Tara Bahrampour has an article in the latest New Yorker on the Iranian community in Los Angeles that includes the following enlightening quote:

In L.A., especially during the hostage crisis, many Iranians began to refer to themselves as “Persian.” (As one man explained, “You think of Iran, you think of crazy mullahs; you think of Persia, you think of Persian carpets, Persian cats. Which would you rather be associated with?”

Makes sense.


  1. Cryptic Ned says

    Haven’t read the New Yorker article yet, but all the Persian people I know (that would be three people) refer to themselves, their language, and their food as “Persian”, and the country as “Iran”. It always seemed to me just a response to “Iranian” being a clumsy word. Come on, four syllables?

  2. How about Iranian Azeris (or Azeri Iranians)? C.Bloggerfeller says 16 out of the 70 million Iran residents (or so) are Azeri.

  3. I was referring (the link got eaten up) to the Azerbaijan post on CB’s blog that you link in your previous entry — but I found it independently, I solemnly affirm!

  4. C. Bloggerfeller says

    According to Eurasianet:
    “The CIA World Factbook estimates Iranian Azeris as comprising nearly 16 million, or 24 percent of Iran’s population. The United Nations human rights report on Iran notes that “there may be as many as 30 million” ethnic Azeris in Iran.” I’ve come across some sites on the Web that put the figure at over 50%. But they had pictures of grey wolves on them, if you see what I mean.

  5. Cryptic Ned — all the Iranian expatriates I have met referred to their language as Farsi.

  6. BTW — anyone know if “Farsi” is cognate with “Persia”?

  7. Yes, it is. OPers. Pa¯rsa led (via Greek and Latin) to “Persia”; its modern descendent Fa¯rs gives the adjective “Farsi.” (“Parthia” is probably from the same root.) Fars is the name of the southern province whose capital is Shiraz, and “Persian” historically referred to the Iranian speakers of Farsi (in contradistinction to the Azeris, Turks, and many other peoples who make up the country), hence the change to Iran(ian) as a more inclusive term.

  8. C. Bloggerfeller says

    Just to complicate things further, the blurb on the back of my Persian-English dictionary (no, I don’t really speak the language) says: “Modern Persian is spoken by more than 30 million people in Iran and 5 million people in Afghanistan [I suspect those numbers have since increased]. In Iran, the language is referred to as Farsi, in Afghanistan as Dari.” We can also add Tajikistan to those two countries. There’s quite a long article on Dari here. I can’t vouch for its accuracy (I think the site is Tajik in origin and there are some pretty obvious biases). It claims: “There are two theories regarding the origin of the word Dari. One states that the word Dari came from the word Darbar which means court, courts of kings. It argues that this language was the very respected and chosen language for communications at royal courts of kings. Thus it came to be known as the language of courts or Darbari. Later in time the word Darbari was shortened and evolved to Dari which still has the same meaning as Darbari. The second theory relates the origin of word Dari to the word Dara or valley. Many accomplished language researchers, admit that the language Dari or Farsi itself was born in Khorasan, a mountainous land where people live in numerous valleys (Dara). Therefore, the name Dari came to refer to the language spoken by people of the valleys (Dara) or in the valleys.”

  9. >”Persian” historically referred to the Iranian
    >speakers of Farsi (in contradistinction to the
    >Azeris, Turks, and many other peoples who make up
    >the country), hence the change to Iran(ian) as a
    >more inclusive term.
    More inclusive except that the word Iran really means “Land of the Aryans” i.e. forebears of the Persians, Medeans and Kurds but not of the earlier Elamites or later Turkic speakers.

  10. I hardly think that was foremost in anybody’s mind in 1934 when the name was changed, or indeed today. Here’s the discussion from the “Iran Page“:
    Persia or Iran, which one is it anyway?
    Today, Persia/Persian is the same as Iran/Iranian. Historically, Persia is the province of Iran in which the Persian Empire was founded. Persia thus became the common name for Iran in the Medieval Europe, but for Iranians it has always been Iran, the Land of the Nobles (seriously, that’s what it means!). Even in ancient sources from the time of Achaemenid and Sasanians(2500 and 1800 years ago), the country has been called Iran.
    [Az, Artekhshir-i Pabak, Shahnshah-i Iran ud Aniran]
    trans. I, Ardeshir son of Pabak, King of the Kings of Iran and beyond Iran. (Ardeshir’s Palace in Firuz Abad)
    Reza Shah Pahlavi, king of Iran, declared the name Iran as the official name of the country to Europeans in the 1930’s. This action caused a great misunderstanding in the Western world as if the name of the country was changed, when in fact, it was only announced that the country’s real name is Iran, not Persia. To understand the situation better, think of Iran as the Great Britain and Persia as England. Interestingly enough, Tehran, the current capital of Iran, historically is placed in the ancient Media, not Persia.
    I imagine if Iranians think about the origin of “Iran” at all, it’s as “Land of the Noble,” which even a Turkic nomad could feel covered by.

