Interview from Jameah Madani nel 2001cal Prof. Andranik Simonian on Iran 's Armenian Minority
|Jan 200 I, Special Issue
Word Count: 2800
Summary: Andranik Simonian: an Islamic Azad University Professor of Armenian language and literature who holds a field-related doctorate degree. believes trait the Armenian minority enjoy special respect in Iran but, in the meantime, are threatened by some difficulties from government institutions . Among such problems, he says, one may refer to appointment of non-Armenian hea.is and failure to officially employ Armenian teachers at Armenian schools.
On an evaluation of a non-Muslim attitude, Dr. Simonian particularly faced with discrimination against religious minorities, which he has discussed by giving relevant examples. He also provides a brief history of Armenian presence in Iran in his interview, excerpts of which follow:
Q:Let us first of all return to years back and see: Why did the then king of Iran, Shah Abbas Safavi, moved the Armenians from north of Arax River to the central regions in Iran at the first point?
A : At the outset, wish to thank you for your intention to regularly introduce the religious minorities and their problems to the public and appreciate and encourage your act on
interviewing other religious minorities in Iran as well.
Next, as to the reason for removal of Armenians from their homeland by Shah Abbas, I must say that at that time the Safavid dynasty and the Ottoman Empire were continually engaged in destructive wars. By evacuating Armenia and Nakhichevan. Shah Abbas in fact bestowed a ruined and burnt up country to the Ottoman army On the other hand, he wanted to move into Iran the prosperous Armenians in Julfa near Arax River, who were important merchants, industrialists and fanners.
Therefore, Shah Abbas moved the Armenian merchants and urban inhabitants to the banks of Zayandeh-Rud river, formed the New Julfa in Isfahan and settled the rural population at the provincial parts of Isfahan.
This was not any easy dislocation and according to some reports, out of 400,000 population what were moved across Arax River into Iran, only 50,000 Armenians reached Isfahan and the majority of this population were drowned by the river or were killed on the way because of early winter.
The Iranian king's haste to move the Armenians before the arrival of Turkish army was another reason for this slaughter. In his book ' Armenian~ Iranians', Ismael Rashin quotes Nasrollah Falsafi as saying that approximately 25,000 Armenian familiars who had been settled in Gilan and Mazandaran, northern Iran, perished as they could not tolerate the climate in these regions. Surely Shah Abbas wanted to settle a strategic problem for the country but this caused the slaughter of hundreds of thousand~; of Armenians.
Q:How many groups of Armenians are living b I tan; and, What is their historical background?
A:The Armenians have a long history of settlement in Iran. Historical records say that the Armenians in Qaradagh, Urmia o Rezaiye, Khoy and Salmast o Salmas were natives of these regions. In other words after the formation of Iranian and Armenian tribes with the disintegration of original Indo-Europeans, the Armenians moved to the above regions and settled there for the last 5,000 years.
The Armenians living in other pans of the country, especially the central regions, have been moved into Iran by the Sassanid king Shapur or perhaps before him. These groups of Armenians compulsory move were repented from the 10 th to 17 centuries A.D. For example, to Seljuk’s ( dynasty of Mongol ) o the central parts of Iran in order to evacuate Armenia of its citizens and the last move was conducted by Shah Abbas.
Q: As an Iranian citizen living in Iran; What problems are the .Armenians suffering in Iran? Do the Armenians who lead a peaceful life in Iran suffer from problems?
A: I must tell you that we are not merely living in Iran but are Iranian citizens and are quite proud of our Armenian descent and Iranian citizenship. We Armenians here possess two integrated and important features which is our personality and identity and such features among Iranian Armenians and other Armenians are quite obvious when you visit other countries.
I must add that the Armenians enjoy special respect in the majority Muslim Iran and among our friends and neighbors. The Iranian Muslims have strong faith and respect in our integrity which make us ashamed, and increases our responsibility to ensure that their confidence in us is not lessened.
With regard to problems, we Armenians have been accustomed to remain silent, but recently a series of problems are threatening our community and we can no more remain silent. Of course our silence was not without reason. The fact is that we did not want to give pretext to such foreign and domestic elements who are trying to weaken this country. If we do not claim it is because we hate to make vain complaints and secondly we are afraid that our complaint may discredit our System. But as I said the problems are becoming irritating and it is now perhaps my duty to complain.
