Why do the Iranians still call themselves Persians?

Persians and Iranians

"Iranian literature is rich in treasures," it recently said in the Literature News, in its first edition as a supplement to the taz. It continued enthusiastically: “Persian literature is a treasure chest, the content of which is gradually being discovered in this country.” The Persian-language title of the dance performance will be in the program of the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin for March to July 2017 Yeki Bud Yeki Nabud (“There was someone, there was nobody”) the choreographer Modjgan Hashemian comments as follows: “This is the sentence that Iranian fairy tales begin with.”

These are just two examples of the blurred usage of the terms. The assumption that “Persian” and “Iranian” are identical is the problem. Iran is a multi-ethnic state in which, in addition to Persians, other ethnic groups such as Azerbaijani Turks, Kurds, Arabs and Baluch live. In other words, all Persians are Iranians - but not all Iranians are Persians.

The originator of the equation of "Iranian" and "Persian" is the dynasty of the Pahlewis, who ruled the country from 1925 to 1979. The aim of their policy was to create a centralized state out of Iran that should be ethnically, linguistically and culturally uniform. The Pahlewis tried to enforce Persian as the only national language and had the population taught that the Persians were of “Aryan” origin. In 1934 Reza Shah ordered the renaming of Persia to Iran - "Land of the Aryans". The name "Iran", which the residents have been using for their homeland for a long time, was ideologically charged by the Pahlavi racism.

In the Literature News, for whom the publicist Gerrit Wustmann wrote a collective review of the works of Iranian authors, now shows an example of what happens when you equate “Iranian” and “Persian” literature: the country's ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity is completely lost. This is all the more astonishing as Gerrit Wustmann also wrote the novel Tarlan Sketched by Fariba Vafi, who comes from Tabriz and addresses her origins as an Azerbaijani Turkish woman in the book. If one wanted to differentiate correctly, “Persian literature” would have to be defined as literature written in Farsi. “Iranian literature”, on the other hand, would be the entirety of all literatures created in the country.

The topic of multiethnic states is explosive. The Azerbaijani Turks in Iran have long been demanding to be able to live their language and culture freely. As reported by Deutsche Welle Farsi, teachers in Urmia, the capital of the province of West Azerbaijan, distributed textbooks in Turkish in schools and kindergartens on the occasion of International Mother Language Day on February 21. Thousands of citizens of the city also demanded at a volleyball game in their home stadium that Turkish should be taught in schools.

Such demands will not play an insignificant role in the presidential election next May. Hassan Rohani, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, had promised in 2013 that after his election in Tabriz an academy for the language and literature of the Azerbaijani Turks would be set up. In May 2016, a “Foundation for Culture, Art and Literature of Azerbaijan” was set up, but it fell short of expectations. The voters concerned will certainly remember this in May.