The Persian Empire
Persians managed to create the very first Indo-European global empire which was the vastest at that time. It is said that Persians showed tolerance and respect towards all people in their empire. However, one should note that, this was mostly because they were smart enough to desire political stability which is often destroyed by ethnic clashes. They had at the same time a great appetite for conquering other nations and assimilating them into the Persian culture. In this respect they followed the style of their neighbors, the Babylonians and Assyrians. They brought stability to a Mesopotamia in which for example there was no tradition of releasing the war captives at the time.
It is a historical fact that Persians showed great tolerance towards the Jewish people who were basically prisoners in Babylonia, but one might ask the question: Would the Jews have been tolerated, had they been in the way of the Persian supremacy in the Middle East? Indeed, it is quite possible that Persians would have assimilated the Jews. That was after all what happened to the Persians' own kinsmen, the Medians.
There are many inscriptions made by the Great Kings of Persia, in which they boast about how tolerant they were towards different races, religions and backgrounds, distancing themselves from the oriental tyrants of the Middle East who kept boasting about how many people they had killed and captured in battles. But, what would Medians, Scythians, Armenians, Greeks, Babylonians and Africans (especially Egyptians) have to say about that? One may say, well, Medians and Scythians ended the Assyrian dominance in the Middle East also! True, but it was mainly because Assyrians oppressed them (and so many others). Assyrians were well-known for their ruthless and brutal hunger for power and the Median vassal king Fravartish was killed in a battle trying to keep his own territory. Much Later, the Medians rebelled several times against the Persian dominance in their land, but they were defeated every time and their leaders were executed. Thus the Medians lost any long-lasting influence in the global Iranic culture.
Finally, even the Persian Achemaenids fell to Alexander of Macedonia and Persians lost their vast empire to Greeks and Macedonians. After the Macedonian invasion, a Greek dynasty, the Seleucids was established in Iran and they in turn tried to "Hellenize" the culture. This was not considered to be a great loss by the Persian aristocracy, as the incorporation of foreign elements into their already multicultural world was normal. Eventually, and not much later, the Seleucids military weakness and the lack of political power initiated the rise of the Parthian dominance in the eastern provinces of Iran. Parthians were Scythians and belonged to the Parni, which was a branch of the Dahae confederation of Scythians. The Parthians managed to gradually reestablish an Iranic domination of the Iranian plateau. The Parthians ruled Iran for nearly 400 years. They created the first institutionalized elective system of kings (although it failed eventually) through their own parliament Mahestan. This is perhaps the first known "House of Lords" in the Indo-European history. The Parthians revived the Iranic martial ardor lost under the Seleucids, and restored the Iranic culture in Iran against the continuous Roman aggressions, but never accepted by their Persian antagonists, they eventually lost their power to the Persian Sassanids.
The Sassanids warred with Romans for almost four centuries, and later with the Byzantine Empire, and the Huns and the Turks. Most of their wars ended disastrously for the Iranian people. Outside Persia they firmly held the lower Tigris-Euphrates Valley. The Sassanids promoted and redesigned the Zoroastrian religion, punishing by death those who left the official faith. Zoroastrianism, which is by many, considered as one of the purest Iranic cultural remains, was opposed vehemently by many Iranic tribes who preferred their own Mithra and Anahita to Zoroastrian paradigm of duality. The Sassanids are also honorably responsible for other cultural contributions, such as the spectacular architecture they produced in Iran and Mesopotamia, some of which remain until this day.
In the 7th century Sassanid Persia fell to the conquering armies of Islam of Arabia. Both the Sassanids and their enemies, the Byzantines, had been seriously weakened by exhausting wars they had fought between 603-629 ACE. The Persian Sassanids, shaken by defeat, ruled by an unstable and corrupt dynasty, with a disrupted army and civil service and with a people alienated by crushing taxation and parasitic landlords, and a non-organic religion had to give in for the "vigorous impulse of Islam". Islamic rule, under the Caliphate, persisted for seven centuries. It gave the Persians a wholly new religion and altered their way of living. Yet Persian culture did not die.
