Farzin Farzad

Farzin Farzad (Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran - ADAPP): Farzin is a native Azerbaijani speaker who spent the early years of his life in Iran and Turkey. He graduated in 2005 with a B.A. in political science from McDaniel College with a concentration in international studies and a minor in cross-cultural studies. He then went on to earn a graduate degree in International Affairs from American University in December of 2008. His regional focus was the Middle East, particularly Iranian security. During his undergraduate and graduate studies, Farzin held positions in research and analysis with professors at Johns Hopkins SAIS and Columbia University. As a research intern at the East-West Center, he researched for and helped edit a book on nuclear weapons security in Asia. During the summer of his graduate program, Farzin studied the political history of the Gulf States at the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. After his fellowship, Farzin wrote: “Ironically, I am more assertive person. Being a 'Peace' Fellow toughened me up.”



Profile: Dr. Alireza Asgharzadeh (Part 1)

11 Aug
Dr. Asgharzadeh

Dr. Asgharzadeh

Earlier in my blog posts, I mentioned that I regretted not giving adequate coverage on civil rights and racism in Iran. Being that my own personal experiences are quite limited to the Persian community outside of Iran, I decided to go to an expert, if not the foremost expert on racism in Iran against Azerbaijanis, Dr. Alireza Asgharzadeh.

Dr. Asgharzadeh holds a holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and currently a faculty member in the Department of Sociology at York University, Toronto, Canada. His areas of concentration and research include Globalization, Iranian Studies, Middle Eastern Cultures and Societies, Social Theory, the Sociology of Education, and Social Inequality, among others.  His work has been published in various journals, including: Middle East Review of International Affairs, Journal of Studies in International Education, Canadian and International Education, Language and Education, Journal of Educational Thought, Journal of Post-Colonial Education, Journal of African Studies, Anthropology and Education Quarterly.  His most recent book is Iran and the Challenge of Diversity: Aryanist Racism, Islamic Fundamentalism, and Democratic Struggles (This happens to be the book that I mentioned earlier that I was reading. I highly suggest it). He is also co-author of Schooling and Difference in Africa: Democratic Challenges in a Contemporary Context, and co-editor of Diasporic Ruptures: Globality, Migrancy,  and Expressions of Identity (in two volumes).  I’ve had the pleasure to talk to Dr. Asgharzadeh a few times and must note that he is truly an inspiring person and one of the most brilliant people that I have had ever met. Since he currently teaches in Toronto, I couldn’t get a chance to do a video interview, however I was able to communicate with him through e-mail. Since it’s quite long, I’ve broken it down. Here’s part 1 of our interview:

Me: First, if you would please introduce yourself, your profession, work and your background.

Dr Asgharzadeh: Generally, I consider myself a universal subject who has multiple identities and occupies multiple social and geographical locations: a world citizen, a Canadian, an Azerbaijani, an Iranian, a Turk, an Azeri-Canadian… As a young student I participated in Iran’s 1978-79 revolution. This revolution did not only transform the socio-political order in the country (for better or worse), it also fundamentally changed the way members of my generation thought about a variety of social, political, and cultural issues. I was simply fascinated by how ordinary people could bring down the most powerful institutions like the monarchy and the state in a society. Hence my interest in politics, social sciences, philosophy, etc. I have been passionately pursuing these interests ever since, and more academically since my arrival in Canada, from the late 1980s. I have studied political science, philosophy and sociology throughout my mature life, and now am teaching different aspects of these subjects at York University and the University of Toronto.

Me: Dr. Asgharzadeh, please describe the nature of racism in Iran, its history and who it affects.  Is racism in Iran an institution, or is it simply a societal flaw? Does racism serve as a tool of control?

