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August 03, 2004

A Brief History of the Iranics - Part III
Guest Author: Eswin Oakman

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Survival of the Persian Culture

Historically, the resistance against the invading Greeks, Arabs, Turks and Mongols, etc. came from the non-Persian Iranics, in some cases being liberators. In the post-Islamic period, the non-Persian Iranics staged most of the resistance: Papak of Aturpatkan, Abu-Moslem of Khorasan, Maziar of Tabarestan, and the Safarids of Seistan. The Persians of the south and their aristocracy remained neutral. Some of them, like the Barmakids, in fact joined the Arab Caliphate as chancellors. Barmakids, for instance, were apparently the descendents of Hormoz son of Khorow I and they became the Chancellor of Haroon'a'Rashid.

Considering culture, for example, "Firdowsi of Tus" played a great role, in the survival of the Persian language. Firdowsi who came from a Parthian district, revived the Persian language in his great epic work, Shahnama (the Book of Kings). One should remember that many of the "Persian" poets were from the ethnically non-Persian territories. Poets like Firdowsi, Rumi, Khayyam, Naser Khosrow, Fakhrodin Asad Gorgani (from Hirkania who wrote the beatiful Vis [or Veys] and Ramin) and Attar are all actually natives of the Parthian territories. The same goes for scientific and cultural figures like Khwarazmi, Tusi and Ibn-e-Sina. One should also mention of the efforts of Khayyam of Nishapour in restoring the Iranian calendar system. The whole idea that Mohammad's migration from Mecca to Medina "had in fact taken place" on the first day of the Iranian solar calendar (Spring Equinox), separated Iranian chronology and subsequently history (under King Jalloldin Malekshah ) from the rest of the Islamic civilization. Contribution achieved by a man from Nishapour, a non-Persian territory. Such a conclusion that the Iranics outside Persia had developed a strong sense of freedom that resorted to combat if necessary can be seen in the Shiite Movement of Sarbedaran [The Hanged] that overthrew the Mongolian dynasty of Khorasan. According to Mir-Khand and a few other historians of the time, and as Abd-orafi Haghighat (a modern expert in this area show), the Sarbedaran movement paid a lot of attention to Shahnameh mythologies, despite the Shiite pretentions of their religious leaders. Names such as Pahlevan Efandiar Basthini appear besides Hassan and Hosseineh Hamzeh, while historians report that Sarbedaraans were reciting Shahnaameh poetry on the day that they defeated three Mongolian armies separately.

Being dominated culturally by Persians for centuries and afterwards politically by the Arabs, Turks, and the Mongols, the Iranic Persian culture was still closer to the heart of these other Iranics and they would naturally use it to reach their compatriots and try to preserve what was left to preserve from the Iranic culture. It must be mentioned that even under the Sassanid-Persians many Medo-Parthians continued to co-exist and endured extinction in different forms until the plague-like Mongolian invasion physically eradicated many of their speakers. So why all these poets, not speaking Persian as their mother tongues, did not write their poetry in their own local dialects? Maybe the earlier poets just wanted to reach as many souls by preserving at least the global Iranic cultural item (the Persian language, due to the ruthless efforts of the Sassanids), which otherwise would die out and be replaced by Arabic or even Turkish.

The Persians, (1) absorbing many elements from Elamites, Semites, Dravidians, and other non-Indo-Europeans, and by conquering many nations, created the first global indo-european imperialism, which survived for 250 years and then (2) incorporating too many foreign elements in their culture including the style of oriental despotism (that clearly lacked the tribal consensual system of the Sakas/Scythians). The Persian monarchs (Sassanid and Achamendis) eventually lost many of their Iranic traits of culture and their empires along with it.

The legacy of the Persians was to basically (though probably not intentionally) work towards the replacement of the Iranic culture in their country by a cosmopolitan culture which people still call the Persian. This Persian culture now is a mix of all possible cultures that got a chance to cross the borders of the Iranian Plateau but were inevitably shaped by the local Iranics selectivity. At the same time the Persian "globalism" created a united culture and system that enjoyed a strong unique identity of its own, which after the invasions of the Arabs, and later that of the Turks and the Mongols, prevented the total annihilation of the Iranic language (Persian) and culture in Iran. Looking back, what was the impact of the Persian culture on the culture of the Medes and Scythians? Well, those remote enough, had no direct contact with the Persians but how about those who did have direct contact with Persians? How much is left from their culture? How much is left from the cultures of the people of northern Iran, from the culture of the Medo-Schythian people of Hamadan and Kermanshah, from the once repure Medean culture of Aturpakan(Azerbaijan) in which the inhabitants nowadays for sometimes, claim their "pure Turkish heritage"? And how much is remaining from the Medean culture of the heartland of Kurdistan, of the Scythian culture of Tabarestan, Deilaman, Gilan and Talish and the Parthian culture of Khorasan? Are the names like Daiauku, Fravartish, Wlog, Surena, Blash and Tiridad as common in Iran as "Kuros", "Darius", and "Khosrow"?

Different foreign tribes have culturally and militarily "transformed" the Iranic people repeatedly, since Iran unfotunately has always enjoyed a great strategic situation. Still, many Iranic groups were assaulted repeatedly by their compatriots, the Persians, at the extremes of their power.

Modern Persian language, which is the official language of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been heavily influenced by Arabic and, to a lesser extent by Turkish, but its basic features, both grammatically and lexically, are still mainly Iranic and thereby Indo-European. In this respect, one may compare the Persian Language to English which although Germanic in its foundations has numerous loanwords from French and Latin, mostly because of the Roman and the Norman invasions. The other Iranic cultures in Iran are not totally extinct but are nonetheless heavily influenced by the Persian culture and are considered provincial and sometimes even reactionary. This is just very unfortunate.

As a conclusion and maybe as a descriptive note, let me humbly relate some personal experience as an individual with partly non-Iranic background who lived in Iran for sometime: Living in Tehran (originally in non-Persian territory) in which the so called "accent free" Persian is spoken, other ethnicities are the constant victims of abusive (and sometimes humourous) jokes and in real life are sometimes treated as second rate citizens. And having a so called "European" look, I myself was constantly referred to and harassed as khareji [foreigner]. I also had a chance to observe that this harassment extends to Iranians who naturally have a "European" look, and is doubled when they are heard to speak Persian with, say, a Kurdish accent. Whatever the root of this phenomena is, it is not limited to Iran and can only be called a social disease, one that many Iranians in the past and future have and will try to cure.

Eswin Oakman von Falkenhausen was born an orphan from a German, British, and Iranian background in 1971. He was raised in Iran and spent most of his childhood in North of Tehran. He later studied history in political science in England and is currently residing in Canada.

The pre-blackout Google cache of this post with comments is available [here].

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