A new language?
August 6, 2004
The IranWeb page of Payvand.com lists
links to new Iranian web sites which is worth checking from time
to time. On
listing there is a new site called Persian
Gulf will Always Remain Persian Gulf that caught my eye. For Iranians to actually unite
around an issue of common interest is such a wonder that it had
to be worth checking out.
Some of the Iranian-Americans seem
to have woken up to the fact that outside America the term 'Persian
Gulf' is falling into misuse or abuse. As usual we Iranians
are waking up too late to what has been happening because of a
of trust in each other or excess pride. No wonder the leaders
the constitutional movement a century ago kept using the term
'the awakening of Iranians' in their literature and when naming
for promotion of democracy or political parties.
Witnessing the success of Arabs in using economic pressure to
change the name of the Persian Gulf to an incorrect name, Iranians
in the West, particularly those in America, are gradually realizing
how important it is to preserve the Gulf's original and historical
name, 'Persian Gulf.'
There shouldn't be much in a name, but that would be ignoring
the reality of Arab Nationalism, which borders on hegemony. It
is in the spirit of disputing such tribalism that this article
was written. Those who accuse Iranians of the same tribalism are
unaware of historical facts about the Persian Gulf and the current
situation of this region.
Whether you agree with the policies of
the Islamic Republic or not, the truth is that its leadership,
in trying to accommodate our Persian Gulf neighbors, and as a
gesture of reconciliation or as part of their dream of leading
world (call it whatever), initially suggested using alternative
names for the Persian Gulf. But even they were taken back by
the intransigent and inflexible attitude of the Arab world. Arabs
any alternatives to the incorrect term (which in fact historically
was the name of the Red Sea).
The significant point which unfortunately seems very difficult
to get through to the Iranian Diaspora, specially those residing
in the United States -- by far the biggest and potentially most
influential group of Iranian ÈmigrÈ community --
is that by keeping the 'Persian,' we help preserve a 'CONTINUITY,'
which is an important cultural necessity. Iranian cultural history
can be summarized as a continuing struggle in cycles of destruction
My points are very simple:
1) To keep a culture, one needs to preserve its traditions and
2) There is a wealth of Western material about Iran from ancient
times to the 20th century about Persia and all things Persian.
In order to succeed in preserving our culture, it would be folly
to deliberately break the link to the huge material written about
us as 'Persians.' Once the link is broken, it is very hard to re-establish.
There is a misconception among some Iranians that 'Persia' is
an ancient culture and has nothing to do with 'Iran' the modern
country! See letters in Iranian.com and other Iranian publications
for Persia versus Iran and Persian versus Farsi debates. Those
who say that using Persian is supremacist or that Persian is a
racial term are also showing their lack of understanding of history
or have other motives. They tend to be Islamists who erroneously
equate Persia with Zoroastrianism.
One can only think they see
it as some sort of threat. The argument is simply absurd. Taken
literally, how can Persia be more supremacist than Iran, 'the
land of Aryans'? (Follow the hyper link to an article on this subject
published by the School of Oriental and African Studies explaining
the German influence on the name change.)
Before there are massive objections or a barrage of e-mails to
the writer, no one is suggesting that we should change the name
of the country back to Persia. The purpose of this article is simply
to demonstrate a historical fact. Yes, indeed, our country has
always been called Iran in the 'Persian' language. The origins
of the Western word 'Persia' itself is probably Greek based on
a region of Iran today called 'Fars' in Arabic & modern Persian,
'Persis' in Greek and 'Pars' in Persian.
To trace the origins of the word, one needs to only look at the
wealth of Western literature about Persia. One can go back as far
as the ancient writings (a minute part of the collection mainly
by the Greeks) and then after Islam, by referring to Marco Polo's
travel accounts for the 17th century's travelers such as Tavernier
or later on Chardin and many others (beyond the scope of this writing
to explore). It is simply wrong to suggest that there are racial
connotations in using the term Persia. 'Persia' is simply a Western
name for our country.
By ignoring such important historical facts and further breaking
the link to our past and all things clearly defined as 'Persian'
in Western terminology, including 'Persian Gulf,' we should have
been prepared for the consequences. Thus, for instance, we have
no one to blame but ourselves when Iranian artifacts are grouped
under the 'Islamic' section in Western museums.
One such instance of 'tisheh beh risheh khod zadan' as the Persian
saying goes for self-destruction, is the introduction of the term
'Farsi' into the English language. The problem is that it is now
practically impossible to get organizations such as Microsoft or
VOA to change. Once a convention or standard is adopted, it is
very hard to correct. We cannot preserve the best in our culture
unless we are prepared to take care of them.
