The Iranian


email us



Sehaty Foreign Exchange


February 28, 2001


An important consideration in the choice of an official name of a country is whether or not it is a reflection of that country's culture and heritage ["Bring back Persia"].

The Pahlavi regime might have been influenced by German propaganda to insist on "Iran" rather than "Persia", but it is important to note that "Iran" is how the territory was referred to by numerous dynasties.

For example, the Mongol Il-Khanid dynasty seized upon the legitimacy of ruling "Iran" in the tradition of great pre-Islamic dynasties in part to contrast themselves with regional rivals (such as the Mamluks) and in part to cover for the fact that at the outset of their rule they had no religious legitimacy or historical ties to the area.

The Safavids -- who also styled themselves as rulers of Iran -- inadvertently helped to shape the modern concept of Iran's "natural" boundaries.

Much of Qajar foreign policy in the 19th century was based upon regaining Safavid territories lost in the 18th century. These efforts coincided with (and influenced) the first articulations of Iranian nationalism.

Throughout all these developments, one will not find an Il-Khanid, Safavid or Qajar document that would refer to the "Mamaalek-e Mahruseh-e Paars" or "Paadeshaahaan-e Paarsiaan." When modern international diplomacy was taking shape in the 19th century, Qajar diplomats referred to Iran in French as "Perse" and English as "Persia" because those were the French and English words for Iran.

No doubt, the Reza Shah's regime was looking to score nationalist points by insisting that foreign countries use the native historical term "Iran" rather than the English or French term. There is also no doubt that there was a strong pro-German climate in Iran in the 1930's.

The most shocking (and frankly unique) example of this sentiment was Sayf Azad's "Iran-e Bastan", a very pro-Nazi (not just pro-German) current events magazine published from 1933 to 1935. It does not help matters that advocates of extreme Iranian cultural nationalism, and early supporters of Reza Shah, were writing from Berlin (in periodicals like "Kaveh" and "Iranshahr") in the 1920's in the wake of World War I -- the same environment that bred Nazism.

But the suggestion that Reza Shah's insistence on "Iran" instead of "Persia" signaled an effort to curry favor with Nazi Germany flies in the face of much stronger evidence that Reza Shah was looking primarily to secure Iran's security from the risks of global and regional conflict (Reza Shah's trips to Turkey in 1934 and the Sa'dabad Pact of 1938 come to mind).

He saw correctly that his government could not withstand a foreign invasion of any kind. The "lack of evidence" of an undeclared alliance with Nazi Germany before the outbreak of World War II needs also to be seen alongside efforts to suppress Iranian Nazis both before 1939 and afterward when Reza Shah's continuing relationship with Nazi Germany became less and less tolerable to the Allies.

Does not the problem of "Iran" versus "Persia" have more to do with current concerns over politics and the international image of the Islamic Republic than with concerns about the official Iranian chauvinism of the 1930's or the Pahlavi Dynasty in general? Nobody worries about the fact that Mohammad Reza Shah was forging a secret alliance with East Germany during the Cold War when he called himself the "Light of the Aryans".

Ultra nationalist chauvinism is a failing that was not limited to the Pahlavis -- the Islamic Republic has its own religious-flavored varieties to serve up. The term "Iran" does not have a sixty year history -- it has a history that is many centuries old among the people who have inhabited the area.

The choice of "Persian" versus "Iranian" cannot erase the parts of our history that trouble us, nor can it distance us from the problems we confront as Iranians or Iranian-Americans today. We'll always have a little explaining to do about what our ancestry and culture mean to us, and these are discussions that we should embrace rather than try to circumvent with semantic stratagems.

Cam Amin
University of Michigan-Dearborn


 MIS Internet Services

Web Site Design by
Multimedia Internet Services, Inc

 GPG Internet server

Internet server by
Global Publishing Group.