Iranians - Persians

Persians extend their roots further than 3000 years ago. Originally they are of Indo-European ethnicity and their heritage comprises of Old Persians, Medes, Bactrians, Parthians and Avesta groups, who thought themselves closely related to each other. The term Persian comes from Persis: the modern-day region of Iran. It is in this magnificent region that Cyrus the Great, a renowned and respected ruler, laid the foundations of the Achaemenid Empire, destined to become one of the largest and most advanced empires ever. In its heyday, Persian reign extended from the coastal regions of modern Greece and Egypt to the western borders of China, encompassing many other former kingdoms and civilizations.



Cyrus the Great was so revered that when Alexander the Great put an end to the Persian Empire, in 334 BC, no Macedonian was to insult any Persian king. Moreover, many ancient Persian traditions were incorporated into those of Macedon.

An oft-cited reason for Cyrus's success was his just and tolerant government. Cyrus and his successors allowed free religious practice and equal rights for the miscellany of ethnic groups in Persian territories. Between 539-530 BC, under Cyrus's rule, the world's first bill of human rights was written, freeing the Jews from slavery. Cyrus the Great is mentioned 23 times by name in the Old Testament as the liberator of Jews from Babylonian tyranny. He allowed all the exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem, ordered the Jewish temple rebuilt, and allocated a considerable sum of money to purchase building materials for general reconstruction.



As Achaemenids expanded their realm, Zoroastrianism was also popularized. Although beliefs were not imposed on the conquered, Zoroastrian priests found greater opportunity to introduce their religion while the empire grew. Zoroastrians are not fire worshipers, as most people believe, but believe in one God, called Ahura Mazda, who revealed the truth to his Prophet Zoroaster. In this construct of reality, good (Ahura Mazda) and evil (Angra Mainyu) are in an eternal conflict, but Ahuran Mazda will eventually win this cosmic battle. People's righteousness and just conduct, however, can tilt the scale towards a more swift triumph of good over evil.

Some form of Old Persian spoken in the ancient empire is still present in Iran, Afghanistan (in the form of Dari), Tajikistan (in the form of Tajik), Uzbekistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan. Through time the original Persian language both influenced other tongues and was influenced by many. The Arabic spoken in Iraq, for example, was heavily shaped by Farsi because ancient Persians ruled Iraq for an extended time and naturally there have been many encounters historically due to geographic proximity. Because of its old and dissimilar roots to Arabic, Persian was among the few languages that survived the conquest of Arab Muslims and remained the administrative language of Iran throughout the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. Persians take pride in their beautiful, classical literature, which gave rise to works like Shahnameh by Ferdawsi, works of Molana Rumi, Divan e Hafiz, Omar al-Khayyam, and countless others.

So how did Persia come to be called Iran? Culturally, these two names were always used interchangeably, at least since the time of Zoroaster (1000 BC). In Old and Middle Persian, which are the precursors of modern Farsi, Iran meant the land of Aryans, so it denoted a general geographic area rather than a specific civilization. Nevertheless, Persia and Iran were synonymous. The fateful change came in 1935 AD, when Reza Shah requested foreign delegates to use Iran rather than Persia for political reasons. Iran was undergoing a period of radical change and in a sense preferring Iran to Persia was to herald a modern image of Iran. Although the name change may seem insignificant, it had widespread effects internationally as well as locally. Today, the region is referred to as the Islamic Republic of Iran mainly for political reasons, but culturally people still refer to it as Persia to highlight their heritage.

Ali Ghafelehbashi

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Persian DNA