It is known to historians and the linguists that the Persians (old Persian "Parsa"), belong to the Iranic branch of the Indo-Iranic subgroup of the Indo-European language family, and were the culturally dominating tribe in the Iranian plateau. The Indo-Iranics called themselves "Aryans" from the old Iranic "Airyau", but because of a misconception due to some scholars (starting with Friedrich Schlegel) and the later political implications associated with the word Aryan, this word is no longer in scholarly use and the majority of linguists and historians prefer the term Indo-Iranic. Let us start by reviewing some facts about the relationships of the Indo-Iranics to other Indo-European tribes.
It is widely believed in error that the Indo-Iranics were culturally very similar and closely related to the Celts. A reason, for this misconception is the similarity between the very names of "Iran" and "Ireland". Linguistically, the resemblance between the words Iran and Ireland is coincidental, as Iran comes from the Iranic "Airyanam Vaeja" meaning "of the Aryan land", "Ireland" stems from the Celtic "Iwer-ion" meaning "fertile land".
All cultural connections that exist between the Celts and the Indo-Iranics come from the time span, roughly (300-200 B.C.E to maybe 200-300 A.C.E), when the Celts were the next-door neighbors of the Iranic Scythians, who at that time dwelled in eastern or central Europe and Anatolia. The Scythians were the various Iranic tribes living to the north of Caspian Sea, in Ukraine, and in the steppes of Central Asia. Their Persian relatives knew them as the "Saka" or "Sak". This is an oversimplification, as there were indeed various Iranic tribes that lived in the vast area mentioned before and it is quite likely that these tribes were not more related to each other than the Persians were related to Sakas. It is evident that the Celts got a lot of cultural influence from the Scythians, but the similarities between the two cultures are historically recent. We mention finally that the people closest related to the Celts, linguistically and culturally, were the Indo-European Italics.
The fact is that: There were no Indo-European people closer to the Indo-Iranics than the northern European Baltic people i.e. the Lithuanians, the Latvians and the Prussians. They share almost all of the cultural traits of ancient Iranics (Fires, Equinoxes etc.). The second closest to the Indo-Iranics (linguistically and culturally) were the Slavic Indo-Europeans. There are some connections to the Germanic Indo-Europeans also. Among the Iranic tribes, some extinct and some still around, the most well known are, the Medes, Scythians (e.g. Sakas, Parthians), Persians, Sarmatians (e.g. Alans, Ossetians, the Roxolanis), Bactrians, Sogdians, Kushans, Tajiks, Pashtons, Balochis, and Kaferistanis (Nuristanis nowadays). Some of these tribes might have been a subgroup of the other ones. All of these people shared many common linguistic, cultural, and religious traits such as a passion for horses and natural elements such as the sun, the fire, and the water. While many of them were warlike, they were mostly nomadic and isolated groups, and the urbanization through agriculture came later, and in some cases many of these people still keep the nomadic life styles.
Curiously, many use the word Persian as a synonym for Iranic or Iranian. Strictly speaking the Persians (from old Persian "Parsa") were just an Iranic tribe that settled in the centre and South of what is now Iran. According to some historians, the Persian tribe in turn contained a few smaller tribes, like the Pasargadae, the Maraphii and the Maspii. This is again by far not the complete picture of the Persian sub-tribes. In the south the Persians were not alone, as they had or eventually got some other Iranic neighbors e.g. Scythians and perhaps even some Sogdians and Pashtons.
Persians managed to create the very first Indo-European global empire which was the vastest at that time. In a separate post, we shall discuss more about the Persians in particular, and their contribution to the Iranic culture.
Did I tell you that I disliked Ebadi's speech in Boston?
