May 31, 2004

Afghans of Iran

Unfortunately my earliest recollection of an example of prejudice and bigotry is forever associated with memories of my beloved late grandfather. He was a typical introvert who did not communicate much and with many, nonetheless he once opened up to tell me a few stories about his childhood.

His stories went back to what is now 85 to 100 years ago (since his son, my father is now 74) and happened in a Tehran that in no way resembles the current metropolis that is home to 11-14 million people. He grew up in what was and still is considered southern most parts of the city, in a modest working class upbringing. He had to work from the age of 6 to help the family and eventually found moderate success in opening a dry cleaning business, a newly imported concept for Iran at the time.

Amongst his stories of small city Tehran, with mostly unpaved streets and gangs that robbed passersby on certain idle streets, one is forever etched in my mind. This was the memory of kids in the neighborhood (he said he was always too busy working to participate himself) going to the city's Jewish neighborhoods to disturb the residents. Rainy days were a particular event in this undertaking as some Mullah had declared that non-Muslims should not leave their homes while it is raining, as drops of rain might reflect off their impure -Najess- bodies and land on a Muslim!

They'd scour the area for hours and beat up anyone who had dared to come outside.

He also talked of garbage-men declining to pick up in the same neighborhood, so the refuse would often pile-up on a street corner and rot, covering the entire area with a bitter stench that would enforce the whole concept of resident's impurity.

Christians (mostly Armenian refugees) were also subjected to similar treatment, although maybe not with the same intensity.

Iran is one of the more multi-cultural countries in the world. Despite what you may hear from an Iranian in California, we aren't all Persians. In fact, few of us are. Aside from Medes, Parthians, Babylonians, Assyrians and others who originally formed the Persian Empire, immigrants such as Turkmans (Mongolian descendents) along with other small and large communities make up a complex combination of diverse cultures and races that is Iran now. Kurds, Baluchis, Arabs, Lors and Azeris, along with religious minorities like Christians (everything from the Greek Orthodox to Armenian to Catholic to even Jesuits and Mormons), Jews, Baha'is and others are just some of the various communities who make-up today's Iran.

Like most of the world, prejudice and bigotry has found its way into Iranian psyche as well. This is even further enhanced with outside influences such as popularity of Nazism during WWII and that day's governments tolerance or even embracing of a certain vision of purity of our supposed "Aryan" heritage and the threat others pose to this fictional sense of identity.

There are also happy stories too. Armenians for example, who have immigrated to Iran escaping the Russian invasion or even Turkish genocide, are now an inseparable part of Iranian society. I found it refreshing when the first three speakers at a Nowruz Iranian New Year gathering recently were Armenian-Iranians who were avidly congratulating their "country men and women" on the occasion. But this has not been the rule, unfortunately.

According to the U.N., Iran is host to the largest community of refugees in the world. This for most part is due to millions of Afghani refugees who have spent parts or all of last 20-some years in Iran, predating even the invasion of their homeland by the Soviet army. Afghans have never been fully accepted into Iranian community. They have always suffered as second-class guests (not even citizens) who are offered jobs nobody else would take at pay no one else would accept. Marriages or even relationships between largely male Afghani population and Iranian women is rare and they are often accused of theft, rapes and other criminal charges as the most obvious first choice for anyone investigating misconducts.

Now with the Taliban regime removed from Afghanistan, the Iranian regime is forcing many of these refugees (even those born and raised in Iran) to return to Afghanistan. The deportation, sadly, has very little public opposition and you would be hard-pressed to even find any mention of it in main-stream media. Bloggers have had some success in raising the issue, but uninspired petitions and funky buttons (almost all of the in Farsi) aren't enough to bring the necessary attention to this issue.

I wish I had the answer, but I am basically asking for your input. I wish we could take these fake borders away and start treating people as human beings and not labeled with a nationality or race, but that is at least a long time away and tonight many Afghan families are in danger of being returned to be ruled by of one warlord or another who control various parts of Afghanistan (outside Kabul) and we need to find ways to stop that. Let me know what do you think and how we could best raise the profile of this topic.

Posted by Pedram at May 31, 2004 03:58 PM

Just a quick note: The word "Persian" is used in two different contexts. In the context of language, it refers to the official (dominant?) language of Iran. In the context of nationality, it means Iranian, it does not refer to people who were born in the province of Pars. Iranians in California or elsewhere use that word interchangeably with "Iranian".

Posted by: Alors at May 31, 2004 05:57 PM

Those Iranians in California who use the term interchangeably are just wrong, plain and simple. Persian does not mean Iranian, but means you are from Persian heritage/language/background. Most Persians are indeed Iranian (exceptions may be granted to Parsis of India and some residents of Central Asia) but not all Iranians are Persian as rightly pointed to by Pedram. Take this from an Arab Iranian who is very proud of his Iranian nationality but certainly does not consider himself Persian.

