August 4, 2008 9:05 PM   Subscribe

Persia: Ancient Soul of Iran. "A glorious past inspires a conflicted nation."
posted by homunculus (35 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The Cyrus Cylinder
posted by homunculus at 9:06 PM on August 4, 2008

Reasonably interesting myspace page of photos and videos from the 2500 year anniversary celebration of the Persian throne, hosted by the late Shah in 1971.
posted by yort at 9:59 PM on August 4, 2008

Thanks for this post. It was quite an education (for me at least) and a fascinating portrait of a proud and wise people who seem largely dismayed by their current fundementalist/authoritarian leadership.
posted by longsleeves at 10:41 PM on August 4, 2008

IRAN:weekly program about the people and sights around the country. silverlight needed for the archives
posted by hortense at 10:47 PM on August 4, 2008

Thank you for this. Thank you very much.
posted by Mephisto at 11:06 PM on August 4, 2008


Shouldn't that be "a proud and wise people who seem largely dismayed by YOUR current fundementalist/authoritarian leadership."?
posted by Mephisto at 11:15 PM on August 4, 2008

I was hoping somebody would pick up on that.
posted by longsleeves at 12:11 AM on August 5, 2008

sighs deeply with pleasure and settles down to surf
posted by infini at 2:37 AM on August 5, 2008

btw, the Peacock Throne
posted by infini at 2:39 AM on August 5, 2008

lovely, infiniji. i've indeed seen the Peacock Throne along with more jewels than one could imagine, in Tehran, and also its original location in Agra Fort.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:55 AM on August 5, 2008

Gaaah! Persepolis!
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:00 AM on August 5, 2008

Here's a nice photoset of Isfahan.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:06 AM on August 5, 2008

I totally owned a Jeopardy question last night thanks to reading this.
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:06 AM on August 5, 2008

ooo Ubu, I have always wanted to visit Persia, lucky you. (dad's ancestors are from a place called Etmaudpur between Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, so have done the whole bit in my youth)

btw, Isfahan? check this out I think it was a fpp a few years ago
posted by infini at 6:24 AM on August 5, 2008

btw, I saw the Kohinoor diamond and made rude comments to the guard about how it was ours ;p
posted by infini at 6:25 AM on August 5, 2008

mmm, nice video.

and Etmaudpur...I couldn't find it, but there's an Etmadpur which is a suburb of Agra, a few Km NE of the Fort & the Taj.

speaking of which, Agra owes a great debt to the Persians.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:46 AM on August 5, 2008

(actually, it's directly north of the taj)
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:50 AM on August 5, 2008

Nice intro to Persian history and culture, though the artificial attempt to separate the "Persian past" from Islam made my teeth ache. But Persia/Iran is indeed as ancient and cohesive a culture as China, and has played as large a part in world history (to take one small linguistic example, the official court language of both the Ottoman Empire in Turkey and the Mughal Empire in India was Persian), and this paragraph from the article applies equally to China:
They like to say, for instance, that when invaders came to Iran, the Iranians did not become the invaders; the invaders became Iranians. Their conquerors were said to have "gone Persian," ... Iranians seem particularly proud of their capacity to get along with others by assimilating compatible aspects of the invaders' ways without surrendering their own—a cultural elasticity that is at the heart of their Persian identity.
Here, by the way, is a link to the print version, if you don't feel like clicking through a dozen pages.
posted by languagehat at 6:53 AM on August 5, 2008

languagehat, in my experience the Iranians Persians themselves often go to great lengths to distance themselves from Islam.