I thought that the speech script was poorly written, with incorrect historical references (Hitler with good intentions?), misplaced emphasis on things (X-camp instead of Evin), and lacking the right expertise (trying to prove the compatibility of Islam and Democracy instead of talking about her own work). But dislike of her talk doesn't mean that I dislike who she is or what she does.
As a reaffirmation of this sentiment, I found the following beautiful letter from her in the Human Development Report of this year:
Human rights embody the fundamental values of human civilizations
By Shirin Ebadi
People are different, and so are their cultures.
In short, these common principles, which are shared by all civilizations, reflect our fundamental human rights. These rights are treasured and cherished by everyone, everywhere.
So cultural relativity should never be used as a pretext to violate human rights, since these rights embody the most fundamental values of human civilizations. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is needed universally, applicable to both East and West. It is compatible with every faith and religion. Failing to respect our human rights only undermines our humanity.
Let us not destroy this fundamental truth; if we do, the weak will have nowhere to turn.
Last week, upon a request from the U.N. General Assembly, the International Court of Justice in the Hague, the Netherlands, issued its advisory opinion that the 140km long barrier under construction by Israel is illegal, and that "all States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction." The court also called on the U.N. General Assembly, and especially the security council, to take necessary actions to "end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and the associated règime."
In this posting, I shall present my personal perspective on the question of whether or not Israel has the right to build the barrier.
It has been customary for Israel to engage in cycles of incursion and withdrawal along with systematic destruction of Paletinian houses, every time it was attacked by suicide bombers. However, a little less than a year ago, Israel gradually started shifting its policy in dealing with Palestinians from launching grand-scale retaliatory responses to taking defensive preventive measures, and at times taking preemptive offensive strikes with surgical accuracy. The elimination of two of Hamas leaders was part of this shift in policy, and so was the decision to build a 140km long barrier that separated Palestenian residential areas from Israeli territories. The wall in certain parts even ran through Paletinian owned lands and deviated from the so-called "green line" established under the 1949 Armistice.
The construction of the barrier created a lot of controversy, and even Isreal's closest ally, i.e. the U.S., expressed concerns that the construction of the barrier would undermine "the road map" - the peace initiative backed by the so called Quartet comprising the U.N., U.S., E.U., and Russia. On October 20, 2003 the League of Arab States requested an emergency meeting of the U.N. General Assembly to dicuss the wall. On October 21, the assembly passed a resolution, the draft of which was proposed by Italy on behalf of the European Union, demanding the cessation of the wall's construction. On December 8, 2003, the General Assembly requested an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on "the legal consequences arising from the construction by Israel of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."
Israel, of course, questioned the legality and jurisdiction of this court before the court even started its deliberations, and refused to take part in the hearings. After the court issued its opnion, Israel called it "one-sided", and politically motivated. The U.S. and the U.K. also suggested that the court should abstain from making any ruling regarding the wall, which they claimed would complicate the road-map negotiations.
About ten days before the ICJ issued its opinion, on June 30, 2004 Israel's high court had ruled that the barrier infringes on the lives of some 35,000 Palestinians, and that the government should therfore reroute a 30km segment of the wall.
Israel's Point of View
The Israeli government claims that the wall is a defensive measure aimed at stopping suicide bombers to enter Israeli towns and killing innocent civilians. They have long been arguing that the Palestinian security forces are unable or unwilling to take measures to stop suicide operations against innocent civilians launched by millitants belonging to all sorts of factions many of which are out of the control of the Palestinian authority, and supported by States such as Syria and Iran.
That, in fact, has always been cited as the main reason why Israel had to make repeated incursions into Palestinian towns; to do the job Arafat's security forces failed to do, and to destroy houses that Israel claimed sheltered the suicidal terrorists. The wall, they say, is a non-violent alternative to such incursions, that would spare the lives of many innocent Israeli citizens, as well as the lives of those Palestinians who were part of the collateral damage caused by Israeli air and ground assaults against the terrorists.
