Kaveh Farrokh Interviews: Persian Heritage Magazine and Voice of America

Kaveh Farrokh has been interviewed by the Persian Heritage Magazine (published March 31, 2014) and Voice of America (published April 1, 2014) regarding the 300 sequel and Noah (starring Russell Crowe).

Persian HeritagePersian Heritage Magazine (Volume 19, Number 73, Spring 2014, pp.32-34) – download edition in pdf. Note that the text/interview is in Persian. The above picture of Farrokh is from the WAALM event in London where he received the “Best History Book of 2008″ award for “Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War (see also BBC-Persian report). The book has been translated into Persian by two separate publishing houses in Iran (Qoqonoos publishing-see Mehr News & Press TV report and Taghe Bostan Publishers of Kermanshah Azad University) and Russian (consult Russian EXMO Publishers website). Farrokh’s  book was also nominated as one of three finalists for the Benjamin Franklin Award in 2008. The book has also been reviewed in peer-reviewed academic journals such as the Iranshenasi Journal (2010) and the Quarderni Asiatici Journal of Italy (2011). In addition to teaching history at the University of British Columbia, Farrokh also serves as استاد سنتها و تاریخ فرهنگی ازدانشکده دیپلماسی فرهنگی وآلم ـ انگلستان-Chair of the Cultural Diplomacy’s Department of Traditions & Cultural History of the WAALM Academy in London, England (see also Academia.edu).

Kaveh Farrokh was also interviewed with other participants in the Voice of American Persian program entitled [صدای امریکا -برنامه افق-با میزبانی سیامک دهقانپور-تاریخ و سینما: از ۳۰۰ تا نوح] “Voice of America – The Horizon – Hosted by Siamak Dehghanpur – Date Cinema: From 300 to Noah“:

صدای امریکا -برنامه افق-با میزبانی سیامک دهقانپور-تاریخ و سینما: از ۳۰۰ تا نوح-Voice of America – The Horizon – Hosted by Siamak Dehghanpur – Date Cinema: From 300 to Noah. Note that Farrokh had already published an extensive retort against the first “300” movie (2007) entitled: The 300 Movie: separating fact from Fiction.

The program produced a lively discussion, but unfortunately the shortage of time prevented the full exploration of a number of points, namely whether (1) the movie is political in nature and (2) Zoroastrianism and the Achaemenids. Five more topics also need to be discussed in two more follow-up postings, but for now, topics (1) and (2) are discussed below:

(1) The proposal that the new “300” movie does not serve any particular political and especially anti-Iranian agenda

It was suggested (not by Kaveh Farrokh) that the movie is entertainment cinematography and not intended to be an anti-Iranian picture. This notion is challenged by a number of prominent Western professors and journalists. Professor John Trikeriotis (himself of Greek ancestry) has begun a petition entitled: Adding a disclaimer or explanatory message to “300: Rise of an Empire”. Readers are strongly encouraged to sign the petition and support Professor Trikeriortis’ initiative.

John TrikeriotisProfessor John Trikeriotis strongly opposes the false historical messages in the movie “300 Rise of an Empire”. He has initiated a petition against the movie (click here…)

Akbar Montaser, one of the regular readers of Kavehfarrokh.com noted the following on April 7, 2013: “I still believe there is a tendency to demean Iran. This is done “cleverly”, not intelligently. If one does not see the Truth, the same disasters will be repeated based on history“.  It is in this light that readers are introduced to the excellent article by Jehanzeb Dar in Racialicious: intersection of racism and Pop Culture:”Frank Miller’s “300′′ and the persistence of accepted Racism“. Below are some quotes from Jehanzeb Dar’s article:

I was absolutely outraged by the racist content of the film and more so at the insensitivity of movie-goers who simply argued “it’s just a movie.” Later on, I would hear these same individuals say, “The movie makes you want to slice up some Persians”…“300”…represents the ever-growing trend of accepted racism towards Middle-Easterners in mainstream media and society, but also the reinforcement of Samuel P. Huntington’s overly clichéd, yet persisting, theory of “The Clash of Civilizations” which proposes that cultural and religious differences are the primary sources for war and conflict rather than political, ideological, and/or economic differences. …“300” grossed nearly $500 million worldwide in the box office…suggest that movie-goers share the film’s racist and jingoistic views…”

The late Samuel Huntington’s Eurocentric (if not racist) formula is unhelpful as it diverts the discussion away from the real causes of contemporary military conflicts, which are for the main part based on economics and geopolitical factors.

Samuel P. Huntington - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2008The late Professor Samuel Huntington (1927-2008) who proposed the idea that wars are the result of the “Clash of Civilizations”. Huntington’s thesis has helped re-invigorate Eurocentric views of “race” and how these “explain” the so-called “East vs. West” paradigm. The “300” movies represent the revival of Eurocentricism in entertainment, the media in general and increasingly in academia, even within Iranian Studies: see for example a conference in Washington DC (March 9, 2013) and the petition of Professor Yarshater against the appointment of unqualified persons in Iranian Studies programs (December, 3, 2013).

