A Note to Time Magazine on its misrepresentation of Iranian  History


By: Bahram Badiyi

One of the most important tasks of our generation is to preserve the cultural values and traditions inherited from our ancestors. At the same time, for anyone who accepts this idea, it is wonderful that in the beautifully democratic climate of United States of America we have been given the opportunity to express our opinions and be able to remain active in preserving the history of Iran and its cultural outcomes regardless of all the day to day events.


Recently, Time magazine has published an issue that contains "A Guide to Middle East" for general readers with an introduction by former president Jimmy Carter.


I am always curious to see how Iran is portrayed in these types of "quick guides". It of course goes without saying that, by nature, these quick "how to" pamphlets and guides are riddled with errors on the one hand and extremely weak in describing thousands of years of history, on the other.


From time to time and when it has come to Iran and Middle East in general, I have been disappointed to see the choice of words and presence of different inaccuracies in descriptions printed in different parts of the magazine. In my view, when history of a culture is not portrayed accurately the identity of that culture is thoroughly threatened. This would result in the appearance of various uncorrelated versions of the same history and people are doomed to become confused not being able to know what is true and what is false.


Not surprisingly, I was disappointed this time too. The description that has been published by Time is riddled with inaccuracies. Here are some of the highlights:


1- Parthians (Ashkanians) and Sasanids (Sasanians), the two Persian dynasties that ruled Iran before the advent of Islam, are introduced as conquerors of Iran alongside of Alexander and his successors who assumed the name Seleucids. This is a new twist in an ongoing saga of misrepresenting Iran and its ancient dynasties. I am not sure if this is the view of a group within the current regime in Iran to manufacture a new description for the pre-Islamic Iran. Against this preached fallacy we can ask if there has ever been a proud Persia governed by the Persians before the conquest of this country by Islam. The Time magazine believes that Persian sovereignty started with Cyrus and Darius and ended with them. From then on, we have only been a nation ruled by conquerors!


2- Persians are described as a people similar to the "serfs" in a feudal society. Here, the word "fealty" is used which means loyalty of commoners to a lord or a medieval style baron Persians have been described as being group of people that have been more servants than masters, under the conquering armies of Parthians and Sasanians. It seems to me that no one, with adequate knowledge about the history of Iran was consulted; someone who could tell the magazine that Parthians and Sasanians were truely “Persians”. There of course is a background to this misrepresentation. Since late 19th century, some of historians with profound negative bias towards the achievements of the Persian culture, decided to represent Parthians (Ashkanians) as a non-native dynasty in Iranian history. For example, even to this date, the Parthian coinage is classified in Europe and elsewhere under the Greece and Hellenic culture. This In fact is an insult to the identity of Iranians and the famed Persian warriors of the Parthian era. We should remember that many 'terms,' such as “parting shot,” that are used in modern military milieu have their roots in the saga of Parthian warriors. Some specialists believe that the term "partisan war" (jang-o-goriz) is also inspired by the military techniques that world inherited from the Parthian small fighting units that harassed the enemy at any given time of day or night.


3. Next error relates to the rise of Safavid dynasty in 17th century. The Guide considers this rise as an effect of Mongol invasion of Iran. This is not correct. This rise of rather the effect of the appearance and strengthening of the Ottoman (Osmani) Sulatns who began invadinf East and Westward, only to create a new empire from the ashes of the Byzantine (East Roman) Empire. They had overthrown the latter in May 29th of 1453 AD.


4. Another major error has happened when the Guide finds the roots of fundamentalism and Iranian Revolution of 1979 in the Shi'ism of the Safavid insurgency. Safavids were the kings - and probably the most powerful kings - who governed Iran after the Mongols and until the advent of Nadir Shah  era. Their conducts were not necessarily religious. We know that their Shah Safi died of excessive alcohol drinking. They actually upheld a highly sophisticated imperial culture that had its roots in two eras: Firstly, the Sasanid era, as the Sasanid kings were head of state and the church; and, secondly, in the highly influential Seljuk kings of Iran and Anatolia who were able to create, expand and control an empire almost as large as that of the ancient Achaemenids (Hakhamaneshis).


Thus, it is almost impossible to correct the current text published by the Time magazine. So, it needs to be rewritten. And for doing so, the best choice is to consult knowledgeable people on the issue of a such a complicated cultural case.