Posted by: Nasser at May 31, 2004 09:35 PM

I am Iranian.
I speak Farsi.
I used to live in Iran.
Persia was Iran's previous name.
Persian Empire no longer exists.
Persian is not a language.
There are no Persians in the world.
Those who are born in Iran are Iranians.
Those Iranians, speak Farsi.

I hope this clears things up!!!

Posted by: Nima at May 31, 2004 09:44 PM

I agree with Nasser,

Persians are the largest ethnic group in Iran. Generally speaking, Persians are Iranians, but Iranians are not necessarily Persians.

Unlike what is apparently the case in California, I am a Persian who never identifies himself as such when interacting with non-Iranians. I always identify myself as Iranian.

I also consider the use of word Persia to discribe Iran, divisive and an insult to my non-Persian fellow Iranians and I believe it should serioulsy be avoided.

Posted by: Faramin at June 1, 2004 04:36 AM

Wasn't there a few people around who were suggesting in an earlier note that Pedram does not write about social issues in Iran? Where are they now? - Well written.

Posted by: Roya at June 1, 2004 06:42 AM

Maybe if SOME people suggest Pedram does not write about economic issues on Mars, he might then write about it. Where would THEY be then?

Posted by: at June 1, 2004 08:50 AM

Right here, where is Amnesty International report on Iran. Why wasn't it included?

Posted by: at June 1, 2004 09:45 AM

What do you mean by "Persian is not a language. There are no Persians in the world"?
Persian is an ethnicity. It exists in Iran and many other countries. It is also the name of a language spoken by many Iranians. "Farsi" is a wrong word to use in English. (You never use "Deuche" as the name of German language, do you?)

Posted by: at June 1, 2004 09:46 AM

Here is what the dictionary had to say about Persian.

Per·sian ( P ) Pronunciation Key (pűrzhn, -shn)
Of or relating to Persia or Iran, or to their peoples, languages, or cultures.

A native or inhabitant of Persia or Iran.
Any of the western Iranian dialects or languages of ancient or medieval Persia and modern Iran.

Posted by: at June 1, 2004 10:03 AM

This was in the NY Post. If this article is accurate, EVERYONE should leave Iran for somewhere else.



[FULL POSTED ARTICLE DELETED BY PEDRAM - This is a "comments" section, not a place to post long articles, particularly if they aren't yours. You can leave a link, such as: in this case, but if it's related to the topic of discussion. What Amir Taheri (the man who believes Hejab was invented in the 1970's) thinks of Iran isn't frankly very relevant to plight of Afghan refugees)

Posted by: John Pender at June 1, 2004 12:48 PM

That article was so blatant, only morons would accept any of it. To give you an idea about the article, who wrote it, who published it and why, the New York Post is owned by staunch Zionist, Rupert Murdoch:
It shows how desperate the forces of Imperialism are getting. They can no longer afford to be subtle in their divide and rule tactics.

Sunnis and Shias are united. They are ONE. There is only ONE Islam. God willing, as long as Iranians and Muslims around the world keep their eyes open to that fact and they see who humanity's real enemy is, they will not be defeated. Other people's of the world should also take note. Iran and the Islamic world are the last bastions of independence and freedom from Imperial dominance. Although it might not look like it, all the recent US/UK/Israeli violence is just the beast's final death throws.

"Iran is bad! Iran is bad!"

Ummm, buddy...I know Iran has some issues that they (as in, Iranians) need to work out, but unless I'm mistaken, Iran didn't just go to the other side of the globe and attack a country that did NOTHING to provoke such savagery, did it?

Posted by: BrotherAli at June 1, 2004 01:27 PM

By the way, Pedram, excellent piece about racism in Iran. I appreciate the way you shed some light on the issue so we can confront it together and correct it together. That's a much better idea than bombing Iran to rubble or whatever Amir Taheri would advocate.

I think Iran has lots of things that need to be corrected, but that's up to the people of Iran to decide. They are the only people with any right to decide how they live, NOT John Pender, Donald Rumsfeld, Ariel Sharon, George Bush, Madeline Albright, Paul Wolfowitz, Amir Taheri, myself (BrotherAli) or anyone else to decide.

Posted by: BrotherAli at June 1, 2004 01:32 PM

Hhmmmm and 99.99 percent is America's fault. Looks like this story from a well informed author would seem to be contrary to the "Its all America's fault" theory so popular here.

Posted by: at June 1, 2004 01:33 PM

By the way, Mr. blank name dude, today's topic was about racism, and NOBODY brought up the US until John Pender posted the Taheri schpiel.