Dr. AsgharzadehWell, in a nutshell, it all goes back to this Orientalist scholar named Sir William Jones and the observation that he made in 1786 regarding the affinity among various European languages, the Sanskrit and what he called in passing “the Old Persian.” In this brief speech to the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Jones brought a fresh insight to the questions concerning the ancestral language of peoples of Europe and their original homeland, sparking a debate that eventually culminated in the creation of Comparative Linguistics and the Aryanist/Indo-Europeanist enterprise. This of course opened the floodgates for numerous European scholars, historians and philologists to try and establish a connection between White Europeans and the ancient East. Using mainly linguistic signs and traits, some of these scholars identified central Asia, some India, and some Iran as the original homeland of the white Nordic race, which later on came to be constructed as the infamous ‘Aryan race.’ A side from intellectual curiosity, the main objective for many Orientalists was to move ‘the white race’ as far away from Semitic races and Biblical traditions as possible. In Europe this enterprise reached its logical conclusion in fascism and Hitler’s Nazism. After Nazism, the Europeans became disillusioned with the entire enterprise of the so-called ‘Aryan race.’ Irrespective of this, the fascination with this illusory race continued in a different fashion in places like Iran and to some extent India, where certain groups saw an enormous opportunity in attaching themselves to this so-called ‘Aryan race’ and in identifying themselves as “Aryans.”

I should emphasize that William Jones and many of his contemporaries did not intend to purposely promote racism, anti-Semitism or fascism through their scholarship. They simply believed that they were engaged in scholarly research on Orient and the Orientals. The German scholar Max Muller had a major role in digging out the term “Arya” from ancient Sanskrit texts and redefining it, quite intentionally and erroneously, as a racial concept, as the name of a racial group. But he too came to his senses and quite vigorously repudiated this earlier conviction of his in 1888. Here is what he said in a book titled Biographies of words and the home of the Aryas:

“To me an ethnologist who speaks of Aryan race, Aryan blood, Aryan eyes and hair, is as great a sinner as a linguist who speaks of a dolichocephalic dictionary or a brachycephalic grammar.” (1888, p. 120)

However, the Iranian elite, scholars and government were not ready to give up on this notion of “Aryan race” so easily, even after the fall of Nazism and Fascism in Europe. They built up on Max Muller and others’ earlier definitions and refashioned a definition of Arya as a purely racial group, building a whole new literature on “Aryan race” and how the true Iranians were carriers of this “superior race’s” not only language and culture but also genes and blood. This racist ideology, of course, had serious ramifications for Iran’s non-Persian and non-Indo-European communities, namely the Turks and the Semites (Arabs and Jews) along with others.

As you can imagine, this Iranian version of racialization was quite oxymoronic in the sense that in terms of skin color and physiology, the supposedly non-Aryan Turks and Semites had more resemblance to Hitler’s white-skinned, blue-eyed and blond-haired Aryans than the original Persians whom Hitler would probably classify under “the brown race” category. This simple discrepancy, however, did not stop our Persian Aryanists from advancing the strongest claims to “the superior Aryan race.” Logically, they didn’t (because they couldn’t) emphasize too heavily on “blood” and “skin color” the way Hitler did; they, however, placed a greater emphasis on “Persian language” and history–as if other people had no history and no language! In the Iranian reconstruction of Aryanist racism, then, the emphasis on “language” replaced the Nazist and Hitlerite emphasis on “blood” and “genes.”

In 1934, the Reza Shah government officially changed the name of the country from Mamalik-e Mahrouseh (protected countries) to Iran and defined it as “the land of Aryans.” Simultaneously the Persian ethnic group was singled out as the most authentic representative of these Aryans where the language of this group was seen as an Aryan- and hence superior- language, which was in turn translated into the banning of non-Persian languages from schools and government apparatuses. It is important to note that the term “Persia” was an Orientalist construct and has never been used by diverse ethnic groups to refer either to themselves or their country, neither historically nor currently.