Revisiting the notion of “300” being “harmless entertainment”, let us return to Jehanzeb Dar’s article cited earlier. The movie clearly attempts a Eurocentric-style “East = backwardness and oppression” versus “West=Freedom and Democracy“. This is again overly simplistic, as Demos (People) Kratus (rule) or Democracy in Athens did not apply to the entirety of society, especially to women. This is exemplified by Greek philosophers such as Socrates (d. 399 BCE) who stated in his Book 8 that “…one sign of democracy’s moral failure is the sexual equality it promotes” (563b; consult Nickolas Pappas, 2003, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Plato and the Republic, New York: Routledge). The topic of women’s rights in ancient Achaemenid Persia, and the views of women by contemporary Greek philosophers shall be addressed in ensuing postings.

cyrus-cylinder-NewThe Cyrus Cylinder (Picture Source:  Angelina Perri Birney – see her article here…). Just as Greece was evolving with the concept of Democracy, so too had the Achaemenids  proclaimed the freedom of peoples to practice their cultures and religions, as exemplified by the cylinder proclamation of Cyrus the Great (559-530 BCE). The history of Cyrus’ proclamation has been challenged by what some would regard as Eurocentric views (see Human Rights Petition…

There is in fact strong coordination between Hollywood Heads and Studios and US foreign affairs departments. Consult reports below by highly reputable media outlets:

The Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (established in the 1940s) was tasked to promote inter-American cooperation during the 1940s in the distribution of news, films and advertising, to counter the propaganda of World War Two fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

The Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs was later renamed as the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) with slightly changed powers as per Executive order 9532 on March 23, 1945.

Readers are also invited to consult the article Re-Birth of a Nation“, penned by Osagie K. Obasogie and posted in Genetics and Society on September 19th, 2007 with respect to the first 300 movie. Below are some excerpts of the Obasogie article:

“…300 is arguably the most racially charged movie since D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. In true post-9/11 form, Zack Snyder’s film turns Brown into the new Black; Persians are depicted as bloodthirsty savages thwarted … by a small contingent of freedom fighters – with noticeably paler skin – looking to preserve democracy at all costs. This eerily resembles Birth of a Nation, the 1915 epic celebrating the Ku Klux Klan’s rise … to defend Southern whites’ dignity and honor against what were then seen as recently liberated Black insurgents. Like Griffith’s film, this mixture of race, racism, sex… racialized depiction of freedom, nation, and democracy becomes central to 300’s … message. But closer inspection reveals a subtler, yet similarly troubling idea that has gone largely unnoticed: 300’s unapologetic glorification of eugenics.”

Whether one chooses to agree or not with Osagie K. Obasogie or Jehanzeb Dar, serious questions may be raised as to the picture’s true intentions. By the same token, profound political and ideological divisiveness has prevented the Iranian community (diaspora and inside Iran) from coalescing towards a concerted approach. There is for example no real “Iranian anti-defamation League” to protest against Hollywood producers and international cultural venues in general for presenting Iranians as propaganda targets.

The WAALM School of Cultural Diplomacy however, has worked towards the establishment of cultural dialogue at the international level with success, and has in fact been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 (see also original report: Nobel Peace Prize 2011: World Academy of Arts, Literature and Media (WAALM) Nominated | Persianesque: Iranian Magazine). For more on WAALM’s initiative in international diplomacy click on the image below:

ACUNS-WAALM-Nobel

(2) The Achaemenids and Zoroastrianism

Towards the end of the program one of the participants asserted that there is “no absolute proof that Achaemenids were  Zoroastrian“. Farrokh only had a few minutes to respond adequacy and in full, which is why this complex topic, which is why it needs to be re-addressed. In principle, yes, the Achaemenids were not Zoroastrian in the sense of an institutionalized religious system during the Sassanian era (like Papacy of Rome), however the notion that they (Achaemenids) were “not Zoroastrian” is highly misleading.

First, the doctrine of Zoroastrianism versus the religious institution of Zoroastrianism cannot be so simplistically equated. The Achaemenids did know of Zoroaster’s teachings, however these were yet be  institutionalized into a complex state religious system, as occurred (in its finalized form) during the Sassanian era (224-651 CE).

There is clear proof that Zoroaster and his teachings were known in the ancient world. Xanthus of Lydia for example, who was a contemporary of Herodotus (5th century BCE), is the first westerner to mention Zoroaster by name (Yamauchi, 1990, p.400). Herodotus (like Plutarch later in the 2nd century CE) does not mention Zoroaster by name, but his descriptions of the tribe of the Magi priesthood and Persian customs clearly point to Zoroastrian beliefs (in Chapter XIII of Herodotus’ The Histories, Penguin Classics, London: England, 1972). Similar classical descriptions are found in Strabo (63 BCE-19 CE) where references are made to the Magus, worship practices and the god Mithras (passage 15.3.13-14 of Strabo, Geography, translated by H. L. Jones (ed.), Perseus project, Tufts University, 2000). For more on this subject, a list of readings are provided at the conclusion of this section.