"pffft, that introduced religion from a bunch of tent-dwellers? Islam is an Arab thing; they imposed it upon us, Persians, with a history & culture older & greater than they could ever hope for..."
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:57 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's a complicated issue. Yes, Persian nationalism is a powerful force; it's why the Persians, unlike other people conquered by the Arabs in the seventh century, kept their language, their culture, and their respect for their pre-Islamic history. Yes, there are modern Persians/Iranians who say the kind of thing you mention. But they are a small minority, and they and their views are disproportionately represented in Western media, because that's what Westerners want to hear. I am sick unto death of Western reporters bravely venturing into Iran and coming back proudly with interviews with the same bunch of privileged North Tehranis who read Western literature and listen to Western pop and are multicultural and secular and say all the things Westerners eat up about how the mullahs are holding the country back and if only they could have true democracy and women's rights and blah blah blah. Not that I'm against them and their views, obviously, but it gives an entirely false picture of what the vast majority of Iranians are like. If those reporters had the courage (and language skills) to venture into the poor quarters of South Tehran and talk to bazaaris and other locals, "real" Tehranis (in the sense that cockneys are "real" Londoners and jonmc is a "real" New Yorker), they'd get an entirely different picture, and a much less comforting one.

I'm not saying "real" Iranians are bloodthirsty fanatics who want to murder us in our beds; I'm saying they're passionately attached to Shi'i Islam and its traditions (even the Ashura celebrations Westerners find so repugnant, with the self-flagellation and chanting), they deeply resent the West in general and America in particular for its massive interference in their history over the last century and more (notably, as the article points out, the CIA's role in the overthrow of Mosaddeq/Mossadegh), and a genuinely democratic Iran, like a genuinely democratic Iraq, would not have policies that would make Westerners very happy. It's important not to demonize Iranians (half of whom, by the way, are not ethnic Persians), but it's also important not to pretend they're just like us except with more poetry and Sufism.
posted by languagehat at 9:30 AM on August 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

Oh, and it surely doesn't need to be pointed out that Iranians in exile, like Cubans in exile, are not a good guide to what folks back in the home country are like. (Remember how those Iraqi exiles who hadn't set foot in the country for decades were supposed to step in and take over to the joyous outcries of the populace? What ever happened to President Chalabi?)
posted by languagehat at 9:33 AM on August 5, 2008

oh, dear. i knew i was gonna be on a hiding to nothing on that one.

still, what i said does remain factually true for my self-selecting sample of exiles & privileged, english-speaking, foreigner-friendly Iranians.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:14 PM on August 5, 2008

No problem (and all respect to your pals, I have nothing against them except as a sample), and I thank you for teaching me a new phrase. For other clueless Yanks, I quote the OED:

to be on a hiding to nothing, to be faced with a situation in which any outcome would be unfavourable or in which success is impossible, spec. (app. orig. in Horse-racing) that of being expected to win easily, so that one gains no credit from victory, and is disgraced by defeat. Cf. TO prep. 19a [Connecting the names of two things (usu. numbers or quantities) compared or opposed to each other in respect of amount or value, as the odds in a wager or contest, the terms of a ratio, or the constituents of a compound: Against, as against. 1530 PALSGR. 712/1 Twenty to one he is ondone for ever...].
1905 A. M. BINSTEAD Mop Fair xi. 193 They will, like the man who was on a hiding to nothing the first time Tom Sayers saw him, ‘take it lying down’. 1964 C. P. SNOW Corridors of Power ii. 17 He wanted to get out of his present job as soon as he had cleaned it up a little—‘This is a hiding to nothing,’ he said simply—and back to the Treasury. 1975 Sunday Times 8 June 28/2 The Indian batsmen were on a hiding to nothing. They could not win. 1977 Times 29 Jan. 10/7 Derby know they are on a hiding to nothing at Fourth Division Colchester, who have a reputation as giant-killers. 1980 Spectator 8 Mar. 3/1 Lord Soames would have been on a hiding to nothing in trying to exercise gubernatorial authority and viceregal judgment.
posted by languagehat at 2:12 PM on August 5, 2008

heh. after i posted that i wondered if it was an idiom you were familiar with.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:08 PM on August 5, 2008

By the way, the film this trailer promotes is fascinating and breathtaking. I highly recommend obtaining it. My brother-in-law, who hails from Mashhad, gave it to me and I've watched it several times.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:51 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Data Point: I am one of those Iranian exiles who's lived in the West for the past 30 years and holds all the stereotypical views languagehat mentioned i.e. rejects Islam and generally laments all the Arabic influence that came with it, but I'm working on being more diplomatic and sensible about it, meaning acknowledging that the Islamic/Arabic influence also had positive influences upon Persian culture and vice versa.

