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Iranian or Persian? ...and under which flag abroad?


A recent seven-question survey with nearly one thousand respondents thus far, and still available for your participation, endeavors to gauge the consensus of Iranians abroad, especially in the U.S., as to their preference for a flag as well as the use of the term Iranian or Persian.  The result is mixed, once again reaffirming that the Iranian community in Diaspora is diverse, not only with respect to their ethnicities, and religions or lack thereof, but also for the socio-political perspectives they identify with in their lives. However, that notwithstanding, Iranians in Diaspora, congruent with their seventy-five million compatriots in Iran, sustain great love for their rich cultural heritage, literature and history, and appreciate the sovereignty and natural beauties of their country of origin. The interim result of the survey makes a few points of preferences clear.  These preferences so far are: the Iranian flag with the lion emblem, using Iranian as opposed to the word Persian, not using any flags or the use of multiple flags at events if need be, giving special reverence to the color green, and calling our Nowruz parades the Nowruz International Parade.

 Although throughout millennia Iranians have sporadically emigrated outside the country, the most recent mass "western" exodus commenced around 1979 when the Pahlavi Monarchy was abolished, to be replaced with a theocratic Islamic Republic. Whereas the Iranian emigration of the distant past consisted of resettlement of Zoroastrian Iranians in Mumbai and Gujarat in India, and later resettlement of Iranians in today's Iraq and Kashmir, Asia Minor (Albania and Ossetia) and as far west as Lebanon and Egypt, the more contemporary diaspora settlements have taken root in Europe and North America.   Although there are no reliable statistics, the number of Iranian émigrés in diaspora is estimated to be as many as four million, evenly divided among the Near Eastern neighbors of Iran (Dubai/UAE, Bahrain, Turkey) , and the European and North American continents. 

The 2000 U.S. Census set the number of Iranian-Americans slightly fewer than 400,000. This has now led to a campaign to ensure that Iranian-Americans respond to the 2010 census questionnaire in a specifically as "IRANIAN" (as Iranian white under Q. 9, "other") in order to be duly counted and not just put under the general category, White.  It is envisaged that the number of Iranian-Americans in the U.S. will approach a more realistic figure of one million by the time the results of the 2010 Census are announced later this year. One can only hope and work towards the day when Iranians, like other distinctively contributing and affluent ethno-religious minorities, are recognized appropriately. Though some other groups are a mere twenty million worldwide, their contributions, recognitions, and power of their voice make them seem like two billion. With other groups, one of them acts like a hundred people, whereas with Iranians, a hundred act as if we are only one!

An article, "Volunteerism, Altruism and Philanthropy in the Iranian-American Community" (D. Rahni, Persian Heritage Magazine) in the early 90's outlined the need for devising non-profit infrastructures for this young and vibrant community to distinctively sustain and advocate for itself. Persian Watch Cat, the Iranian-American Anti-Discrimination Council, whose civil rights mission was later merged into other organizations, was an early outcome of the article's recommendation.  The Iranian-Americans have supported and benefited from a myriad of community activities such as the civil and public relations organizations, parades and street fairs. Academic and scholarly think tank centers of excellence, etc. A very small percentage of Iranians, however, volunteer gratis, let alone donate money, services or expertise for community advancement. That does not preclude most from not only giving themselves the inalienable rights to criticize others with unfounded conspiracy theories, but that in many instances baseless allegations lead to gossips, defamation and slanderous remarks against the few super active members of the community.     