The School of Athens by Raphael 1509- Zoroaster left, with star-studded globeA detail of the painting “School of Athens” by Raphael 1509 CE (Source: Zoroastrian Astrology Blogspot). Raphael has provided his artistic impression of Zoroaster (with beard-holding a celestial sphere) conversing with Ptolemy (c. 90-168 CE) (with his back to viewer) and holding a sphere of the earth. Note that contrary to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” paradigm, the “East” represented by Zoroaster, is in dialogue with the “West”, represented by Ptolemy.  Prior to the rise of Eurocentricism in the 19th century (especially after the 1850s), ancient Persia was viewed positively by the Europeans.

If Greco-Roman sources are so clear about Zoroaster’s doctrines, then how can the Achaemenids not have known of Zoroaster, or respected his teachings?

Much like later Christianity, when the early doctrines of Christ predated the religious institution of Christinaity, so too did the doctrines of Zoroaster precede the religious institution of Sassanian Zoroastrianism.  A (broadly-speaking) similar process occurred with respect to Christ’s early teachings when Emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306-337 CE) declared Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The question is how were Zoroastrian doctrines practiced during the Achaemenid era as ancient Iranian theology was invariably complex (as attested to in Zoroastrian documents). Zoroaster was, in a sense, a reformer of the more ancient Iranian cults, perhaps he was at first one of the followers of the cult of Mithras, but direct evidence is certainly lacking for this suggestion. What is clear is that there is solid proof of Achaemenid respect for Zoroaster’s teachings, as seen with the Zoroastrian Fravahar symbol depicted at Persepolis:

Fravahar-PersepolisDepiction of the Zoroastrian Fravahar at Persepolis (Photo source: Mani Moradi, 2012). This indicates that the doctrines of Zoroaster were known by the Achaemenids, and they clearly respected these, as indicated by the depiction of this symbol at their regal locale of imperial power.

To further consult this topic, readers are referred to:

  • Nigosian, S.A. (1993). The Zoroastrian Faith: Tradition and Modern Research. Montreal & Kingston: Mcgill-Queen’s University Press.
  • Yamauchi, E.M. (1990). Persia and the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House; see especially chapters 12 (Zoroastrianism), 13 (The Magi) and 14 (Mithraism).
  • Boyce, M. (2001; first published in 1979). Zoroastrians: Their Religious beliefs and Practices. London: Routledge Taylor & Frances Group.
  • Kriwaczek, P. (2003). In Search of Zarathustra: The First prophet and the Ideas that Changed the World. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Future postings will further discuss topics related to the “300” sequel movie discussed in the Voice of America interview:

  • The real reason for war: commerce and economics
  • Military falsifications of the 300 movie
  • The historical Themistocles
  • Women of ancient Iran
  • “Nordification” of ancient Greeks

Tribute to Babylonian God Marduk discovered at Persepolis

The Voice of America Persian Service has reported that a joint Iranian-Italian archaeological team has discovered at Persepolis a sample of brickwork depicting the Babylonian God Marduk (see report in Persian here…– complete Persian text available below this posting). Ali-Reza Asghari Chavoshi, a professor at the University of Shiraz and head of the Iranian wing of the archaeological exploration team (علیرضا عسگری چاووشی، استاد دانشگاه شیراز و رئیس ایرانی هیئت کاوش) noted the following points to the Cultural Heritage (میراث فرهنگی) organization:

1) -نماد ایزد مردوک و دیگر نقش های این بنا بعد از کورش دیگر در هنر هخامنشی دیده نشده است- the portrayal of the god Marduk and other forms at this post-Cyrus site has not been seen in Achaemenid arts.

Marduk Patron God of Babylon[Click to Enlarge] A Snake-Dragon image-symbol of Marduk, the Patron God of Babylon (Panel of glazed earthenware bricks, Ishtar Gate, c. 604-562 BCE; Picture source: Detroit Institute of Arts). Instead of plunder and destruction, like the former kings of the preceding Assyrian Empire, Cyrus paid homage to the local Babylonian god Marduk and ensured that no looting, plunder or destruction took place in that ancient city. 

2) در زمانی که کورش در سال۵۳۹ پیش از میلاد بابل را فتح کرد، کاهنان بابلی ایزد مردوک را به عنوان بزرگ -ایزد آسمان ها و زمین می پرستیدند و در آن زمان به دلیل ثروت و قدرت بابل، این ایزد قدرتمند ترین ایزدان بین النهرین بود. باستان شناسان احتمال می دهند که پس از فتح بابل، کورش، در ادامه سیاست رواداری فرهنگی و مذهبی خود، به کاهنان بابلی اجازه داد که نیایش گاه خود را در تخت جمشید، که مرکز سیاسی هخامنشیان بود، بناکنند و عده ای از هنرمندان و معماران بابلی را برای بنای معبد پرستش مردوک به تخت جمشید آورد-Summary statement: When Cyrus the Great (r. 559-530 BCE) conquered Babylon in 539 BCE … historians surmise that in the continuation of his policy of religious and cultural tolerance, Cyrus allowed Babylonian artisans/craftsmen to build a worship center for their God Marduk at Persepolis.

