Iranian identity under fire

Against the use of "Farsi" for the Persian language


Iranian identity under fire
by Shapour Suren-Pahlav

The term Persian has been used in the English language for over five hundred years: to describe both a nation with 7000 years of archaeological history, and also the language that nation has used since the rise of the first Persian Empire, the Achaemenids.

Unfortunately however, the word ‘Farsi’ is increasingly and incorrectly being used to describe the Persian language. This paper outlines the linguistic and cultural context of Persian, as well as exploring the potential motivations of those promoting the incorrect usage of the word ‘Farsi’.

It explains clearly how the use of the word ‘Farsi’ instead of Persian voids important historical and cultural associations for the Iranian nation, with its long history of civilisation, and how it can therefore be seen as an insult to the heritage of Iran.

New Persian or Persian for short is described linguistically as an Indo-European language. It is categorised as one of the Modern Iranian languages, along with Kurdish, Baluchi, Pashto, Ossetic and number of other languages. It is a member of the Western Iranian branch of the Iranian languages, which are themselves a subgroup of the Indo-Iranian (or Indo-Aryan) family of languages. As such, Persian is distantly related to the vast majority of European languages, including English.
Over the past three millennia, Persian has developed through three distinct stages of Old, Middle and New.  New Persian is a successor to, and derived directly from Middle Persian, and can be considered as having two phases: classical and modern – although both variants are mutually intelligible .

The period after the Islamic conquest is described by Iranian scholars as the ‘Two Centuries of Silence’. There is no inscriptional or textual evidence for New Persian and only very scanty indications for the continuing use of Middle Persian. However scholars consider it unlikely that Iranians deserted their mother tongue and only cultivated Arabic . The lack of any literary evidence from this period will certainly have been compounded by the destruction of Iranian libraries by the Mongols under Genghis Khan and his successors – and there may also be other reasons unknown to us .

The subsequent ‘Persian renaissance’ was marked by the advent of Classical Persian. This emerged in Khorasan in eastern Iran  and so was strongly influenced by Eastern-Iranian linguistic elements . Arabic also had a major impact: with large numbers of loanwords, increasing palatalisation and also the inclusion of some grammatical elements. A modified version of Arabic script was adopted and some letter changes were made. For the purposes of this paper, the most important of these was the use of /F/ for /P/. As Arabic has no /p/ phoneme, the area of P_rs, the Iranian people who originated there and their language came to be described by natives as ‘F_rs’ and ‘F_rsi’.

After these linguistic changes, Persian then remained essentially unchanged until the nineteenth century. At that time, what is now called Modern or Standard Persian developed from the Tehrani vernacular – following the adoption of Tehran as the capital city of Iran by the Qajar s in 1787.

The name Persian derives from the province of P_rs (modern F_rs) in southwestern Iran. This was itself named after the Persian tribes of Indo-European nomads who migrated, along with some other Iranian peoples, from territories east of the Caspian Sea onto the Iranian plateau in the middle  or later part of the second millennium BCE .

The Persians settled in the mountain country rising over the northeast side of the Persian Gulf and enclosing the high basin in the west in which Persepolis and Shiraz are situated , some time between the seventh and ninth centuries BCE . The name survived as F_rs . This region then became the birthplace of two Persian dynastic empires – the Achaemenids (550-530 BCE) and the Sasanids (224-651CE) – as well as the cradle of the Persian language.

Achaemenid Persians called their language (Old Persian) P_rsa and the Greeks followed this in naming it Persis. From then on, other nations have predominantly named Persia and Persian using words based on the root P_rs- .

For example, the English use of the word ‘Persian’ has a five hundred year history  and is derived from the Latin Persianus, itself drawing on the Greek Persis. Similarly, the French word is Persane, the Germans use Persisch, the Italians Persiano and the Russians Persiska.
As outlined above, Persian only came to be described as ‘F_rsi’ by natives of Iran following the P/F letter substitution associated with the Arab conquests.

Persian is the language of at least 110 million people worldwide – sixty to seventy million of whom are mother-tongue speakers. The most substantial populations are in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, but there are also significant numbers in neighbouring countries , – including Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey and the Caucasus  – and also in the Persian Gulf states . In addition, since the 1979 revolution, emigration from Iran has led to the creation of Persian-speaking diaspora communities in many countries worldwide, especially in the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia and Israel. The largest urban community of Iranians outside Iran is now in the Los Angeles area .
All these populations use regional versions of Persian with different proportions of non-Persian loanwords  and slightly different pronunciations  compared to the Persian spoken in Iran . Some of the alternatives have different local names: Tajiks call their Persian Tojiki, while Afghans often use the word Dari .

However, unlike Arabic, all the alternatives are mutually comprehensible. Contrary to the views of some academics and institutions, they are the same language.

The Cultural Heritage News Agency of Iran explains why the versions of Persian have at least a strong a claim as those of Arabic to be considered as one language :

“Some mistakenly believe that, in English, the official language of Iran should be called Farsi, while the language spoken in Tajikistan and Afghanistan should be called Dari, and Persian should be utilised to refer to all of them. However, the difference between the Persian spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, or Tajikistan is not significant or substantial enough to warrant such a distinction and classification. Consider the following case: an Egyptian and a Qatari engage in conversation in Arabic. They will encounter a great deal of difficulty in comprehending each other. Despite this fact, the language used in their conversation is referred to as Arabic . . On the other hand, Iranians, Tajiks and Afghans can converse in Persian and easily understand each other. Why, then, should their dialects be classified separately and referred to by different names?”

