History in short
New book: A Concise History Of Iran
November 12, 2005
From A Concise History Of Iran by Saeed Shirazi (PublishAmerica, September 19, 2005).
Iranians born outside Iran often cannot read Farsi (their native language), though they may speak or understand it. Englishspeaking readers have not had a chance to study this subject within such a short format, either. This fact is the inspiration for my book, A Concise History Of Iran in English. I hope this book will acquaint and interest Iranians outside Iran with their historical past, so that they may do further research on their own.
With this purpose in mind, I have put the information from many sources in Farsi and English in this text rather than in footnotes. The main ideas will be apparent to the reader. However, I must advise my readers that a lot of contiguous but short information is inserted into every paragraph. As David Fischer points out in his Historians’ Fallacies, New York, 1970, p. 64, history is an ocean of facts. This is why historians select information with certain criteria of factual significance as well as relevancy to a purpose. My purpose in this book is to be thorough and brief.
Generally, history is a study about a land and its people. Therefore, it is imperative to start our voyage through time by reflecting on the land (Pars) and its people (Aryans) in the country of Persia. (Persian government requested all foreign countries at the U.N. meeting in 1935 to call the country Iran for the sake of consistency).
Unfortunately, the history of the world is filled with horrific pictures of the cruelty of mankind. Yet the survival of our species depends on this evolutionary phase that may take many more centuries. Numerous kingdoms have risen and perished. Naturally, all of them had to be prepared to defend their land and heritage against the invaders, while many weaker kingdoms ceased to exist.
It is interesting to note that out of all the empires in the history of man, only a few have withstood the test of time and still exist today such as these: Iran, China, Italy, India and Greece. It is true that their original glories have faded away, and some of their kings eventually fell ingloriously after achieving a splendid reputation; yet these nations have managed to keep their own land, people, language, and culture. All of which have evolved from their earlier versions. What enabled Iran to maintain its identity was mostly the survival of its original language -- Farsi.
On the other hand, some civilizations, for example Egypt, lost their ancient and original language. This lapse in the continuity of the Egyptian heritage was due to political and economical forces beyond its cultural capabilities. Egyptians now converse in Arabic. Nevertheless, all civilizations and archaic cultures have continuously affected one another through centuries and continue to do so. Along with the history of Iran, we also need to look at the beliefs, fears, and hopes of its earliest inhabitants. In doing so we must look back into the mythological tales of Iran. By studying mythology we may find some similarities between different cultures. This cannot be coincidental because these civilizations previously lived next to one another for thousands of years. Therefore, they affected each other inevitably.
In mythology, the anthropological term of “convergence” is used to explain that identical appearances of symbols and mythic motifs, scattered among continents and different cultures at separate times, are just pure chance. In Joseph Campbell’s The Mythic Image, convergence does not bear much scientific value. One fact remains, however; the past is interwoven with Mythology and that is why we need to study it. By studying mythology, we cannot reflect on its literal truthfulness, rather we must look for the messages implied within the images and symbols.
In connection with mythology, history has shown the importance of the role of myths in the cultural development of nations. It is the patriotic insistence of a people to pursue its own trend of thought, based partly on the mythologies, that has resisted the pressure of invaders against the integrity of its culture. In the journal of Iranian studies, called Iran Shenasi, the 5th volume printed in 1993 in the U.S., Jalal Matini points out the importance of language and knowledge of our past in his articles.
I personally agree with his suggestion that in our Iranian schools Farsi textbooks should be filled with irrefutable facts about our heritage. Thus, our young generation will easily scrutinize false and subtle invasions of others into our history as well as our borders. In his article, Jalal Matini brings on the historical facts about the authenticity of the name of “The Persian Gulf” versus the false claims of some nations to call it “The Arab Gulf”!
Consequently, from these unified myths and beliefs (no matter how archaic) the strong foundation of Iranian heritage and unity as a people is laid implicitly in the realm of Farsi -- the language of the Iranians, today. The great literary works of Iranian writers, poets, and scholars, as well as masterpieces left in architecture and music have guaranteed Iran’s survival in the history of the world.
On top of all, we owe a great deal to the poet, Abolghasem Ferdowsi, who wrote Shah Nameh. This is an epic-style book of poetry about significant mythological and historical tales of Iranians’ ancestors. It is generally agreed by historians that during the turbulent period of Arab manipulation of Persian language and lifestyle, Ferdowsi showed courage and a perseverance (for three decades) to collect and recite these tales in pure Farsi of the time (Dari style). After a thousand years, Shah Nameh stands to be a major factor for today’s survival of Farsi language and Iranian heritage.
Therefore, Persian history and mythology form a fundamental identity of Iranians. It is imperative for our younger Iranian generation to know about Iran’s historic strong points and weaknesses. Our newer generations outside of Iran can hopefully benefit from history books that can give them most of this information. Living among different cultures, children of Iranian descent have the chance to become positively better human beings by first knowing East before appreciating West.
Unfortunately, it may be true to claim that, up to now; there has been no book in English with a concise and yet complete history of Iran. During my continuous search for such material, surprisingly, I was unable to find concise writings that would briefly tell our English-speaking readers about all of Iran’s history. As said earlier, this is the purpose of my book.
However, there are a few paragons of such short books about history of Iran. The first one is this: Chekideh Tarikh-e-Iran by Hasan Naraghi published by Akhtaran in Tehran 2000. It is only 173 pages long. This one-of-a-kind book is in Farsi. Although written with skill and enough detail, unfortunately it cannot benefit that segment of new generation who cannot read Farsi. Yet, I am directly benefiting from Naraghi’s realistic approach to all of our Iranian history.
There are other short history books, but they are also in Farsi. The second paragon of short books is this: Pictorial History Of Iran by M.H. Amini Sam published by Eqbal in L.A. 1990. This book is in English and Farsi, but its beauty is lessened by not covering the post-Islam period. Another is A Glimpse At The History Of Iran by Farshid Eghbal, printed in 1996 in L.A. This book is in several volumes, but it does not give a tale-like account of the history. Instead, the singled-out and short individual statements take readers through history like an index, without giving knowledge of cause and effects. However, it is conveniently written in both Farsi and English.
In addition to using the above books, I have made references to many related and outstanding sources in Farsi and English (including the masterpiece of Sir Percy Sikes: History Of Persia) in two large volumes. Therefore, from all of these I could collate the information into a comparative timetable. My book contains numerous highlights of many historians in a tale-like form and yet stays brief to avoid fatigue.
I wish to thank Ms. Nina Parkhurst for introducing me to the world of her colleague and scholar, Joseph Campbell. We ought to learn to read history as a living subject. Also, world peace in future may result from each person’s awareness of his historical past. We all should know the consequences of known historical mistakes and shortcomings of our heritage. Only then a better path may be selected to establish identity and ensure prosperity for future generations.
A Concise History Of Iran is available on Amazon.com