Wailing-WallThe West Wall in Jerusalem. After his conquest of Babylon, Cyrus allowed the Jewish captives to return to Israel and rebuild the Hebrew temple. It is believed that approximately 40,000 did permanently return to Israel. For more see here…

This astonishing find is yet another indication of the policy of religious and cultural tolerance practiced by the Achaemenid Empire till its final days before the invasions of Alexander (356-323 BCE).

tomb-of-cyrus-the-great-at-pasargardaeThe Tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae  where Alexander paid his respects. The tomb is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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پیش برای شناسایی شهر پارسه، در پاسارگاد به حفاری های باستان شناسی در اطراف تخت جمشید دست زده بودند موفق به کشف بنایی منحصر به فرد از دوران کورش هخامنشی شدند. به گزارش خبرگزاری میراث فرهنگی این هیئت در جریان کاوش های خود در سه سال پیش به تلی آجری برخوردند و حفاری در آن را آغاز کردند.

تل آجری در واقع بنای باستانی بزرگی ست بازمانده از دوران هخامنشیان که در سومین دوره کاوش های باستان شناسی این هیئت در نزدیکی تخت جمشید کشف شده است. علیرضا عسگری چاووشی، استاد دانشگاه شیراز و رئیس ایرانی هیئت کاوش در تل آجری به خبرگزاری میراث فرهنگی گفته است این بنا از خشت و آجر است که خشت ها در داخل دیوارها و آجرهای لعاب دار در نمای خارجی دیوار ها به کار رفته اند و آجرها با لعاب ها و نقش های حیوانات افسانه ای تزئین شده اند. به گفته آقای عسگری «این بنای شگفت انگیز حداقل ۳۳ در ۳۳ متر است و در ساخت آن هزاران آجر لعاب دار به کار رفته است». او ضخامت دیوارهای این بنا را ۱۰ متر اعلام کرده و گفته است:« کشف چنین بنایی با این عظمت، حجم و تعداد آجرهای لعاب دار در منطقه فارس بی نظیر است». به گفته او در این بنا کتیبه ای به خط میخی اکدی بابلی نیز به دست آمده است.

به گفته آقای عسگری آجرهای لعاب دار این بنا دارای نقش هایی از اسطوره های ایران باستان و بین النهرین باستان است به طوری که حتی قالب هایی که برای تزئین نقش ها بر آجرها به کار رفته اند با قالب و نقش هایی که برآجرهای لعابدار دروازه معبد ایشتار در بابل به کار رفته یک سان است. شواهدی ازوجود نقش موشخوشو، نماد ایزد مردوک، گل های لوتوس شانزده پر، و روش ها و فنون تزئین آجرها، رنگ ها و نقش ها و استفاده از قیر برای محافظت آجرها، همه حکایت از آن دارند که این بنا در دوره کورش هخامنشی ساخته شده است. نماد ایزد مردوک و دیگر نقش های این بنا بعد از کورش دیگر در هنر هخامنشی دیده نشده است.

رئیس گروه ایرانی هیئت باستان شناسان می گوید در زمانی که کورش در سال۵۳۹ پیش از میلاد بابل را فتح کرد، کاهنان بابلی ایزد مردوک را به عنوان بزرگ -ایزد آسمان ها و زمین می پرستیدند و در آن زمان به دلیل ثروت و قدرت بابل، این ایزد قدرتمند ترین ایزدان بین النهرین بود. باستان شناسان احتمال می دهند که پس از فتح بابل، کورش، در ادامه سیاست رواداری فرهنگی و مذهبی خود، به کاهنان بابلی اجازه داد که نیایش گاه خود را در تخت جمشید، که مرکز سیاسی هخامنشیان بود، بناکنند و عده ای از هنرمندان و معماران بابلی را برای بنای معبد پرستش مردوک به تخت جمشید آورد.

به نظر باستان شناسان این بنای مذهبی پس از کورش در دوران داریوش اول نیز تحمل می شده اما در دوران خشایارشا و با تمرکز شاهان هخامنشی بر پرستش ایزد اهورمزدا رفته رفته رو به تعطیل گذاشته و پس از هخامنشیان تخریب و غارت شده است. هرچند که هنوز به سبب وجود نکته های مبهم و ناشناخته فراوان ابراز هر گونه نظرگاه قاطع درباره سرگذشت این بنارا زود می دانند.

 

به گفته کارشناسان چاله هایی که در میان دیوار ها و در داخل عمارت وجود دارد حکایت از حفاری های پی درپی به منظور سرقت آجرها دارد. تا جایی که بخش عمده ای از آجرها مفقود و غارت شده اند.

 

به نوشته میراث فرهنگی، سرپرستی تیم باستان شناسان ایتالیایی برعهده پیر فرانچسکو کالیری از دانشگاه بولونیاست. این کاوش ها بخشی از پژوهش های باستان شناسی شهر پارسه است که با همکاری مشترک پژوهشگاه باستان شناسی، پژوهشکده باستان شناسی سازمان میراث فرهنگی، بنیاد پژوهشی پارسه پاسارگاد، سازمان میراث فرهنگی فارس و دانشگاه بولونیای ایتالیا انجام می شود.

The Princetonian: Petition challenges Pourdavoud Chair candidate

The article below (The Daily Princetonian: “Petition challenges Pourdavoud Chair candidate”, Chitra Marti, January 7, 2014) was sent forward to Kavehfarrokh.com by Professor Dariush Borbor (Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge and Director of the Research Institute and Library of Iranian Studies (RILIS) at Tehran). This pertains to the petition initiated by Professor Ehsan Yarshater which challenges Princeton University’s selection of “Pourdavoud Chair in pre-modern Persia”.

