Persianization or Persianisation is a sociological process of cultural change in which something non-Persian becomes Persianate. It is a specific form of cultural assimilation that often includes language assimilation. The term applies not only to cultures, but also to individuals, as they acclimate to the Persian culture.
Historically, the term was commonly applied to changes in the culture of non-Iranian peoples living within the Iranian cultural sphere, especially during the early- and middle-Islamic periods such as Arabs, and various Caucasian (such as Georgian, Armenian, and Dagestani), and Turkic peoples including the Seljuqs, Ottomans, and Ghaznavids. The term has also been applied to the transmission of aspects of Persian culture, including language, to the non-Persian peoples in area surrounding Persia (modern-day Iran), such as Turkey and Central Asia.
Unlike the Ancient Greeks or the Roman Empire, the ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire was not concerned with spreading its culture to the many peoples it conquered. Arguably the first recorded episode of persianization dates back to Alexander the Great, who after conquering the Persian Empire in the 4th century BCE adopted Persian dress, customs, court mannerisms, married a Persian princess, Stateira II, and made subjects cast themselves on their faces when approaching him, in Persian-style, known to Greeks as the custom of proskynesis (a symbolic kissing of the hand that Persians paid to their social superiors). Persian dress and practices were also observed by one Peucestas, who was later made satrap of Persis, where he conciliated the favour of the Persians to his rule, in exchange for those of Macedonians.
Early Islamic to 15th Century
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After the fall of Sasanian dynasty in 651, the Umayyad Arabs adopted many of the Persian customs especially the administrative and the court mannerisms. Arab provincial governors were undoubtedly either Persianized Arameans or ethnic Persians; certainly Persian remained the language of official business of the caliphate until the adoption of Arabic toward the end of the 7th century, when in 692 minting began at the caliphal capital, Damascus. The new Islamic coins evolved from imitations of Sasanian coins (as well as Byzantine), and the Pahlavi script on the coinage was replaced with Arabic.
The Abbasids (after 750) established their capital in Iraq, eventually at Baghdad. A shift in orientation toward the east is discernible, encouraged by increased receptiveness to Persian cultural influence and the roots of the Abbasid revolution in Khorasan/ modern-day Afghanistan
16th century till 18th Century
This period saw the rise of two major powers in West Asia, namely that of the Persian Safavids and Ottoman Turks. The Safavids reasserted the Persian culture and hegemony over the entire Caucasus, Eastern Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and other regions. Many khans, begs and other rulers adopted Persian customs, clothing and patronied Persian culture. The in antiquity founded Persian city of Derbent in the North Caucasus (modern day Dagestan) became a bastion of all of this. Many of the ethnic peoples in the region found themselves to take many aspects of Persian culture, themselves contributing to the Persianization of their peoples.
At the same time, the Ottomans and their predecessors (the various Beylerbergs and the Sultanate of Rum were heavy patronizers of Persian culture, becoming fully Persianate themselves. The Ottomans for example, adopted Persian names, made Persian an official and high esteemed language, adopted Persian titles, adopted Persian cuisine, dances, and literature, and made their own state language become heavily filled with words taken from Persian vocabulary.
The Mogul or Mughal Empire was an Islamic imperial power that ruled a large portion of Indian subcontinent which beginning in 1526, they invaded and ruled most of Hindustan (South Asia) by the late 17th and early 18th centuries and ended in the mid-19th century. The Mughal Emperors were descendants of the Timurids who had embraced Persian culture, converted to Islam and resided in Turkestan and Khorasan and were the ones responsible for the spread of Persian or Islamic culture to Central Asia. At the height of Mughal power around 1700, they controlled most of the Indian Subcontinent and spread Persian culture throughout.
Babur the founder of the Mughal Empire identified his lineage as Timurid and Chaghatay-Turkic, while his origin, milieu, training, and culture were in Persian culture and so he was largely responsible for the fostering of this culture by his descendants, and for the expansion of Persian cultural influence in the Indian subcontinent, with brilliant literary, artistic, and historiographical results. Many works of art such as the Taj Mahal, Humayun's Tomb and the Badshahi Mosque are of Persian Islamic architecture with Persian names. The Persian language was the official language of the Mughal courts, until replaced with Urdu by the British.
