Monday, February 26, 2007

Persian Identity

"[...]Now that I put the crown of kingdom of Iran, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions on the head with the help of Ahura Mazda, I announce that I will respect the traditions, customs and religions of the nations of my empire and never let any of my governors and subordinates look down on or insult them until I am alive. From now on, till Ahura Mazda grants me the kingdom favor, I will impose my monarchy on no nation. Each is free to accept it, and if any one of them rejects it, I never resolve on war to reign. Until I am the king of Iran, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions, I never let anyone oppress any others, and if it occurs, I will take his or her right back and penalize the oppressor.

And until I am the monarch, I will never let anyone take possession of movable and landed properties of the others by force or without compensation. Until I am alive, I prevent unpaid, forced labor. Today, I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live in all regions and take up a job provided that they never violate other's rights.

No one could be penalized for his or her relatives' faults. I prevent slavery and my governors and subordinates are obliged to prohibit exchanging men and women as slaves within their own ruling domains. Such a traditions should be exterminated the world over.

I implore to Ahura Mazda to make me succeed in fulfilling my obligations to the nations of Iran, Babylon, and the ones of the four directions."




People often get confused when I refer to myself as being Persian. It is true: to the West a country by the name of Persia officially doesn’t exist since 1935 anymore. In fact it never existed as it was only a term falsely used by the ancient Greeks and Romans - there was a Persian empire (founded by an ethnic Persian) but never a country called Persia. “Persians” always referred to their country as Iran and Reza Shah Pahlavi “changed” this country’s name to the correct term of Iran as Persians only represent a mere 50% ethnic majority of all Iranian people.

Looking at my family history I’m not quite sure if my ethnic origin is Persian!

So what is it that makes me call myself Persian rather than Iranian?

In general, people, including myself, have many prejudice and stereotypes. When people ask me “So where are you REALLY from?” they deny my Austrian identity and usually want to get an idea about what type of person I am. So depending on what I would reply, usually a stereotype kicks in to tell them: “(Most likely) this is a civilized/good person!” or :”(Most likely) this is a uncivilized/bad person!”

For many years now the term Iran symbolizes associated prejudice and stereotypes like terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and close-mindedness. More recently great associations like anti-Semitism and “The Axis of Evil” where added.

Personally I don’t really identify with that!

2500 years ago a warrior came along who conquered more than half of the then known world to become an emperor over all Iranian ethnic groups and some non-Iranian kingdoms. This man called himself the Shah-in-Shah (king of kings)… a god-like figure. This man truly was a great emperor and a king of kings!

So what is it that made this man so great? What is it that makes me think (apart from being Iranian) that this man was a king of kings?

To my behalf it is not the fact that he conquered half of the then known world. History has shown again and again that barbarians and even people with tiny intelligence have conquered half of the world or become the most powerful political leader.

It was openness that made this emperor great! It was tolerance that made this emperor great! It was a sense of social fairness that made this emperor great!

This man was Kurosh-e Bozorg (Cyrus the Great). The text above has been taken from the Cyrus Cylinder declared by Kurosh. It was buried under the foundations of Babylon to symbolise his empire was built on these foundations. It is interesting: there is a copy of the Cyrus Cylinder at the UN- headquarters in New York and Kurosh perhaps wanted to built some type of United Nations 2500 years ago.

Kurosh was Persian (an ethnic Persian). He was the first of many Iranian emperors to follow a tradition of openness and tolerance throughout Iranian history.

2500 years ago this man declared human rights. 2500 years ago he abolished slave labor (including freeing the Jews from their “Babylonian captivity” - kicking off traditionally good relations with the Jewish people). 2500 years ago this man believed in religious tolerance. 2500 years ago he conquered half of the known world just to let the conquered kings stay in power and their people untouched in their religious beliefs and traditions… only demanding to serve him: the King of Kings!

It is this and many more things that made this emperor great!

So I wonder: when did the Western civilized world first declare and execute human rights? I wonder when did the Western civilized world first abolish slave labor? I wonder when did the Western civilized world first live religious tolerance?

But this text is not at all about who was first or who is better or about the “greatness of the Iranian culture”… I just want to draw the picture of an Iranian perspective. It might not conform to some Western prejudice and stereotypes. In fact, the Western view of Persia and Iran has always been from the “enemy's perspective” i.e. then the ancient Greeks and Romans and today from the West… a bit biased I would say… and usually the enemy must be bad, philistine and uncivilized… how else should war-propaganda be effective? I believe that the Iranian people and culture have always been wrongly projected to the Western world throughout history.