But, since you brought it up, Russia (western power) created the Afghan refuge problem and the US/CIA then kept it going and fueled it by funding various political groups and rivals within Afganistan to keep the civil war going and create MORE refugees to flood Iran and suck up vital resources (the victim are Iranians AND Afghans). And the US/CIA/ISI support of the Taliban created more deaths and spillover to Iran, creating a desperate situation for Afghans and Iranians. (Iran is already the victim of the most intense campaign of destabilization and isolation in the world conducted by the US, so of course there would be tensions within Iran, as was/is the US's goal.) That's one thing most people forget. The creation and support of the Taliban was not only to gain access to Oil pipelines via Afghanistan, but also to destabalize Iran. The murder of the 11 Iranian diplomats by the Taliban was a direct provocation to which Iran wisely showed patience and defused a possible regional war. They didn't fall for the trap. They knew that the US would just love to see two Muslim countries decimate each other. Thank God the Iranian "regime" was smart enough to avoid such bloodshed.

If you have any sense of military strategy you should also recognize that over the years, the US has setup bases and all around Iran and has slowly surrounded Iran at every border. Why? Is it because the US has some love for Iran and wants to introduce Democracy, Iraqi style?

Now the forces of Empire are trying to foment division and split people along any line they can find, be it Sunni against Shia, and now Shia against Shia. Hopefully, people of the world, regardless of their nationality, race, religion, or sect can see this and UNITE to work for the betterment of humanity.

Posted by: BrotherAli at June 1, 2004 02:01 PM

And why is Iran such a fly in the ointment?

1) Because of its independence, blemishes and all. It set a dangerous example which other countries around the world might follow and throw off the yoke of US Imperialism.

2) Iran also refuses to accept the legitimacy of the racist and genocidal Zionist entity called Israel. Notice that recognition of Israel is one of the first things required of "free" Iraq.

Posted by: BrotherAli at June 1, 2004 02:14 PM

Thanks Pedram for the good post. Unfortunately most of the feedback you get here is about the persian vs Iranian nonesense. No one seems to have noticed or care about the Afghans issue which is the main theme of this post.
I personally do not think there is much that can be done about the problem of Afghan refugies in Iran. We are not dealing with a democratic government here. It cannot be pressured or encouraged democraticly. No one could make the Islamic republic to give this refugies some basic rights during all these years. In some instances they weren't even allowed to open a bank account.
How can we hope to be able to change things now that they are returning them? Actually, many people in Iran support these policies for economical reasons. Supposedly, once Afghans are gone there will be more jobs open for the unemployed working class and the government subsidized food (especially bread) won't be consumed by the 'foreigners'. I disagree with one of your comments though: there is no job in Iran that no one would take and no wage that no one would accept. If you think otherwise, you haven't understood the degree of poverty that exists below the surface of Iran's society today. You see: at the end of the day 'It's economy sir'. Nothing much can be done for one side without causing harm to another side. So, let's sit back and enjoy our self obsessed friends discuss Persian vs Iranian.

Posted by: Jafar at June 1, 2004 02:22 PM

I'm so glad you finally got to this issue. Ever since I saw the movie "Kandahar" I have been moved to do something for Afghans. So far, I have made small, regular contributions to the Afghan's Womens Mission. I would like to do more, but the closest relief organisation office is 3 hours away. I believe your article has inspired me to at least go down to that office and meet the people, ask what if anything I can do.
There are two issues here, really. Racism in Iran, and what can we do about the plight of the Afghan nation. My ideas are:
1) Fight racism one by one, from refusal to participate, to refusal to be silent. At least say "this is wrong, I can't agree." Example is a powerful thing, and in this case, maybe the most powerful thing.
2) Perhaps what can't be done in Iran can be done in exile. Iranians joining Afghani groups, and opening the doors, or even actively recruiting Afghanis during No Ruz celebrations, etc. Emphasize commonalities, not differences.

Posted by: atmikha at June 1, 2004 06:32 PM


I don't know. Ive heard read many rumours of this nature (Iran's forcing Afghan refugees leave the country) in the Iranian blogs, but I haven't seen even a single link confirming it.

But on the other hand I have seen so many news suggessting this is a UNHCR plan to voluntarily repatriate Afghan refugees.
Like this:
ot this:
or perhaps this:

Posted by: WhoMan at June 1, 2004 08:11 PM

I don't know what sources you guys are looking at, I was just in Iran and let me tell you, in Tehran, Esfahan, and other cities Afghans are busy working and helping the local economies. Thanks to Afghans the City of Tehran's civil services are being provided without interuptions.

I am not saying that Afghans are in heaven in Iran. Some of resentment by the locals is mainly based on two main factors fear and fear of loss of jobs.

The treatment of Afgans in Iran is mostly due to "class" structure that still simmers in the background as is common in other eastern countries. In my opinion this type of descrimination is much easier to overcome than white Americas view of non-whites.

