Iran and the apparent paradox when naming ancient places

In the last speech US President Trump gave concerning the nuclear deal with the Iranian regime, Trump made a linguistic choice that sparked outrage among the Persians of Iran.

When referring to the area, Trump used the term “Arabian Gulf” rather than the term the Iranian regime prefers of “Persian Gulf”. Considering Iran is run by Persian elites who aim to form an ethnically homogeneous country via the oppression of minority groups, the Iranian regime has cleverly exploited this episode to produce an explosion of nationalistic sentiment among its Persian population. Iran has used this event to the fullest – claiming that the US President has attacked the country’s values and identity.

Of course, the Iranian regime is attempting to use this occurrence to distract the public from paying attention to the real issues addressed in Trump’s speech – such as Iran’s terrorist practices being a global threat. The Iranian regime is well known for its orchestration of and meddling in other country’s wars, as well as committing a slew of systematic human rights violations against the country’s ethnic minorities. Immediately following Trump’s speech, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani issued a counter-letter criticizing Trump’s remarks and emphasizing specifically on his choice of words regarding the Gulf. Rouhani mocked the US president viciously – asserting that he lacked any knowledge of the region’s geography. Although, the history of “Persian” Gulf’s name does not exceed 2500 years since Persian tribes arrived to the Arab Peninsula,the cradle of early civilizations of Mesopotamia,Babylon,Akkad,Elamite,according to the Persian historians.Even the minister of foreign affairs, Javad Zarif, took the issue to a whole other level when he made this incident a reason to urge the Iranian people to unite together with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) against both Trump and his US policies.

The Iranian regime initially established the slogan “Death to America” at the beginning of the 1979 revolution which brought Ruhollah Khomeini into power. It would seem that the current Iranian regime of Hassan Rouhani is taking lessons from Khomeini in regards to its stance of hostility towards the US. This stance will do nothing to polish the already ruined reputation of a regime increasingly infamous for its illegal interference in the affairs of neighboring countries as well as flagrantly supporting extremism and terrorism. Any country supporting racial superiority as a matter of policy is not welcomed by any modern liberal and advanced society and has even been criminalized by many constitutions. The institutionalization of racial superiority is only adopted by those who wish to isolate themselves from the accountability of human values such as freedom, justice, tolerance, globalization, and the like. Since Iran is ethnically and culturally diverse, it is difficult to understand their desire to oppress such large swaths of their population from legal and social perspectives. Although Article 19 of the Iranian Constitution is structured to support ethnic and cultural diversity, there is no official method of condemnation or clear judicial ruling criminalizing those who violate this article. As such, there is no structured way for anyone to bring lawsuits against those who perpetrate discriminatory, oppressive, or abusive statements/actions. Moreover, the independence and neutrality of the judiciary system in Iran remains questionable due to it being dominated by the very Persian group perpetrating oppressive practices against the ethnic minorities.

The Iranian society consists of several large nationalities with different cultures – most of which are connected by a common religion, at least for the time being. Although the Islamic religion emphasizes ethnic equality, since the creation of the modern state by Riza Shah in 1936, Iranian society has promoted the superiority of the Persian race over the other major races of the country such as Azeri Turks, Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, and Balochs. The chauvinist Persian elites have been able to infiltrate and exploit national institutions with the goal of propagating policies promoting a single and uniform Persian nation with one Persian language. Iran fears that diversity in the country will serve to fracture the Persian image the regime has worked so hard to promote. Since it is surrounded by non-Persian ethnic minorities, the Iranian regime feels it is imperative to their survival to build a strong nationalist front within the country.   therefore, because of the Persian-centric policies, ethnic minorities’ languages and identities are on the verge of extinction due to the unremitting Persianization policy.

In Iran, all printed material – including both news and school curriculum – have been manipulated to favor Persian history and nationalism. These materials have been made to further Persian supremacy, causing those from ethnic minority groups to grow up with an internalized crisis of identity. This is backed up by exercises which seek to erase the identity of all non-Persian groups living in Iran. In most of the Iranian maps, media, and even official statements, the regime uses Persian names to substitute the native ethnic group’s names for locations. For example, the “Shatt al-Arab”  is a name internationally recognized waterway. Nevertheless, since the name is not pleasing those Persians in power endeavoring to suppress Arab identity, the river is only referred to by a  false name of “Arvand” instead. This reflects directly back to the issue of the “Arabian Gulf” being renamed as the “Persian Gulf” by the regime. Even before the advent of the religious ideological regime of Iran, the Persian identity dominated the discourse in the country. Based on this nationalistic discourse, many of the historical sites and monuments that had non-Persian names were renamed to mirror the regime’s desire for Persian dominance. The Iranian regime for decades has been desperately trying to obliterate the identities of non-Persian ethnic minorities and rewrite the country’s history to reflect Persian values and dominance. This is especially the case in regards to the Arab people of Ahwaz region.

The Iranian regime has taken a particularly brutal stance towards the country’s Arab population – renaming all traditionally Arab cities and symbols, prohibiting the teaching of school in the Arabic language, as well as portraying Arabs as both foreign and uncivilized in their propaganda and other media. Such practices are typical examples of the country’s deep-seated conflict between Persian and Arab identities – both within the country and between neighboring countries. This manufactured dispute is fueled by chauvinist elites of both sides who using historical conflicts as a pretext for seeking dominance over one another. This was especially apparent during the Iran-Iraq War.

However,the information revolution played a pivotal role in unveiling the truth behind the falsehood propagated by the Iranian regime against the country’s ethnic minorities. The accessibility of alternative media has provided the oppressed people of Iran an opportunity to fight back against the regime oppression. It has allowed a new generation of activism – giving voice to groups who were so long unable to share their narratives on a more global scale.

The oppressed people of these non-Persian nationalities in Iran have something to say about Trump’s latest speech. Though Iran may be taking Trump’s use of the term “Arabian Gulf” as an excuse to stir up anti-American sentiments among the country’s Persians, Iran’s ethnic minorities want to remind the world what the erasure of historical names such as “Arabian Gulf” means to them. The Persian-majority regime has systematically sought to exterminate all evidence of diversity in the country – through oppressive practices and more subtle identity elimination. It is imperative that Iran comply with international law and stop its racist policies aimed at erasing non-Persian people from their homelands.

By: Yasser Assadi, an Ahwazi Arab freelance journalist and human rights advocate

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