Despite this, however, some academics and academic institutions are treating the Persian spoken in Iran and elsewhere as separate entities.

Professor Michael Hillman from the University of Texas, for example, whilst lecturing at the ‘Fifth Biennial Conference on Iranian Studies’, assumed that ‘Farsi’ and Tajiki are dialects of Persian , ; while undergraduates at Emory College in US are taught ‘Farsi’ as one variety of Persian . Even the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University, who have been teaching Persian since the seventeenth century – and who therefore really should know better, now describe Tajik as one of the ‘branches’ of Persian .

The rich legacy of the Iranian nation – that is, Iranian identity at its most fundamental – is defined by, and intertwined with, the Persian language.

Professor Ehsan Yarshater, editor of Encyclopaedia Iranica, affirms this eloquently :

“Persia has cherished and preserved against all odds . . the shared experience of a rich and rewarding past. It finds expression primarily through the Persian language, not simply as a medium of comprehension but also as the chief carrier of the Persian world view and Persian culture. The Persian language . . is a reservoir of Iranian thought, sentiment and values, and a repository of its literary arts. It is only by loving, learning, teaching and above all enriching the language that the Persian identity may continue to survive”.

A key element in the history of Persian language and culture, within the discourse of Iranian history, is the struggle between Arab-Islamic and Iranian-nativist identities . This is not to say that Persian has not contributed to Islam: on the contrary, Persian played a major role in the propagation and spread of the religion in the Indian Sub-Continent, Central Asia and even as far as China and the Far East.

The above concentrates on Iranian and Middle Eastern perceptions of Persian. Looking further afield, there is a long tradition of valuing Persian language and culture: “At its height, [the Persian language] stretched from the Aegean in the West to Sinkiang and the Bay of Bengal in the East and from the Russian steppes in the North to the Indian Ocean in the South” .

Persian, in what Arnold Toynbee has called the ‘Iranic Society’ , was the administrative and literary language of the Ottomans and of Mughal India , . All medieval histories of India are written in Persian  and under British rule, for the English who aspired “to high office in India, knowledge of Persian was desirable” . Indeed, until 1834, it was the medium of all official correspondence in India .

Taking a more purely European view, the Persian epic stories were first brought back to France by the Crusaders . Wolfram von Eschenbach then translated versions into German by around 1180 . Presenting what became known as the Parsifal Legend, Eschenbach “utilized several Persian legends dating from about 600. By transmuting the sacred personages of the original legends into romantic knights, he modernized the tales for his own time. For this modernization he took as model a grand epic from the end of the eleventh century, the Barzu-Nama, the story of a knight named Barzu” .

However, it was not until the reign of the Safavid dynasty (1507-1702) with their increasingly international commercial and political links, that any Europeans began to learn about Persian literature in any depth . The earliest extant reference to Persian literature in English seems to be from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. In The Arte of English Poesie (1589), George Puttenham gives four Persian poems in translation .

The 17th century German Orientalist Adam Olearius then played a significant role in popularising knowledge about Iran, following his visit there in 1633 as secretary to the ambassador of Frederick III of Schleswig-Holstein .

As well as being a linguistic nonsense, it has culturally undermining effects to use the word ‘Farsi’ rather than ‘Persian’.

Linguistically, it is widely accepted that native speakers and foreigners use different words to describe the same language. Alex Bellem from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, observes :

“If we insist on 'Farsi' then shouldn't we insist also on ‘Türk_e’ or ‘Español’ or ‘Elinici’,, and so on? Since it is accepted in linguistics as natural that non-native words are adapted to conform to the phonology of the borrowing language (perhaps via an intermediate 'conveyor' language), can we object to 'Persian' on linguistic grounds?”

Joseph Bell, Professor of Arabic and Middle-Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of Bergen in Norway is stronger in his condemnation :

“No one would seriously consider substituting Deutschland for Germany, or Deutsch/Deutscher for German in English. ‘Deutschland’ exists, of course, in English, but with connotations for which a high price was paid . . But to use the word [Farsi] as the normal term for the national language of Iran has to be classified as one of the greatest affronts to great cultures in our time.”

He goes on to examine the negative cultural implications of the usage of this term :

“Saying Farsi instead of Persian robs the language and the culture of all the sense of splendor the name Persian has taken on in western languages through two and a half millennia of war, trade, religious and cultural influence, and other forms of confrontation or subtle interaction”.

This is underlined by the Academy of Persian Language and Literature (Farhangest_n-e Zab_n va Adab-e F_rs_) in Iran which clearly advocates the use of the word ‘Persian’ not ‘Farsi’ :

“Persian has been used in a variety of publications including cultural, scientific and diplomatic documents for centuries and therefore it connotes very significant and cultural meanings. Hence changing Persian to Farsi is to negate these important established precedents. Changing Persian to Farsi may give the impression that it is a new language, and this may well be the intention of some Persian users.”

Hossein Samei, Linguistics Professor at Emory University in Atlanta, argues that :

“Persian, alongside the name of a language, may be used as an adjective for the other aspects of our history and culture. For example, we can speak about ‘Persian Literature’, ‘Persian Gulf’, ‘Persian Carpet’, ‘Persian Food’. In this way, ‘Persian’ may be [seen as] a common concept and function as a link between all aspects of Iranian life, including language. ‘Farsi’ does not have such a characteristic”.

