Elam is the ancient name for Persia, the precursor name of Iran. Until the time of Cyrus (and often even until New Testament times) the people here were called Elamites (e.g. the Jews from Persia that were present at Pentecost, Acts 2:9). The Persians are thus descended from both Elam, the son of Shem, and from Madai, son of Japheth. Since the 1930’s they have called their country Iran. Interestingly, the word ‘Aryan’, which so fascinated Adolph Hitler, is a form of the word ‘Iran’. Hitler wanted to produce a pure Aryan race of supermen, yet the very term signifies a mixed line of Semites and Japhethites. Iran is found in the midst of the Middle East bordering the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea with an area of 1.6 million square kilometres (636, 294 sq. mi.) of mostly desert and mountain.
Dar es Salaam is Tanzania’s largest city, and Salaam (“peace”) the Arabic greeting most often heard on the streets of Tehran—where Shiite Persians are not, in fact, the majority. There are Kurds, Azeris, Bertuccis, Arabs, and others. Persians are, however, the Farsi-speaking majority. They are not Arabs.
Once upon a time understood from the Middle East to India, Farsi today is spoken by not only more than 60% of Iranians but also half the Afghan population, speaking the Dari dialect (archaic form of Farsi), and to a lesser extent in the Pamir Mountain and other areas of Tajikistan. Pakistanis also speak Dari Persian. Farsi is the main Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of Indo-European. A significant Farsi-speaking minority exist in the Persian Gulf nations of Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There is a significant Farsi-speaking community also in the United States.
A quixotic mix of royal, secular, and the religious, Tehran is a modern city. The hereditary monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, fled the country in 1979 after decades of corrupt authoritarian rule and following mounting religious and political unrest. The exiled Ayatollah, Ruhollah Khomeini, returned to lead an Islamic revolution, forming the world’s first Islamic republic that same year. The brutal eight-year sectarian war with Iraq followed. The Islamic Republic of Iran, formerly Persia, was one of the greatest and most frequently invaded empires of antiquity.
Former Tehran mayor famous for his conservative approach and rolling back reforms entertained by preceding modernists, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in June of 2005. With a confrontational anti-Israeli and anti-West rhetoric, he pushed ahead with a national nuclear program that brought international condemnation and, until recently, UN-imposed economic sanctions.
Iran is the only Shiite-majority (90% of 80 million inhabitants) nation in the world. Shiite worship martyrs—the original (Ali and Husayn ibn Ali) and the modern alike—which to the Sunni Muslim is idolatry. This is an important part of Iranian public and political life, imbibing a ‘cult of martyrdom’ to a young society. Two-thirds of Iranians are under 30 years old. They are the Children of the Revolution.
Tehran had been known for the world’s worst road-death toll, 60’s Hillman-Hunter cabs the king of the road.
Power to the Poor
South Tehran especially is home to the Bazaari, an inclusive term for the merchant and worker of the bazaars—the traditional Iranian marketplace. The Bazaari put the clout behind the Islamic Revolution. Returning after 16 years exile, and backed by the Bazaari, Ayatollah Khomeini took power for the clergy. Largely as a result of economic sanctions imposed by the West, for failing to comply with the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty (NNT), one-seventh of Iranians were said to be living under the poverty line (of less than a dollar a day).
Modernity and Luxury
Modern Iranians enjoy American culture but hate its politics, especially its support of Israel. More plastic surgery is performed in northern Tehran than Los Angeles. Yet anti-US rallies spontaneously emerge in the streets of Tehran from time to time. Iranians also place huge importance on education, boasting literacy rates (above 90%) to rival the United Kingdom. And students, like those at Tehran University, are politically active.
The spring at Chak Chak—a shrine perched beneath a towering cliff-face in the searing desert of central Iran—has lost none of its miraculous healing powers, according to Zoroastrians. Here a young Muslim was apparently cured of leukemia after being visited by the ghost of Nikbanou, the seventh century Persian princess who fled the invading Arab horsemen of Islam.