Safavids to Qajar
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It is argued sometimes that modern Iranian nationalism was established during the Pahlavi era, based on the aim of forming a modern nation-state. What is often neglected is that Iranian nationalism has its roots in the pre-Pahlavi era of the early 20th century. On the eve of World War I, pan-Turkist propaganda focused on the Turkic-speaking lands of Iran, Caucus and Central Asia. The ultimate purpose of persuading these populations to secede from the larger political entities to which they belonged and to join the new pan-Turkic homeland. It was the latter appeal to Iranian Azerbaijanis, which contrary to Pan-Turkist intentions, caused a small group of Azerbaijani intellectuals to become the strongest advocates of the territorial integrity of Iran. After the constitutional revolution in Iran, a romantic nationalism was adopted by Azerbaijani Democrats as a reaction to the pan-Turkist irredentist policies emanating from modern Turkey and threatening Iran’s territorial integrity. It was during this period that Iranism and linguistic homogenization policies were proposed as a defensive nature against all others. Contrary to what one might expect, foremost among innovating this defensive nationalism were Iranian Azerbaijanis. They viewed that assuring the territorial integrity of the country was the first step in building a society based on law and modern state. Through this framework, their political loyalty outweighed their ethnic and regional affiliations. The adoptions of this integrationist policies paved the way for the emergence of the titular ethnic group’s cultural nationalism.
According to Tadeusz Swietochowski, in 1930s, the term was used to describe the official policy pursued by Reza Shah Pahlavi to assimilate the ethnic minorities in Iran (Iranians as well as Non-Iranians). In particular, within this policy the Azerbaijani language was banned for use on the premises of schools, in theatrical performances, religious ceremonies and in the publication of books. Swietochowski writes:
The steps that the Teheran regime took in the 1930s with the aim of Persianization of the Azeris and other minorities appeared to take a leaf from the writings of the reformist-minded intellectuals in the previous decade. In the quest of imposing national homogeneity on the country where half of the population consisted of ethnic minorities, the Pahlavi regime issued in quick succession bans on the use of Azeri on the premises of schools, in theatrical performances, religious ceremonies, and, finally, in the publication of books. Azeri was reduced to the status of a language that only could be spoken and hardly ever written. As the Persianization campaign gained momentum, it drew inspiration from the revivalist spirit of Zoroastrian national glories. There followed even more invasive official practices, such as changing Turkic-sounding geographic names and interference with giving children names other than Persian ones. While cultivating cordial relations with Kemalist Turkey, Reza Shah carried on a forceful de-Turkification campaign in Iran.—
In the Indian subcontinent
The effects of Persian hegemony in the eastern part of the Muslim world was strongly felt in the neighboring regions of South Asia particularly those adjacent to the Iranian plateau. Culturally, Persia had long contact with the natives of the Indus region and cultural exchanges definitely took place for millennia even before the original Achaemenid Empire conquered the Indus Valley (modern-day Pakistan) in the 6th century BCE. Persian was the official language and lingua franca of north west India (modern-day Pakistan) beginning with the Islamic conquest of Northern India by the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century, up until 1849 when the British officially abolished its use and replaced it with Urdu (now the national language of Pakistan and an official language spoken in North India).
Further east and as a result of centuries of foreign, Central Asian rule, India quickly adopted/assimilated several Persian cultural features, including column-based architecture (especially employing Persian-style colonnades and decorations for the columns themselves). More importantly, the Achaemenids' use of Aramaic as the official language of the Empire and their use of its associated script introduced a new system of writing to the Asian subcontinent.
Persian vocabulary found its way into the Hindustani dialects of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, leading to a standard language known as Khariboli. Khariboli has four standardized registers: Standard Hindi, Urdu, Dakhini and Rekhta. Standard Hindi (also High Hindi, Nagari Hindi) is used as the lingua franca of Northern India (the Hindi belt), Urdu is the lingua franca of Pakistan, Dakhini is the historical literary dialect of the Deccan region, and Rekhta is a highly Persianized register of Urdu used in poetry. As in post-independence India Persian culture and vocabulary was strongly associated with outside influence in general and Islam in particular, Indian and Hindu nationalists developed a Sanskritized and de-Persianised register of Khariboli which they named shuddh Hindi (i.e. "pure" Hindi) whereas Urdu retained its extensive Persian heritage (as well as eclectic borrowings from Arabic and to a lesser extent, Sanskrit) as part of an unbroken continuum in its linguistic development. Both were made official languages of India. However, certain Persian terminology remains in Standard Hindi, and colloquial Hindustani (a sort of Urdu-Hindi common ground) across northern India retains large quantities of Persian vocabulary.
Persianization and urbanization
In the early history of Afghanistan as an independent country, many Pashtuns moved into urbanized areas and adopted Dari Persian as their language. As a result, many ethnic Pashtuns in Afghanistan will identify themselves as Tajiks, while still having Pashtun names (such as a last name with the suffix "-zai"), simply because of speaking Dari and being assimilated into the culture of the Tajiks in the country, a process known as "de-tribalization". This is especially seen with the "Kabulis", or those long established families hailing from Kabul (usually Pashtuns completely immersed in Persian culture) In Pakistan, a similar pattern occurs concurrent with urbanization, when Pashtuns assimilate into the country's national Urdu speaking culture.
