A single nation divided by a civilisation

I made an important observation on Twitter after reading about this fantastic article on Ferdowsi’s “Iranianisation” that I thought I would share here:

The article I linked to makes the stunning point that Iran has captured “Turan’s” legacy to the exclusion of any other country in Central Asia. While Afghanistan, which is nominally Dari-speaking, can barely lay claim to Jalaluddin Rumi because Afghan is an ethnonym for the Pashtun speaking population (who historically have been geared towards India rather than Iran).

Iranian (and by extension) Persian national construction in the 19th century is probably one of the most successful enterprises despite the initial difficulties involved. I’ll relay two stories.

I saw some people speaking among themselves and while I knew it was not Persian it sounded something Persian. After a while curiosity got the better of me and I asked them what language they were speaking. They replied Turkish but I said I know what Turkish is and then they ‘fessed up, it was Turkish mixed up with a lot of Kurdish and some Kurdish sentences as well (a proto-creole). This is how Azeri Tehrans speak Azeri where they mix it up with Persian. My point being is that the Kurds have such a distinct “Iranian essence” to them but one can spot them out as related, if not recognisable, kin to the Persian people.

The following day I briefly met this chap who immediately seemed to be Iranian. However there was something just very different about him that didn’t allow me to put him in a box. It turned out he was an Azeri from Tabriz with probably secret Azeri nationalistic tendencies. So there is something ineffably Turkish about this population that sets them apart. However for the life of me I can’t understand why Azerbaijan hasn’t opted to rejoin the Iranian Motherland after Independence when they are simply lightly Turkified Iranians.

30 thoughts on “A single nation divided by a civilisation”

  1. Northern Azeris remained Pan-Iranian in sympathies for a while after being split off, at least up to the early 20th century among some intellectuals. But the Soviet period completely divorced them from the south, and also strongly secularized them. A country of secular nationalists who care a hell of a lot more about their feud with Armenians than their religion isn’t going to want to submit to a multi-ethnic Islamic theocracy.

  2. Azerbaijan was a part of the Soviet Union at a critical juncture in its history. It most likely is a far more secular society than Iran, with greater equality among genders.

    For example, 50% of Azerbaijan’s workforce was female in 2017 compared to 19% in Iran. (https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.TOTL.FE.ZS?locations=AZ-IR)
    Nearly 40% of Iranians get married to cousins, while cousin marriage is prohibited in Azerbaijan. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cousin_marriage#/media/File:Global_prevalence_of_consanguinity.svg)

        1. Iraq doesn’t want to rejoin Iran. This said much of this anti Iranian sentiment is related to the lion of psychosis, bipolar and manic episodes–Ayatollah Sayyed Khamenei, peace be upon him.

          Could Iraq rejoin Iran in the future–after Iran becomes a free democracy that reaches out to her ancient and great Arya heritage?

      1. This is a terrible idea. Even Iran does not want Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan which are more Turkic. In general, Iran has stayed neutral between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and the Azeris in Iran do not have that much in common with Azeris in Azerbaijan. None
        of the areas are particularly interested in Shiism, even Azerbaijan which is mostly Shi’a, and that is central to Iranian experience

        What if we just leave all nations as is and focus on economic and social improvement, instead of trying to adjust borders based on our fantasies?

        1. Vijay, I think they are discussing growing civilizational, cultural, people and economic links rather than a formal EU.

          This said, what is wrong with a common free trade, free investment, free product development area? In time this might evolved into an EU type organization. Or not.

        2. I agree. There isn’t a pressing need to change national borders unless the people concerned really want it.

          1. Unions only work if all the people concerned want to be part of them.

            I would support countries getting together in larger groups but without ceding national sovereignty.

  3. The Mughal empire and New Delhi was part of Persia until 1747, when Mohammed Nadir Qoli Beyg Shah Afshar died. Then Persia split into two. West Persia is still called “Iran”. Western Persia became called “Afghanistan”. Parts of Turin north of Afghanistan, Eastern Iran, Pakistan, Kashmir, Punjab, Delhi, Northern India, rump Mughal empire were part of Afghanistan until the English kicked Afghanistan. Afghanistan successfully defended Northern India from the Marathas in the third battle of Panipat in 1761. A battle in which several hundred thousand people died. A battle in which India, Pakistan and Afghanistan were devastated.

    Iran, Turan, SAARC and South East Asia form Arya Varsha. I think this identity will grow stronger as Iranians reject Islamism and reach back to their Arya roots. When Iran does this, I think Afghanistan and Turan will follow Iran’s lead. Pakistan might not. In which case Arya Varsha will become:
    {Iran, Turan, SAARC and South East Asia minus Pakistan}. Which is also cool.