Franklin Lewis, Professor of Persian Language & Literature at University of Chicago, reaffirms :

“As there is no such thing as Farsi carpets, Farsi literature, Farsi cats, Farsi food, etc., it seems rather ridiculous to use this English neologism as a general adjective for the language”.

Hossein Nasr, Professor of Persian literature at George Washington University in the US, asserts that :

“The synthesis of Persian culture has not changed with the Iranian revolution . . . classical Persian culture, philosophy and religious thought are still intact . . ”.

He also suggests that:

“Persians are aware of their uniqueness in the Islamic world”.

The use of the word ‘Farsi’, however, dilutes this distinctive quality and undermines Iranian culture.

Kamyar Abdi, Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth College in the US, emphasises the importance of the Persian language and its association with Iranian national identity and unity :

“Perhaps the most vital factor in this cultural continuity and the hallmark of Iranian national identity is the Persian language. Having been used in Iran at least since the time of Achaemenids in the sixth century B.C.E., the Persian language has assumed a distinctive Iranian character and become intertwined with Iranian national identity and unity. Not surprisingly, in recent times the Persian language has been one of the most important contexts in which Iranian nationalism has flourished”.

Professor Ehsan Yarshater, the Editor of Encyclopaedia Iranica, hammers the point home :

“[The word ‘Farsi’] has no foundation in the English language and its relationship to the identity of Iranian civilisation and culture – as reflected in phrases such as ‘Persian literature’, ‘Persian art’ and ‘Persian poetry’ – is not at all clear . . .As well as the linguistic points, when the word Farsi is used in English for the Persian language, it ignores all the positive cultural connotations of the word Persian.”

Some of those using the word ‘Farsi’ may be ignorant or have misunderstood. A Wall Street Journal editor, for example, naively surmises :

“Supporters of the name Iran prefer calling the language Farsi, it seems, while the supporters of the historical name Persia prefer Persian”.

Professor Geoffrey Lewis tries to be charitable :

“. . hard though it is when dealing with the Farsi-merchants. Some of them probably use the term because they feel uncomfortable with the seemingly fuddy-duddy ‘Persian’ and are deterred by some spark of good sense from calling the language of Persia ‘Iranian’. For that is a family name which covers many other languages besides Persian”.

Professor Bell asserts that the problem is lack of knowledge and respect :

“If we know a people well enough to respect them, we will not tamper with the corrupt forms of their names, their place names, and the names of their languages. It is only when we do not have sufficient respect that we yield to the urgings of the mapmakers and revert to the ‘native’ form.”

Considering those who may have other reasons, however, there are three main groups worthy of further discussion: those in the West; Islamic fundamentalists and pan-Arabists; and, perhaps most worryingly of all, the Iranian diaspora.

Those in the West
Professor Franklin Lewis reflects that:

“The term "Farsi" began to creep into English in the 1960s, mostly as a result of foreigners in Iran hearing it from native-speakers who, presumably, did not know English well enough to know that the English name of their language had always been Persian.”

Then an Iranian commentator blames the western media :

“. . [during the 1979 Revolution] a bunch of western journalists who didn't speak the language were sent to Iran to report about the revolution. Using this exotic word ‘Farsi’ instead of Persian might have made the impression that they knew what they were talking about, which very often they didn't. I was just a teenager at that time, but I still remember. In most cases they were hanging out in the Hotel ‘Marmar’ and drinking beer, then reproducing bar gossip as authentic reports from the heart of the revolution.”

Frances Pritchett, Professor of Modern Indic Languages at Columbia University in the US believes that the use of the word ‘Farsi’ was further propagated by Urdu-speakers living in West :

“All my Urdu-speaking friends refer to Persian as ‘Farsi’, which is its Urdu name; they tend to transfer that name into English quite naturally. I picked up the habit directly from them”.

Now the habit is becoming institutionalised at the highest levels. The Guidelines for UK Government websites  as well the British Embassy in Tehran  currently describe Persian as ‘Farsi’.

The BBC, with its long-established ‘BBC Persian’ radio service, is launching a range of TV channels for the Middle East in 2008. This includes a Persian language service which is to be called ‘Farsi TV’. Interestingly, the Arabic counterpart is named as Arabic TV – rather than ‘al-Arabiat TV’. Many Iranians still remember the partisan posture taken by the BBC in both 1953 (supporting the coup against Dr Mossadegh’s democratically elected government ) and also in 1979  (as what became widely known as the ‘Ayatollah BBC’ ). With these events in mind, it is difficult to interpret the BBC’s choice as anything other than a conscious decision.

Across the Atlantic, despite the US Library of Congress Standards recommending the use of the word ‘Persian’ , ‘Farsi’ is used in the United States for Security Initiative Programmes of language teaching , ,  as well as in other official documents and websites , .

American usage of ‘Farsi’ instead of Persian has not only has created confusion, but even suggests division amongst Persian-speaking peoples. For instance, according to the CIA’s ‘World Fact Book’, the language of Iran, Afghanistan and the UAE states as Persian, while Bahrainis’ speak ‘Farsi’ .

Islamic Fundamentalists and Pan-Arabists in Iran
On the other side of the ideological divide, things are not very different. In post-revolutionary Iran, news agencies , English language journals , textbooks issued by the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, and resources for foreign tourists often refer to Persian as ‘Farsi’.