Although there has been a rampant proliferation of Iranian-American community organizations, institutions, and special event functions-such as parades and street fairs, media, educational, public relations and lobbying groups, etc., only those with the foresight and succinct mission and the necessary financial resources and/or cadre of dedicated volunteers remain active, especially on the internet.  Although many such organizations claim that they are non-political and non-religious, to alleviate public concerns, many now recognize that their very existence is political. As Iran is a highly diverse ancient nation comprised of many ethnicities (Persians, Azaris, Kurds, Lurs, Turkmen, Baluchis, Guilanis, Taleshis, Mazandaranis, Arabs, etc.) and religions (Islam Shiites & Sunnis, mystics and spiritualists, Armenian Christians, Assyrian Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Baha'is, Humanists, Gnostics/Agnostics), so too is the community of Iranians in diaspora, especially in the U.S. The socio-economic status and broad political perspectives among Iranian-Americans have made their cohesive unity around major issues both in the U.S. and with respect to their nation of origin, a daunting task. The suspicion of authority, and distrust in especially totalitarian or theocratic governments have created in Iranians-a high degree of skepticism, apathy, and cynicism. By and large this hampers them from working together for a common cause. The problem is further exacerbated when an appropriate ethnic designation, such as the use of the word Iranian and/or Persian-a symbolic flag remains unresolved. A timely article on the history of flags in Iran, although educationally informational, has had minimum impact to the resolution of this debate.  Iranians are indeed savvy internet users, yet, less than 1,000 responses to this survey indicate the apathetic attitude of most who prefer to remain passive observers, but sharp critiques, and not active player in shaping their community. It is as if the expectation of the arrival of saviors to their rescue is genetically embedded into Iranian psyche! 

The recent seven-question survey was presented in the hope of discerning the pulse of the community regarding the use of a flag. In the two weeks since the survey was anchored on, nearly one thousand have responded to it along with hundreds of written comments. The survey was set up to avoid registering more than one vote per respondent computer, and the possible responses per question were shuffled to avoid the same choice appearing first.  The margin of error is +/- 3%.  On closer examination of each question and the response percentages that have in essence remained the same beyond the first three hundred responses, one could draw the following summary and conclusions:

1-      Please select your preferred official Iranian flag for cultural events such as parades, street fairs, etc.

The three-colored flag with lion national emblem 50%

The three-colored flag with no national emblem   35%

The three-colored flag with IRI emblem                 15%

 Although there was no decisive majority, the flag with a lion achieved the highest response rate of ~50%, closely followed by the three-colored flag and the flag with no emblem at 35%. The current IRI flag came in last at 15% by a wide margin. The IRI flag was primarily selected by the younger generations, especially those or their relatives who had either served in Iraq-Iran war under conscription laws or had lost close relatives under the IRI banner. In retrospect and based on many comments received, had the survey only given the first two flag options, all indications are we that there would have been a 50-50 split between the flag with the lion and the flag with no emblem, as the 15% IRI vote would have primarily, if not exclusively, been added to the three colored only flag. 

2- Has the use of any of these flags ever prevented you from joining cultural organizations that use them as their official flag? Yes 65%    and No 35%

The overwhelming response of YES to this question indicates that despite accepting the lion flag as in question 1 by almost half the respondents, most expatriates (nearly two-thirds) are not fully comfortable with the choices of flags, as they deem them all politicized. On a follow up question, the two-third majority opined cultural events should NOT adopt any flags whatsoever. The clear majority of the respondents, however, opted to revere the color Green in their cultural events.

 3- Select your preferred official name for the Nowruz Parades taking place in various cities. Iranian-American Parade 65%  and Persian-American Parade 25%

Again, the two-thirds majority of the respondents favored Iranian-American as opposed to Persian-American for representing the community's organizations and events. Even a more resounding 80% preferred that the Nowruz parades be called Nowruz (International) Parade.

In summary, the flag with the lion or no flag at all, and the use of Iranian over Persian, are inextricably favored by the community. Iranians are highly opinionated and thus polarized especially when it comes to criticizing others' actions; nonetheless, the majority of Iranians come short of proposing their own substantive solutions or taking actions for advancing the community.   There are, however, measurable indications of a paradigm shift whereby the endemic apathy, pessimism, skepticism and cynicism have gradually been transformed into coalitions of collective actions and working together so as to move the community agenda forward.  We all know the one flag all Iranians would agree on: A flag with Chelo-Kabob emblem!

Sa'adi  Shiraz:

Of One Essence is the Human Race, Thusly has Creation put the Base.
One Limb impacted is sufficient, For all Others' to feel the Mace.
The Unconcern'd with Others' Plight, Are but Brutes with Human Face.

... Payvand News - 05/03/10 ... --

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