  11. You’re probably right. I was just thinking that “Land of the Aryans” (aryan = noble) didn’t sound all that inclusive.

  12. The name “Alan” (the distant ancestors of Stalin and Jack Kerouac, as established on an earlier thread) is cognate with Aryan/Iran.
    In 1980 my friends said that their language was Farsi, their nation Iran, and their culture Persian. But when accosted on the street they said they were from Shiraz.
    Canfield, “Turko-Persia in a Historical Perspective” is a history of Persian culture, inside and outside Iran. Ca. 1800 A.D. Persian culture and sometimes the Persian language were very influential throughout much of the Ottoman Empire, British India, and Central Asia.

  13. Ca. 1800 A.D. Persian culture and sometimes the Persian language were very influential throughout much of the Ottoman Empire, British India, and Central Asia.
    This is a considerable understatement. For centuries before that Persian was the lingua franca and in large part the official language (as it was for the Ottomans) of that region. For the Near East, Persian was basically Latin and French combined for a thousand years or so.
    Canfield is another book I’ve been dying to read for years.

  14. Azeris are 16 million (25 million, 9 million living in tehran are assimilated). The rest of us living in south azerbaijan proper speak Turkish as our native tongue. we’re only forced to learn persian after the age of 5 in schools. we will destroy this fictional persian dog empire called “Iran” soon with the Turkmens, Baloches and arabs. And Azeris born in Iran don’t affiliate themselves with iran but rather say they are Turkish or Azerbaijani.

  15. i think now after having made so much research,that the arians could be all the istan groups.also the nations which used to wear turbans or have big japanese like coluored eyes…
    they are said to have come from the cuacasus,and their language is dead sanskrid.
    how about this theiroy that there were only two naitons?namely the noble naiton(safkan-arian)and the jews(devided more in america and all over the wolrd)
    becuse of the arian cultures and where it is spread or has spread the other nations could be jelaous and try to assimilite or wipe us out.
    i truly hope to be an arian since our ancestors came from buhara also from somewhere afganistan…
    another thing is the two books mention about the lang(koran and bible)
    bible directly by mentioning about the arians and the koran tells about the homeland.could it be the arinas and afganistan?
    last their language:
    it must be persian and the countries which have wide vocabulary must have also had the same background…
    so i wouldnt say greece or their lnaguage or latin would be the origin but more persian,the language of the sumerers,or the language used in anatolia at that time(persan)would be widely older.greek im sure borrowed from these words and latin has its origins in this language(sanskrit-ancient aryan or persian…
    please make your research on these studies…

  16. The name Persia was put on Iran by Reza shah. Before that they called it “Mamalek Mahruse Iran”
    this is a coin from 1848-1896:
    Also about the name persia, I should say, Iran is a multi-national country as it used to be for thousand years. I think, the word “persian” refers to our persian nation as I intoduce myself as an Iranian Azeri or Azerbaijani, and my mother tongue is Azeri Turkish. We Iranians are again learning to respects each other as we did it many years before when we, iranian nations, lived together in peace and love. for information regarding brief history of iran’s nations and Iranian turks you may refer to this report to the “Center for Strategic International Studies Washington DC” titled :”South Azerbaijan and Iranian Turks”
    Best Regards,

