Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Post #153 - The Anthropology of Iran

"Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." (Matthew 18:20)

"There is no secret conference of three but he is their fourth..." (Koran, Sura 58:7)

"...let us there confound their tongue, that they may not understand one each the voice of his neighbor." (Genesis 11:7)

"O, Mankind!...We have... made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another." (Koran, Sura 49)

Daniel, counselor to Persian King Darius (by Rubens)
People have inhabited the area we know as Iran for as many as 7,000 years. Many Americans are surprised to see the term “Aryan” used to describe the Persian racial type. Though some will associate it with Third Reich racial theories, the term is derived from Sanskrit and Persian, and is used to refer to Proto-Indo-Iranians, a people that swept out of the Caucasus sometime prior to 2500 BCE, populating northern India, Afghanistan, Iran, and parts of the European heartland. Aryans can also be said to be progenitors of some of the peoples of Tajikistan, Ukraine – even the Romani (gypsies). The very name “Iran” is a cognate of the term, and so can be translated “land of the Aryans.” The older “Persia” has its origin in the name of the area called “Fars” or “Pars” (now just one province of Iran), which was the seat of the Persian Empire at its height (similar to the way in which the Roman Empire was named for its imperial seat, the city of Rome). In 2006, I visited Naqsh-e-Rostam (outside Shiraz), where an inscription in the natural stone reads: "I am Darius the great King [who reigned 521-486 BC]… A Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage...."

Traveling across Iran, one sees a broad spectrum of humanity, from the occasional red-headed Kurd in the west, to the distinctly Asian Turkmen in the northeast, from Iranian Arabs in the southwest to the Baluchi tribesmen of the southeast. The largest group is comprised of those called “Persians,” dark of hair and eyes, generally slim, with a stature similar to that of Americans.

Simple Indo-European language tree
Persian (or farsi) is a member of the Indo-European linguistic family, from which both Germanic and Romance languages flowed. Although many in the West lump Arabs and Iranians together, they are racially and ethnically distinct, Arabs (and Jews) being Semitic peoples while Persians are not. (Like Hebrew and Arabic, however, Persian reads from right to left, and there are many similar letters in the three alphabets.) One can find cognates in English that show our common linguistic roots. The word for father is paydar (similar to pater and padre). The word for brother is baraadar. The word adam, is clearly related to the name of the original man, but in Persian it refers to a human being of either gender (by they way, in Islam, Eve did not bring Adam into sin -- they acted together). When we read “a star in the east,” that star would be called in Persian "setar." And our "name" – or "naam" in Persian -- is that which was known by God since before we were formed in the womb.

An additional word on the language and its name. Many Iranians may take offense at Americans using the word "Farsi" to designate their mother-tongue. This may seem baffling or contrary. It is true that this is the word one uses when speaking in that language. The perception among those who speak it, though, is that we in the West typically create a special name in our own language for those languages which we deem important. For example, we have an English word "Chinese," but no English equivalent for "Tagalog." We say "German" (not "Deutsch") and "French" (not "Francais" -- with or without the tail on the "c"), but we say "Urdu" for the language spoken in parts of Pakistan, just as Urdu-speakers do. Therefore, just as the French say "Persien" and the Germans say "Persisch," we Americans should say "Persian" -- unless, of course, you are speaking in Persian!

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