Inexplicably, the petition initiated by Professor Yarshater has been disabled; for further details see article below. Note especially the interview with Professor Borbor in the below article.

Dr. Mohammad Ala (Recipient of Grand Prix Film Italia Award in June 2013) made the following revelation on December 14, 2013

Friends:

 A little research shows that the person behind this agenda is Professor Dimitri Gutas of Yale, who invented the term Greco-Arabian for scholars such as Farabi, Khwarazmi, Ebne Sina etc. to deny their Persianness. Van Bladel happens to have studied with him. The agenda behind this nomination is not known.- – petrodollars, lobby group(s), or self-promotion, but we must prevent not only this nomination, but the very idea of ‘Greco-Arabian’ which is not related to us (Iranians).

Kindly note that the pictures and captions below did not appear in the original Princetonian report.

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A petition organized by Columbia professor Ehsan Yarshater surfaced challenging the University’s current candidate for the position of the Ibrahim Pourdavoud Professorship in Persian Studies.

The petition, which has been taken down, argued that having the name of Pourdavoud, a pioneer in the field of pre-Islamic Iranian studies, meant that the professor who occupies the Pourdavoud Chair should continue his work in the field of pre-Islamic studies. But the current candidate suggested by the search committee, according to the petition, was a Greco-Arabic scholar who has not specialized in pre-Islamic culture and who would thus not exemplify the memory of Pourdavoud.

The petition was taken down the week of Dec. 22 for unknown reasons. Yarshater did not respond to a further request for comment as to why the petition had been taken down.

Professor Ehsan YarshaterProfessor Ehsan Yarshater (Picture Source: NPR.org)

The petition, which was addressed to University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, copied Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani ’80 and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani ’74, whose $10 million donation to the University in 2012 will help establish a Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies. The Mossavar-Rahmanis did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

However, the Pourdavoud Chair was not established by the Mossavar-Rahmani family. It was separately established by Dr. Anahita Naficy Lovelace ’75 and her husband Jim Lovelace. Dr. Lovelace said they were aware of the petition and declined to comment until after an appointment has been made.

According to Yarshater, the candidate being considered was Kevin van Bladel, a current history professor at Ohio State University. Van Bladel declined to comment for this article and said he had not received any formal offer from Princeton University.

“To allow a chair named after Pourdavoud, who spent all his life teaching and writing about Zoroastrianism and the pre-Islamic culture of Iran,” the petition read, “to be held by someone whose formal academic training has been in Arabic, Syriac, and Greek, and who by and large is unknown in the field, is considered a slap in the face of Iranian Studies, the community at large, and the memory of Pourdavoud.”

Van Bladel has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Yale University and was previously an assistant professor of classics at the University of Southern California. He specializes in the cultural and intellectual history of the Near East in the first millennium CE, focusing on the translation of works between Arabic, Greek, Syriac, Latin, Sanskrit and various Iranian languages such as Middle Persian and Arabic. His teaching also focuses on the ancient Mediterranean and Near East.

“In the perspective of my research, the advent of Islam is not the beginning or end of a period; it can be understood only by reference to what came before as much as to what came after,” van Bladel’s OSU biography states.

van BladelAssociate Professor & Chair Kevin van Bladel of Ohio State University (Picture source: OSU).

Ibrahim Pourdavoud, for whom the chair is named, was a Persian scholar who studied pre-Islamic Iranian history, focusing particularly on Zoroastrianism and Zoroastrian culture. He is perhaps most well known for translating the Avesta, the primary collection of Zoroastrian sacred texts, into Persian and providing explanatory commentary.

Dr. Lovelace said in an email that by naming the chair after Pourdavoud, they intended to “honor him and his life’s work on the occasion of his 125th birthday in 2011, which happened to coincide with [her] mother’s 90th birthday.”

In an interview with The Daily Princetonian, Yarshater acknowledged that although van Bladel has many strengths, they do not lie in the same field Pourdavoud spearheaded.

“The one scholar that Princeton University was thinking to appoint — although they haven’t appointed yet — was not an expert on any of those things that are Persian history, Persian culture or Iranian language. Even though under other standards he is a very good scholar, he would be more appropriate for chairs in Arabic or Greek,” Yarshater said.

Changing the Selection Process

Yarshater also suggested that the selection process be altered so as to better represent the intentions of a chair named for Pourdavoud.

“In order to do justice to the chair, to the donors and to the name of Pourdavoud, the selection committee should include several people of expertise in Iranian studies,” Yarshater said. “Ideally they would advertise the chair, a number of people would apply, and they will then decide who is the best choice for the chair … The committee would compose of people specialized in Iranian studies, not people in Arabic or Greek or Syriac.”

Dean of Faculty David Dobkin, who was also copied on the petition, said in an email that the selection committee for a chair position is typically made of faculty from the relevant department, or of faculty whose departments overlap with the area of the chair. Often, other faculty with broader interests are also included. Then, the search committee will begin placing ads and sending out requests for nominations to leading scholars in the field.