Since the coming of theocratic regime to power in Iran, the regime leaders have dedicated significant resources to restructuring Iranian culture and values. Iranians are now vigorously-encouraged to choose Arabic/Islamic names for their children , and a large number of Iranian names have been outlawed . Many pre-Islamic historical and archaeological sites have been devastated under the cover of development projects: destroyed as part of highway  and railway track construction ; contaminated irreparably by chemical factories ; undermined by nearby hotels ; obliterated as part of mining ; or submerged beneath dam reservoirs . There have even been threats to bulldoze Persepolis . In general, pre-Islamic Iranian heritage has been downplayed and undermined in favour of the promotion of Islamic culture , the Islamic way of life, and above all the Arabic language. There have even been systematic attempts to change to ‘Farsi’ the name used in the international community for the Persian language – as a political statement .

Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic regime, publicly made no secret of his contempt for pre-Islamic Iranian culture – deriding everything Iranian from Noruz to the Persian language. According to Roya Hakakian :

“. . [Khomeini] made no secret of his contempt for the non-Muslim dimensions of Iranian life. He injected Persian with so many Arabic words that it confounded the ordinary listener, something for which he compensated by repetitiveness.”

This attitude was mirrored in the views of many other prominent members of the Islamic regime. Although the Friday Sermons organised by the Islamic Republic say little about the Persian language – indicating its perceived relative lack of importance – a detailed and explicit statement was made in 1981 by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in his role as the Islamic Republic’s Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council. On that occasion, he linked the fate of the Persian language directly to that of Persian nationality: in his view of the future, both shall vanish :

“. . we believe that the future [is] Arabic, not Persian . . on the day the united Islamic government is established, certainly its language cannot be anything but Arabic”.

Some senior regime members are less negative – at least in their words, if not in their actions. Ali Khamenei, then the state President and the current Spiritual Leader of the Islamic Republic, emphasised the importance of the Persian language in 1988 in a speech entitled “The Greatness of the Persian Language and the Necessity of Protecting it”  . He spoke about:

“[the] revolutionary duty to promote the national language, and [how] that national language constitutes the most important and original determinant of cultural identity for any nation”.

He then asserted the past and present international importance of the Persian language in the Islamic world, and especially in India and Central Asia, concluding that:

“[Today,] Persian is the language of true . . and revolutionary Islam”.

More recently, various Islamic commentators have been somewhat less committed to the Persian language. For example, in 2003, Naser Pourpirar  demanded that the national language of Iran should be replaced with Arabic :

“It is very unfortunate that we cannot put the Persian language aside and replace it with the language of Qur’an. However the future of Iran is at the hand of Islamic Unity. Spreading the Arabic language among Iranian youths and incorporating it more seriously into the education system . . can make a foundation for such Islamic Unity.”

Pourpirar has a startling range of views – including that the Parthian and the Sasanid dynasties are baseless fabrications by Jewish-Orientalists and that the indigenous peoples of Iran were wiped out by the ‘savage Slavic Achaemenids’ so that Iran was then free of human settlement until the Muslim Arabs arrived. He is however recognised as a scholar by the Islamic regime, who quote extensively from his written work.

Ghahreman Safavi is another of the Islamic Regime’s new breed of scholars.  He is based in the UK and presented a paper on ‘Iranian identity’ in 2004 at SOAS. This consistently used the word ‘Farsi’ – although unfortunately always inaccurately :

“Old Farsi is a branch of [the] Avestan language . . [and the] Avesta has been written in Iranian language (Ancient Farsi) . . [while] New Farsi, which is Dari Farsi . .”.

The Iranian diaspora
Perhaps most worrying, however, is the use of the word ‘Farsi’ by some Iranians, especially in the diaspora. It is difficult to understand why they might, however inadvertently, allow themselves to contribute in this way to the denigration of Iranian cultural achievements.

Professor Yarshater writes about
“. . the Iranians living in the USA, when they answer questions about languages that they know in their application forms for jobs or university courses. I suspect that they even feel gratified to think that ‘the known word of Farsi’ can now be used in the English language. If only they knew that by using the word ‘Farsi’ . . they find themselves damaging irreparably the fame and cultural status of Iran.”

A number of Iranian academics now use the word ‘Farsi’ to refer to Persian in their English publications . For example, Dr Mohammed Chaichian, Professor of Sociology at Mount Mercy College, discusses the question of cultural identity in first generation Iranians – always using ‘Farsi’, and thereby himself diminishing that identity .

Professor Franklin Lewis reflects on the snowball effect that this has when the media get involved :

“The media has accelerated and canonized [this] process with the spread of the Iranian diaspora around the English-speaking world, especially, perhaps in North America”.

For those Iranians in French-speaking countries, the use of the word ‘Farsi’ for the Persian language is incidentally doubly incongruous since it sounds indistinguishable from the word ‘farci’, or ‘stuffed’ .

Some diaspora Iranians have, however, at last woken up to the problem and are now proposing action. A contributor to Persian Gulf Online comments that :

“The significant point which unfortunately seems very difficult to get through to the Iranian Diaspora, specially those residing in the United States – by far the biggest and potentially most influential group of Iranian émigré community – is that by keeping the term 'Persian', we help preserve a 'CONTINUITY' which is an important cultural necessity.”

He suggests that:

“We cannot preserve the best in our culture unless we are prepared to take care of it. I believe we Iranians have succeeded in confusing everyone about our identity and culture, ourselves included. We have diluted our identity by overeducating foreigners. We are so eager to defend the Iranian image outside of Iran that we have created confusion about the name of our country, the name of our people, the name of our seas and the name of our language.”

Dr John Perry, Professor of Persian Language at the University of Chicago, emphasises the importance of language for a nation :

“Of all man's cultural badges, that of language is perhaps the most intimately felt and tenaciously defended”.

