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Κυριακή, 10 Ιουνίου 2007

THE IRANIANS AND THEIR CULTURE

What is known today as Iran is a remnant of a vast empire that once extented from the Aegean to the Indus and from Egypt to the Oxus. The builders of this Empire were nomands belonging to the Indo-european or Aryan family. Dispite the great deal that has been written on the pre-historic tribe, there are many unanswered and perhaps unanswerable questions about the origin of the Aryans and the causes of their widespeard migrations. What is generally agreed upon, however, is that the Aryans once lived some-where in the gold regions of the north. One branch of this family migrated southward into the Iranian plateau and India. The other branches moved west into Europe.
The Indo-Europeans who moved south called their newly occupied lands Iran, the land of "Eras" or Aryans. Though they mingled with other peoples, especially Semetic (Arab) peoples who lived to the west of the plateau, the newcommers preserved their distinctly Aryan culture down to the time of the Arab invation in 651 A.D. and in some respects up to the present. Their religion even after it evolved into Zoroastrianism, bore profound vastages of the primitive Aryan cults shared by their Indian and to a lesser extent, European counterparts. The religion of ancient Iran was Zoroastrianism, named after the prophet Zoroaster or Zarathustra. Zoroaster was born about 700-600 B.C. in northwest Iran, and many of his teachings found their way into Judaism and consequenty influenced Christianity and Islam. Their language too remained basically akin to those of other Indo-Europeans. Traces of this affinity can be found today even though, Indo-European languages, especially Persian (Farsi) have developed much and along divergent lines. The Modern Persian baradar, for example, is derived from the same Indo-European origin as the English brother, German bruder, Greek phrater, Latin frater, and Sanskrit bhratar. Comparative linguistics have produced an impressive list of such cognates as the English thunder, and the Persian tundar, French cent, Persian sad, or Sanskrit gauh (English cow and Persian gav.

Among the Aryans who migrated into Iran, two groups attained prominance: The Medes (Persian Maud) who occupied the north-western parts of the plateau and the Persians whose center was Parsa (modern Pars) in the south. The Persians spoke the same Iranian language as the Medes. Little is known however, of the Median dialect, except that it must have shared many of the characteristics of its modern descendants, especially Kurdish, and the dialects still in use around Hamadan. The Medes where the first to gain ascendancy, but the power of Mediawas brought to an end by the Persians, the other Aryan group to the south-east. Cyrus (600?-529 B.C) the king of Persians, united the Iryan Iranian tribes on the eastern borders of Media and easily defeated the last Median King Astiages. He then extended his dominion over all of the Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia, thus founding the great Achaemenid (Achaemenian) empire that ruled the Near East, for over two centuries. The successors of Cyrus the Great, especially Darius (521-486) expanded the bounds of the empire and brought it into close contact with another Aryan tribe-The Greeks. The Greeks called Iran Parsis, the Greek word for Fars, the province from which the Achaemenids first rose. Consequently Iran came to be known in the West by such derivations of the word Parsis as Persia in English, and Perse in French. The Achaemenian Empire was brought to an end by Alexander the Great (356-323B.C.) whose Greek armies which started from Macedonia, having first subdued and united the Greek city states, invated Iran and overthrew Darius, the last Achaemenian ruler in 331 B.C. AfterAlexander's early death, a line of his followers called the Seleucidae, gained control of Iran as well as Asia Minor, Syria and Bactria. The Seleucids ruled over Iran from 312 to 250 B.C. This is known as the Hellenistic period. However their power diminished with the emergance of the Parthians, an Iranian dynasty. The Parthians ruled Iran up to 224 A.D. and made their mark on history by sucessfully challenging the might of Rome. The Parthians where succeded by the Sassanians (224-652). The Sassanians traced their ancestry back to the Acheamenids, and delibarately tried to revive the ancient culture of Iran. Zoriastrianism was rejuvenated, and made onced again the official state religion of the Persian Empire. Under Sassanian kings, Iran reached peaks of political and cultural acheavement unmatched since Achaemenid times. Politically, the Assanian Iran was caught in a series of struggles, the Greek Byzantine Empire to the west, the Arabs to the East, and the Turkish speaking tribes to the northwest. It seems that at this time the Arabs in the Arabian desert and the Turks in the central Asian steppes where in a process of large scale migrations, caused perhaps by a compination of a temporary population explosion and economic-climatic changes. As long as the Sassanians where in power, they managed to contain both the Turks and Arabs. But once the Sassanian might was broken, first the Arabs under the triumphant banner of Islam, and then the Turks under the Sejughs, expanded into new ereas and thus created the general outline of a new demographic pattern that shapes the Near East today. The character of Persian history- and of its culture- has through the centuries been strongly tinged by this straggle of Iranians between the population waves surging from the southwest and the northeast. The straggle of the Persian against the Arab and Turkish invations. Contact and friction between the Persian Empire and the poeple of the Arabian Peninsula had already started in the last four decades of the Sassanian rule. Pressed by population increase and the lure of the two wealthy empires in the north, the Persian and the Byzantine, Arab tribes had started their northward migrations well before the appearance of Islam. But it was the Prophet Mohammed (570-632 A.D) who united the feauding Arab Tribes under the banner of Islam and made their astonishingly rapid expansion all over the Near East, and North Africa and continued on to Europe. After the Prophet Mohammed's death, the four orthodox Caliphs led Islam in the following order: Abu Bakr (632-634 A.D), Umar (634-644A.D.), Uthman (644-656 A.D.), and Ali (651-661 A.D.) Islam has two major denominations: the Suni (sunnite) sect that recognizes only the four caliphs as Mohammed's succesors and accepts a set of laws (sunnah) based on the practices of the Prophet as supplementary to the Quran, and the other major sect is the Shi'a (Shiite) which reconizes only the fourth caliph, Ali as the Prophet's rightful succesor and the first Immam. Iran is the principle home of Shiism.


