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IRANIAN IDENTITY: Myths and Realities

D.N. Rahni reports from New York.


At a recent Conference on Iranian Identity Abroad sponsored by the Foundation for Iranians in Diaspora ( ) held in Tehran on December 5-7, 2006, the major focus was on how Iranian Identity is preserved, transformed and transmitted among the three million rapidly growing expatriates abroad, and how these Iranians remain interconnected with their motherland where many still have strong extended family ties as well. And yet, the assessment on Iranian Identity in Diaspora turned swiftly to concerns on the same topic inside the Country. Thirty-five invited speakers, comprised of a dozen from North America, a dozen from European countries, and the rest from Australia and Asia shared, with the nearly five hundred participants, academic and scholarly analysis of the current state of Iranian identity in their respective communities, the cultural needs of such communities, and how such identity is envisaged to be instilled in future generations. They further reiterated the critical roles of organizations, the media and NGOs in Iran, and their counterparts abroad for providing cultural links.


Iranian Identity as broadly defined currently applies to all diverse people residing in Iran. As recent as the mid-nineteenth century however, it also applied to the central Asiatic and Ural regions whereby as a result of the Iranian central government negligence and the Tsarists' aggressions, these vast territories were annexed into Russia through two unilateral Russian treaties; such Iranian cultural infusion is still notably felt throughout this regions, which upon dissolution of the Soviet Union system of the early 90's gave rise to the inauguration of over a dozen independent states on both sides of the Caspian (aka Mazandaran) Sea.


There seemed to be a general agreement at the Conference that Iranian Identity, although it may have certain deeply rooted cultural and historical commonalities, nonetheless, is defined somewhat differently by individuals and/or communities in various places and junctures. Moreover, there were many anecdotal stories and statistically substantiated examples of levels of personal and professional successes of such expatriates, especially those million plus in North America (the U.S. And Canada) and their vast socio-economic contributions. It was also pointed out that such prominent achievement has come about, notwithstanding the increased amount of "Middle Eastern" xenophobia in the west particularly in the U.S. After the despicable act of September 11 that has, in retrospect, become the pretext for enacting a series of hastily adopted laws, such as the Patriot Act, which have seriously undermined the civil and constitutional rights of the U.S. Naturalized citizens and recent immigrants. Ironically, these natural, human and civil rights are stipulated and implemented by Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenids Dynasty (circa 539 BCE) in the first Declaration of Human Rights in history (http://WWW.spentaproductions.Com/cyruspreview.htm).


Having stated this, there was, nevertheless, a general consensus that the Iranian Identity as manifested through diversity in the use of the various Iranian languages including the main one, namely Persian, cultural heritage, common history and literature, religions, ethical and moral standards, food and entertainment, sports (e.g., soccer, wrestling and weight lifting) and the Iranian psyche are perhaps preserved and safeguarded more effectively outside the country. It appears the enclave communities abroad feel the urgent need to do so against external negative influences like individualism at the expense of family unison. Such communities in Diaspora have successfully integrated with many modern and traditional aspects of their adopted lands and yet selectively incorporate and practice many values from their Iranian Identity. Data supports the fact that Iranians abroad have a substantially more sophisticated level of understating of their long ancestral history, rich literature, and glorious culture, and archaeological remnants than their compatriot counterparts inside Iran. Irrespective of the sub-ethnic divergences of all Iranians, external interventions and hegemonic hardships imposed on their motherland, or the tampering with their common heritage as it is currently committed by certain politically charged elements in other regional countries to rename the Persian Gulf, just to cite one example, has and would continue to unite them all as evidenced by the activities of Iranian expatriates. Cultural exchanges, and legitimate educational, scientific, technology transfers and business enterprises are the mutually beneficial driving forces between Iranians inside and outside the Country. Some scholars and philosophers including those from inside the Country acknowledge that the indigenous Iranian Identity has been adversely affected by many impediments and socio-economic ills. The highly popular TV socio-political sitcom critiques as Shab-haye Barrareh (WWW.tapesh.Com ), have simply striven to reflect the harsh realities of daily life, manifested through Iranian psyche, the identity and its perpetual transformations. 


The Conference participants, appreciative of the warm nostalgic hospitality in Tehran, concluded that despite numerous pre-conceived stereotypical notions on both sides, the Iranians inside and outside Iran are still irrevocably bound together with immense inspirational [identity] commonalities. A growing level of interaction, facilitated by such people-to-people forums, will undoubtedly lead to the continued articulation of Iranian Identity. A distinct form of this identity has also remained embedded in the historical and cultural identities in the vast area in the region that once comprised the Federated Persia/Iran of 2,500 years ago; this vast region now spreads from north India and central Asia, to south and southwest Asia and the Persian Gulf region, and then to Asia minor and the Ural and Caucasus mountains and the Mediterranean coast. An Iranian or a citizen from today's countries of Afghanistan, India, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Kirghizstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Croatia, northwest China and Iraq feels quite comfortable when visiting each other's countries due to the aforementioned common cultural identity that has been in part shaped by Iranians of the distant past. Preserving Iranian Identity must not, however, be misconstrued as a way of discounting or even worse denigrating other evolved identities in the region, but that it rather complements them with the common threads that have historically bound them together. Iran after all, has always remained the cradle for diverse number of peoples who have freely practiced their ethical and moral and religious beliefs and rituals since pre-historic era.


Overall, the consensus by all Iranians irrespective of where they reside worldwide is to envisage an independent Iran that, through peace with itself and with all its neighbours and non-interventions by outsiders, provides a nurturing ambiance for socio-cultural reform, economic development and prosperity, equity and justice, the rule of law and security, , and the empowerment of all her citizens.


... Payvand News - 12/14/06 ... --

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