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The two countries share similar culture and traditions based on common religious grounds of Islam. The historic region of Bengal, which is today constituted mostly by present-day Bangladesh, has had strong cultural relationships with Iran. Bengal saw a great influx of Persian scholars, merchants, administrators and warriors during the Mughal Empire. Some of Bengal's once powerful landed aristocrats are believed to be descendants of many of the rich Persian immigrants. Many Persian scholars established themselves in city of Jahangir Nagar (modern day Dhaka) and fostered Persian poetry and literature in the city. In modern Bangladesh, most renowned business houses like Ispahani are owned by families have roots hailing from Iran.
Persian was an official language in Bengal for over 600 years, and Persian literature significantly influenced Bengali literature. Due to the large immigration of Iranians, many Persian words entered the Bengali language and literature. In the 1930s, Rabindranath Tagore, the man described as the Shakespeare of Bengali literature, visited Iran and met the senior Iranian leadership. Many Bengali Muslim poets were heavily inspired by rich Persian poetry and culture. Kazi Nazrul Islam, the national poet of Bangladesh, had greatly used Persian literature to develop Bengali ghazals and poetry.
The Persians also played an instrumental role in spreading Islam in the region which today has a Muslim majority population. Historically, Islamic Bengal and Persia have been viewed as beacons of liberal and progressive forces in the wider Islamic world. Persian Sufi saints who arrived in Bengal in the 12th and 13th centuries are viewed by historians as having played instrumental roles in the establishment of Islam in Bengal through sufism. With the creation in 1947 of the state of Pakistan that comprised both present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Shah of Iran pursued strong relations with the Pakistani government and visited Dhaka on several occasions. The Shah was especially close to Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin, the first Bengali Prime Minister of Pakistan and a prominent member of the Dhaka Nawab Family. During the Bangladesh Liberation War, the Shah reportedly allowed the transport of American military equipment through to West Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistani War in December. However, Iran soon recognized Bangladeshi independence in 1972.
With the fall of the Shah in 1979, new dimensions were added to the relationship between the newly proclaimed Islamic Republic of Iran and Bangladesh. Relations gradually grew further with President Hashemi Rafsanjani becoming the first Iranian leader to visit independent Bangladesh in 1995. Subsequently Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also visited Iran and held talks with President Mohammed Khatami.
The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is seeking to deepen ties between the two states, with Iranian investment in Bangladeshi industry. Bangladesh has also supported Iran's controversial nuclear program, claiming it is for peaceful purposes. The Bangladeshi interim government also called for Iran's full membership of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation; it is currently an observer member of the organization.
Bangladesh and Iran signed a preferential trade accord in July 2006 which removed non-tariff barriers, with a view to eventually establishing a free trade agreement. Before the signing of the accord, bilateral trade between the countries amounted to US$100 million annually.
In mid-2007, the Bangladeshi government requested Iran's help in the construction of a nuclear power plant in Bangladesh, in order to offset the decline in the availability of gas for power generation. Bangladeshi Minister of Power, Energy and Natural Resources also requested Iranian assistance for the construction of new oil refineries in Bangladesh.
- "Kazi Nazrul Islam". Banglapedia. Retrieved August 2009.
- "Banglapedia, The Iranians". Banglapedia. Retrieved August 2009.
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FOR FURTHER READING:
Chapter on PERSIAN IN BENGAL in "The Rise, Growth And Decline of Indo-Persian Literature" by R. M. Chopra, Iran Culture House. New Delhi, 2012. Also revised edition published in 2013.