Sadly, it seems that sizeable numbers of Iranians are not yet defending their cultural heritage stalwartly enough.

Of course, it may still not be too late – even though warnings were being issued over twenty years ago. Professor Geoffrey Lewis, from Oxford University, was outraged in 1984 by the inappropriate use of the word ‘Farsi’ :

“It may still not be too late to put an end to the grotesque affectation of applying the name ‘Farsi’ to the language which for more than five hundred years has been known to English-speakers as Persian.”

Yarshater adds his full intellectual weigh
“We should, in order to protect our literature and ancient cultural credibility in the West, strictly avoid using the word ‘Farsi’ and instead use the same old and well-known word of ‘Persian’. We should realise that the usage of the word ‘Farsi’ instead of ‘Persian’ acts against our national interests”.

In conclusion, using the word ‘Farsi’ for Persian in any Western language, and in particular English, is a linguistic nonsense. Additionally, it undermines all the positive cultural connotations of the word ‘Persian’ for modern Iran and adds to the recent media portrayal of Iran as a strange and distant society .

To use the word ‘Farsi’ instead of ‘Persian’ is an insult to the Iranian peoples and their culture and “one might even venture to say uneducated” . It is “one of the greatest affronts to great cultures in our time”



Persian & Turkish...

by Reza-San Diego (not verified) on

Both my Grand Mothers were Turkish (God bless their souls...) I love Turkish language as it is a quite profound language in terms of expression of emotions and logic & Beyond...

But allow me to add a little to this great article & research!

Persian is the only language I know that is CAPABLE of going so far beyond... (Without sounding arrogant, I speak 6 languages) So far deep that is beyond an ordinary human being's comprehension...

Persian is the language of Consciousness! Persian is the only language I know that is capable of taking you strait to the source & explain the universe & the reason behind it....

Yes, indeed.... Rumi with his Poems in Persian leads the way in the world of Quantum Physics & Mechanics in such romantic & loving way that is impossible to translate that in any other language so effortlessly.....

People around the world & especially Iranians/ Persians can benefit from the Divine purpose of the entire universe with the help of this unbelievable language....

Persian language and literature alone since thousands of years in making has dissolved all the Aggressors into herself and sheltered, cultivated & nourished them to PRESENT time with kindness & love.... The remains of Arab/Muslims, Seljuk Turks, Mongols and so many other ethnicities, cultures & languages are still found in Iran, but they all learnt Persian because they somehow realized the depth of LOVE in PERSIAN....

For the love of GOD, Alexander the Great himself, after this enlightening experience about Persian decided to not go back to Macedonia/ Greece & remain in Persia for the remaining short years of his life in search of the divine Wisdom only explainable in PERSIAN...

That's HOW & WHY Iran still Exists...

I wish the whole world could open themselves to Persian language & in PARTICULAR Iranians as the Ambassadors of higher LOVE & CONSCIOUSNESS...

Iranians/ Persians may have failed on so many occasions through out our history to Present Time... ,BUT THE PERSIAN LANGUAGE HAS NEVER FAILED & NEVER WILL BECAUSE SHE IS THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE, CONSCIOUSNESS & THE DIVINE UNIVERSE...

Love and Peace on Mother Earth


Yes, thank you Shapour for

by Parisan (not verified) on

Yes, thank you Shapour for trying to educate us about the importance of these naming.

I am afraid I agree with Paolo who said that he has “never come across any nation but Iranians who have absolutely no clues or ideas about their national interests”.
What is wrong with us folks? It seems there is a global conspiracy with the very help of ourselves to eradicate the word of Persian from the vocabulary all together! First by (insisting) to use the Arabic version of word Parsi to refer to our national language as “Farsi” to please our Arab “friends” of the superiority of their culture and language, while at the same time helping them to change easier the name of the Persian Gulf to Arabian Gulf by gradual eradication of this word in the vocabulary.
Can’t you see that?


Change the ID

by Farhad2008 (not verified) on

Thank you shapour. I think most of iranian knows about why in western world they have been trying to change our identity. Why Persian have been changed to Farsi and not israelian language to joohoodi? Why jews are active to change the name of iran because they doesnt consider themselv as aryan!( also most of iranian doesnt even know whats aryan about). Why there have been some movment to change Persian gulf to arabic gulf? Why jews director made the movie 300 after oliver stones Alexader? and why...
Why so much hate to IRANIAN HISOTY and IDENTITY? What has iranian history done to western / jews that they hate us? This has nothing to do to islamic republic its about Identity, our culture and history. Ive always asked myself what would the west / others react if the same revolution ( religios ) happens in Italy ? would the Hollywood make a film agains italian ID & history? im sure uve all ansewrs.


Me likes Farsi Cats and Carpets...

by zensufi on

Greetings... I didn't think of Farsi Cats or Farsi Carpets before.  On a more serious note, very interesting and informational examples.  Of course, one can argue the flip side as well.

I read somewhere recently, that the singer Ebi, has a song titled 'Persian Gulf' (or something like that) and he did not want to sing that song while on tour in Dubai, because he didn't want to upset our Arab cousins. I guess he has a point with the Persian Gulf Arabian Gulf hot topic! :-)



You think Iran vs Persia is a big deal?

by Bush Eater (not verified) on

Try Israel vs Persia or Iran. Met so many Iranians in LA that refer to themseleves as ISRAELIS. Now this is crazy! You look at them (most a bit darker) and you know they are Iranians too. You walk up and introduce yourself, smile and say hello fellow Iranian. And they say they are ISRAELIS, BUT still speak a little FARSI, they don't even say PARSI. Then after a few minutes, you notice that they speak the language as well as you, they speak it at home, etc ... all indications that they ARE IRANIANS. Why don't you write about that. We just have some selfish and INSECURE people that share with us the ethnicity or nationality. Very sad!