An Imam’s great import in Shiite Islam is to lead into prayer. Only twelve of these spiritual leaders have come to be revered—the lineal descendants of Mohammed, the 12th yet to appear. This 12th Imam is said to come as a martyr, to be joined by Jesus Christ in a cataclysmic human finale.
The Muslim conquest of Iran introduced many Koranic concepts of life after death, originating from Jewish and indirectly ancient Persian and Babylonian sources. The after-life ere is a place of judgement—a place of reward or severe punishment—the departed soul remaining in an inter-world (Barzakh) until resurrection (Rastakhiz), not unlike the Roman concept of purgatory.
Conservative and superstitious Iranians will be seen tapping gravestones, in communication with the dead—more often then not the young martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war that ended in 1980. This was a time when some as young as 13—urged on by Ayatollah Khomeini—joined the Army of God. Against the financial backing of the United Kingdom, the United States, and the USSR, Iran yet ultimately won the war. But it lost half a million of its own. Mothers’-Day eve is celebrated for the birthday of Fatimah Zahra, mother of Mohammad.
Zoroaster died in the 6th century BCE. His followers see life as an eternal conflict between the good God, Ahura Mazda, and the embodiment of evil, Ahriman — good thoughts breed good words that lead to good deeds. Priestly and royal elites, however, alienated its followers. The number of followers of Zoroastrianism halved in the 30 years since the Islamic Revolution. Islam spread quickly.
The worldwide eternally faithful meet in early summer at the shrine where Nikbanou sought refuge, dozing, picnicking, and attending prayer around the flame focal to their worship. By evening, young Zoroastrian men in cowboy hats dance to catch-and-giggle while prayers in the ancient religious Avestan language are heard over loudspeaker.
The Islamic Republic’s strict rule on dress and wine are relaxed in the private spaces of the religious minorities. Iran’s Shiite are generally tolerant of the ancient religion and, despite mutual understanding, many Zoroastrians are converting. Entire families convert to Islam when someone marries outside the community, so that they qualify for inheritance payment under Iranian law. Two Towers of Silence, where Zoroastrians of Yazd left their dead for the vultures, are now both a picnic area.
Zoroastrians have their own parliamentary representation and also hold high office in bodies such as the Oil Ministry. As often the case, their migrant communities are more vibrant in places such as Canada, Australia, and India. Former parliamentarian, Khosro Dabestani, insists that problems for Zoroastrians are the same as those for most Iranians. Many disagree. Stories of being denied teaching jobs in universities and being booted out of a chess team just before reaching national level are consistent with many minority group perceptions in most countries.
One Muslim elder confiscated our land in a village I know saying “This is an Islamic country, the land belongs to us.”
Another woman protested about dress codes.
I am not a Muslim, why should I have to wear these headscarves?
A grey-bearded Zoroastrian pilgrim, pointing into the blazing whiteness of the dessert, thinks they have all missed the point.
There are no mosques, churches and synagogues. They are all in your own heart. This shrine is a sham. You need to be out there alone with your God, under the sun, in the wilderness.
ReferencesOriginally sourced: 8/27/2007, from television documentary
- Iran executes nuclear scientist for spying for U.S. – Reuters, August 7, 2016
- Obama’s Secret Iran Strategy – Mosaic
- Now the Twelfth Imam Can Come, Robert Spencer – Front Page Magazine, November 25, 2013
Iranian Natural Resources
Iran holds the world’s fourth-largest proved crude oil reserves and the world’s second-largest natural gas reserves. Despite the country’s abundant reserves, Iran’s crude oil production has substantially declined, and natural gas production growth has been slower than expected over the past few years. International sanctions have profoundly affected Iran’s energy sector and have prompted a number of cancellations or delays of upstream oil and gas projects. —EIA
Featured Image (where shown)
National Flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran [Wikimedia Commons]