Geography of Iran

Persia, the Thousand-Year-Old Name of Iran
By: Pejman Akbarzadeh, 2003


In addition to the political issues of the period and the impulse of approaching Germany and Hitler, which was the main reason for such a change of name at the order of Reza Shah, some people believed that the name of Persia just refers to part of the country from the Iranian point of view; while the name has been associated with our homeland for the foreigners in the past 2600 years. Thus the name of Persia should rather be used in dialogues conducted in European languages and not in discussions with Iranians. That's why the impression created by the name on the foreigners' minds is of significance, instead of its effect on our own minds.

There should be no prejudice about using the name of "Iran" by foreigners on the grounds that we ourselves call our homeland by such a name. In fact, several countries around the world are being called by their indigenous names.

"Iran" is an honorable name to Iranian and Persian-speakers, while in the world culture "Persia" represents the ancient culture of the land to non-Iranians. The change of our country's name from Persia to Iran has separated it from its historical and cultural background in the minds of the world people. The number of individuals in the West to whom "Iran" and "Persia" have the same meaning is limited. Unlike the belief of Iranian statesmen in the 30s, today not the connection between "Iran" and the "Aryan Race" is unknown to anyone, but due to the great similarity in the name and European pronunciation of the names of "Iran" and "Iraq", a great number of Westerners, specially the young generation mix up Iran with the newly-founded land of Iraq located to the west of Iran.

The close analogy of the two names in the West has obviously been associated with the perception of their having similar identities. Even those differentiating Iran from Iraq, consider Iran as a land bordering the Persian Gulf with oil reserves and an identity almost similar to Arabs having no clear link to the ancient "Persia".

A great part of the world countries annual budget is allocated to promotion of their feature on the international scene. The postal stamps recently distributed by the Swiss government across the world might be the best example. Though the country is officially called Switzerland, the stamps bear the name of "Helvetia" as a matter of pride. The country known today as Switzerland was called by the Latin name of Helvetia several centuries ago, which is not used anymore.

About 70 years have passed since the name of our homeland changed to Iran in the international arena. Nonetheless, in many occasions, specially on matters related to Iran's history, culture and art, both Iranian and non-Iranian researchers use the name of "Persia" and the adjective of "Persian" instead of "Iran" and "Iranian" respectively, given that the latter words are not associated with any particular concept from historical and cultural points of view.

The name of "Persia" for "Iran" and such combinations as "Persian Carpet", "Persian Gulf", "Persian Miniature", "Persian Garden", "Persian Cat", etc. have been recorded in the world major encyclopedias.

In 1935, the Iranian government called on other countries to use Iran and Iranian instead of Persia and Persian respectively in their official correspondence. The two words reflecting the country's entire historical and cultural background overseas gradually disappeared from the Western languages collection of commonly used words, while the adjective of "Persian" is still used to refer to the language spoken in the country.

However, following migration of millions of Iranians to Europe, Australia and America in recent years and given the carelessness and ignorance of some Iranian expatriates to the issue as well as the lack of attention by some of the national institutions in charge, specially Iran's Academy of Culture, unfortunately, the word "Persian" commonly used in the European languages, including English, is now replaced by "Farsi", a new name in the literature of West totally failing to describe the historical background of the country and introduce the written works of the Persian men of literature.

Some English periodicals and TV channels both domestically and overseas, a great number of Iranians having websites on the internet, various news agencies, computer companies (specially those producing Persian software), many universities of so-called high reputation and language training centers, are responsible for development of this cultural dilemma which has a growing trend. They are actually manipulated by Iran's enemies.

Nonetheless, apparently, no one else is mainly responsible for burying the cultural background of our homeland than us. A few years ago, we started using "Farsi" instead of "Persian". The Tehran-based English-language dailies, TV programs broadcast in English and a program on the International Sahar Network dubbed "Let's Learn Farsi" are examples of using the word.

The growing application of "Farsi" instead of "Persian" paved the way for its entry to the world encyclopedias. For instance, Oxford has been adding the following explanation for "Persian" for the past few years: "Now usually called Iranian or Farsi..."

It should be noticed that "Farsi" is the indigenous name of the language, while "Persian" is its international equivalent. Likewise, the indigenous names of German and Greek languages are "Deutsch" and "Ellenika" respectively, while in English they never replace German and Greek.

