example is that Tabriz has become Iran’s fourth largest (and populous) city, though it used to be Iran’s second, after Tehran. Azeris are doing better than some other Iranian groups, but that is largely because they have moved to Tehran and some of them have prospered there. And even Azeris in Azerbaijani areas are also doing better than areas such as Kurdistan or Baluchistan, maybe because Baluchis and Kurds are Sunni and have much less representation in Iran’s central government.

Another comment mentions my remark that President Ahmadinejad congratulated “the Farsi (Persian) speaking peoples of the world” and I was wondering why he didn’t also congratulate Azeri and Kurdish speaking people of the world! Are they any less Iranian? The comment was “the president congratulated all Iranians and also Persian speakers outside of Iran. So I think it is really covering everyone. For example Tajiks are not Iranian citizens but speak Persian.” This may seem odd to some people that something seemingly so minor has bothered me. It is not just this, but the confusion that surrounds the whole Iranian identity, which is reflected in Mr Ahmadinejad’s, and most other leaders’, talks and actions.

Let’s assume that the Iranian president said this “I congratulate all the Iranians for Iran’s new year and also all the Kurdish-speaking people of the world!” Wow! That would mean the end of his political career, wouldn’t it? Okay, in case he would mention Persian too, then that would probably be less of a catastrophe, but in case he ONLY mentions Kurdish-speaking people, wouldn’t he suddenly become a PAN-KURDIST (I think this is also a favourite word in some Iranian corners)? I do think that Persian-speaking people of the world, Fars Iranians, Tajiks of Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and others, have all the rights to care for each other, and also keep in touch with each other for cultural reasons. That would not make them pan-Persianists, pan-Farsists, or anything. That would only mean their expression of their cultural freedoms, their rights, and it would be something normal for people who speak the same language to have some special contacts with each other.

The same would normally go also for non-Persian Iranians who have relations with citizens of other countries. Some other commentator suggested that pan-Turkism may mean more than just a belief in the creation of a super-state for all Turkic peoples. It would also mean relating to Turkic peoples culturally and to focus on being Turks. So then hasn’t Mr Ahmadinejad by just congratulating Persian-speakers of the world focus on Persian-speakers, therefore become a pan-Persianist?

If we do expand the meaning of pan-Turkism so far, in order to use it as a tool of intimidation and insult, therefore it would be fair to call believers in cultural links between ethnic Persians and Tajiks as pan-Persianists! Which I don’t agree with anyway, because there is nothing wrong in having relations with others with whom one has strong cultural ties. But Iran’s president is supposed to be the president of ALL Iranian peoples, and not make any differences. Or that is supposed to be the theory! Are we worried that statements, or actions, that relate to some ethnic groups, inside or beyond Iran, would weaken Iran’s unity or possibly encourage separatism? Many Iranians have genuine concerns about this. This is even more important especially because Iran is located in the Middle East, surrounded by Middle-Eastern countries.

Okay then, that is even more strong a motive for leaders and politicians for NOT using race and ethnicity related statements or policies which are used for the whole of Iran. So, what I am trying to say is that when representing the WHOLE of Iran it is not okay to associate it with ANY ethnic group. I strongly believe that the vast majority of Iranians make up the Iranian population on free will. I do believe that statistics are right in showing that the vast majority of Iranians, Persians, Azeris and others WANT to be part of Iran FREELY. So, why all this empty and cheap attempt to label people? Azeri Turks did not all-the-sudden feel they were part of Iran after all the Pahlavi-era propaganda about Iran’s Aryan supremacy or the glorification of the pre-Islamic Persian Empire. They already felt very strongly about Iran based on their FREE WILL. I know that the term ‘free will’ is not a commonly used one in a Middle-Eastern country, but in case we want to move toward freedom and democracy we ought to get used to it.

Jokes about Turk, Luri, Rashti or others in Iran are not something to care about. They are harmless, and very funny. In case there are almost no jokes about Persians it is because there is not really an ethnic reality called Persian in Iran. Or we can at least say that it is a dodgy matter. There are also jokes about Isfahanis who speak Persian with their local accent. Luris may also be considered Persians, with their own accent. But when the central government invests in some areas and ignores other areas, then that is absolutely wrong. When the central government openly encourages (by not allowing to study their languages in schools or in any sense officially in their own areas) ALL Iranians to forget their own local languages and traditions, that is absolutely wrong too. And when the Iranian identity is related to one race or ethnicity, whether it is the so-called Aryan race, or Persians in particular, that is absolutely wrong too. It is generally wrong for any country to base its identity on race, but it is particularly wrong for such a diverse country like Iran.

My intention is indeed to bring the subject to the attention of my fellow Iranians, and not really to ask for changes of policy from the Iranian government. The reason we have an undemocratic government which misuses our resources, and mismanages our country and mistreats every and each of our countrymen is mainly because we believe that we cannot have any say in all of it. We are used to believe that we are not supposed to rule our society. And that is because we have historically proved to be idolisers of rulers and the powerful. Our tyrants usually told us something, and we either agreed, or in case we didn’t agree we tacitly went along. It’s time to look for different views and think them on our own!

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