Amazing to what lengths we go creating divisions among ourselves

by IraniIrooni (not verified) on

Iran or Persia. You say Persia others will say Iran. What's the big deal? Why not discuss some positive things with fellow country men or women, instead of creating another division among us? This is the last thing that we need, in a period where, God forbid (and NO I am not a Muslim) the US may attck and literally destroy the country and our fellow country men.

And regarding the Muslim stuff. What do you want to do? Majority of Iranians in Iran are Muslim and have been for centuries. Do you want to kick them all out? You think the US and so many minority groups that are barking so loudly, will call this a democracy? Probably!

Lets be realistic for once. This is what we have, and we should try to minimize bloodshed and understand each other. I believe that most of our fellow Iranians are NOT extremists and currently they are also hoping for a more moderate government. Lets leverage that and try to bond with the majority, that is very likely seeking the same changes as the other Iranians ... or Persians .. or whatever the fvck you'd like to call us.

Rosie T.

To Aryana (Mother)...that isn't what I said AT ALL...

by Rosie T. on

I spent the entire first half of my post explaining why Persian is better, and the second half on a peripheral but related topic.  MY acknowledgement of my mother's preference for the word "Farsi" in ther POSTSCRIPT )not the BODY of my comment, but the PS) was in direct response to another poster's point of view.  It was simply an acknowledgement that although (s)he may prefer "Faris" and I "Persian" that we share common ground and there is no need to fight about this topic.

 This is a public forum.  It appears on the homepage of THE most widely-read English language website on the planet devoted to Iranian matters.  English is the lingua franca of the world.  All googles lead to  Google Shapour Bakhtiar and see what you get.  Every post you write is being scruitinzed.  We are standing as we post in a collective mind.  Our future depends on how wisely we use this new technolgoy.

If you care about the future of your country and this earth, you'd better read before you post.  That is all I can say.


"My mother always said

by Aryana (not verified) on

"My mother always said Farsi", hence it should be Farsi!!!!!!!!!!!!!
What a dim and ludicrous logic indeed! Unbelievable!


"My mother always said

by Aryana (not verified) on

"My mother always said Farsi", hence it should be Farsi!!!!!!!!!!!!! What a dim and ludicrous logic indeed! Unbelievable!

Rosie T.

Actually, Abarmard,

by Rosie T. on

I was surprised to find out that that wild young Sufi boy, Shah Ismail, who forged an identity for Iranzamin out of the rubble of the Mongols and Tatars, on which the legacy of the Pahlavis squarely stands, and hence that of the IRI, wrote his deepest thoughts and feelings in Azeri. And it believed that he died for Eshgh.


Turkic is ancient.  Persian is ancient.  They both came out of the steppe, mother of the Father, of patriarchy of Eurasia, whose tools, whose technology has brought us to this impasse where we now stand.  WE MUST FORGIVE AND EMBRACE AND MOVE FORWARD.  WE ARE ALL ONE.

Zendeh baad Iraan zamin.  Zendeh baad Iranrikaa.  You are all your colours of the rainbow.  Zendeh baad range kamin. Marg bar Marg.


I have not heard of Farsi Poems

by Abarmard on

In the times that Rumi is declared from Turkey, have you heard of Farsi Poetry? Turkish sounds much more ancient than Farsi, While no one can top Persian.


Ever wonder why Egypt doesn't get blamed for Egyptian Terrorism?

by manesh on

While the majority of terrorists, especially terrorism against the US, come from Egypt, you never hear anyone say "bomb egypt".  Why is that?

Because terrorism is a barbarian act which is only comitted by savages from uncivilized lands.  Most people know Egypt from their history books and museums to be a cradle of civilization.  They consciousely, or sub-consciousely, believe Egypt, with its illustrious history, is BIGGER than contemporary terrorism.  They don't blame the country of Egypt for the terrorism that comes from country of Egypyt.

Now, if they were coming from an unheard of country, say, Mesr, then that would be totally different. they would be a savage country fully capable of being a snakepit of terrorism, part of islamofascism, and a country that must be dealt with harshly.  (For the few who may not know this, Egyptians call their own country Mesr.  Always have.  They don't even have the letter P in their alphabet to spell Egypt.  But, they are worldy enough to accept respect when it falls on their lap).

My dear countrymen, we msitakenly threw away the brand name Persia when we changed the international name to Iran, and now Persian is being replcaed with Farsi.  Don't be surprised and complain if we are treated like uncivilized, run-of-the-mill, garden variety middle eastern country.  We Volunteered for the position. We demanded the world discontinue associating us with the Great nation they knew as Persia, and now we are demanding they discontinue associating us with a language & culture they once knew as Persian.   How smart is that?



Persian or Farsi

by Immortal Guard (not verified) on

Thanks you for your well-documented and enlightening article.

The use of the word "Farsi" instead of "Persian" is because of contemporary political considerations in order to smudge the historic line (the schism) between Arabs and Persians and to bring them closer to each other under the umbrella of Islam.

I quote from your article:
"Now the habit is becoming institutionalised at the highest levels. The Guidelines for UK Government websites as well the British Embassy in Tehran currently describe Persian as ‘Farsi’.