LIVE.NB_DobkinProfessor David Dobkin of Princeton University (Picture Source: Princeton Alumni Weekly)

Once the search committee has found a potential candidate, Dobkin said, he or she is proposed to the Advisory Committee on Appointments and Advancements, which solicits input from leading scholars in the field as to the candidate’s suitability for the position.

According to Dobkin, the donor and the University will come to a consensus on a description for a position, and the search committee will begin the selection process from there. Donors are not involved in the identification nor selection of candidates to occupy the chair.

Dobkin declined to comment on the search committee organized for the Pourdavoud Chair, citing the need to uphold the integrity and confidentiality of the selection process.

Greco-Arabic vs. Pre-Islamic

Dariush Borbor, Director of the Research Institute and Library of Iranian Studies in Tehran, signed the petition, citing his personal and academic belief that the current candidate does not meet the ideals of a Pourdavoud Chair.

“My personal feeling, as many other scholars, most of us agree with what Professor Yarshater has written in his letter that this endowment for the professorship at Princeton was made by two Iranians and they wanted to concentrate on Iranian studies,” Borbor said. “The chair which is named after [Pourdavoud] should be occupied by a person who specialized either in the languages of ancient Iran or the religion or generally the culture of ancient Iran.”

YSU-16-Asatrian-Farrokh-Borbor-3Professor Garnik S. Asatrian (Chair, Iranian Studies Dept., Yerevan State University; Editor, “Iran and the Caucasus”, BRILL, Leiden-Boston), Kaveh Farrokh and Professor Dariush Borbor (Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge and Director of the Research Institute and Library of Iranian Studies (RILIS) at Tehran) at Yerevan State University conference “Shirvan, Arran, and Azerbaijan: A Historical-Cultural Retrospective” (November, 2013). Professor Borbor has often lectured and written about the misconceptions against Iranian Studies perpetuated by Greek scholarship.

Like Yarshater, Borbor acknowledged that van Bladel has many strengths in other fields, but that he may not be suited for this position.

“He may be a very good scholar as well, of his own right, but if he is a scholar specialized on Arabic, Syriac and Greek, I don’t think it’s a very suitable choice … Especially the Greek side, because with most of the scholars who were specialized in Greek studies and on the history or culture of Greece, their interpretation of Iranian studies was often very one-sided and sometimes quite wrong,” Borbor said. “I have, myself, written and lectured in many universities about the misconceptions that Greek scholarship has given to Iranian studies.”

Hosi Mehta, president of the Zoroastrian Association of Chicago, signed the petition as well, also citing a concern for the potential misrepresentation of Iranian history.

“Persian history is really rich, and I was surprised that they could not find somebody who would be into that than finding someone who has the Arabic background,” Mehta said. “I read his qualifications, that he was an Arabic scholar, and the concern was that sometimes things get misrepresented … the winner usually writes the history, so it could be changed in different ways. There are people who say the Holocaust never happened.”

Ehsan Yarshater Petition: Objection to Princeton’s selection of “Pourdavoud Chair in pre-modern Persia”

Professor Ehsan Yarshater has initiated a petition in objection to Princeton University’s selection of “Pourdavoud Chair in pre-modern Persia”. The news items below was posted by Payvand News.  Kindly note that excepting the first photo, the other three pictures and captions did not appear in the original Payvand News report.

Dr. Mohamad Ala (Recipient of Grand Prix Film Italia Award) has made the following revelation on December 14, 2013:

Friends:

A little research shows that the person behind this agenda is Professor Dimitri Gutas of Yale, who invented the term Greco-Arabian for scholars such as Farabi, Khwarazmi, Ebne Sina etc. to deny their Persianness. Van Bladel happens to have studied with him.

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To be delivered to Christopher L. Eisgruber, President, Princeton University, David P. Dobkin, Dean of the Faculty, Princeton University, Mrs. Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani, and Marc Beissinger, Professor of Politics; Chair of the Search Committee for the Pourdavoud Chair in Pre-Modern Persia, Princeton University

Bijan-and-Sharmin-Mossavar-RahmaniPrinceton alumni Bijan and Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani created a center for Iran and Persian Gulf studies with a $10 million gift to the University (Photo by Steve Freeman – posted in Payvand News).

Objection by the International community of Iranian Studies to the selection of a scholar of Greco-Arabic, to the Pourdavoud Chair in pre-modern Persia at Princeton University.

PETITION BACKGROUND

President Christopher L. Eisgruber

Office of the President

1 Nassau Hall Princeton University

Princeton, NJ 08544

December 3, 2013

Dear President Eisgruber,

The community of scholars in Iranian Studies was delighted when Mr. and Mrs. Mossavar-Rahmani endowed a chair for Iranian Studies at Princeton University. Their delight was increased by the chair being named after Ebrahim Pourdavoud, a great Iranian scholar who pioneered Zoroastrian Studies in that country and translated the entire Avesta, the holy book of the Zoroastrians, into Persian, while providing ample commentaries for it. He was an outstanding patriot dedicated to reviving the ancient heritage of Iran.