The Counter-Israeli Point of View
From a legal standpoint, Israel and Palestine are still officially in a state of territorial dispute. An internationally recongnized border for the State of Israel has not yet officially been determined and agreed upon. Building a wall, no matter where it is built, is seen as a unilateral move that sets an unfair pretext for any further negotiations. Furthermore, the route of the wall even violates the "green-line" that signifies a de facto border between Israel and Palestine. The Palestinian politicians say, the construction of the wall is nothing but an outrageous land grab.
The construction of the barrier will also have devestating implications for the Palestinian people. Many people will be denied access to public places such as hospitals and schools. Many families will be separated on the two sides of the wall, much like what happened after the construction of the infamous wall in Berlin. Some farmers have been, or soon will be, out of business simply because the wall denies them access to their own gardens and farming lands.
To build or not to build
The issue is clearly controversial, and although the international community seems to be generally against the construction of the wall, even those who oppose it do not quite agree on practicalities. This even applies to the panel of fifteen judges that presided over the ICJ court. Two of the judges (including Pieter Kooijmans from the Netherlands) did not vote for the article that mandated all states to not recognize and support the construction of the barrier.
However, I personally think the issue isn't really about the existence of such a barrier. My personal opinion on this matter is based on three assumptions:
I believe Israel does in fact have the right to build the wall to protect its citizens. As the Dutch judge has also stated in his separate opinion, the court has indeed failed to address the security concerns of the Israeli government. However, I think Israel has chosen the wrong policy in defending its right to self defense. Instead of refusing to take part in the hearings, they could have made a strong case for the construction of the wall. They could have used the Israel's high court's ruling to demonstrate that they do not intend to grab land and that they are willing to make further compromises in the route of the wall or the passage regime.
Also, they have to realize that although the wall might ultimately lessen the suicide bombing rates, it will not stop the Palestinians - with the help of others - from comming up with alternative ways of inflicting harm on Israelis. If Israel really wants to make peace, then they first have to learn to put aside unilateralism; a habit they seem to have picked from their American friends. At the moment, Israel heavily relies on the adamant support from the United States. They have to understand that America's fanatic support for them aggrevates more hatred towards Israel as well as the United States itself. If you look at the results of individual votes of the fifteen ICJ judges, you will see that except for the question of jurisdiction, the American judge has consistently voted against all the rulings of the court. It is ironic that the ICJ has cited the reason for its unanimous vote on the jurisdiction matter as the U.N. security council's failure to deal with the issue due to America's vetoing of security council resolutions against Israel.
I believe Israel should adopt a more open and affirmative policy in dealing and interacting with the international community. As long as it ">clings to the U.S. to put itself beyond and above any international law, neither them nor the Americans can expect the international community to deal with issues like this wall reasonbaly, as well as issues such as Iran's nuclear capabilities, or its support for groups like Hizbollah in a decisive manner. The real war on terror, I believe, should begin with the cessation of political bigotry and unilateralism.
July 9, 1999 (18 Tir, 1378 in Persian calendar, this year on July 8) was a day of shock and disbelief in the student community of Iran and the society at large. Upon a demonstration in protest to the banning of the pro-reform newspaper Salâm the para-military vigilantes supporting the conservatives' agenda and the police broke into the dormitories of Tehran University, smashed the doors, shattered the windows, tore apart the furniture, brutalized the students and throw some of them out the broken windows. The building looked as if it was hit by a ballistic missile. According to unofficial reports, more than ten people died in the clash, although the official death toll was later announced to be one unfortunate guest who
had "fallen" down the window was "suspiciously shot in the head." All this happened at dawn on a Friday, the official weekend holiday with no newspapers to cover the story. The national TV, under the supreme leader's supervision, did not broadcast any reports of the events till the night after when it briefly mentioned "the unrests after an illegal gathering of students."
Ahmad Batebi in the picture that resulted in the incredible story of his arrest.