The BBC, with its long-established ‘BBC Persian’ radio service, is launching a range of TV channels for the Middle East in 2008. This includes a Persian language service which is to be called ‘Farsi TV’. Interestingly, the Arabic counterpart is named as Arabic TV – rather than ‘al-Arabiat TV’. Many Iranians still remember the partisan posture taken by the BBC in both 1953 (supporting the coup against Dr Mossadegh’s democratically elected government ) and also in 1979 (as what became widely known as the ‘Ayatollah BBC’ ). With these events in mind, it is difficult to interpret the BBC’s choice as anything other than a conscious decision."

Of course this will only work, irrespective of the kind of words used (i.e. whether Persian or Farsi), if it will be the Iranians who will end up having a dominant position in any emerging Islamic Conglomerate in the Middle East with Iran being the Industrial heartland of that Islamic Entity. So if the real power rests in the hands of the Persians behind the scenes in a so-called Islamic Empire with Persian Islam dominating then the use of Farsi can be justified. Otherwise it will just crumble down.

The genuine and independent scholars and educated people (who are not mercenaries) will always know it is Persian and not Farsi in the English language as it is Persisch and not Farsi in the German language etc.


Damet joosh manesh

by XerXes (not verified) on

Manesh damet garm baba you said it well. Iranians, in English our language is Persian and that with it, carries many culture and history, Farsi doesn't.
How about this, It wasn't Cyrus the Great, it was Kourosh e Kabir. Go and begin preaching that too...
from now on, all Iranians named Cyrus must change their name to Kourosh, and all westerners have to understand that Kourosh is Cyrus. That makes no sense, Same as Farsi doesn't make sense in English.
Type Farsi in MS word and you get the red error, now type Persian..get my point. Iranians were dumb to forgo the Lion and the Sun brand, don't make the same mistake!!


Persian is a valuable brand name

by manesh on

Here's yet another way to explain the issue to FARSI users: 

 - If you have a degree from Harvard, will it help you or hurt you to go around saying it's from Barnard or Radcliff? Same degree, same school, but it will hurt you.  Harvard is a brand name that translates into benefit for you.  So is Persian with its long history of usage in the English language.

- If you are an executive at Coca-Cola, will it help you or hurt you if you suddenly decide to call your product Colored, Sugar Water?  It would hurt your company and you'll be fired.  It is an accurate name for your product especially since there is no longer any Cocaine in Coca-Cola.  But, it will hurt you. Coca-Cola is a brand name, so are ancient names like Persian.



showing respect

by Maral (not verified) on

You demand that we should show respect to each other.Buuuuuut you say "khak barsar and ridam".


To Voice of Reason: No, you DON'T get the problem

by manesh on

You don't get the issue involved here, and I doubt you read the article.

The point of my example about about chaning the name of Persian Gulf, which everybody understands is counterproductive,   is to demonstate the similarity to changing the name of our language to FARSI, which so few people appreciate how counterproductive it would be.

Why do you people insist on using this UGLY, NEW word FARSI for our beautiful language and culture that has been known as Persian for centuries? It   is not respectful to use FARSI.  It is ignorance.  

If you really don't get the point, at least listen to EVERY scholar known in Iranian studies.  

Rosie T.

Persian/Farsi; Persia/Iran PS Voice of Reason

by Rosie T. on

Persian is good. Farsi (in Persian or Farsi depending on what you want to call it) refers to the standard Persian of Iran. If you use Persian in English, it also includes Tajik, Dari, etc. It's good, since these are really dialects of one language. You should stop worrying about it and just say you speak Persian. It has nice cultural resonances. 

 The issue Persia/Iran and Persian/Iranian is far more complex and it's a sewer pit. If you get too deep into it you'll just spin your wheels and drive yourselves crazy. You say you come from Persia, not Iran, it was all Reza Shah's fault, he changed the you say Persia, but historical Persia includes many other places which are no longer part of Iran, and then someone has a cow and says Persia is Orientalist going all the way back to Herodatus, and the name was always Iran or Iranzamin, and then you all start fighting over absolutely nothing. As long as Iran is a polity with specific borders and a government and is called Iran in the UN, you are from Iran. And if you want to say you're from Persia, that's fine too, but if someone asks you what you mean, either you're going to have to say, I mean Iran, or you're going to have to say you mean greater Persia, which may not be what you mean. I don't really see any harm in saying you come from Persia but I don't see it being very helpful either. I don't think it really matters, I think you should say Iran but not get bent out of shape if someone else says Persia, and not waste time on that discussion. My two cents, Rosie


PS Voice of Reason, it is true.  My mother always said Farsi.  People shouldn't get bent out of shape when someone says Farsi.


TO: Afarin

by kia (not verified) on

Did you read the article? From what you have written, it seems like you either have not read it or did not understand the point of it!!! Please read it again (or read the conclusion or even the last paragraph). Thank you...



by HASSANI (not verified) on




Just found out from Wikipedia

by Ye Irani (not verified) on

That I'm not from Aryan race but rather from Turkic race. So, what's up? Is Iran for Aryans or all races in Iran?
What is my Identity? Well, for now, I will hang on to my "Human" Identity. That is probably enough for now and forever.
Long live HUMANITY!



by Afarin (not verified) on

This makes sense to me too. In Israel they speak Jewish or yiddish. In Philipines they speak Tagalog. In India they speak Urdu. In China they speak Mandarin. In South Africa they speak Africaans. And so on... In Iran or Persia we speak Farsi or Persian.
There is no limit for how many names there are for our great language! Why should there be? If Amercians want to use persian words. I say let's let them! Cheezi azamoon kam nemishe! Natarseed!