Unfortunately, today Iranian youth are in general unfamiliar with such words as "Persia", "Persian" and even "Persian Gulf". The word "Persia" usually reminds them of Peugeot Persia (!) and Persepolis (Takht-e Jamshid or Parseh), the most renowned historical monument worldwide is associated in their minds with a soccer team!

The application of "Persia" and "Iran" in European languages has been subject to wide discussion among Iranians, specially the expatriates for quite a while.

As usual, it is approved by one group and rejected by another. The wrong impression that "Persia" is the obsolete historical name of Fars province introducing Zoroastrian culture seems to prevail some of our compatriots.

Nonetheless, without being influenced by any improper prejudice and given the existing reliable historical and political documents, it is easily proved that "Persia" is simply the English equivalent of "Iran".

According to the available undeniable documents, the word was officially used to refer to Iran between 600 BC up to 1935, while in some cases it has also been used unofficially in European languages and it is not at all exclusive to the Achamenid and Sassanid eras.

The present "Iran" is same as "Persia". The revolutions taking place in the history of most nations do not justify changing their historical names. Similarly, the contemporary Egypt is not comparable to the land existing 7,000 years. Likewise, the area and political stance of the present Greece is quite different as compared to 3,000 years ago.

Apparently, since mid-80s a few Iranian intellectuals took on to bring to light the issue by publishing some articles in the Iranian periodicals both domestically and overseas. Their objective was mainly to call the attention of the public opinion and the institutions in charge to the issue and provide them with the correct knowledge, which eventually didn't produce any tangible result. A Professor of Colombia University in New York and Coordinator of Iranica Encyclopedia Ehsan Yarshater, a Professor from South Australian University in Adelaide Kazem Abhari, a Professor from Dublin University Hormoz Farhat and Amir-Rostam Beigi a resident of Huston in the US state of Texas are among the individuals actively involved in the field and the current article is partially based on heir written works.

In 1992, a few Iranian expatriates residing Australia, who were involved in cultural affairs, especially Professor Abhari, urged the Academy of Persian Language and Literature in Tehran to issue a statement in defiance of the use of "Farsi" instead of "Persian" in the Foreign Ministry correspondence conducted in European languages. Meanwhile, the authorities of the academy themselves believed that such a change will cause misunderstanding among westerners and make them presume that a new language different from what they were earlier aware of is meant by the word (Farsi). Also turning to the malice displayed by certain circles, the authorities of the academy said they expect the government to watch such malignant measures to counteract the intrigue.

Nonetheless, the statement was not welcome and was soon forgotten. It was only published in the academy's quarterly and a copy of it was sent to some Australian institutes. The officials in charge of the academy didn't pay any attention to what they themselves had declared. Thus the attempts of independent Iranian individuals to the effect were underestimated.

In March 1998, Professor Hormoz Farhat drew up a letter on how to take more serious steps in this respect and establish the Persia Society. Once more, the undertaking was delayed because the individuals involved in the project were geographically too far apart from one another. They mainly focused on encouragement of writers, researchers, artists, journalists, editors and publishers to use the word "Persia" when writing about Iran in Western languages. Moreover, they suggested replacing "Farsi" with "Persian" when they refer to the language and using the Gulf instead of the Persian Gulf.

Founding "The Persian Gulf Task Force" in 1999 by a group of Iranian expatriate scholars living in Europe and the United States was the latest step taken to the effect, which was relatively successful. They launched widespread promotion through their website on the internet at the following address and managed to attract hundreds of members from across the world. They managed to take positive steps towards prompting the international media, museums, geographical foundations as well as the historical, cultural and higher education centers to replace "The Gulf" and "Arabian Gulf" with "Persian Gulf" and "Farsi Language" with "Persian Language".

The main achievement so far is that despite the effective consequences of the taken measures, no favorable result can be expected without the full support of Iran's government.

To protect our national interests as well as the historical and cultural links of our homeland in the international arena, we recommend the use of "Persia" and "Persian" in the European languages. This is just for the sake of our history, civilization, culture, art, language and people.

* * * Note: PERSIA is the historical name of Iran in the English, Italian and Spanish languages, while LA PERSE is its French equivalent and its German term is DAS PERSIEN.