In today’s Iran, just as throughout history, only the Persian ethnic group calls itself Persian. Irrespective of this, the Orientalist scholarship abroad still insists on calling all residents of Iran Persian, which is a clear case of epistemic violence against non-Persian communities. Anyway, this notion of fixed Aryan/Persian identity has been imposed on Iran with no consideration for diversity, social dynamism and historical evolution. This process still continues and the non-Persian communities are left with no choice except to adopt this “superior Aryan” identity by leaving behind their supposedly “savage and barbaric” heritage. This racism is reinforced through the education system, the media, as well as official and non-official literature produced in Persian language. In contemporary Iran then, Aryanism and Aryanization constitute the core of Iranian racism. We should also note that since 1979, Khomeinism and Shi’ist fundamentalism have been added to the existing Aryanist racism.

Me: Aside from the government, what kind of racism exists within Iranian society? You could use academic or anecdotal evidence.

Dr. Asgharzadeh: Basically, all sorts of racism(s) exist/s in this society, from systemic to individualistic, cultural, linguistic, internalized, scientific and academic. For instance, lately there has been a lot of fuss about this presumably marvellous Iranian biologist who has apparently done DNA testing in a British university on the Azeri Turks, the Anatolian Turks and the Persians and has “successfully proven” that the Azerbaijani-Turks are not genetically related to the Anatolian Turks but are (genetically) almost the same as the Aryan Persians! They have been talking about this for the past couple of years and we are all anxiously waiting to see when the results of these “path-breaking experiments” are going to be published and in what esteemed scientific journal! I for one, am very interested in seeing the kind of research methodology, the size of research population, and the kind of terminologies and their definitions (e.g., race, racism, etc) that are used by this brilliant scientist. As you can imagine, the dominant group in Iran constructs all these hyperbolic racist discourses to deny one basic human right to over 20 million Turks in Iran: Education in their own natural language.

Posted By Farzin Farzad

Posted Aug 11th, 2009

3 Comments

  • Yek Irani

    August 12, 2009

     

    Dear Farzin,

    Again I saw your message. It was angry but I have nothing to do with Kaveh Farrokh, but I have sent some writings to his website. And your accusation of people being apologist of regimes shows that you have no argument.

    A)
    The onslaught of Turks on Iran is a historical fact and is regarded as genocide by modern historian. For example Mongols exterminated 1/3 of Irans population. So there will always be some sort of historical animosity but if it is a matter of who has done worst to who, it is clear.

    B)
    You said:
    “The Azerbaijani movement right now is not armed. It is not imposing culture on any group of people, as the Persians have been doing since 1925.”
    Actually Turks had already imposed their culture on Azerbaijan. Thankfully Rezashah (Mazandarani) stopped the rest of the Turkification of Iran.

    Also can you get Ayatollah Khamenei of people’s back in Iran. He is Azerbaijani after all.

    As per the interview, it had false information like usual.

    1)
    The genetic study has been published in several papers, you can ask this guy:
    http://www.port.ac.uk/departments/academic/biology/staff/title,53717,en.html

    2)
    Iran is was called Persia and not Mamalek Mahruseh until 1934..He might need to check some maps and documents. But of course just lie is enough to discredit him.

    And here is what an American scholar thinks of Asgharzadeh:

    http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A3=ind0707&L=lgpolicy-list&P=197044&E=1&B=——%3D_Part_92890_18869053.1183565161737&T=text%2Fhtml

    A complete response to Asgharzade’s book has been given by Garshasp and is posted in several websites one of them being here:

    http://www.kavehfarrokh.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/asghrazadehresponse.pdf
    (it is longer than Asgharzadeh’s book)

    It totally demolishes Asgharzadeh’s theories from history (both modern and ancient) and shows he is a psuedo-scholar.

  • Yek Irani

    August 12, 2009

     

    “It is important to note that the term “Persia” was an Orientalist construct and has never been used by diverse ethnic groups to refer either to themselves or their country, neither historically nor currently.”

    Yeah right!