What languagehat says about invaders becoming Persian rather than the opposite is absolutely true. We learned to manipulate and coerce the foreign invaders into doing what we wanted, while still making them think they were in charge.

This mutual acceptance of foreign invaders had a very interesting effect on Persian naming traditions. I was talking to my parents about this a while ago, and we noticed that Iranians are the only nationality who routinely name their children after foreign invaders e.g. Eskandar (Alexander), Changiz (Ghengis), Taimur (Timurlane), Mohammad etc.

ps. it goes w/o saying that I got 8/8 in the quiz.
posted by Devils Slide at 6:18 PM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

"pffft, that introduced religion from a bunch of tent-dwellers? Islam is an Arab thing; they imposed it upon us, Persians, with a history & culture older & greater than they could ever hope for..."

I can't remember what book I read this in, but here's a paraphrasing of a passage from it:
The author was visiting a Shia shrine in Iraq during that particular Imam's celebration and it was overran with the most pious of Shia and an Iraqi Shia who worked for that shrine said with a dismissive roll of the eyes, "God, Iranians."
I think the book that I read this was In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs : A Memoir of Iran by Christopher de Ballaigue. And of course, I could be misremembering the details of the story, but the point of the story is right.

(even the Ashura celebrations Westerners find so repugnant, with the self-flagellation and chanting)

I actually find that celebration, and the story behind it, to be rather beautiful. It very much parallels Jesus's last day on earth. When people mention the Muslim Jesus or a Muslim Jesus, I always think of Hussein (or Hosayn if you are Iranian) on his white horse under the oppressive sun, bravely standing up to Yazid's army.
He even looks like Western depictions of Jesus.
posted by NoMich at 6:53 PM on August 5, 2008

Very interesting, though I think that the article focuses in the hot topic of today (the Arabs) and neglects something that is very alive in Iran's current view of the world: a certain suspicion that there is a direct link between the British and everything that has gone wrong in modern times. Which, of course, is a direct result of a long shared history.

Among many other things, one particular passage in that shared history is the Reuter Concession, which is worthy of its own FPP and has been called "the most complete and extraordinary surrender of the entire industrial resources of a Kingdom into foreign hands that has probably ever been dreamt of, much less accomplished, in history.
posted by micayetoca at 6:54 PM on August 5, 2008

Gaaah! Persepolis! (with link this time)
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:09 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

the Reuter Concession, which is worthy of its own FPP

Well then, get to it!
posted by homunculus at 7:48 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ubu: Yah, that's the village, seems about 40 odd years ago the ancestral house was demolished for a new one and distant relatives found a cache of gold coins in the basement from the time of Akbar. Could be a fairytale for the family archives but an uncle has managed to trace our lineage back to a warrior king's treasurer/supply chain manager. Apparently the family followed the army for an epic battle outside Fatehpur Sikri and then settled down after the defeat.

Anyway I digress, but I must note that what languagehat describes about the Persian's absorbing invader cultures is quite similar to what is also said about India - the mughals came, saw, conquered and were eventually absorbed.
posted by infini at 7:52 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

btw, Ubu, we're both off, dad says its closer on the way to Firozabad, your map link shows "Itimadpur" on that highway - that's the general vicinity
posted by infini at 7:57 PM on August 5, 2008

ah, see this never would've happened if Google Maps came in devanagari.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:16 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

In a thread about the influence of Persia, this wiki entry on Babur is a fascinating read. Just read it after our discussions.
posted by infini at 11:34 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

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