"Unfortunately, ancient Persia is twenty feet under the sand of Iran, Iraq and Syria. Not the most popular places lately."
This is part of the dialogue in the action movie 'True Lies' that sums up the impression of the westerners, North Americans in particular, of Iran and Iranian history.
"Isn't Iran a newly founded country like Iraq or ordan, created by the British off ruins of the Ottoman Empire after the first world war?" "I thought Persians are extinct thousands of years ago, like Babylonians." "Zaire changed its name to Congo to mark a new era, isn't that the same for Persia and Iran?"
These are the typical questions I have been asked or sometimes I feel I would be asked more often if the ice was more broken between my North American companions and me. To an average westerner, North American in particular, the historical connection between Persia and Iran is lost. However, for those very few who happen to have an Iranian friend or to have studied history more back in school, the difference is less of a question. "In '30s Iranian government changed the name of the country to make it consistent with what the locals use: Iran." I usually answer. But at the same time, I think the Iranian government would have saved us from a lot of explanations if they had not gone through this name change. Did Germany change its name from Germany, in English, or Allemagne, in French, to make it consistent with what Germans use: Deutschland? How many countries do you think you know that their "international name" is the same as their local ones? It is not hard to see that most newly founded countries' name is uniform between their "International" and local usage, whereas old countries' names tend to vary. Even if the names sound more or less the same, they are not exactly identical, like Spain and Espaņa.
Although it is intriguing why the world should know about our history through the Greek and their reference to certain dominant area of ancient Iran, some might argue that Persia does not reflect multiethnic make-up of the country. However, we are not alone in this. UK and the Netherlands are two great examples where their governments, in the course of time, replaced old England and Holland after WWII in certain international contexts with names that fit their ethnic composition without phasing out the old ones. This way they managed to keep up the identity link between the old and the new names. Something that apparently we managed to lose with no significant effort.
With this situation in hand, what would we better do? Change the name back to Persia, and make a complete fool of us? Country name is not company name whereby one can easily change it to appease potential customers, or in this case sound more sensible to the ears of those uninterested in the history. Unfortunately those people will learn history and geography through US military operations. That is the way they learned about Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan. "Did you know in Afghanistan people make use of an ancient, but still smart irrigation system named 'Qanat'?" I was once being asked. Then the person continued, "I heard it on CNN when the military commentator was explaining about the terrain where military operation would run." "The'Ghanaat' that you heard about is an invention of the ancient Iranian empire. We have many of them in Iran too. " I answered. This information exchange did not require further explanation, as I knew him and I had launched my own little PR campaign to promote the historical link between Persia and Iran.
Clearly our own image hinges on nobody but ourselves. So let the world hear from us directly once rather than through the Greek or CNN's military commentators. That's perhaps why Italy has no trouble associating itself to the ancient Rome.
About the Author:
Hooman Moradmand lives in Ottawa, Canada. He is a 34 year old telecom engineer whose hobbies are reading, discussing, and writing about what ticks different cultures and societies.
... Payvand News - 1/9/03 ... --