A French Writer Triggers Debate about Iranian History


ByMohammed Alsulami

A few days ago, the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy wrote an essay exploring the relationship between the Iranian monarchy, the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979) and Nazi Germany during the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi (1925-1941). In the essay, he made the point that changing the name of Persia to Iran in non-Persian languages was proposed by Hitler’s government. This provoked discussions and denials by Iranian scholars, most of them reside in the West, who accused Lévy of falsifying history.
I addressed this topic, thoroughly, in my Ph.D. dissertation (now available in Arabic titled The Other Arab in Iranian Modern Mentality), which emphasized the relationship between the political system of Nazi Germany and the Pahlavi dynasty during the period in consideration. The German concept is based on the point that the Germans and Persians are both descendants of the same ethnic origin; Aryan race, which Hitler believed to be the most highly evolved human race, who are very smart and extraordinarily intelligent. As a result, of this concept, the racial law against non-Aryans, especially against the Semites was issued in Germany. Back then, the Iranians received special treatment in Germany for this reason [being Aryans]. The Nazi-Reich government believed that the Iranians had Aryan blood running through their veins, so they were excluded from the Nuremberg Race Laws.
What is interesting here is that the economic, political and ideological ties between Iran and Nazi Germany were gradually getting stronger because Reza Shah considered Germany to be an alternate superpower to Great Britain and the Soviet Union. Since 1993, Nazi activities mushroomed across Iran, with the promotion of the Nazi-Aryan ideology, along with embedding the dogma of Aryan supremacy of Germans and Iranians.
When Hitler came to power in Germany in August 1934, the Persian commission in Berlin was highly influenced by the Nazi ideology, which emphasized Aryan supremacy. It was reported that some friends of the Iranian Ambassador to Germany convinced him that as long as Reza Shah was very interested in his country’s history and managed to liberate it from the harmful intent of Great Britain and Russia that disturbed the domestic front during the Qajar dynasty, “it is appropriate to give the country a special name, Iran.” This did not only indicate the beginning of a new era, in which the old history of Iran was revived but also highlighted the fact that Iranians belong to the Aryan race. The word Iran itself is derived from Aryan, making Iran the homeland of the Aryan race, therefore, Persia must be appropriately renamed Iran in non-Persian languages. This proposal was submitted by the German government to the Persian commission in Berlin, which sent it to the Persian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and eventually, it was handed to Reza Shah. He adopted the proposal and officially announced calling Persia Iran -next Hijri Shamsi year (March 21, 1935)- and that any letter sent to the country including the old name [Persia] will be returned to the host country.
Reza Shah said, at one of the occasions justifying changing the name of Persia, “Whenever the word Persia is written or mentioned, it reminds foreigners directly of ignorance, weakness, misfortune, fading independence, and uncertainty old Persia.”
Old Persia definitely indicates the Islamic history in Iran and not merely the old history. Here, the well-known Iranian scholar Prof. Ehsan Yarshater said that this transformation “was not only a signal for a new start to make people clearly recognize the new era of Persian history, but also points out to the Aryan race the Iranians belong to because the word Iran is linguistically derived from the word Aryan.”
I do not believe this is what triggered the Iranian scholars in the West but the possible link drawn between Hitler and the Pahlavi dynasty, as both were anti- Semites. Therefore the Iranian nationalists sought to open communication channels with Iranian Jews in the United States and successfully convinced them to issue a statement in the name of the “Union of Iranian-American Jews” in which they expressed their gratitude for the respectful treatment they received as Iranian citizens during the era of the Pahlavi dynasty and that Germany had nothing to do with changing the name of Persia to Iran. It seems that the proponents of the Shah’s regime do not want to draw a link between these accusations and their history as they would appear like the velayat-e faqih regime as having enmity against Jews and Israel, and the claims of the Shah supporting the Holocaust would be confirmed.
The German ambassador to Tehran in the 1930s –as cited in the book Germany and Iran- said, “’It has come to our attention that some mullahs in Iran are using their pulpits to say that Allah sent the Absent Imam to the Earth in Hitler’s appearance. And one of the publishers in Tehran printed a large picture of Hitler following the steps of the first Imam in Shia Ali ibn Abi Talib.” He confirmed that the German embassy had absolutely nothing to do with this. Also, it was reported that Hitler sent a letter to Reza Shah congratulating him on finishing Iran’s railroad construction. And he suggested naming the suburb bordering the train station in Southern Tehran as “Nazi Bad” when translated into English means “Nazi suburb”. However, some say this information is not accurate and Hitler’s letter is not authentic, i.e., it was not written by Hitler.
Though the Shah had never met Hitler, many letters were exchanged between the two countries; a few years ago, a photo of Hitler with his signature at the bottom which was sent to Reza Shah appeared, a source reported. After delving into some sources, I found the book Memos Tadj ol-Molouk, in which Reza Shah’s wife and his mother mentioned the story of Hitler’s photo. They said in 1936 a high-ranking Iranian delegation visited Germany where they met with Hitler and presented him with two luxurious Iranian-Tabrizi carpets, one of them was weaved with Hitler’s photo and the other had the Nazi symbol Hakenkreuz. Hitler liked the two carpets and presented three personal photos, to the delegation, in which he wrote, “His Majesty Reza Shah Pahlavi, Iran’s Shah, wish you all success, Berlin March 12, 1936, Adolf Hitler.” The photo is displayed in the Niavaran Museum at the Saheb Gharaniyeh Palace in Tehran.
In a nutshell, it seems these discussions that Lévy provoked between the Iranian nationalists will not end soon. Many new topics may rise, including the future the political system in Iran and the nature of the upcoming political system, which may replace the velayat-e faqih regime, in addition, to the nature of Iran’s foreign relations. Seemingly, the Iranian scholars, who are proponents of the Shah’s regime, were directed to show that they have absolutely no relationship with archaic Nazi Germany or are anti-Semites.
Translated Piece: Watan SA

Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of Rasanah

Mohammed Alsulami
Mohammed Alsulami
Founder and President of Rasanah