I think I get the problem

by Voice of Reason (not verified) on

You guys are confusing khalijeh Fars with "farsi", and so you think that if people start using the word farsi when referring to our language (Which is the word we have always used by the way) that it somehow must follow that we can no longer call the Persian Gulf the persian Gulf! That somehow we lose face? But that's wrong.

You don't quite get the problem in English, because you are not fluent (in their culture). In English, Persian refers to the culture, and anything that belongs to Persia including the language but it can also have another name. It has for years! When people try to use the word Farsi to describe our language they are actually trying to be respectful by using the same name for our language as we do.

Enlightened Americans are proud to know that. This is just a perception problem. And honestly I tend to agree with *Knowitall* and his explanation. But you guys are dead wrong about this and need to fret over more effective ways to demand respect for our culture. Like maybe by setting better examples socially and in business. By not lying and cheating and going back to our roots of good deeds, good thoughts etc.

Or maybe just by showing each other a bit more respect in general, starting with this blog, for instance...

It's hrd for others to respect us when we don't respect each other.


How about Farsi Gulf?

by manesh on

How is it that nearly everyone understands the importance of preserving the name Persian Gulf but so few can apply the same logic to Persian vs. Farsi? It's practically the same argument.

Is a body of water a more critical matter of identity and a bigger source pride than one's own mother tongue?  


To Anonymous1212

by manesh on

We call the language of the British "ingilisi" in Persian.  Should the English go around demanding we call their language "English"?  Should the Germans go around Tehran asking we call their language "Deutch" instead of Almani?

Why is it only Persians demanding this? Are we smart or are they in this regard?



by KavehP (not verified) on

you are not comparing oranges with oranges.

In your examples:
Deutschland/Germany: Germany in English translates to Deutschland in German. It does not translate to any province in Germany.

Baharat/India: as far as I know there are many names that locals in India use to call themselves but that is dependent on the local language, but I do believe that the Hindu's call it "Hindustan" which Translate to India. It does not translate to any province in India.

the same goes with "Al-Misr"/Egypt and "Elaas"/Greece

"Persia" Translates from English to Persian as "Parsa" or its Arabic version Fars, and that translates into a province and not the country.

Also the majority of people in Iran call the UK "Engelestan", which translates into England, which is only part of the UK and not the whole of it. but the people do speak English.

You say that "These countries are not going to change their International historical titles to their native names but we did unfortunately." I think you meant to say "our" native names. but that is exactly what they have done and if we use the name "Engelestan" in our government to Government communications and records, the British will object and ask us to change.

This only matters because of the prevalence of English and French in how the world conducts itself in the 20th century.

The world has accepted the name Iran, and now we must make sure that they understand why they should keep using Persian as the identification of Iran's language, culture, art, cuisine. last but not least we must ensure that the world refer to the Persian Gulf, in all historical and official records.


به site;

persia (not verified)

به site;
بروید. و اَن کی بورد را پیاده کنید.۰۱۲۳۴۵۶۷۸۹



Bigger Picture

by A Persian (not verified) on

I think that everyone is missing the main point that this article tries to make, which is the chipping away at the Iranian culture and neutralizing it to the point that it will be indistinguishable as a distinct culture among Muslim nations. The article correctly points out the efforts of people like Pourpirar to slowly, but persistently, cast shadow on the legitimacy of Iran’s history. These people are well funded and operate within Iran with the apparent tolerance of the government toward them. Also, Iran’s Constitution mandates the teaching of Arabic in almost all levels of public education in Iran. Some will argue that if we didn’t lose our identity under the Arab Muslims or the Mongols, we can survive this period as well. But that is not a valid comparison because in those instances our ancestors knew clearly that they were being ruled by a foreign invader, and adjusted accordingly. Plus, in those days, the invaders did not have access to the type of mass media capabilities as they do today to disseminate their literature. Today, however, these anti-Iranian agents operate under an Iranian cover and are destroying, or attempting to destroy, the culture from within. They also have access to various forms of powerful, and quickly available media platforms to spread their message.


Persians' Cultural Suicide

by Pejman7 on

In 1935 Reza Shah asked Westerners to stop using "Persia" and with this act he separated our country from its past in the West. Now Western people mostly think "Persia" (and all of our historical records for more than 25 centuries) has been death and there is just a new state in that erea called "Iran".

"Iran" is fine, we could keep it for usage in our own language but International name is quite different; Look! : Deutschland/Germany. Baharat/India, Al-Misr/Egyprt and Elaas/Greece...

These countries are not going to change their International historical titles to their native names but we did unfortunately. I also wrote various articles on this matter in the past a few years such as:

"A Note On ther terms 'Iran' and 'Persia'":

"Farsi or Persian?"

Same for the language; usage of "Farsi" in place of "Persian," that has been common since 1980s, is as inaccurate and odd as using "Farsi Gulf" instead of "Persian Gulf."

"Can you Speak ALMAANI?!!" or "Can you speak GERMAN?"
which one is correct? So see how it sounds strage when we use "farsi" in English.

I think now we are only nation in the world who do such funny mistakes. I think since tomorrow some of us will start to use MIZ instead of TABLE or KHOUNEH instead of HOUSE in English !!



by KavehP (not verified) on

In Persian we say that they speak ingeleisi and not English. That is the LOGIC of the article.