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Writing Workshop

International Cyrus Day

International Cyrus Day

CyrusAuthor: Mason Balouchian

October 29th has been named Cyrus Day. The Charter of Human Rights  or Cyrus Cylinder, a tablet from baked clay, was issued by Cyrus, the founder of Achamnid Dynasty in 538 BC. The first half of this tablet was inscribed by Babylonian chroniclers and the last half, in Akkadian cuneiform (new Babylonian inscription) recorded the speech and orders of Cyrus The Great when he conquered Babylon. The cylinder was discovered during the excavations in 1879 at Esagila temple (Marduk Temple) in the ancient city of Babylon and is kept in British Museum in London. This Charter indicates the true Persians’ level of tolerance and capacity with respect to free thinking philosophy and human rights.

In this inscription, Cyrus says, “I announce that every person is free to choose the religion they prefer, worship as they wish, reside wherever they please, and choose the profession and job they like provided they do not violate the right of other citizens.

 

Persia vs Iran

Etymology: Iran VS Persia

Author: Mason Balouchian

MapOfPersianEmpire-WikipediaThe name Iran comes from the word “Aryanam” meaning the land of Aryans. It was used by Iranians in 1000 BC. In the book of Arda Virap written in middle Persian during the late antiquity, at some point the narrator refers to the country as Iran. A stone tablet from Parthian period (247 BCE–224 CE) at Naghshe Rostam near Persepolis uses the word Aryan. At the same site, the Sassanid Empire (224-651 CE) inscription names it Eran.

A second word that has been used interchangeably with Iran is Persia. It originates from the Old Persian Pārsa, a tribe of Aryans who lived in Iranian central regions. At present, there is a province in the central part of Iran called Pars. In ancient times, however, it was not a province, but the country ruled by Achamenid Empire. Greek historians referred to the whole empire as Persia.

Ethnic Groups

Ethnic Groups in Iran

by Mason Balouchian

Diversity of Ethnic Groups and their origin in Iran

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The origin of Ethnic Groups

In prehistoric period, races descending from an ancient civilization dating back to about 7000 BC established urban societies in Iran. Pottery remains excavated at different archaeological sites indicate evidences to such civilized societies. Elam centered at the kingdom of Anshan was one of the leading political forces in that region about 3000 BC. During this period, Aryan tribes from around the Caspian sea had been gradually migrating into Iranian plateau for thousands of years. Early 2000 BC, the migration took a faster rate. They separated into three major groups and settled in different areas—the Persians in the southwest and central areas, the Medes in the west, and the Parthians in the east. They founded diverse systems of government in these regions. Since that period, many events have led to the appearance of diverse groups who share Racial and  Cultural heritage.
The Persians form about 51% of the population and are scattered all over Iran with major concentration in Pars province and other central regions. Gilakis and Mazenies living in central north are also Persians. The Kurds living in Zagros areas form 7% of the population and are of the Median descent. They speak Kurdish language. Baluchies who originate from Parthians form 2.5% of the population and live in Eastern Iran. Another group, Lurs, living in the Southwest form 2% of the population. They are the aboriginal people of Iranian plateau before Aryan tribes occupied it. All these groups share different dialect of the Persian language.
The Jewish community living in Iran immigrated to Persia after the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus the Great. At present, the majority of them reside in Tehran and an area in northeastern Isfahan called Jewbareh. There is a large community of Armenian (Christians) populations who immigrated from Julfa to Isfahan and settled in southwest of the city during Safavid Period.
There are few countries in the world bringing together so many diverse ethnic groups in such a “Melting pot of Civilizations”.

References:

1. IRAN, A Chronological History

(Authors: Saeed Alizadeh, Alireza Pahlavani, Ali Sadrnia)

2. American Heritage Dictionary

3. Encyclopedia Britannica

4. Encarta, the world Atlas

Ferdosi

Ferdosi

Author: Mason Balouchian

ferdosi-1_18304Ferdosi was born in 935 AD near Tus, Iran. The Shahname (The Book of the Kings), is his most celebrated masterpiece which revived the Persian language three hundred years after Arabs invaded Persia. This book contains as many as 60,000 epical, mythological, and historical couplets filled with a wealth of philosophical and moral teachings and guidance.

A paragraph from The Book of the Kings

The Shahs of Old (Translated by Helen Zimmern)

Kaiumers first sat upon the throne of Persia, and was master of the world. He took up his abode in the mountains, and clad himself and his people in tiger-skins, and from him sprang all kindly nurture and the arts of clothing, till then unknown. Men and beasts from all parts of the earth came to do him homage and receive laws at his hands, and his glory was like to the sun. Then Ahriman the Evil, when he saw how the Shah’s honour was increased, waxed envious, and sought to usurp the diadem of the world. So he bade his son, a mighty Deev, gather together an army to go out against Kaiumers and his beloved son Saiamuk and destroy them utterly…

Hafez

Hafez

Author: Mason Balouchian

HafezHafez (14th century AD) is indeed one the most celebrated and eloquent writers in the world. The translation of his ghazals in 18th and 19th century had a clamorous effect in western literary societies. Themes of his ghazals1 are the beloved, faith, and exposing hypocrisy (Wikipedia). October the 12th has been named Hafez Day in Iran and is celebrated at his tomb in Shiraz.

Following is a ghazal translated by Henry Wilforce Clarke 1840-1905. Compilation and editing by Dr. Behrouz Homayoonfar

With the luminous liquid of wine, an Aref2 Purification made,

Early in the morning when, to the wine-house, visit he made.

As soon as the golden cup of the sun became hidden,

Hint at the circulation of the cup, the new crescent moon of the ‘Id made

Be blessed prayers of the one who feels the pain,

And the one who with tears and heart’s blood , purification made.