The account of the savageries that happened that night and the events that unfolded afterwards remain to be investigated. The conservative-controlled judiciary made a ridiculous circus out of the trials that ensued after much persistence by the students' lawyers, notably Mohsen Rohami and now Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi. The complaining students and their lawyers alike served jail time for their pursuit of the case, while the perpetuators of the event received light sentences and were freed shortly. Perhaps Ahmad Batebi best symbolises the treatment that the beaten students received: he was arrested due to a picture of his with a bloody shirt of his mates raised over his head, which got published on the cover of The Economist magazine. He was initially sentenced to death for high treason. His sentence was afterwards reduced upon the actions and pleads of an outraged (interntional) public, but he is still being constantly harassed in and out of the prison.
The recent Iranian history and student movement remembers many such incidents. A prominent one, which has always been utilized by the Islamic Republic and is officially named and celebretaed as the "Student's Day," occured on December 7, 1953 (16 Âzar, 1332 in Persian calendar), when the students of Tehran University demonstrated against a visit by then Vice President Nixon made to Iran, after the CIA-backed coup of August 19, 1953 that ousted Prime Minister Mossadeq and brought the Shah back to power. The events of July 9, 1999 bear striking similarity to those of 1953 in terms of the brutal display of power against the students. Various opposition factions inside and outside the country have tried to use them as a propaganda tool to advance their agendas. Whether that can be of any good to the students in particular and the people in general, I doubt; but, one thing is for certain: July 9, 1999 stands like a thorn in the eye of those power wielders in Iran who hold onto their inhumane and barbaric policies while trying to present a fake façade of peace and humanity and as such, it is vitally important to keep its bitter memory alive.
--Our Heroine: Shirin Ebadi; Bahman Kalbasi, an Iranian student involved in the student protests of 9 July 1999 in Iran, writes on Shirin Ebadi's Nobel Prize for Peace.
--Amnesty International Public Statement, 7 July 2004.
--BBC features Iran student protests: Five years on; Mohammad Reza Kasrani, student at the time, recalls the dormitory attack and its ugly aftermath.
--BBC's special report on September 12, 1999.
--Cox & Forkum Cartoon and Roundup.
Sixteen years ago to this day, on July 3, 1988, the U.S.S Vincennes, also known as the RoboCruiser, shot down an Iranian passenger Airliner from within Iranian territorial waters, killing 290 people on board. While calling the incident "tragic" and blaming the airline pilot for this "accident", to add insult to injury, Captain Rogers the commander of the U.S. Navy vessel, was awarded the Legion of Merit award for "exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of an outstanding service" by George H. Bush (Senior) in 1990. I guess it was given for the stress of having to pick up and return charred bodies and torn limbs from children and pregnant women to the Iranian authorities or maybe it was in recognition of the most spectacular fireworks for the 4th of July celebrations. In any case, to this date there has never been an apology on behalf of the United States for this incident only an expression of "regret" over the incident.
In 1998, ten years after the incident, at a time when nobody really cared anymore (the same with the 1953 coup and other issues), Newsweek did an investigative article that is worth reading. It refers to the coverup operation of the U.S. Navy, as well as the refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to consider lawsuits filed by the families of the victims. The U.S. paid $2.9 million compensation ($100,000 per person) to the families involved, while penalizing the Iranian government for $100 million for an American that was taken hostage for six years but later released by the Lebanese Hizbollah (go figure the value of an Iranian life versus an American life).
More interesting is the reluctance among the free and independent U.S. media at the time in the coverage of an event that would inconvenience the conscience of the American public.
For some reason it seems "hearts and minds" cannot be won, when the life of people who are on the receiving end do not really matter.
I look forward to the day when a President of the United States offers a public apology over these and other acts of violence that have caused innocent people harm. I somehow think there has to be a U.S. President who is as courageous as that Madman, Libya's Ghaddafi, who took responsibility for bombing the Pan-Am 103 flight. Or would that be too much to ask?