  17. Thanks, Hesam!

  18. please join Reza shah II and leave your message for him

  19. A) “Iran” – “Land of the nobles” – is not only the name of the modern “Islamic Republic”, but also the name of the ENTIRE REGION also known as the “Iranian Plateau”. “Iranians” are actually all former Iranian tribes (Bactrians, Sogdians, etc) who melted together after the GReek conquests, and who were totally united under Sassanid rule. Today, ALL Iranian tribes identify themselvs by their language: “Parsi”. “Parsi” comes from “Persian”, a Greek word. After the Greek conquest, all Iranian tribes adopted this word, because the Greks were caling all Iranians “Persians” (the same way we call everyone from India “Indian”, although the country’s real name is “Baharat”)
    B) The name of the official language of Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan is “Parsi”. “Parsi” has many DIALECTS, such as Tehrani, Kabuli, Khorassani (Herat, Mashhad, etc), Mazari, Isfahani, Tajiki, etc etc etc. However, all of these DIALECTS have one common WRITTEN FORM OF EXPRESSIOn (=THE SAME SCRIPT): “Parsi-e Darbari”, or short: “Dari”. “Dari” is NOT A DIALECT. It is the WRITTEN form of the Persian language. It is the skeletton of the Persian language. Many Afghans call their dialect “Dari”, but this is wrong. Afghanistan has many different Persian dialects. “Dari” is just the written langauge, like in news-papers or books.
    C) “Tajik” is just another word for “Persian”. In the past 1400 years, Persians had to face 2 important foreign invasions: Arabs and Turks. These two peoples (although Turks were divided into many different tribes) influenced Persian culture and identity. Although the Iranian people have always called themselvs and their lands “Iran”, “Irani” or “Aryana”, the foreign invaders never called them that way. The Greeks called them “Persians”, the Arabs called them “Ajam”, and Turks … called them “Tajik”. The word “Tajik” is a Turkish word and refers to ALL PERSIAN-speaking people of Central-Asia. Since the Seljuk-invasion 1000 years ago, the Persians of Central-Asia are being ruled by Turks. In those 1000 years, these Persians have adopted many Turkish expressions. And one of them is “Tajik”. But still, the word “Tajik” was quite unknown until the Soviet rule. In the early 20th century, the Persians of Central-Asia (Samarqand and Bukhara) revolted against Stalin. For this, Stalin punished them by taking away their lands and giving them to Turks who cooperated with the new rulers in Moscow. That’s how the “Uzbek SSR” was created. And at the same time, the Turkish word “Tajik” was forced on them, to alienate them from their people in Iran and Afghanistan, and to push Pan-Turkism on them. Today’s Tajikistan is not even 1/5 of what used to be Persian lands in Central-Asia.
    In Afghanistan, the word “Tajik” was forced on the Persians by the nationalist Pashtun kings who wanted to prevent a Pan-Iranism and Persian nationalism in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has always had good relation with Turkey, most of all because both countries are Non-Arab Sunni nations, while Iran is predominantly Shia. Turkey (after Attatürks revolutions) was training Afghanistan’s army, and Afghanistan’s kings were copying the Turkish militarism and the way to govern their nation. Both Pashtuns and Turks are traditional cultural enemies of Iran and Iranians. And that’s why in both regions, in the Turkish dominated Central-Asia and in Pashtun-dominated Afghanistan, the word “Tajik” was forced on the Persians.
    I am from Afghanistan. I was born in Kabul, and my ancestors are from Herat, Kabul, Balkh and Samarqand. I call myself “Persian” (=”Parsi”), and I call my language “Parsi”. I do not consider myself “Afghan”, because “Afghan” is just another word for “Pashtun”.
    What I am trying to say is that the words “Persian”, “Iran” or “Iranian” cannot be minimized to the present political borders of modern “Iran”. The historical centers of IRAN and IRANIAN CULTURE are outside the borders of modern “Iran”. Our modern, post-Islamic “Persian” was born at the courts of the Samanids in SAMARQAND and BUKHARA. The traditional Persian religion, Zoroastrism, was born in BACTRIA, modern Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The IRANIAN RESISTANCE against the Mongols started in Sabzavar near Herat, today’s Afghanistan (today, the city is called “Shindand”. In 1936, the Pashtun king Zahir Shah changed many Persian names into Pashto names). Some of the greatest Persian thinkers, including Rumi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Nasser Khosrow, Jami, Ansari, Behzad, Abu-Muslim Khorassani, Imam Abu-Hanifa, Rabiya Balkhi, Rudaki, Daqiqi, Anwari, etc etc etc were from cities and centers OUTSIDE the borders of present-day “Iran”.
    Although I was born in what is called “Afghanistan”, I consider myself as much part of the Iranian heritage and culture as someone being from tehran or Isfahan. Tajiks from Afghanistan or Tajikistan are more “Iranian” than Azeris or Turks from Iran.