Anyway, it was not only Kurosh who lived this ideology. Many great emperors, kings, generals and heros like Daryoush (Darius), Khashayar (Xerxes), Ardeshir, Shapur, Anushirvan (Khosrau), Abbas and to some extent even Reza Pahlevi followed. Perhaps the most popular example to the West is Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi (Saladin). It is arguable if he was Iranian as he was a Kurd. But he was born and raised in an area of Persian cultural influence... as many others who where not from the core-land of today's Iran!

These where emperors and kings who build great universities and libraries with scientific, religious and philosophical texts and scholars from the entire world... trying to unite knowledge. These were emperors who supported intellectual exchange independent of religious, cultural and ethnic background. These were emperors who supported and embraced art and culture from the whole world. These were emperors who imposed human rights, civil laws and some type of a social welfare system (like disability benefits). These were emperors who had a higher goal in mind: Uniting the people of the world in tolerance for peace!

So when we talk about Iran of today in the West we usually don’t associate any of that. When we talk about Iran today many people think of backwarded people and/or the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is true, when we consider only the last 28 years we can make the case that perhaps nothing has remained of the Persian culture of openness and tolerance.

But maybe the government, this regime doesn’t really represent its people. Maybe the Iranian president doesn’t really represent the Iranian people. In fact, the Mullah-regime repeatedly tries to deny the importance of the “Persian” heritage on Iran… well, it works against their power-structure!

And perhaps it takes more than 28 or 66 years to abandon a cultural heritage that has existed for 2500 years. I don’t see it abandoned when I communicate with Iranians today. And I personally don’t believe that a well-established cultural influence can be abandoned within one generation.

I believe that the majority of Westerners don’t see and know any of this and look down on Iranian people (as on the people of many other ancient high-culture).

I am Iranian but I consider myself to be Persian… personally I do so not because I think or want to feel like I am better or greater than whoever... I am not! Rather, I, like many Iranians (and non-Iranians) in and outside of Iran today try to be open, live tolerance, embrace cultures and religions and believe in social fairness!

As for the Persian ethnicity: Persians are Iranians like the Azeris, Turks, Balutishis, Gilakis, Kurds, Mazandaris, Turkmens and many more! Furthermore, Iranians have a mix of Greek, Arab, Mongol and Turkish blood as they where conquered by these empires! Therefore, ethnically speaking, there are perhaps no “true Persians” left.

So, for me, to call myself "Persian" is not the reference to an ethnic group. For me, to call myself "Persian" is a reference to a consciousness and a symbol!

Openness and tolerance, liberalism and socialism, cultural and religious diversity!

I was born in Tehran and I lived most of my life in Vienna! I am Iranian and Viennese! I am Asian and European! My "ideology" is Persian!

But most of all, I am a human being of this planet Earth!



vox

Saturday, February 24, 2007

It surprises me every day again and again how badly people in the West are being fooled about Iran and its people!



vox

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Month One

Tehran, Iran


A month ago I’ve arrived in Iran. Things are quite different than I had expected. At the one hand I perceive this country quite differently to what Western media wants to make us believe this country is like. At the other I didn’t plan to stay in Tehran for so long!



After having meet family members including close ones like the daughter of my grandfather’s nice’s nice (I guess that makes me her 2nd or 3rd grade uncle) and my great-grandfather’s nephew I thank god that the majority of my family lives abroad…

So most of these people I met the first two weeks. I’m almost through with my obligatory invitations and visits. Here in Iran the system of these visits/invitations is ritualized and it is an obligation to meet all these people… making some of these events a bit stiff and boring.

But I don’t complain. It was good that I was forced to stay in Tehran for some time. In the meantime I learned to enjoy the city so much that I don’t really want to leave too soon.

I’ve encountered some real good people here (including family members) I can connect to really well.

And I was lucky with my timing to arrive. I experienced Ashura, the 28. Birthday of the Islamic Revolution (these being two of four major yearly events in Iran with the next one coming up in a month) and moreover my best friend had two weeks off just after I finished my first round of obligatory invitations… so we went on a trip.

I love this experience!

