Nowruz and the Persian Spring
A few days ago, WSN's Iran Editor Dr. Mojtaba Shamsrizi gave a lecture at the Bucerius Law School in Hamburg, at invitation of the Rotaract Club Hamburg-Steintor and the Rotarian Action Group for Peace, an action-driven group of Rotarians, Rotarians' family members and Rotaractors working together for the purpose of advancing peace and preventing wars throughout the world. We conclude the talk and the following discussions with students, business people, human rights activists and Iranian exiles.
One week ago marked the beginning of this years "Nowruz", which is the most traditional and important holiday in Iran.
Nowruz, which we can't say for sure how long it is celebrated but most scholars believe since at least 3000 years, is a pre-Islamic holiday and therefore a way to show the predominant inconsistency of Iran's geopolitical situation and democratic deficit compared with Persian traditional culture and humanitarianism. "For three thousand years of world history and for three hundred million people today, Nowruz unites regions and nationalities, religions and languages to share in the renewal of life on the first day of Spring", says United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, "It is a moment for cleansing and rebirth, an opportunity to renew wishes of peace and goodwill."
Iran these days is in public dialogue only seen for its theocratic regime, its nuclear policy and – to sum it up – as a rogue state. This frustrates Persians all around the world, because there is so much more and more essential our culture stands for. If you walk into the main building of the United Nations in New York, you will first of all see a copy of the "Cyrus Cylinder", which the American philosopher Professor William J. Talbott described as "perhaps the earliest known advocate of religious tolerance" and a proof that "ideas that led to the development of human rights are not limited to one cultural tradition.".
Could Persia's traditionally delivered view on human rights and political co-existence be a fundament for a possible peace process for Iran and the middle-East?
We believe what is written on the Cyrus Cylinder is absolutely right and applicable to many distressed geopolitical situations across the globe as a historic Persian vision towards a peaceful public management approach, which has apparently been exercised at least 2500 years ago in the region of Babylon and Jerusalem – not far from Baghdad, Tehran and Gaza today.
The timelessness of Cyrus declared vision of federalist sovereign power and individual freedom and responsibility, might be the main reason why the UN is valuing it as the "ancient declaration of human rights" and exhibiting a copy in New York. Shirin Ebadi emphasised this in her Nobel Lecture stating that Cyrus was probably the first monarch constituting "he would not reign over the people if they did not wish it", and who "promised not to force any person to change his religion and faith and guaranteed freedom for all." But here you can see the political inconsistency, this doesn't sound like current policy of Iran, does it?
Then of course you have the more cultural paradigms that have to be taken into regard: Persia it the native land of Hafiz, Ferdowsi and Rumi, of Ibn Sīnā and Zoroaster, who Raphael painted next to himself in his "School of Athens", and until today Persian filmmakers and dramaturges are worldwide respected and win important cultural awards, here in Germany the Golden Bear of the Berlin film festival, or just think of Asghar Farhadi who recently won an Academy Award.
How does this pluralism and diversity fit to a rogue state? And this is why Iranians want change and why they love to celebrate Nowruz as a holiday free of repressions and associated with their cultural proud.
Is the origin of Nowruz is Zoroastrian?
We do not know this for sure, but if you want to read the most beautiful version of its genesis you should read it in Ferdowsis "Shahnameh". What we know is that after the Iranian Revolution, Khomeini tried to prohibit the performance of Nowruz, which never worked out.
The geopolitical role of Nowruz
Nowruz, as you could easily see these days, is not only celebrated in Greater Iran but in many countries like India, Afghanistan, Iraqi, Azerbaijan and more in Caucasus and Central Asia. The Canadian parliament has passed a bill in general consent a few years ago to add Nowruz to the national calendar of Canada. Each year the President of the United States or another high-level representative of the US gives a congratulatory address. Nowruz is a global and transnational happening, which is important as a symbol between the peoples of different countries, not so much between their governments.
Nowruz is celebrated in the Persian diaspora all around the world!
Well, most of this people live outside the Iran for a political reason, because their freedom or live has been threatened inside the country. You cannot think of the persian diaspora to be coherent in the way they perceive Irans political situation and the way they want to induce change, or even what kind of change this should be. But Nowruz is a chance to unite these different groups for an ancient festival of humanity, which is happening all around the world. It is also a great way to give our children and probably their European friends an understanding of the Persian culture. This next generation, especially young women who are gaining leadership positions already in corporations, NGOs and political institutions, they are our hope for a better future in our homeland.
This year, Nowruz comes at a special time: Presidential elections are only three months away!
One has to take into account the recent history of Iran, starting with the 19th century "Great Game" between the British Empire and the Russian Empire, the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905–1907), the White "Revolution" (which was more a far-reaching series of reforms launched in 1963), the Single Party State in Iran (Rastakhiz, 1975 - 1978) - described as "the Final Attempt by the Shah to Consolidate his Political Base" (Parvin Amini) - and obviously The Islamic revolution in 1979, by which "after decades of royal rule millions of Iranians took to the streets in a popular movement against a regime that was seen as brutal, corrupt and illegitimate" and "Revolutionary forces, under the leadership of Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, forced the Shah of Iran into exile [...] His government was overthrown and replaced by a new Islamic order. The Islamic revolution put Iran on a new path - one that brought it to war with its neighbour and ongoing conflict with the West", as Al Jazeera resumes. This all ends up as what must be called a "military dictatorship" (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), giving the fact "that widespread and systematic torture exists in the Islamic Republic of Iran [...] There is a continuing high rate of public executions and amputations" due to Amnesty International. We have seen no free and democratic election in Iran since the Islamic revolution.
What happens next?
All this causes this year, beginning with the Presidential elections, to be a tipping point for the future of Iran - a peaceful reinforcement of Democracy and Human Rights, we hope, but there is also strong resistance of forces that would leave "Iran going in an unhealthy direction, a direction contrary to what Khomeini had in mind", as the consultant to the CIA and the Department of Defense Bruce Bueno de Mesquita puts it.
We like to hope that this years Nowruz will in the future be regarded as the initiation of a "Persian Spring", as the time in which the Iranian population will develope a democratic alternative to islamic theocracy and kingship. Right now, to achieve this aim, it is important for the international community to watch and monitore closely the developments to understand who is in real opposition to the regime and who looks like a reformer at first sight, but is part of the dictatorship at closer examination.
WSNs Action Group on Iran will go on with a series on the Presidential elections, starting soon