Here he is, the man who doesn't know me at all but has made the oldest memories of my childhood. Well he is on trial today. Do I qualify as a witness? I think my memories are quite related!
Our 10 floor building is shaking. Our vacuum cleaner is left in the middle of the room and it starts moving on itself. I can hear a loud sound from outside and some noise from the above. Now it is night, we are at a neighbor's house, all the lights are turned off. People seem scared, shocked and quiet; I remember a small red, black-and-white TV and some thing about a red alarm. Then a young man comes in, he has found some black pieces of plastic or something like that, everybody tries to take a look at it and so do I.I was 3 at the time.
Yes, the war had started. We used to live close to a major factory (Zob Ahan*) and it was one of the first targets as the war started. Later my father’s aunt and his cousins arrived from Khoramshahr, in their slippers! They had got only enough time to get in their cars and drive with no belongings all the way to Esfahan; all of a sudden they were homeless! All of our neighbors' relatives arrived too. Little by little all those half built buildings which were I think remainings of an unfinished project from before the revolution were filled by dark skinned people who were coming from the South. They were poor. I didn't like going to their buildings. They had plastic bags for their windows and cloths for their doors.
I couldn't remember anything at all from before the war. When I turned on the TV it was always something about the war. When you looked in the streets there were always some slogans about the war. War was part of our life, sun rises, you wake up and Iran is in war, as simple as that.
When people talked about the countries that weren't at war I wondered for myself what exactly that meant. Most of the young boys were either going to the war or were escaping Iran. I remember families discussing the future of their sons as they were growing: “Hmm, should we send our 14 year old son out of Iran to some unknown country before he gets eligible for the military service or should we let him go to the war?”
I was in the forth grade when bombing the cities started again. This time ballistic missiles! Our schools were not regular any more. They were building bomb shelters everywhere. They were so popular that we children decided to build one of our own in the back of the garden where nobody could see it and then give it to our parents as a gift! Bombing became an every day thing. We'd count them as they were hitting each time, “1, 2, 3 ... and 10! Oh Saddam is getting better!” It had become very natural to see people who have lost someone in bombardment or in the war.
Saddam used Chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and Kurds. They told us in school that we had to carry a garbage bag and wet towels with us and they taught us how to stock ourselves in the bag in case we hear a gray alarm. We compared our towels with each other at school and wondered which one of us can play this game better and faster.
People were making jokes about Saddam: “You stupid Saddam! You are forgetting the other side of the river!”, “Oh Saddam with golden hands, please don't come to this side of the river!”, “ Saddam is hitting on Charsogh St. because he fears his mother-in-law!“ Of course, they all rhymed in Persian. It came to the point that he sent us a share of missiles for each meal; “breakfast 4, lunch 6, dinner 7, and now time to sleep!”
People fled the cities. It was too risky to stay in. Our house was almost hit once; fortunately it didn't explode right away. Our door exploded into a thousand pieces; as my parents ran to see how our neighbors were doing I took a look at our yard: it was full of fire bushes as if it was Chaharshanbeh soori**. They came back with my little cousin; he was wounded by broken glasses. They told me to keep an eye on him and they went to get others. The only thing I could think of, was to put the sheets on the wounds to stop the bleeding. The schools were closed but we had to go back as my parents had to work anyway. Life had to go on. We lived in our basement. My mother's favorite prayer had become: “Please God let our family either live together or die together. Don't let one of us be left alone” . . .
Another image is carved in my mind forever,
I am in my mother’s workshop. People are acting crazy, my mother is happy, her friend is crying, her other friend seems shocked and quiet. They tell me Iran has accepted the UN resolution 598. I ask them “ What does that mean?” “ It means peace! War is over!” I wondered by myself, “Hmm..., what does that mean?!”
I was 11.
* It is a major steel factory, located close to the city of Esfahan in central Iran.
** A Persian holiday, observed on the last Wednesday of the year, when one of the traditions is to make (small) bonfires and jump from one side of them to the other side.