    Hamza Isfahani (894-970) in his book “history of the Prophets and Saints” mentions:
    “ Arian which is also called Persia is situation in the middle of these six countries and these six countries form its borders. Its SE is China, its North is bordered by the lands of Turk, Its Southern Middle borders India, Its Northern Middle borders Byzantium, its SW borders Africa and its NW is is in the hand of Berbers”

    Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn al-Husayn Al-Masudi (896-956), the Arab historian mentions one Kingdom encompassing Persian lands:

    Abul Hassan Masudi:
    ” The Persians are a people whose borders are the Mahat Mountains and Azarbaijan up to Armenia and Aran, and Bayleqan and Darband, and Ray and Tabaristan and Masqat and Shabaran and Jorjan and Abarshahr, and that is Nishabur, and Herat and Marv and other places in land of Khorasan, and Sejistan and Kerman and Fars and Ahvaz…All these lands were once one kingdom with one sovereign and one language…although the language differed slightly. The language, however, is one, in that its letters are written the same way and used the same way in composition. There are, then, different languages such as Pahlavi, Dari, Azari, as well as other Persian languages. ”

    B)
    Asgharzadeh:
    “1934, the Reza Shah government officially changed the name of the country from Mamalik-e Mahrouseh (protected countries) to Iran ”

    Yeah right. So how come the maps of the world show “Persia” and not “Mamalik-e-Mahrouseh”. Both Qajar and Rezashah era maps exist from the era. The title “Mamalik-e-Mahrouseh” in the Qajar era means protected land and has been amply explained here by Garshasp (who totally pulverizes Asgharzadeh’s book):
    http://www.kavehfarrokh.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/asghrazadehresponse.pdf

    C)
    Asgharzadeh:
    “In today’s Iran, just as throughout history, only the Persian ethnic group calls itself Persian.”

    Nonsense. Qajar era travellers have not

    “The term Persian continued to refer to various Iranic people including speakers of Chorasmian Language(For example, Abu Rayhan Biruni, a native speaker of the Eastern Iranian language Chorasmian mentions in his Āthār al-bāqiyah ʻan al-qurūn al-xāliyah that: “the people of Khwarizm, they are a branch of the Persian tree.” See: Abu Rahyan Biruni, “Athar al-Baqqiya ‘an al-Qurun al-Xaliyyah” (“Vestiges of the past: chronology of ancient nations”), Tehran, Miras-e-Maktub, 2001. Original Arabic of the quote: “و أما أهل خوارزم، و إن کانوا غصنا ً من دوحة الفُرس”(pg 56) ), old Tabari language(The language used in the ancient Marzbānnāma was, in the words of the 13th-century historian Sa’ad ad-Din Warawini, “ the language of Ṭabaristan and old, original Persian (fārsī-yi ḳadīm-i bāstān)”See: Kramers, J.H. “Marzban-nāma.” Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2007. Brill Online. 18 November 2007 ), Old Azari language , Laki and Kurdish speakers(http://www.bahai-library.com/books/glimpses.persia.txt)
    .
    The Arab historian Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn al-Husayn Al-Masudi (896-956) also refers to various Persian dialects and the speakers of these various Persian dialects as Persian. While considering modern Persian (Dari) to be one of these dialects, he also mentions Pahlavi and Old Azari, as well as other Persian languages. Al-Masudi states:
    “The Persians are a people whose borders are the Mahat Mountains and Azarbaijan up to Armenia and Arran, and Bayleqan and Darband, and Ray and Tabaristan and Masqat and Shabaran and Jorjan and Abarshahr, and that is Nishabur, and Herat and Marv and other places in land of Khorasan, and Sejistan and Kerman and Fars and Ahvaz…All these lands were once one kingdom with one sovereign and one language…although the language differed slightly. The language, however, is one, in that its letters are written the same way and used the same way in composition. There are, then, different languages such as Pahlavi, Dari, Azari, as well as other Persian languages.”

