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Archive for the ‘persians’ Category

600px-Flag_of_Afghanistan.svgAfghanistan (1919- ) is eastern Persia, Iran being western Persia. There are Persians living to the east (Pashtuns) and to the north (Tajiks), but it has most of the Persian land east of Iran. The chief difference between Iran and Afghanistan is religion: Iran is Shia Muslim, Afghanistan is mostly Sunni Muslim.

People call it the “graveyard of empires”: both the British and the Russians have come to grief there and now the Americans.

The Americans overthrew the Taliban government in 2001 just months after 9/11. With the help of the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and his men had their base of operations there. America closed down his bases but Bin Laden got away.

After being gone for some years, the Taliban is back. They made peace with Pakistan in 2006 and so now they are free to attack Afghanistan and then disappear safely into Pakistan. Afghanistan is back on the boil.

Afghanistan is shockingly poor and backward. Half the men cannot read along with four-fifths of the women. One baby in six never lives to see the age of one; most of the rest will never live to see 52.

It is a land of blue skies and cruel men.

Empires lust after Afghanistan for its position on the map. The British wanted it to keep India safe. The Russians wanted it to be one step closer to the oil in the Persian Gulf. The Americans want it because it is next to Pakistan and Iran, two countries that are causing it serious trouble.

Because it is up in the mountains it is hard to conquer, but not impossible: the Persians, Alexander, the Mongols and Tamerlane have all done it. The city of Kandahar in the south is named after Alexander. Herat in the west was one of the jewels of Tamerlane’s empire.

Warlords rule most of the country. It has been that way for most of the past 30 years. The power of the American-backed government in Kabul does not extend much beyond the city. Only the Taliban were able to bring peace, though their rule was cruel and severe.

Out of every ten Afghans four are Pashtuns, three are Tajiks, one is Uzbek and one is Hazara. They marry among themselves so the line between them is not sharp. All are Persians except for the Uzbeks – they are Turks. It seems the Hazara came from Mongolia long ago. Uzbeks and Tajiks live in the north, Pashtuns in the south and Hazara in the middle. President Karzai is a Pashtun.

The Tajiks and Uzbeks have their own countries to the north. The Pashtuns have no country: For every Pashtun in Afghanistan, two more live in neighbouring Pakistan. When the British drew the Durand Line in 1893 they made sure it went right through the middle of Pashtun land to keep them weak.

Going round the country is a ring road. It passes through each of the four chief cities: Kabul in the east, Kandahar in the south, Herat in the west and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north.

Nearly all the heroin in the world comes from red flowers in Afghanistan.

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By Persian I mean anyone who speaks one of the Persian languages: Farsi, Pashto, Kurdish, Dari, Tajik and so on.

The Persians live south of the Turks and Russians, west of India and north and east of the Arab world. Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, western Pakistan and the Kurds are Persian.

In this sense, what we know of as Iran is, in fact, only western Persia! And not all Iranians are themselves Persians: one in four are Azeris, the Turks who live in the north-west and once ruled Iran.

The Persians are famous for their great poets. Because they were more advanced than the Arabs in the early days of Islam, the Persians have profoundly affected the Muslim world. The Turks and the Muslims in Pakistan and India in particular followed the Persians as their model.

Here is the family tree. It has all the living languages with at least a million speakers. Those without numbers are dead but notable.

  • North-eastern
    • Scythian
    • Sarmatian
    • Alanian
    • Khwarezmian
    • Bactrian
    • Avestan – language of Zoroastrian holy books
    • Sogdian – from the 700s to the 900s this was the main language of Samarkand and the Silk Road
    • Ossetian (0.7) – Caucasus
  • South-eastern
    • Pashto (50) – eastern Afghanistan, western Pakistan
  • South-western
    • Farsi (110) – main language in Iran
    • Dari (18 ) – main language in Afghanistan
    • Tajik (5) – main language in Tajikistan
    • Hazaragi (2) – middle of Afghanistan
    • Tat (4) – west of Caspian
    • Luri (2) – western Iran
  • North-western
    • Parthian – ruled Persia in late Roman times
    • Median
    • Kurdish (40) – Turkey, Iraq, Iran
    • Zazaki (2) – in Turkey
    • South of the Caspian:
      • Mazandarani (12)
      • Gileki (4)
      • Talysh (2)
    • Baluchi (8 ) – southern Pakistan

No doubt some speakers are counted twice here, but clearly there are at least 200 million Persians. As a people that makes them comparable to the Turks (150), Russians (150) and Arabs (200).