The point is well made by Professor Ehsan Yarshater in an extract
of his article "FARSI" Recently Appeared Language! I
quote: 'If only they' -- Iranians in America -- 'knew by using
the word "Farsi," which has no background in the English
language and its relationship to the identity of Iranian Civilization
and culture that is reflected in phrases such as "Persian
Literature" and "Persian Art" and "Persian
Poetry," is not clear at all, they would find themselves damaging
irreparably the fame and cultural status of Iran.'
The English name for our language is Persian. Yet because of
our blind patriotism or lack of unity, we have confused the people
in the West by imposing the word 'Farsi,' which in reality is not
even Persian, but the Arabic name for our language. If we want
to insist on educating Westerners, then we should seek a change
to the proper Persian name for our language, which is 'Parsi.'
As others have pointed out when conversing in English, we do not
ask someone if they speak "Deutsch" when we are inquiring
whether they speak German.
If the reader is not convinced of the case made, then consider
what is happening in Europe where Arab countries' economic pressure
has been very successful. The Tanker industry has completely switched.
The media use the term, "The Gulf," refusing completely
to correct their deliberate error, and thus the term "Persian
Gulf" is slipping out of general use.
A friend who lives in the UK sent me an e-mail saying that he
recently purchased a globe from W H Smith, which is a large chain
of stationary store, for his son's school project, and it used
the term, "Arabian Gulf" instead of Persian Gulf. We
were aware that the English unlike the Americans (you have to give
credit where it's due) or the United Nations had not resisted the
name change in their commercial circles, but this was the first
time we observed a cartographic source using "Arabian Gulf."
It shouldn't come as a surprise. The British have always used
any chance to divide and rule. One such tactic had been to
encourage the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf to take up the
call of Arab Nationalism and support the term "Arabian Gulf." But
we Iranians do not help our case either. As someone who has spent
most of his adult life in the West, I believe we Iranians have
succeeded in confusing everyone about our identity and culture,
We have diluted our identity by over-educating
foreigners. We are so eager to defend the Iranian image outside
of Iran that we have created confusion about the name of our
country, the name of our people, the name of our seas, and even
of our language! Typical questions asked by Western friends are:
Is the country Iran or Persia? Are we Persians or Iranians? Farsi
When in the middle of the 20th century our forefathers asked
Westerners to change the name of our country from Persia to Iran,
they were so eager to escape the colonial powers' influence and
establish the Iranians' rights over their own affairs that they
did not think about the consequences.
One consequence is that because
of the phonetic inadequacies of the English alphabet, Iran and
Iraq sounds the same. This may seem insignificant. However, it
has made it very easy for the average Westerner, who is very provincial
and has very little knowledge outside of his small sphere to consider
Iran as part of the Arab world.
By calling the county Iran, we
broke the link between the country name (Persia) and its adjacent
body of water, the Persian Gulf. The Brits cleverly refused to
accept "Iranian Gulf" and it provided them with the perfect
divide and rule tactic between the Arabs and us.
After the 1979 revolution, in their eagerness to take the lead
in the Muslim world, the Islamic Republic forgot the very basic
historical fact that Iranians chose the Shiite sect of Islam on
purpose -- mainly as a means to protect their cultural identity
from Arab domination. Indeed by pretending to be more Arab than
the Arabs, the Islamic government did not care enough to defend
the rights of Iranians at the time. It was only during and after
the Iran/Iraq war that the Islamic Republic was rudely awakened
when its friends in the Arab world switched their support to their
hereditary Arab brother. But by then it was too late.
The Arab countries around the Persian Gulf intensified their
efforts by putting severe economic pressure on Western companies.
You only need to look at the language used in the Oil industry
and its derivative or ancillary industries such as Shipping and
Most of the international oil companies and
Tanker brokers had to use the term "Arabian Gulf" and
would not dare use its historical name, the Persian Gulf (see the
relevant Internet sites for shipbrokers). The same applies to trade
journals in the Oil industry (look at the Internet sites for McGraw
Hill's Platts or Petroleum Argus or Reuters).
and British Airways are openly using the incorrect name in their
literature. The use of this term is spilling into less specialist
areas and general use. Actions by Iranians in exile and the Islamic
Republic representatives have now caused some commercial organizations
to drop the term imposed by Arabian countries, inventing the term "Middle
It is unlikely that we Iranians agree on this issue, as we are
often incapable of reaching consensus either organizing or lobbying
effectively. Yet every one of us is proud of our history and is
aware of our constant struggle against the Arab influence. Please
beware that our blind patriotism on the one side and our lack of
knowledge about historical facts on the other, are directly leading
to a dilution of our identity. In order to keep the links
to our past and heritage, it does not do us any harm to leave the
English name for our language as "Persian" and its equivalent
in German, French and other European languages.
Amir Rostam Beglie Beigie
is a shipping industry professional living and working
in Houston, Texas.
goodbye to spam!