  20. Thanks for an extremely interesting and helpful comment. (I assume that by “Parsi” you mean “Farsi,” which is the name of the language in modern Persian/Farsi.) But I have to take issue with:
    Many Afghans call their dialect “Dari”, but this is wrong
    The Afghan form of the language is universally called Dari; whether you consider this historically appropriate or not, that is the fact. I have more than once had occasion to explain to people that “Dari” is just a slightly divergent form of Persian, and it would probably be easier on everyone if it were called “Afghan Persian” (and, for that matter, if Tajik were called “Central Asian Persian”), but it’s not, and there’s no point trying to turn back the tide.
    The overall thrust of your comment is, of course, absolutely correct, and I thank you for summarizing the basic facts.

  21. Thatnk you for your comments. Regarding this one:
    ” … The Afghan form of the language is universally called Dari; whether you consider this historically appropriate or not, that is the fact. …”
    This is still a mistake, because there is no “Afghan dialect”. The dialect sopken in and around Kabul is clearly the same dialect that is spoken in Tajikistan and called “Tajiki”. I am from Kabul, and I know that there is no difference between the dialect of Kabul and the one of Dushanbe.
    However, the dialect of Herat is totally different. And it has its unique words and expressions. For someone from Tehran, it is much easier to understand the Kabuli dialect than the Herati dialect … or do you understand the word: “Eshtani?”
    The problem is that nowadays, people define everything by current political borders: “Iranian dialects”, “Afghan dialects”, etc … this is wrong.
    There is no “Iranian dialect” … the dialect that is known as “Iranian” is actually “Tehrani”, and this dialect has influenced most of the other dialects.
    “Afghan dialect” is wrong anyway, because “Afghan” is a synonym for “Pashtun”, and most of the Pashtuns speak “Pashto” and not “Persian”.
    I think that “Khorassani dialect” would be the best name for the eastern dialects of Persian – although this name is already being occupied by the “Darbaari”-language of Mashhad and Herat-City.

  22. Don’t get me wrong — I entirely agree with you. I’m just pointing out that in practice it’s impossible to get people not to think in political terms, so I’m afraid there’s no hope of getting them to stop using “Dari” meaning “the variety of Persian spoken in Afghanistan,” even though (as you point out) there is no such single “variety.” But at least your words are here to educate people when they google it!

  23. Unfortunatly, more than 90% of Afghanistan is illiterate and uneducated. There are only a few educated people, and this minority is devided either by religion or ethnicity.
    That’s also the reason why so many peopel call the language “Dari” and not “Farsi-e Dari”, or simply “Persian” when they speak English:
    a) They are Persian-speaking Pashtuns who do not want to be identified with the word “Persian”
    b) They are Sunni-Muslims who do not want to be identified with the word “Persian”, because usually, “Persian” is considered a synonym for “Shia”
    c) They are infected with “Afghanism”, which – again – is based on illitracy. Many people in Afghanistan identify themselvs with Pashtun culture and traditions. But this is because of 250 years of “Pashtun-salaari” in Afghanistan, and also because there are so many uneducated people there.
    No matter which version you pick: education is the only kkey to the solution. Prejeduce – religious, cultural, etc – is a disease that is based on poor education and illitracy.


    [insulting all-caps comment deleted]

  25. Panjsheri says

    Today if someone asks me where im from I answer with : I am a Persian-speaking from Afghanistan.
    in Farsi I answer. Man Farsi-waneh Afghanistan hastam.

  26. The best way to call ourselves in my opinion:
    Countries: Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan
    Name of the official language in those three countries in English: Persian
    Name of the official language in those three countries in Persian: Pârsi.

