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Iran naming dispute

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Iran has been the subject of a naming dispute in common Western usage. The two possible names for this country are Iran and Persia; their adjectives being Iranian and Persian, respectively.

Etymology of Persia

The Greeks (who tended earlier to use names related to "Median") began in the fifth century to use adjectives such as Perses, Persica or Persis for Cyrus the Great's empire (a word meaning "country" being understood). Such words were taken from the Old Persian Parsa - the name of the people whom Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenid dynasty first ruled (before he inherited or conquered other Persian Kingdoms) and of whom he was one. This tribe gave its name to the region where they lived (the modern day province is called Fars/Pars) but the province in ancient times was larger than its current area. In Latin, the name for the whole empire was Persia.

In the later parts of the Bible, where this kingdom is frequently mentioned , it is called "Paras" (Hebrew ), or sometimes "Paras ve Madai" ( ) i.e. "Persia and Media".

The two names

The name "Persia" was the "official" name of Iran in the Western world before 1935, but Persian people inside their country since the Sassanid period (226651 A.D.) have called it "Iran" meaning "the land of Aryans". The Proto-Iranian term for Iran is reconstructed as *Aryanam (the genitive plural of the word *Arya) and the Avestan equivalent is "Airyanem" (as in Airyanem Vaejah). The internal preference for "Iran" was noted in some Western reference books but for international purposes, "Persia" was the norm.

On 21 March 1935, the ruler of the country, Reza Shah Pahlavi, issued a decree asking foreign delegates to use the term Iran in formal correspondence. Some believe he made this decision in order to be closer to Germany, by trying to emphasize the Aryan connection between Hitler's idealistic German Aryan race and the Persian Aryan race, given that "Iran" means "land of Aryans", at a time where the German empire was slowly becoming an unstoppable superpower. Some others believed he changed "Persia" to "Iran" to present a new and modern face of the country in the world.

Members of the Persian intelligentsia were not happy with this decree, seeing a pro-Nazi motive behind it. After Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, the Nazi Economics minister, commented on the Aryan origin of Persians, Reza Shah's ambassador in Germany encouraged him to issue the above-mentioned decree, asking all foreign delegates to use the word "Iran" (meaning "Land of the Aryans") instead of "Persia" in formal correspondence.The History of Iran, Elton Daniel, p.3

As the New York Times explained at the time, "At the suggestion of the Persian Legation in Berlin, the Tehran government, on the Persian New Year, March 21, 1935, substituted Iran for Persia as the official name of the country. In its decision it was influenced by the Nazi revival of interest in the various Aryan races, cradled in ancient Persia. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs set forth in its memorandum on the subject, 'Perse,' the French designation of Persia, connoted the weakness and tottering independence of the country in the nineteenth century, when it was the chessboard of European imperialistic rivalry. 'Iran,' by contrast, conjured up memories of the vigor and splendor of its historic past."Oliver McKee Jr., New Names of Places: Change of Santo Domingo to Trujillo City Recalls Others, The New York Times, 26 June 1933, p. XX9. A few years later some Persian scholars also protested to the government that changing the name of the country in Western languages had separated the country from its past and its culture.

During World War II, Winston Churchill ordered that the name "Persia" be used in all British government documents to avoid confusion.

In 1959 Mohammad Reza Shah announced that both "Persia" and "Iran" could officially be used interchangeably.

Now both terms are common; "Persia" mostly for historical and cultural texts, "Iran" mostly for political texts.

In recent years most exhibitions of Persian history, culture and art in the world have used the term "Persia" .

In 2006, the largest collection of historical maps of Iran, entitled "Historical Maps of Persia", was published in the Netherlands.

In modern times, many of those exiled or alienated by the post-revolution Iranian government often refer to themselves as Persians. This is done to distance themselves from the current government of Iran.

History of the debate

Serious argument on this matter began in the 1980s, when Professor Ehsan Yarshater (editor of the Encyclopaedia Iranica) started to publish articles on this matter (in both English and Persian) in Rahavard Quarterly, Pars Monthly, Iranian Studies Journal, etc. After him, a few Persian scholars and researchers such as Prof. Kazem Abhary, Prof. Jalal Matini and Pejman Akbarzadeh followed the issue. Several times since then, Persian magazines and websites have published articles from those who agree or disagree with usage of 'Persia' and 'Persian' in English.

It is normal in many countries that native name is different from international name but for Persians/Iranians it has been very controversial. Main points on this matters:

Persia belongs to antiquity, and ought not to be used now.

Persia shows the old culture and civilization of the country and should be used.

Persia includes only one province within Iran, and should not be used for the whole country.

The origin of the name Persia comes from 'Pars' but the meaning became general for whole country.

Iran means land of Aryans and some people in Iran are not Aryan.

In Western languages all famous cultural aspects of Iran have been recorded as "Persian"

Also some people from Afghanistan or Baluchistan call themselves Persians, referring to the ancient empire which covered those lands.

There are many Persians (Iranians) and non-Persians in the West who prefer "Persia" and "Persian" as the English names for the country and nationality, similar to the usage of La Perse/persan in French.

However, the name has held problems for some Iranian ethnic groups inside Iran who do not identify themselves as Persian, or whose native language is not Persian.

Many countries and languages have different names in other languages (see Exonym). For example, Germans call their country "Deutschland" but in English people call it "Germany", in French "Allemagne" and in Spanish "Alemania" (after Alamannia), in Finnish "Saksa", in Estonian "Saksamaa" (after the Saxons), in Lithuanian "Vokietija", in Faroese "Tyskland", and in Polish, "Niemcy". People of Greece, Armenia, Finland, Albania, Egypt, Algeria, India, Japan and China call their countries, respectively Ellas, Hayastan, Suomi, Shqiperia, Misr (or Masr), al-Jaza'ir, Bharat or Hindustan, Nippon or Nihon, and Zhongguo or Chung-kuo in their respective languages. Similarly, the native name of "Persia" is "Iran".

Persian language

Defying the general conversion in usage, the term "Iranian" with reference to the language of Iran has never gained currency in the west; the language is correctly called Persian. In Persian the name Farsi is another form of pronunciation of the original word (Parsi) meaning Persian. Farsi has been the local name for the language ever since the Arab invasion, whereby they were forced to speak Arabic for several centuries. In Arabic the phoneme /p/ does not exist, hence the pronunciation being altered to an /f/. In linguistic usage, the term "Iranian" refers more broadly to the Iranian languages, a larger family of languages of which Persian is a member.

Referring to Persian as Farsi is incorrect within English. An analogy would be requesting that the German language be called Deutsch by those who speak English

See also

Persian language


Akbarzadeh, Pejman: What is the English Name of Our Country? Iran or Persia?, Rahavard Quarterly, Los Angeles, Spring 2004

Bring back Persia by G. Motamedi

Iran or Persia? Farsi or Persian? by Pejman Akbarzadeh

Persians Are Not Arabs

A Particular Iranian Identity Crisis by Amir Rostam Beigie

The History of the Idea of Iran, A. Shapur Shahbazi in Birth of the Persian Empire'' by V. S. Curtis and S. Stewart, 2005, ISBN 1845110625

External links

Publication of General Maps of Persia (Iran) in The Netherlands

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Iran naming dispute