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Iran Isn't all Persian

By Vahid Isabeigi
May 16, 2002
The Iranian

One of the exponentially growing tendencies amongst the Iranians today is to reject the fact that they are Iranian while by just sticking to the ambiguous and less-inclusive term of Persian, which addresses only half of Iran's multi-ethnic population while ruling out the other half, who are equally proud of their Iranian Heritage thanks to their intermingling with the indigenous people of this area over the centuries. This inadvertent attitude of generalising Iranians into just being Persians, which has recently gained momentum, poses some very detrimental and deleterious consequences for the ethnical integrity of Iran.

For centuries, we have proven to our neighbours with nefarious intentions that Iran can burgeon and blossom both economically and socially as a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual society while retaining its glorious mother tongue, Persian, which is adored by all minorities co-existing within the boundaries of Iran. In comparison to Turkey, where if you are a Kurd, your chance of obtaining some paramount jobs in some selected fields is immediately derailed and you are utterly deprived of the right to practice your culture, Iran has never been notorious for belittling or suppressing its multi-ethnic population. In comparison to Iraq, where the state explicitly snubs its citizens of Turkmen, Kurdish, and Assyrian origin by means of a steady policy of pacification leading to some momentous and notable ethnic clashes, Iran has always been deemed as the most tolerant country in the region in terms of its permissiveness of the prosperity of miscellaneous diverse cultures within its frontiers.

Ethnic clashes, fueled by neighbours to menace Iran's multi-lingual structure, have always formed the fulcrum of major threats facilitating the spectre of secession. This dreaded word of secession has impinged substantially on the mutual foreign relations of Iran with neighbouring countries. Will Iran ever divide into several countries? Above all, are the minorities living in Iran content with being Iranian and speaking Persian as their lingua franca while at the same time retaining their distinct cultures? While this being a very hypothetical question, the answer of which could vary overwhelmingly from one region to another, the general public opinion, based on most observations denotes the willingness of most minorities to remain Iranian.

On the other hand, while Iran's neighbours are primarily culpable for threatening the ethnical integrity of Iran, this newly-arisen attitude of Persians to generalise all Iranians as being Persians has already started to show its adverse and unfavourable ramifications. Recent indignant feedback of various minorities from all corners of Iran illustrates their discontentment, though definitely not as much as minorities in Turkey or Iraq, with this intensifying rejective propensity of Persians whereby they, Persians, have started to take it for granted, implicitly, that all minorities should call themselves Persian. This is a monstrous ideology disrespecting the precarious multi-ethnic structure of Iran.

Over the centuries, most of Iran's minorities ranging from Azaris to Kurds and from Lors to Arabs, have been granted equal rights in administrative and political posts. However, current trends portray an equivocal and conflicting picture. Most Iranians living in the West, when they meet someone from Iran, ask them the question of are you Persian? rather than are you Iranian?. While some people ascribe this tendency to the mounting enmity of the West against Iran and Iranians due to the adversity of the policies of the Islamic Republic, which has clearly instigated most people to take refuge behind the word Persian rather than Iranian, it is irrefutable that Persian is not synonymous with Iranian and although many non-Persian Iranians are also affectionate to the word Persian, this is not a valid reason for one to call every Iranian Persian. I find our so-called prolific Iranian-American Community of 2 million primarily to blame for not having engaged in politics enough to stave off the circulating stereotypes against Iranians on the American Media. Why aren't we interested in representing Iranians abroad and forming an Iranian Lobby despite constituting one of the most prosperous and best well-educated communities of the Usa?

This demonstrates that there has apparently been growing an aversion to the word Iranianamongst some Persians, who emphatically advocate the resurrection of the name Persia to supersede Iran and predictably Persian for replacing Iranian. Fine but, what is Persia? What is its extent of inclusiveness? While this is still being an imponderable, within today's borders of Iran, Persia would more or less encompass Yazd, Esfehaan, Kermaan, Fars, Semnaan, Markazi, Tehraan and some other portions of the central plateau. How justifiable and scrupulous is it to rule out the other half of Iran's population by endeavouring to derive an inadvertent term to represent us? I'm from Iranian Kordestaan and have for years been rather proud of my Iranian identity. Am I not part of this nation for being Kurdish and for not being Persian? How about Azaris, who make up one third of the total population of Iran? What should they call themselves? This erroneous term of Turkic (since it totally rules out the intermarriages) which is as mistaken as calling all Iranians Persians? Don't the proponents of this tendency ever take into account the multi-cultural nature of Iran and the lurking danger of secession, which is a tangible threat to the vulnerable balance of the Iranian population?

Why does this mentality keep ruling out the fact that Medians, the ancestors of today's Kurds and also most of Azaris, have had an equal share in the formation of this nation as Persians? Azaris have contributed to the stability of the Iranian nation immeasurably in a huge multitude of administrative, commercial, and industrial fields. In exchange what did they gain? They ended up being labeled as [I]Tork-e Khar.[/I] How justifiable is this sentiment? Despite such belittling statements, Azaris have always been with Iran. However, who can guarantee the continuation of this unity in the face of proliferation of such blatant racist slurs?

At least we (non-Persians) are kind enough to appreciate the glamour of the Persian Culture and absorb it as an inseparable part of our life, something demonstrating our adherence and devotion to Iran and to the Persian language. All we are asking for is that some Persians steer clear of this uncaring stance. For instance, one of the most striking examples of this attitude is to call Nourooz The Persian New Year, which technically excludes non-Persian Iranians who also celebrate and own Norouz as enthusiastically as Persians. Wouldn't it be more tactful to call it Iranian New year, thus augmenting the scope of people celebrating it since it has for centuries been celebrated by not only Persians, but also Azaris and Kurds (two descendants of Medes)? Why should I, as a Kurd, be compelled to call myself Persian abroad within the community of Iranian Diaspora in order to mingle with them? Why is everything Iranian abroad, ranging from food to customs and music, being hidden behind the cover of Persian? Does that imply to say that we non-Persians have been utterly ineffectual and incompetent at contributing to the prosperity of this great nation?

There is also this very mesmerising example of current inhabitants of Khoozestan. As you might discern, The petroleum extracted from the Province of Khoozestan almost constitutes the cream of Iranian Economy by providing us with the bulk of our petroleum, which still forms more than 85% of the total exports of Iran. Even in the harshest days of the Iran-Iraq War, Khoozestaanis opted to side with Iran despite the so-called intense enchantment of Arab Nationalism preached by Iraq to lure Khoozestaanis towards themselves. This stems from their satisfaction with being Iranian. What is more, up till now, there has never been a significant attempt of separation supported by the people of Khoozestaan. In exchange, what did they gain? Just this pervasive and rampant anti-Arab stance of Persians, which obviously rules out the 2% of the Iranian Population.

Please do not misunderstand me since I truly adore the Persian Language along with the immense cultural contributions of the Persian People in Iran. I have got absolutely no problem with the name Persian since I completely respect and love it as it stands for 51% of the total population of my homeland, Iran. However, should that entail me to change my identity? I mean, I am a Kurd, not Persian, but extremely proud Iranian; hence, why should I call myself Persian? Above all, why should I let Persian encroach my ethnicity?

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Vahid Issabeigi


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