It was during the caliphate of Umar (634-644 A.D.), that Islam started its expansion beyond the Arabian peninsula. He sent an ultimatum to the last Assanian ruler, Yazdgerd III to accept Islam. When it was rejected, he sent his army to attact Iran. The armies of Yazdgerd were defeated, and the Arabs gradually extended their rule over the vast reaches of the Sassanian Empire. For over 200 years, Iran was to remain a part of the huge Islamic state that streached from Spain to the Pamirs. Zoroastrianism had become, especially near the end of the Sassanian period, too regid, too intolerent of heterodoxy, and too interwined with the official political machine. Its prestine practicality and its sound existential verities were trammelled up with such a plethora of detailed leturgical, sacramental, and ridualistic requarements that it must have been well right impossible for the masses of the people, to observe all the rules of their religion, and at the same time lead normal lives. Also the preasthood (magi) had become worldly, powerful, and consequently less close to the masses. As a result when the Sassanian Empire fell, the stracture of Zoroasrianism also came apart. There was no massive popular resistance toward the invaters and their religion. Islam with its relative unelaborate requarements, its revelutionary messege of equality of all faithful, and its throbbing dynamism provited a welcomed substitute for the detailed requirements of the old religion. Conversion to Islam had an added incentive: cenverts were not required to pay the head tax (jezyeh) that non-Muslims had to pay. Within a few decades after the invation aside from the nobles and other privileged classes who continued to practice the old religion in secret, most of the people in occupied Iran, had emprised Islam. The Arab invation, culturally the most devestating one Iran has suffered, delivered the death blow not only to the ancient religion of Iran- Zoroastianism- but also because the conquerors imposed a different script on the conquered. The new alphabet taken from Arabic and gradually modified to suit the Persian language, was much simplier then the old Persian script. It was also backed with the power and prestige of the conquering Arabs and the persuation of the new religion. Its popularity was therefore so widespread and thorough, that within decades the old Persian alaphabet was dead amongs all but the very devout Zoroastrians who continued a dwindling existance in the Eastern provences. The Arab invation, and the rapid deracination of Zoroastianism had a catastrophic effect on the state of arts in Iran. The representitives of the new religion forbade the representation of human figure in any form. It was also hostile towards music. The distractive effects on such an attitue on painting, sculpture, and music can be emagined by considering the defaced figures on the stone walls of Persepolis alone. Of course these arts did not die out, but they went through a long hepernation and many modifications before they reached new hights in the Mongol and Safavid periods. Literature had a similar fate. The disseminators of Islam, encluding Persian converts themselves, were intolerant of all but few Sassanian writings. Evedance indicates that the distraction of libraries, along with the remittance of the caliph's share of the booties, was one of the first items of bussiness for the conquering Arabs. The Arabic language became the official language of Iran and this had a detramental effect on the Persian language. The Persian language itself underwent drastic changes. Thousands of Arabic words entered the langauge, enriching the vocabulary, and in some instances, changing its phonemic and syntactic character. The Arab domination of Iran which lasted for nearly two centuries began and was more thorough going in the western and southern provences. By contrast, the northern, eastern, and particularly north-eastern Iran, fell under Arab hehemony decates after the rest ofthe country had been subdued. These provences because of their remoteness from the capital city of Baghdad, the center of Arabic culture during the Abbassid times, had managed to retain much of theirIranian cultural heritage, identidy and national pride. Their Iranian dialect Dari, had remained relatively free of forgein words and constactions. It was also here that many of the ancient legends, artistic conventions, and customs had continuied in semi-hibernation. When therefore, different Iranian rulers asserted their independance, Dari became not only the symbol of the insergents' non-Arab idendity but also a way through which a distictly Iranian culture was transmitted to the masses among whom it grew and flowered. Dari liturature rekindled literary activities, and with it a desire for independance in the other provinces of Iran. Once again poets wrote in their native tongue enstead of using Arabic. Dari became the standard literary language of Iran. The independence movement and the gainning of power of the Persian Saffarian dynasty (861-902) and their efford to revive national customs, their adoption of Persian as the official language, their encouragement of poets who wrote in Persian, and their pride in being Iranian, constituted a major impetus for the renascence of Persian culture. This movement of "Iranianess" continued on to the present day and thus Iran is the only country conquered by the Arabs to emerge back with its own dinstict culture and idendity to the present day.



sources of information:

A history of Persian literature
by Manoochehr Aryanpur. M.A, Ph.D
collage of translation,
Teheran, Iran
1973

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