- Bhatia, Tej K., The handbook of bilingualism, (2004), p.788-9
- Ravandi, M., The Seljuq court at Konya and the Persianisation of Anatolian Cities, in Mesogeios (Mediterranean Studies), vol. 25-6 (2005) , pp157-69
- Arrian, vii. 23, 24, 26; Photius, Bibliotheca, cod. 82, cod. 92; Diodorus, xvii. 110, xviii. 3, 39; Justin, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus, xiii. 4
- Hawting G., The First Dynasty of Islam. The Umayyad Caliphate AD 661-750, (London) 1986, pp. 63-64
- Kennedy H., The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates, London, 1986, pp. 134-37
- Stavenhagen, Rodolfo (2002). Ethnic Conflicts and the Nation State. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-15971-4.
- Margaret K., The official Persianization of Kurdish, Paper presented at the Eighth International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Leeds, England, (August 1975).
- Touraj Atabaki, “Recasting Oneself, Rejecting the Other: Pan-Turkism and Iranian Nationalism” in Van Schendel, Willem(Editor). Identity Politics in Central Asia and the Muslim World: Nationalism, Ethnicity and Labour in the Twentieth Century. London, GBR: I. B. Tauris & Company, Limited, 2001. Actual Quote:
As far as Iran is concerned, it is widely argued that Iranian nationalism was born as a state ideology in the Reza Shah era, based on philological nationalism and as a result of his innovative success in creating a modern nation-state in Iran. However, what is often neglected is that Iranian nationalism has its roots in the political upheavals of the nineteenth century and the disintegration immediately following the Constitutional revolution of 1905– 9. It was during this period that Iranism gradually took shape as a defensive discourse for constructing a bounded territorial entity – the ‘pure Iran’ standing against all others. Consequently, over time there emerged among the country’s intelligentsia a political xenophobia which contributed to the formation of Iranian defensive nationalism. It is noteworthy that, contrary to what one might expect, many of the leading agents of the construction of an Iranian bounded territorial entity came from non Persian-speaking ethnic minorities, and the foremost were the Azerbaijanis, rather than the nation’s titular ethnic group, the Persians.
In the middle of April 1918, the Ottoman army invaded Azerbaijan for the second time.
Contrary to their expectations, however, the Ottomans did not achieve impressive success in Azerbaijan. Although the province remained under quasi-occupation by Ottoman troops for months, attempting to win endorsement for pan-Turkism ended in failure.
The most important political development affecting the Middle East at the beginning of the twentieth century was the collapse of the Ottoman and the Russian empires. The idea of a greater homeland for all Turks was propagated by pan-Turkism, which was adopted almost at once as a main ideological pillar by the Committee of Union and Progress and somewhat later by other political caucuses in what remained of the Ottoman Empire. On the eve of World War I, pan-Turkist propaganda focused chiefly on the Turkic-speaking peoples of the southern Caucasus, in Iranian Azerbaijan and Turkistan in Central Asia, with the ultimate purpose of persuading them all to secede from the larger political entities to which they belonged and to join the new pan-Turkic homeland. Interestingly, it was this latter appeal to Iranian Azerbaijanis which, contrary to pan-Turkist intentions, caused a small group of Azerbaijani intellectuals to become the most vociferous advocates of Iran’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. If in Europe ‘romantic nationalism responded to the damage likely to be caused by modernism by providing a new and larger sense of belonging, an all-encompassing totality, which brought about new social ties, identity and meaning, and a new sense of history from one’s origin on to an illustrious future’,(42) in Iran after the Constitutional movement romantic nationalism was adopted by the Azerbaijani Democrats as a reaction to the irredentist policies threatening the country’s territorial integrity. In their view, assuring territorial integrity was a necessary first step on the road to establishing the rule of law in society and a competent modern state which would safeguard collective as well as individual rights. It was within this context that their political loyalty outweighed their other ethnic or regional affinities. The failure of the Democrats in the arena of Iranian politics after the Constitutional movement and the start of modern state-building paved the way for the emergence of the titular ethnic group’s cultural nationalism. Whereas the adoption of integrationist policies preserved Iran’s geographic integrity and provided the majority of Iranians with a secure and firm national identity, the blatant ignoring of other demands of the Constitutional movement, such as the call for formation of society based on law and order, left the country still searching for a political identity.
- Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition. p.122, ISBN 0-231-07068-3
- Persianate society
- Iranian Turks
- Turko-Persian tradition
- History of Arabs in Afghanistan