I say next time you are in Iran take few of the hard working Afghans to lunch at YASS resturant, and have the shoo shoo eyeranian waiters serve them. That will learned them!!!

Posted by: Ali at June 1, 2004 09:43 PM

Thanks Ali for confirming what I thought.

I was in Iran a few months ago and I am a new immigrant after all. I don't remember Afghani were looked at LESS than hard working honest people. Many business owners prefer to hire Afghani workers as opposed to lazy "fat-ass" Iranian workers who are impossible to fire. Now I am not saying that Iranian workers are "fat-ass" or there are no discrimination against Afghanis in Iran, but there is also other side to the whole story as well.

Posted by: WhoMan at June 2, 2004 06:12 AM

You just can't get away from it is all America's fault. Maybe one day you will learn to take responsibility for one's own actions....but I doubt it. It looks like BrotherAli was trying to find an excuse for the racism.

Posted by: at June 2, 2004 06:15 AM

With Ali's logic, next time I see a few African-Americans eating at a fancy restaurant, I'll conclude there's no racism or prejudice against them in USA.

Posted by: Roya at June 2, 2004 07:56 AM

No name, your stupid ranting is just getting tiresome. You don't HAVE TO prove your ignorance on every post you know? Take a break.

Posted by: Roya at June 2, 2004 07:57 AM


Posted by: BrotherAli at June 2, 2004 07:46 PM

No one is saying that racism/discrimination doesn't exist in the U.S. But it is offensive to say... sure, Iranians are discriminating against Afghanis, but our discrimination isn't as bad as white Americans. I'm sure the Afghanis being deported appreciate that subtle difference. It's all wrong. And in the end has the same impact on its victims, regardless of the motivation.

Posted by: Kristen at June 2, 2004 10:11 PM

Kristen, my point exactly!! Good for you! In reality, which most here would never admit, the US is the least racist country. We have taken people in from every country on the face to the planet, they are able to accomplish whatever they want through their desire and HARD WORK.
True we do have racism in the US and needs to be dealt with. But having traveled to many other countries, including the Middle East, I see we are much farther ahead than the other countries. No one is handed anything for free, nor should they be. If people in the US are poor or homeless, it is because of choice. Not a single choice but the sum total of an entire life's choices. Make different choices during your life and your life turns out differently. If you always choose poorly, life will turn out poorly, if you choose wisely, life will turn out well.
Racism will always be an issue but the US continues to work on it and is doing quite well. I am sure the America haters will totally disagree but that would not be a surprise and is expected.

Posted by: at June 3, 2004 10:32 AM

Actually, I believe that Kristen's point is that racism/descrimination is racism/descrimination no matter where it happens or who is doing it. Why do you keep on bringing the US into the discussion?

Even though YOU seem to believe the ludicrous (and racist) notion that the US is more moral, less racist, and otherwise superior to other countries, I am sure that is NOT Kristen's point.

Furthermore, Pedram's post was about the "AFGHANS of IRAN" and the very real problems of discrimination in Iran. Why are you so fixated with the US, and "America haters?" Stay on topic! Your ignorance/arrogance is just astounding. More than 1/3 of all homeless in America are Veterans and a huge number of current military personel and their families are close to poverty level. So, according to you, they must lack "desire" and the capacity for "hard work," right? Even though you show such contempt for your fellow man (including US soldiers and their family), I bet you're one of the first assholes to rabidly shout, "Support The Troops!"

You make me sick.

I hope we can all get back on topic and offer some constructive solutions to the Afghan/Iran/poverty/refugee issue.

Posted by: BrotherAli at June 3, 2004 01:14 PM

Stop crying ya baby!! What do you really know aou

Posted by: at June 4, 2004 12:22 PM

about US troops or vets. Are you one?

Posted by: at June 4, 2004 12:22 PM

Use your name, or at least a nickname if you don't want people to address you by your IP address or other similar information.

Posted by: Chris at June 9, 2004 08:43 AM

Okay, here is a name for you.

Posted by: US Vet at June 9, 2004 11:53 AM

Okay, here is a name for you.

Posted by: US Vet at June 9, 2004 11:53 AM

Okay, here is a name for you "US Vet"

Posted by: US Vet at June 9, 2004 11:54 AM

Dear my friend,

Even Afghanistan is free of Taliban these days,what about us ?! .Don't you think now is time to think about ourselves ? those Afghanies who are refusing to leave our country these days are one of the following groups :

1-Those who saw Taliban and they are worried if Taliban take the power back in their country which is not true any more.

2-Those who have a good business in Iran and they don't want to start from zero in their country so actualy they are taking the chances from you and me to have a good business.

Posted by: Mohammad Reza at June 21, 2004 10:36 AM