    D)

    Asgharzadeh:
    “! They have been talking about this for the past couple of years and we are all anxiously waiting to see when the results of these “path-breaking experiments” are going to be published and in what esteemed scientific journal! I”

    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1808191

    Incase Asgharzadeh does not know, genetic studies also reveal that Armenians and Azerbaijanis of the Caucasus are closer to each other than Azerbaijanis of Caucasus to Turks of Anatolia:

    As noted by William O. Beeman, a full professor(assistant->associate->Full) and not a lecturer (a lower rank than assistant Professor) like Asgharzadeh/Shaffer:

    Both Asgharzadeh and Shaffer’s work have been cited by Michael Ledeen and other neoconservatives–especially at the American Enterprise Institute and Daniel Pipes Center for Near East Policy, bent on regime change in Iran. Some of Asgharzadeh’s assertions about the “mythology of Iran” are truly bizarre–for example, his claim that the term “Aryan” is an invention of Western Orientalists–when it is easily found in classical Greek and Latin writings; or that the city of Persepolis was never completed.

    William O. Beeman is not me or Dr. Farrokh or an Iranian. He is a well known scholar and states clearly:

    http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A3=ind0707&L=lgpolicy-list&P=197044&E=1&B=——%3D_Part_92890_18869053.1183565161737&T=text%2Fhtml
    “Asgharzadeh’s (and Shaffer’s) highly questionable writings would merely be a weird little footnote in the history of the Middle East if it were not for the fact that they were being politicized ..”

    “Asgharzadeh’s (and Shaffer’s) highly questionable writings would merely be a weird little footnote in the history of the Middle East if it were not for the fact that they were being politicized ”

    “Both Asgharzadeh and Shaffer’s work have been cited by Michael Ledeen and other neoconservatives–especially at the American Enterprise Institute and Daniel Pipes Center for Near East Policy, bent on regime change in Iran. Some of Asgharzadeh’s assertions about the “mythology of Iran” are truly bizarre–for example, his claim that the term “Aryan” is an invention of Western Orientalists–when it is easily found in classical Greek and Latin writings; or that the city of Persepolis was never completed. ”

    Farzin, you might be able to fool some very naive people with these sort of writings since you got foold and of course being an idealistic person, you will need a cause. So in order to have a cause, you will need people to first create a “victim” from Azerbaijanis in Iran and an “enemy” the “Persians”. That is how you see the world. In reality though, it has been the Iranic population of Iran that has been a victim of multiple Turkish invasions in the last 1000 years.

    By the way I am from outer regions of Iran (Mazandaran/Kermanshah ancestry) but I consider myself Iranian/Persian, so there is a contradiction with Asgharzadeh right there.

    The only point you might have is that Azerbaijani (which is free in Iran and no one has banned it) should be the language of education for Azerbaijanis and be promoted. This though is not a human rights matter just like Turkish is not a language of education for 3-4 million Turks of Germany. Or Arabic is not in France the language of education for Arabs. And using this execuse to create modern hatred and falsify history makes you, Zamani and Asgharzadeh the racists. You guys simply have a problem with Iran’s history and cannot get over yourself that Iran did not become Turkey (a Turkic country through complete annihilation of native Greeks and Armenians).

    And by the way the number of people standing up against Asgharzadeh, Zamani and etc. is just a me and couple of others (Kaveh Farrokh possibly and Jalal Matini), but what matters is quality of writing. When it comes to hard cold facts and having sources and arguments, in the end you guys have the much louder voice, but lack the arguments.

  • BuzQurd

    August 15, 2009

     

    Be Yek Irani,
    It was not Persian or Iranians or Aryans for that matter who were running the now so called Iran in the past 2000 years or so, but cumutively Monguls, Romans and Arabs as it is now. An identity crises, yes! With this loss of identity, you are not in a position to tell the others how to live their lives in Iran or abroad.

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