Half the Pashtuns (those who speak Pashto, also called Pushtuns or Pathans) live in Afghanistan, half in Pakistan. This is no accident: the British split their country in half to make them less of a threat back when the British ruled India.

Before the coming of Islam, the Persians gave the world two religions: Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism. Most Persians used to be Zoroastrians, though some were Buddhists or even Christians. Now most are Muslims.

There are still about 100,000 Zoroastrian Persians: they live mainly in India and are called Parsis. Although their holy scriptures are in ancient Persian (Avestan), these days they speak Gujarati and English. That is why they are not on the list above.

Shia Islam did not become widespread among Persians till 500 years ago under the Safavid kings. Most Persians in the west are now Shiites, most in the east are Sunni.

Only the Ossetians are Christians. There are some Jews as well.

The Persians came down from Central Asia about 2000 BC. The north-eastern branch – the Scythians, Sarmatians and others – remained in Central Asia till the coming of the Turks. All that is left of them are the Ossetians.

There are three natural Persian countries:

  • Kurdistan – south-eastern Turkey, northern Iraq
  • Iran – without the Azeri north-west or the Arab south-west
  • Khorasan – Afghanistan, Tajikistan, western Pakistan

Kurdistan and Khorasan are Sunni, Iran is Shia.

The Ossetians are too few to count as a separate country.

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Iran

IRAN0001Iran was once known in the West by its Greek name, Persia. “Iran” means the land of the Aryans. Iran has been one of the leading Muslim countries down through history just as France has been a leading country in the West.

Iran is attempting to build the bomb. It says it will use it to kill the Jews in Israel.

It seems that it now seeks to lead the Muslim world against the West. Iran, however, follows Shia Islam – it is the largest such country that does – while most Muslim countries follow Sunni Islam. This makes it hard (but not impossible) for Iran to gain their trust.

From 1980 to 1988 Iran fought Iraq in the largest land war in history. A million men died and the war ended in a draw. Then a few years later in 1991 it saw the American military defeat the same Iraqi army with ease in a matter of months. America did the same thing again in 2003, this time in a matter of weeks.

Iran could conclude only one thing: if Iraq could fall that easily, so could Iran. To protect itself from America it must build the bomb..

America, of course, objects but it has no way to stop it short of war. It can only slow it down. America is unlikely to make war on Iran – it already has its hands full in trying to bring peace to Iraq.

The other arm of Iranian foreign policy is the war in Lebanon. Its dog in that fight is Hezbollah, the state within a state in the south of Lebanon. Iran has been arming Hezbollah, pouring in rockets and missiles. Hezbollah is fighting Israel, which America has been arming. So it becomes in effect a proxy war between Iran and America.

Unlike most countries that try to oppose America, Iran has money. It still has huge reserves of oil, which it threatens to use it as a weapon against America.

The government is an enemy of America, but the people are not. Although they hated the shah that once ruled as a king with American support, they have grown to hate their present pack of rulers – religious scholars who try to bring back the strict old days of Islam that probably never were.

The religious leaders came to power when Ayotallah Khomeini overthrew the shah in 1979. They did not like the shah because he was turning Iran into a kind of France, where money was everything and God was nothing.

Although the people hated the shah, they did not know what to do. With the army on the side of the shah, the religious leaders were the only ones left who had the power to overthrow him. They staged an ever-growing uprising. In the end the uprising became too widespread. The army could not shoot on its own people, so the shah fell.

– Abagond, 2006.

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