  27. I would like to commend “Tajik” for his insightful comments. I have done my own background reading on this subject, in addition to related studies in my university, which is one of the top universities in the US on Iranian studies.
    Here’s my understanding:
    The word Iranian is a reference to the Iranian languages, which include all the following languages: Farsi/Parsi/Dari/Tajik, Alani (Northern Caucusus), Balouchi, Kurdish/Medes, among many others, some extinct (Khawarezmi and other Caucus and Central Asian languages extinct due to Turkic invasions).
    Geographically, the Iranian speaking people occupied the territories of:
    – modern day Azarbaijan and Aran (now called Azerbaijan-the country): Historically was land of Iranian Taleshis, Kurds/Medes, as well as non Iranians such as Armenians, Greeks etc.
    – Moderm day Kurdistan: Still Kurdish speaking, historical Medes.
    – Modern day baluchistan, includes territory in Pakistan
    – Modern day eastern and northern Afghanistan: Khorasani Iranians
    – Modern day Tajikistan, eastern Uzbekistan (Samarkand, Bukhara, Faragana valley): Spoke Farsi/Dari/Tajik as well as Khawarezmi. These areas still speak Persian, but are increasingly being marginalized by Turkic speaking Uzbeks.
    – Parts of Mesopotamia/Iraq: Although mostly Semetic (Assyrian etc): Parts of Iraq mingled with Persians during Parthian and Sassanid era, but these populations have merged with the local Assyrian and eventually, Arab immigrats from Arabian peninsula during Arab invasion of Sassanid empire.
    It is very true that center of Persian culture has actually been the Greater Khorasan area, which included Samarkand, Bukhara, modern day Khorasan in Iran, and eastern Afghanistan. These areas were collectively part of the Khorsana province of the Sassanid empire, and cretaed the greatest Persian minds after the Arab invasion of Iran, such as ferdowsi, Ibn Sina, Khawarezmi, etc.
    One final note is: Azarbaijan is a term that refers to the land, and is derived from the following: Azar (fire in Persian), pad (foot, column, support-pahlavi persian) gan (location-Pahlavi Persian), ie, Azarpadegan. This is in reference to this province of the Sassanid/Parthian empire having historical significance to the Zoroastrian religion (associated with fire). It is therefore erroneous to refer to its inhabitants or their language as Azari/Azeri. The language of modern day inhabitants of Azarbaijan is Turk/Turkish, in addition to the left over original languages from the province, such as Kurdish, Taleshi, Tati, among others. Therefore, using Azeri to refer to the Turkish language of the region is erroneous use of the term. It is also worth noting that the prevalence of Turkish in modern Azarbaijan is actually a result of 3-5 waves of migration of Turkic tribes into the region in the 6-11th centuries, as well as Seljuk policies of forced language conversions for the Taleshis and Tatis, as well as Kurds, to Turkish. Therefore, modern day Turkish speakers in Azarbaijan are actually ethnically Taleshi, tati, or Kurdish, mixed with migrant Turkic tribes, and thus are not pure Turk or pure Iranian, but a mix of both.
    On the other hand, modern day Azerbaijan–the country, should actually not be refered to as Azerbaijan. Historically, the area currently called Azerbaijan–the country–was called Aran. This was the case in all historical maps and documents until the Czarist invasion of the region and the Turkumenchai treaty. Some politically motivated reasons made Russia start refering to the Aran region as Azerbaijan (in the hopes of instigating a seperatist movement in Iranian-controled Azarbaijan during the early 1900s). The name was adopted by the Soviets since and was a decision supported by the Ottoman Empire due to their animosity with Iran at the time. There is still a significant minority of people in modern day Azerbaijan/Aran who are taleshi/Iranian or Kurd, but the government is not willing to admit to their actual numbers. It is a similar situation to the Tajik Iranians living in Samarkand and Bukhara in modern day Uzbekistan.

  28. By the way, Iran refers to the Iranian languages, all of which had common root in the Aryan tribes that landed in what became known as the Iranian plateau. Therefore, “Iran” can now be interpreted in either way: reference to the plateau, which would be inclusive of all the languages and ethnicities living in modern day Iran, or reference to the common Aryan origin of the Iranian languages, which would be thus exclude the very important and large Turkish parts of Azarbaijan, Arab parts of Khuzistan, etc. If it is a reference to the ethnic orgin of the Aryans, then it would be inclusive of the Turkish speakers of Azerbaijan as well, since they are a mix between the original Taleshi/tati/Kurd inhabitants and migrant Turkic tribes. Arab tribes in parts of Khuzistan are actually Semetic in ethnicity and used to speak southern mesopotamian languages before the Arab invasion, and thus were, for the most part, seperate from the ethnic Iranians.
    Finally, Iranians living in the heartland of modern day Iran are also a mix: Iranian mostly, but also some Arab and Turkic mixed in there as well due to frequent invasions.

    Over then 35,000,000 of Iran peoples are Turk!
    Qashqai, Turkmen, Xalaj, Afshar, Xorasan Turks, Azerbaijan turks, …

  30. Zafar Khoja Langary says

    Hi, i am Tajik/Persian from Tajikistan. I advise all of you to read a book named “Tajiks” (original “Tajikan”) by Babajan Gaffurov. He has written the history of Tajiks/Iranians that populate Middle Asia.The book is being used in Tajikistan as a considerable source of history in all the universities of Tajikistan.

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