The Faravahar, one of the most famous symbols of Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of the Persian Empire. The Sasanian capital Seleucia-Ctesiphon (near modern-day Baghdad) was a major center of Zoroastrian theology prior to the city’s destruction in 637 CE. Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
I heard that Iranians are 'Aryans'. And the word 'Iran' itself means 'land of The Aryans'. Is it really true ? I'm not Nazi but I'm just curious.
((Ohhhh, boy. This is a loaded question. “Aryan” is a word that is loaded in both Iranian and European contexts.
Aryan is originally a sanskrit word but there have been various ways of which “Aryan” has been assigned a meaning: It has been called a “neutral” word with no relation to ethnic or racial categories, others abide by the definition of the word as meaning “noble” applicable to numerous tribes, and many of us in are familiar with Hitler’s interpretation of Aryan and the Aryan race of a superior, master race of European stock. Aryan and its construction in racial/ethnic terms has been a word that has been molded to fit particular narratives and ideologies, the most obvious being Aryanism. Aryanism was the root of the Pahlavi idea of Iranian nationalism, fashioned by Mohammad Reza Shah’s “co-option of ancient Persian and Zoroastrian symbols in order to describe his rule”, though that was anachronistic–not to mention revisionist when he at one point lauded Iran’s 2,500 years of supposedly purely “Persian monarchy”. Anyways, as Alex Shams puts it in his article “A “Persian” Iran?: Challenging the Aryan Myth and Persian Ethnocentrism”:
Aryanism was one of the most influential of these ideologies, and it identified the Indo-European language tree (which includes Sanskrit, Persian, and most European languages) as proof of a migration of an imagined Aryan nation out of India, through Persia, and into Europe. Aryanism was highly convenient for Europeans because it made sense of the Indian and Persian civilizations they were encountering through their colonial enterprises.According to this theory, Europe represented the pinnacle of the racial hierarchy while Indian and Persian civilizations were mere steps on the way to contemporary greatness. Additionally, it distanced Europeans from the Semitic languages of the Jews and Arabs, offering a pseudo-scientific rationale for both racialist anti-Semitism and Orientalism.
Dr. Reza Zia-Ebrahami refers to this sort of Ayranist-based Iranian nationalism as a “dislocative nationalism”, bent on removing Iran from its regional and ethnic neighbors based on its Aryan-ness. He describes the way this sort of nationalism has allowed a very particular reading and construction of Iranian history re: Pre vs Post Islam Iran and “Progression” of Iranian modernity, in his interview with IranWire:
…..the idea of an Aryan race emerged in European scholarship. It is difficult to condense its long history in a few lines but let me simply emphasise that the opposition between the Aryan and the Semitic race came to be maintained as an unquestionable scientific verity. For the 19th century French scholar Ernest Renan, it was the principle defining nothing less than the universe in which we live.
Early nationalist intellectuals in Iran, particularly Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani, adopted this hypothesis for several reasons. First, they held the science of Farangiyan (Europeans) for gospel truth. Secondly, Aryanism could very conveniently explain why Iran lagged behind Europe economically, socially and militarily. Indeed, Islam came to be re-imagined as the product of the Semitic mind, which nationalists believed – with the help of their European sources – was imposed upon Aryan Iranians at the point of the sword. Iran’s regression was thus explained in the very simple and digestible terms of a loss of racial and cultural purity.
so–as you can see, it is conventional truth to refer to Iranians [specifically Persians, Aryanism most often erased Iranian non-Persians, though Aryanism eventually began to define how some view Azeris [[”Turks”]] as being True Aryans that were sullied by Turkification or something like that] as “Aryans” and it is accepted popular knowledge that Iran does indeed mean “Land of the Aryans”. However, “Aryan” and Aryanism have substantial weight in the discourses of Iranian nationalism[s].
That said, I’m not here to debate the validity of anyone’s identity or their nationalisms–that’s not for me to determine. I am just trying to mindful and specific of what narratives I’m going to be putting forth.
Limestone sculpture depicting Ahuramazda in the Winged Disk or the Faravahar, one of the most famous symbols of Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of the Persian Empire. The Achaemenid sculpture dates back to 486-460 BCE. The Sasanian capital Seleucia-Ctesiphon (near modern-day Baghdad) was a major center of Zoroastrian theology prior to the city’s destruction in 637 CE. Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.