At the moment I experience three different worlds. One is my grandmother’s and the world of those who have lost a lot during the revolution… most of all their social status. It is interesting to see how different people around her coped with what had happened then. For her and her friends the revolution was a true trauma, as they had never expected a revolution to the “god-like” king.

Another world I experience is that of Iranian artists. This world is also really interesting as, of course, in a dictatorship artist usually live a life between conforming and rebelling.

And finally, I experience the world of two 20 year old students. This life is real fun. Well, college is supposed to be the best time of your life and these to guys really push it ;)

So over the last four weeks I had a lot of impressions. There are so many that I don’t find time to reflect.

My reflections are mostly on truth and perception, identity, social and cultural influences, socioeconomic and political developments, propaganda and manipulation here as well as in the West, religion, spirituality, human relationships and, of course, love.


So I hope to manage to find the opportunity to share at least a bit of that…



vox

Monday, February 12, 2007

3000 km in a Week

Tehran, Iran

Saturday a week ago I went on a trip with two friends. We hit the road at 4.30 a.m. heading south towards Esfahan. At first we just planned to travel for two days but we enjoyed travelling so much that we extended our trip to a week.
As we had our own car we had the freedom to move on whenever and wherever to. So sometimes we got up early in the morning before sunrise to hit the road and sometimes we decided to move on the very next moment.


We saw a lot but we didn’t particularly travel to see… so most of the time we spent in the car moving on to whereever… enjoying the beauty of nature and life… listening to Hafez, reading Hafez, singing Hafez







vox

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Experiencing Ashura

Tehran, Iran


I arrived in Iran on the first of Muharram (the first month in the Islamic calendar). At first I didn’t know what that meant.

The moment to come to Iran was perfect. The first 10 days of Muharram Shia Muslims mourn for Imam Hussain – one of Mohammend's grandchildren – who was killed by his political and religious rival Yesid near Kerbala.

This incident eventually lead to the split of Islam into Shia and Sunni sects and seems to have an impact not only on the region, but from today’s perspective, on the entire world.

For now there are two important aspects that I can identify.

Firstly, there is the rivalry between the sects which at times is quite bloody, as, for example, we can see in Iraq today.

But more importantly: A cult developed around this incident: For almost 1400 years every year the Shia Muslims mourn for ten days (those ten days Hussain was trapped in the desert before being killed) and castigate themselves because supposedly they have betrayed the Prophets grandson. This castigation starts with hitting yourself and even goes on to "suicide"… to die a martyr like Hussain… going straight to paradise!

So what’s the impact of that: Religious leaders abuse that cult! Ayatollah Khomeini definitely has taken advantage of this cult for his sake, like the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which has a much bigger impact on international relations and world politics than most Westerners today realize. And more importantly, this cult can be exploited to excess, potentially having an even bigger impact on world politics.

So much for the politics…


This whole cult has also a strong influence on Iranian culture. Iranians like to "sacrifice" themselves in daily life. It manifests in simple things. For example if you accidentally hit someone and say "sorry" the answer is "please" whereas in English you would say "no problem" or whatever. "Please hit me!" This is something very Iranian and perhaps even one of the most essential aspects of Iranian culture, and therefore their whole life. It starts with simple things like language and ends with things like children walking through minefields sacrificing their lives like Hussain.

One lesson learned is: Iranian psyche is very masochistic!

So for ten days people spend on the streets following the processions or taking part, hitting themselves on their chests with their fists or with chains on their back, mourning for Hussain and that their failure to help him. Some people hit their heads with knifes (in closed rooms as it is legally forbidden nowadays). And you have people in public rooms having some type of ritual dances, reminding you rather of a discotheque than a religious ritual. In fact the “Hussain”-chanting sounds a bit like Ragga Dancehall at times.

Well, this is perhaps a major aspect of this whole cult today. Of course there are many that are really into this ritual. But most people seem to take advantage of the fact that they can go on the streets, meeting people and partying, let's say, "the Iranian way"!
This is as good as it gets, partying publicly in a country where dancing and music are forbidden in public.

And the same seems to be true for demonstrations... more people here seem to go to demonstrations because they like to gather with people in public rather than supporting anything of what that guy with his beard is yelling into the microphone.

Some seem to be really into it with their heart (much less than it might seem when watching Western TV). Most seem to enjoy the party ;)

So I have to stop here... this is it for today... of course I'd like to write more as there is so much more going on inside and outside of me... but I have to leave for now...



vox