    Historically Tibet was part of Arya Varsha too. But with demographic changes this is no longer true. This said, Mahayana Buddhism might tie Arya Varsha closer to China and Japan over time.

  4. Zack,

    Thanks for sharing the article on Ferdowsi. It was very interesting.

    I think modern nation states do not necessarily map onto “civilizations” very well. The author of the article made the point that claiming Ferdowsi as an “Iranian” poet is somewhat artificial as is claiming him as an “Afghan” poet since he lived in a time when modern Iran and Afghanistan did not exist. Similarly, Ghalib cannot be said to be a “Pakistani” poet since he lived long before the creation of that country (and not within its geographical boundaries). However, he can’t be called an “Indian” poet either. It would be technically correct to call him a British Indian poet. Allama Iqbal has become Pakistan’s national poet though he also died before the country’s creation. At least, he was born within what is now Pakistani territory.

    I also would not say that India-Pakistan are a single nation divided into two civilizations. I feel we are very much part of the same civilization which evolved over hundreds of years. Pakistanis and North Indians speak the same language, eat the same foods, wear the same clothes etc. But we are definitely two nations in the modern political sense. If anything, we are one civilization divided by religion.

    I would not mix “civilization” and “nation” which are two distinct concepts.

      1. Not always. Nationalism is quite a recent force historically speaking. Several “civilizations” are divided into many nations. European civilization is generally considered to be one entity but it is comprised of many countries.

        I wouldn’t say that Partition had anything to do with “civilizations” but with politics.

        1. . Nationalism is quite a recent force historically speaking. Several “civilizations” are divided into many nations.

          NO IT’S NOT. read azar gat’s *nations*

          (i know you won’t read it, but i’ve read it, anderson, and a bunch more; cuz you know, i’m a technician, not a broadly educated humanist like you!)

          1. The modern nation-state did not exist before the Peace of Westphalia, which is fairly recent in history. I don’t think the point that “civilizations” don’t perfectly map onto nation-states is particularly controversial.

            [you said nationalism dumbshit, not nation-state. use the english language precisely moron. fucking idiot]

          2. I don’t see the need for you to be nasty. I don’t appreciate being cursed at.

            I’m not in competition with you.

          3. “The modern nation-state did not exist before the Peace of Westphalia, which is fairly recent in history.”

            Garbage by post modern historians. Nation states have existed for a very, very long time. We have detailed records of nation states 6 thousand years ago in Sumeria, Egypt and other countries.

          4. Anan,

            The nation-state evolved after the Peace of Westphalia. This is the generally accepted view among historians. You can call it “post-modern” if you like. It does not change the consensus.

            Egypt, Sumer etc were empires or kingdoms, not nation-states in any recognizable modern sense.

  5. “The author of the article made the point that claiming Ferdowsi as an “Iranian” poet is somewhat artificial as is claiming him as an “Afghan” poet since he lived in a time when modern Iran and Afghanistan did not exist. ”

    Ferdowsi can be called a Iranian poet. Its like saying Tagore is not a Indian poet(since India got independence after he died). Everything pre pakistan is Indian, its upto the respective countries to claim them or not claim them. India does not claim Jinnah , even though he was a born in India, Pakistan does not claim Bhagat singh even though he was born in Pakistan. Columbus is claimed by the “white” american but not by the “native” american. To each its own.
    Every community should have the agency to own/disown which part of history they really want to.

    What we view as “history”,really depends on where we stand today.

      1. Ghalib is claimed by Urdu-wallas and hindustani folks. Unless they themselves disown Ghalib he belongs to the urdu diaspora of both India and Pakistan. At least in India, If the Indian urdu folks dont want anything to do with him he will automatically be disowned by India

        Lets say Bengal would have totally gone to Pakistan , who would be able to “claim” Tagore in 47? The mohajir bengali left behind in India, or Pakistani Bengalis?

    1. India did not exist before August 15, 1947. What existed before that is known as BRITISH India. So no “everything pre-Pakistan” is NOT “Indian”.

      The whole point is that modern national borders don’t map perfectly onto the history of hundreds of years ago. Ultimately, nationalism is a cultural construct.

      1. “India did not exist before August 15, 1947.”

        Wow. Where should i start ? Lets just agree to disagree.

        1. If one is being technically correct, India as a modern nation-state has only existed since 1947. Before that was British India. Before that was Hindustan. Obviously the geographical landmass has existed forever.

          Indians get to claim all of the subcontinent’s heritage because you kept the same name post-Partition. Otherwise, your country is just as old as Pakistan.

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