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Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Iranian people are 'wired' differently than their Mullah rulers

Sheda Vasseghi

The following was written as a letter to the editor of

“What made them so special?” I had never been asked such a question about the Achaemenids, the founders of the Persian Empire in sixth century B.C.E.

I was visiting the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco looking at a map of the ancient Near East when a woman approached me and asked whether I knew anything about the map since it seemed as if I did.

I told her that I had a Masters in Ancient History and had devoted much of time in studying ancient Persians and specifically the Achaemenids, the founders of the first world empire. That’s when she asked, “What made them so special?” When I looked at her in surprise not because I couldn’t answer her, but because I had never been asked such a question, she elaborated, “How were they able to create the first world empire and maintain control? There must have been something special about them to achieve that rather impossible task.”

I answered the lady’s simple question in one sentence. She seemed satisfied and we parted ways. But later as I thought more about her unusual question, it dawned on me that it was not such a simple question after all — her question wrapped up many years of my wanting to learn about the Achaemenids and what it meant to be Iranian into ONE sentence. I crammed volumes of read and unread sources into a sentence. Her inquiry filled me with the desire to define Iranianism.

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Iranian nationalism is solely based on their ancient pre-Islamic history. Millions of Iranians pay homage to their historical sites and name their children and businesses after such ancient personalities and places without really knowing much about them. But somehow as if naturally wired people of Iranian stock know that their pre-Islamic past is what defines them as a people with a unique heritage. It is the natural bond that unites all Iranian people — those in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, the Caucasus, the Kurdish areas in Iran/Iraq/Turkey/Syria, etc.

My response to the woman’s simple question is my definition of Iranianism – that is, what made the Achaemenids so special to create and maintain a world empire for more than two centuries were their beliefs in tolerance and inclusion. So ancient Iranian way of life taught tolerance of all religious beliefs and inclusion of all people in the opportunity to live and prosper. That is Iranianism.

With the coming of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Iranians have been taught intolerance for non-Shiite Muslims and discrimination and inequality among people as witnessed with the regime’s abhorrent treatment of women. So the essence of Iranianism has been and is under attack. Well one’s essence can never change.

Given approximately 60 percent of Iranian population is under the age of 30 (essentially the children of the Islamic revolution), the past and current demonstrations by this generation — the generation trained to advance the goals of the Islamic Republic regime — further validates my belief that people of Iranian stock are somehow naturally wired to defend tolerance and inclusion. They will resist and bring down the Islamic Republic because absent of that they will lose their sense of identity.

We Iranians abroad stand with the people of Iran as they struggle to change their course of history during a time of identity crisis.

Sheda Vasseghi
Washington, DC

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