The hope of scholars of Iranian Studies had been that the chair’s naming would be indicative of its focusing on the pre-Islamic culture and history of Iran, when Iranians gave rise to the Zoroastrian religion, and three major dynasties, namely, the Achaemenian, the Parthian, and the Sasanian, emerged. The study of this period has been recently weakened by the demise of several scholars who were regretfully not replaced in the same field. It was thus greatly hoped that the chair named after Pourdavoud, who personified the Iranian pre-Islamic history and culture more than anyone else, would help restore the balance, and the Pourdavoud Chair would be held by a scholar specializing in ancient Iran.

The scholar who has been suggested by the Selection Committee, good scholar as he may be, has been trained in Greco-Arabic and the great majority of his publications concern these two fields rather than Iranian languages and culture. To allow a chair named after Pourdavoud, who spent all his life teaching and writing about Zoroastrianism and the pre-Islamic culture of Iran, to be held by someone whose formal academic training has been in Arabic, Syriac, and Greek, and who by and large is unknown in the field, is considered a slap in the face of Iranian Studies, the community at large, and the memory of Pourdavoud.

We hope that a careful consideration of the purpose of the Chair and its name would persuade the Selection Committee to make a choice that would not contradict the aims of the endowed position, weaken the field of Iranian Studies, and discredit the legacy of Ebrahim Pourdavoud.

I have spoken to several colleagues in the field of Iranian Studies and I may report that they all agree with me. Some of them will be writing to you, others will be endorsing this letter.

With kind regards,

Ehsan Yarshater

Director, Center for Iranian Studies, Columbia University;

Hagop Kevorkian Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies;

Editor, Encyclopaedia Iranica;

Editor, A History of Persian Literature

Center for Iranian Studies

Columbia University in the City of New York

450 Riverside Drive, No. 4

New York, N.Y. 10027-6821

Tel: (212) 851-9161

Fax: (212) 749-9524

E-mail: ey4@columbia.edu

Cc: Mr. and Mrs. Mossavar-Rahmani;

Professor David P. Dobkin, Dean of the Faculty.

SIGN PETITION HERE (over 1500 have signed the petition and the list is growing)

Mike Boehm’s article in Los Angeles Times regarding the Cyrus Cylinder

The article below is by Mike Boehm and appeared in the Los Angeles Times entitled “Huge significance rolled into tiny Cyrus Cylinder at the Getty Villa” (November 13, 2013). As noted by the Los Angeles Times:

The cylinder records how Persia’s Cyrus the Great restored justice, peace and piety to Babylon. It’s fabled not for its looks but its historical, political and religious implications.

Kindly note that the pictures and captions posted below did not appear in the original Los Angeles Times article.

For more on this topic consult:

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The Cyrus Cylinder sits dramatically lighted behind glass at the center of a dimmed gallery at the Getty Villa. But the splendorous setting, including walls painted a deep royal blue, can’t dispel the notion that this may be the homeliest object ever to get star treatment in a major art museum. It’s a 9-inch, straw-colored barrel made of cracked and broken clay, devoid of decorative interest. Horizontally tattooed with row after row of tiny cuneiform script that was etched into it 2,552 years ago, it calls to mind a corn cob that’s been gnawed bare. The conquering Persians who drafted and inscribed the cylinder’s text after they’d taken the fabled city of Babylon in 539 BC did not intend it as any kind of showpiece.

cyrus-cylinder-New[Click to Enlarge] The Cyrus Cylinder (The British Museum)

They buried the cylinder inside rebuilt city walls — a customary practice at the time, serving a talismanic function and embedding in Babylon’s very bones a record of how Cyrus the Great restored justice, peace and piety to the capital, which lies south of present-day Baghdad in Iraq.

As with the similarly inelegant Dead Sea Scrolls, the Cyrus Cylinder, which was unearthed by an expedition from the British Museum in 1879, is a fabled find because of its historical, political and religious implications rather than its looks.

The Getty Villa is the fifth and last stop of a nine-month U.S. tour featuring the cylinder and other ancient Persian artifacts from the British Museum. “The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning,” runs through Dec. 8. A second gallery offers 14 artifacts including a gold plaque depicting an ancient Zoroastrian priest and a striking upper-arm bracelet topped by statuettes of winged griffins with the heads of eagles and the horns of goats.

3-Ishtar gateThe Ishtar Gate, now housed in the Berlin Museum. When Cyrus entered Babylon-city through the Ishtar gates, the city’s inhabitants laid branches in his path. As noted by Graf, Hirsch, Gleason, and Krefter: “Cyrus proved a tolerant conqueror: when he enteredBabylon…he ordered his troops to show respect for the city’s temples and religious customs.” [D.F. Graf, S.W. Hirsch, K. Gleason, and F.H. Krefter, A Soaring Spirit. New York:Time-Life Books, 1988, p.15]

But the cylinder is the star, claiming a sizable gallery to itself except for a couple of inscribed ancient clay pebbles that were found elsewhere and echo its text. On a recent weekday afternoon, parties of visitors eagerly stood beside it, posing for pictures.

“It’s a very small universe of things that have this status” based only on their inscriptions, said Timothy Potts, the Getty Museum’s director, who has a doctorate in the art and archaeology of the ancient Middle East.