First of all I must say that our schools are in a very bad condition. Until lately no minority school possessed a minority schoolmaster. Presently we possess Armenian schoolmasters in to schools. Meanwhile for the last 20 years the Ministry of Education has refused to hire minority citizens.
Our other problem is that we possess various societies. In the past 20 years and until lately none of these societies have received a license. In other words during these years we have always received license for special occasions and ceremonies which is quite unfair. Our societies are not doing any political business; then why must our societies be classified among political parties and factions? Recently we have heard that the government is going to issue a number of licenses and we hope that they will act according to their promise.
Another problem which is very grave and has wide scale evil social impact is the question of blood money. I will give you several examples, then you can judge. The housewife walks to the confectionery to buy candy and collides with a motorbike which is driving in the pavement and the lady is killed. The driver is a good man considers himself guilty. The court issues a verdict and the husband refers to the insurance company to receive blood money, but an insurance officer tells him: “The lady's blood money is 1.9 million rials ( Iranian money) which is very unfair. If you are not in dire need do not take this money and lodge your complaint with proper authorities husband walks to the bank to receive money, and has an accident with a thief who is escaping with a bike on the pavement in order to not take this money and lodge your true compensation. “ But the husband does not succeed in his complaint and his right is trampled .
A young Armenian. The young man falls on the ground and dies. The court fixes less than 4 million Rials ( 100 Dollars ) compensation for the dead Armenian. Then how can his wife and two children lead a respectable life with this blood money. This compensation is not enough to cover his burial expenses. How can it meet the widow’s expenses. The widow and her father complain to every government department without success and frustrated from such maltreatment she immigrates with her father's family to another country.
An old man who is about 80 years walks in the street. An automobile hits the man and breaks his legs ad injures his scull. The hospital demands 20 million Ria!s to operate and save the old man but the court fixes 430 thousand Rials in damage, because of being a minority.
There are many other examples. A 70-year-old man has a car accident at Golha Square. He dies in the accident and the driver escapes. The court declares 2 million rials compensation for blood money. The driver is arrested at Fatemi Square then it becomes known that the old man could have been saved if the driver had not escaped and had carried him to hospital immediately.
Who has said that blood money should be paid to a Christian? Blood money is a theoretical and religious subject and is a personal matter. We are speaking about social relations and expect civil codes to protect us. Is the cost of living for a Christian citizen in this country the tenth or twentieth part of a Muslim citizen? Do third party or social service insurance companies levy different charges upon various religions? Of course not. I think this is a big and sheer injustice.
We know Imam Ali. Our archbishop who comes from Lebanon is an expert in the history of Shia faith and Karbala and the Family of the Prophet. We know Imam Ali's Nahjbuibalagha (Peak of Eloquence) and his letter to the Malik Ashtar and we know that how he treated a Jewish woman. We expect to lead a dignified life under a flag whose green color is a symbol of religion and its center insignia mentions God's name. I don't say that equal blood money should be paid to every citizen. I say any person living under this divine flag must lead a respectable life. If you , want to import a ca! to the country you must spend over 500 million Rials. I am ashamed to say that with such low and debasing blood money which is ten or twenty times less than a Muslim’s blood money, you are underrating human value.
We are not worried about the loss of 5 or 10 persons. What we worry is the dignity of your flag which is far important than the life of a thousand Armenians and Muslims.
When the enemy attacks the country our children accompany Muslim children to the battlefield to discharge their duty and to defend the country_ This is our duty and we are not doing an extraordinary thing. It is our duty to defend our national honor. During the war with Iraq one of our relatives was mart)'Ted because of explosion of a mortar shell and was killed Vti.th three other persons. When the mortar shell was killing the Muslim or Armenian fighter, it was not asking their religion. But the judges who are our fellow-countrymen n are asking the religion of the victim when they want to issue a verdict !!!
You need to make a proper solution for this subject. If you have real religious objection you can set up a separate fund and appropriate a special budget for payment of compensation to the minorities. And you may name the fund, the fund that protects the country's dignity. We are prepared to pay a part of our salary to such a fund. We are bound to defend this country's dignity and what I propose is to protect the country's reputation and dignity. It is our dignity too and if foreign source;:, find a pretext to censure the System we are also unhappy. For that reason we did
not complain about this subject in the past, but now 1t is my duty to complain and protect our honor.
Q:You spoke about the imposed war. Did you attend the battlefront during the war?