With soul, from the curl of his tress, my heart purchased tumult:

I know not what profit experienced he who this barter made.

If the Imam of the prayers sends for me today,

Tell him that Hafez with wine today, purification made.

1- A lyric poem that begins with a rhymed couplet whose rhyme is repeated in all even lines and that is  common in Persian literature (Merriam Webster).
2- Gnostic, Mystic, Spiritual Traveler.

Attar

Attar

Author: Mason Balouchian

عطارAttar Neishaboori is one of the most famous Persian poets and sages. He was born in Neishaboor in 1146 AD. His masterpiece is The Conference of the Birds with fantastic lyrical stories including a beautiful romantic poem titled Sheik San-on. There is a story about his recognition of gnosticism. One day, a spiritual traveler (dervish) went to his store and asked for charity and when he refused, the man asked him, “How are you going to die?”

“How are you going to die?”  Attar returned the question.

Lying down, the traveler put his wooden bowl under his head,  and died. This incident had a profound influence on Attar who abandoned his business and turned to gnosticism.

 Sheik San’on

(A few verses from a love story by Attar)

Sam’an was once the first man of his time.

Belonged to him: for fifty years this sheikhWhatever praise can be expressed in rhyme

Kept Mecca’s holy place, and for his sake

Four hundred pupils entered learning’s way.

He mortified his body night and day,…

News spread among the Christians that this sheikh

Had chosen their religion for love’s sake.

They took him to a nearby monastery,

Where he accepted their theology;

He burnt his dervish cloak and set his face

Against the faith and Mecca’s holy place –

After so many years of true belief,

A young girl brought this learned sheikh to grief.

Nowruz

Nowruz (New Year)

by Mason Balouchian

Noruz1Noruz, the Persian New Year, is the most respected festival in Iran. It starts on the first day of spring, 20th or 21st of March and lasts for fifteen days. There are many customs related to Noruz including house-cleaning, haft-seen table (arrangement of seven items that start with the letter “s”) such as seeb (apple), sabzeh (wheat), sekkeh (coin), etc. Other items set at the table are, a mirror, goldfish in a bowl, and painted eggs. They symbolize sky, animals, and fertility respectively. Other practices include making visits and calling family, relatives, friends, and giving gifts to children and acquaintances. Chaharshanbe-Suri (Wednesday or Fire Festival), and Sizdah Bedar (a day out in parks or countryside to pass the bad luck of the thirteenth day of Farvardin) are other rituals related to Noruz.

Farvahar Symbol

Farvahar

by Mason Balouchian

FarvaharIranians were originally Zoroastrians. The appearance of Zoroaster as a prophet or philosopher, and his date of birth still remains a mystery. According to Persians, however, he was born in 630 BC.

The fundamental belief of Zoroastrians is based on entities called Ahura Mazda, the light of universe, and Ahriman, the symbol of darkness. Their holy book  is called Avesta that includes profound teachings based on Good thought, Good speech and Good deed—the essence of all Goodness in the universe.  The book was written by Zoroaster himself. From linguistic point of view, the alphabet is said to be so complete that could even transfer the sound of running water. The teachings of Zoroaster have been so profound that according to some Roman and Greek texts, Plato was considered the reincarnation of Zoroaster. There are a great number of Iranians who still follow the principles of this religion. A majority of them live in Yazd, a southern province, where they form 10% of the population. They live in Isfahan, Tehran and other parts of Iran as well.

Zoroastrians believe that four elements must be kept from pollution. Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. Fire, the symbol of purity and light is kept in Fire Temple. Farvahar, the symbol of Ahura Mazda, is usually displayed at the gate of Fire Temples. From a Zoroastrian point of view, the head, an old man, represents wisdom and good thought. The right hand is pointing to the right path. The ring in the left hand indicates loyalty to the creator,  Ahura Mazada. The ring in the middle represent the universe and eternity. The wings symbolize the Divine Wisdom who rules the universe. They divide into in three sections which represent Good Thought, Good Speech and Good Deed. The tail is the symbol of Ahriman or the Devil always following man, and its three sections correspond to bad thought, bad speech and bad deed. The two bands stand for the right and evil path, and that the world is based on goodness and evil–the man is free to choose.

Zoroastrians have many festivals  and celebrations. Three major celebrations are: Noruz, the beginning of spring (21st of march), Mehregan, 16 days in the month of Mehr (end September) that is a festivity for farmers and Yalda that is celebrated the first night of winter as the longest night of the year.

Charshanbe-Suri

Charshanbe-Suri (Wednesday (Fire) Festival)

by Mason Balouchian

Chaharshanbeh Suri occurs  on the last WednesdayCharshanbehSuri1of every year. It dates back to 1700 BC. The festival starts on Wednesday evening by lighting fire which is kept alive until the following dawn. The etymology of this term includes the word Chaharshanbeh (Wednesday), and Suri which refers to fire. During this festival, people light fire in their yard and chant, take my illness away and give me your purity while jumping over it. This action signifies cleansing. In other words, they want the fire to take all their difficulties and ailments away and replace them with warmth, energy, and strength. This festival is not a religious ceremony and is observed by all Iranians including Zoroastrians, Christians, Muslims, Jewish, Baha’is, and other groups.

Yalda Festival

Yalda (The last night of Autumn)

by Mason Balouchian

Yalda or Chelleh is the longest night of the year in theYalda2 northern hemisphere. It begins from twilight on the final day of autumn  (about Nov. the 20th) to the daybreak of the following day  (the first day of winter). Traditionally, the Persians stay up all night and party with family and friends. During this festival, they eat rich food, and fruits left from summer and fall such as pomegranate, watermelon, melon, and nuts and celebrate until daybreak.