Wailing-WallThe West Wall in Jerusalem. After his conquest of Babylon, Cyrus allowed the Jewish captives to return to Israel and rebuild the Hebrew temple. It is believed that approximately 40,000 did permanently return to Israel.

The Cyrus Cylinder embodies a great leader’s ideal of prudently humane governance. Having established a multinational empire, Cyrus allowed captive peoples to return to their homelands and worship their own gods. He influenced Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom owned copies of the “Cyropaedia,” an admiring, fictionalized biography and treatise on political philosophy by the Greek soldier and historian Xenophon.

The cylinder also evokes a crucial moment for Western religion, because Cyrus’ tolerance gave a new lease on life to Judaism, resolving a crisis in which the Jews had clung to their faith and peoplehood through 50 years of Babylonian exile.

5-Tomb of EstherThe tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamedan, northwest Iran. External view (left) and the interior of the tomb (right).

The Old Testament’s Book of Ezra and ancient Greek sources recount how Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem with their ransacked ceremonial vessels and encouraged them to rebuild the temple that the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed.

“Without that act, who knows what would have happened?” Potts said — not only to Judaism but also to its eventual offshoot, Christianity. “It can be argued it’s one of those turning points in history that, had it not happened, would have made the history of the world incredibly different.”

The Cyrus Cylinder doesn’t mention the Jews, but one of its passages, in a translation by British Museum curator Irving Finkel, is thought to dovetail with and confirm other ancient accounts of Cyrus the Great as their benefactor: “I collected together all of [the displaced groups]… and returned them to their settlements… and made permanent sanctuaries” for gods that the toppled Babylonian king, Nabodinus, had dishonored.

John LockeJohn Locke (1632-1704) is one of the foremost leading thinkers of the enlightenment and one of the proponents of liberal thinking in the western world. He  was fully cognizant of the Cyropaedia, which may explain the parallels between his philosophies and elements of Zoroastrian thought followed by Cyrus the Great.

For these good deeds, Cyrus prays that “all the gods that I returned to their sanctuaries” will bless him and his successors. The Achaemenid empire, named for one of Cyrus’ Persian precursors, lasted 200 years, stretching eastward at its height from Turkey to the Indus River in what’s now Pakistan until it was overthrown by Alexander the Great in 330 BC.

In Southern California, the cylinder’s arrival marks a chance for one of its newest immigrant groups, Iranian Americans, to step forward and counter stereotypes embedded by 34 years of enmity between their homeland’s current regime and the United States.

cyropaedia-thomas-jefferson-copyThomas Jefferson’s copy of the Cyropaedia (Picture Source:  Angelina Perri Birney). Like many of the founding fathers and those who wrote the US Constitution, President Jefferson regularly consulted the Cyropedia – an encyclopedia written by the ancient Greeks about Cyrus the Great. The two personal copies of Thomas Jefferson’s Cyropaedia are in the US Library of Congress in Washington DC. Thomas Jefferson’s initials “TJ” are seen clearly engraved at the bottom of each page.

The Cyrus Cylinder “is important because of the ideals it represents, that say who we really are,” said Bita Milanian, executive director of the L.A.-based Farhang Foundation, a nonpolitical, nonreligious organization that aims to further the study and appreciation of Iranian art and culture (“farhang” means “culture” in Persian). Formed in 2008, the foundation has helped establish an Iranian studies program at USC, to go with a long-standing one at UCLA.

eleanor-roosevelt-udhr-2As noted by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Disregard and contempt for Human Rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people… All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” (UDHR-Picture Source:  Angelina Perri Birney).

“Non-Iranians can get to know the Iranian culture and its people in the correct light, rather than the portrayals in the media that we hear every day,” Milanian said. “The exhibition gives us a symbol to point to and start important conversations, to talk about things that have never been public and allow our cultural values to take their rightful place among the highlights and history of civilization.”

Harry S TrumanHarry S. Truman (1884-1972) who was President of the United States in 1945-1953. Not only did he acknowledge the legacy of Cyrus the Great in liberating the Jews from their Babylonian captivity, he also stood up against Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who tried to absorb Iran’s Azarbaijan province into the Soviet Union. For more Click here…

She estimates that 500,000 Iranian Americans live in Southern California, by far their largest regional presence in the United States, with most having arrived since the 1979 revolution that toppled the shah of Iran and installed the present regime.

6-Tomb of DaneilThe tomb of Daniel in Khuzestan in southwest Iran. The main structure (note cone-like dome) as it stands today (left) and Iranian pilgrims paying homage within the tomb of Daniel.

Milanian said that area school districts’ units on ancient history typically skip Cyrus and the Persian empire, and she hopes that classes coming to see the Cyrus Cylinder will help establish a basis for its eventual inclusion in public school curriculums.

Besides the school groups, said the Getty’s Potts, “we’ve had busloads of Persians, and in some cases groups that are Zoroastrians, the same faith as [the Persian Empire’s] rulers. It’s been an extraordinary turnout.”

Cyrus Koresh Kourosh street in JerusalemWhen History goes beyond Politics: Koresh or Cyrus street in Jerusalem. There is currently no street named Cyrus or Koroush in Tehran, the capital of Iran today. There is also an “Iran” street in Israel.