A: I performed my military service at Havanirooz (air support for the army) and joined the Army Ground Forces football team. During me outbreak of the Islamic revolution I completed my military service and immediately after the: war I went to the Amir-ul-Momenin Mosque at Enqelab Ave and joined the Basij mobilization force which had just been formed. In the Basij I protected my district, collected fatherless young adults and adults and attended to their physical sports. However, in 1983 I received an scholarship from Armenia and 1 \vent to that country to continuation my education.
Q: Please describe your academic education and scientific, cultural activities.
A: I received my maste11's degree in Armenian language frot!1 Yerevan University and then I sat for a Ph.D. degree in linguistics and language history. I wrote my dissertation about different dialects in central pans of Iran.. This led to the discovery of a new dialect in Armenian language which I named it ultra-southeastern dialect with the assistance of professor George Jahookian, my instructor. This branch includes Bakhtiari, Chaploq, Kamareh and Kazaz. During these years I was also working with the press and helped to establish two monthly magazines. I have written over 250 scientific and social articles and have translated a large part of the works of Sohrab Sepeheri, Mehdi Akhavan Sales, Forough Farrokhzad, Ahimad Sharnlu and Siavosh Kasrayee. Recently I have published the Armenian translation of Arash Kamangir to be used by students and my translation of poems from Sepehri and Shamlu is under print. Part of my translations have been published in various publications.
Q: Have you instructed in the University?
A: For the last four years I have been lecturing the Armenian language in the Islamic Azad University and before o that lecture for 5 years in Yerevan States University
Q: Being acquainted with the cultures of Iran and Armenia what fields of joint cooperation exists between the two states?
A: Despite several thousands of common cultures, regretfully the two nations are ignorant of each other's cultural activities. After so many years of relationship between the Armenian and Iranians, we do not possess a complete and relatively t1awless Armenian/Persian. Dictionary at a time that hundreds of Armenians are studying Persian in Armenia and an equal number of Persians are studying Armenian in Iranian universities, a Persian-Armenian dictionary is the most urgent requirement for academic circles, but what organization will undertake the expenses of such a publication?
Right now my Persian students are studying the Armenian literature of fifth through tenth century and have decided to translate such works into Persian, but we need assistance from people and research institutes. As you know Armenian ancient literature and source books during fifth through tent century ; has much valuable information about Iran.
Q:What is your opinion about the dialogue of civilizations, which we must start this year?
A: President Khatami is a very learned cultural figure and represents a cultured nation and it is normally such a cultural figure to propose the dialogue. For many years foreign counties had been launching negative propaganda against the Islamic Republic. Such a dialog!?:ue has not only neutralized such poisonous propaga..'1da but has also improved our image in the world. But we must be careful of our approach to this dialogue and launch wise and well studied cultural programs which will reelect our historical and cultural achievements to the world. We must not allow some circles to take advantage of this subject to distort the dialogue because it will not only misfire but will make us a loser in the game.
I hope for the sake of later Founder of Islamic Republic our different factions will join hands and profit from dialogue among civilizations to elevate Iran's reputation and display a true picture of the Islamic World to the globe.
Q: Do you have anything more to say?
A: As an Iranian I am proud that dialogue among civilizations has been conducted in Iran for many centuries in the best manner. Christian is a religion of kindness, love and friendship and I am glad that the Iranians enjoy the same sentiments which allows us Christians to live a peaceful life in this country. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic has also protected the rights of minorities in the best manner and our ci-vil and penal codes are in keeping with the spirit of the nation and the Constitution. This year also coincides with the 1700th anniversary of conversion of the Armenians into Christian faith since we Armenians are the first nation in the world that have accepted Christianity. I must add that we Armenians among Christians and the Shia sect among Muslims fom1 a minority among the 6 billion followers of Abraham's divine branches of religion.
Thus we have double duties both within and outside the country and must remove all sorts of difference and tension to rapidly move towards unity and brotherhood.
Like Christians the Shia sect is awaiting for a savior. According to your traditions Imam Mahdi will descend again on earth on Doomsday and will conduct congregation prayer w1th Jesus Christ and that Christians and Muslims will line up together to pray on that fateful day. Thus all of us who believe on resurrection and the day of reckoning must serve as representatives of love and friendship in order to improve dialogue among civilizations.
I hope under the guidance of the Supreme Leader, President Khatami will succeed in discharging this very important and historical mission and suggest all parties and factions to join hands and support the President in this dialogue .