The clerical leadership in Iran has tried hard to prevent its demise, as is popularly demanded in recent months by Iranians inside and outside Iran. To continue their Islamic rule, the clerics have tried hard to preserve the Islamic Hejab, which has been widely demanded during the past six months by Iranian women to be abolished. Now, the beginning of the new year festivity has brought another challenge to the clerical regime. On March 14, 2023, during the traditional celebration of the Fire Festival, 11 people were killed, and some 3500 persons were injured. Anti-government protests broke out in several cities across Iran on March 14, triggered by the fire festival, as was reported by AFP. Protesters chanted anti-clerical slogans in disguise for the fire festival. The clerical regime opposes the celebration because of its pre-Islamic origins and also because it provides people with an opportunity to gather and protest against the regime in public.
Since the emergence of the Islamic government in Iran in 1979, the clerics have tried to alter the Iranian national identity to an Islamic Identity. The hallmark of Iranian national identity is based on the Farsi language strength and the glory of Iranian heritage built over 2500 years of history. The Iranian cultural characteristics have remained alive and well. The Nowruz festivity is celebrated throughout the former greater Iran. For years, the Islamic government has tried to minimize any cultural identification that was pre-Islamic. References to the Persian empire disappeared from schoolbooks and were replaced with references to Islamic history wherever possible. During the Pahlavi reign, nationalism which was supported by the intelligentsia, was emphasized to solidify the Iranian culture based on the glory of Iran’s pre-Islamic Achaemenid empire, founded in 559 BC by Cyrus the Great. Iranians have superpower nostalgia, as Iran was the first superpower in history. The Persian Empire at its height, under Cyrus’ successor Dariush, extended from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus River in the Indian Subcontinent. Under the clerical oligarchy, Islamic culture was emphasized as was originally imposed on Iran by the Arabs after they conquered Iran in the 7th century.
Since the Islamic Revolution, Iranian traditions and festivities have come under attack by the top clerics with ridicule and hostility. In the early years, they assaulted the traditions and celebrations of Nowruz (new day), the Iranian new year on the first day of Spring. Nowruz has been the most popular festival in Iranian culture from ancient times to the present. Days before, people grow wheat or lentils to prepare a round tray of green sprouts (sabzeh) for Nowruz. The prelude to the festivity begins with “Firework Wednesday” or Chahar-shanb-e Suri in Farsi, a celebration on the eve of the last Wednesday before Nowruz. People light bonfires and jump over them. For decoration, people prepare Sufr-e Haft-sin, an arrangement of seven items whose names start with the letter “S” and include sabzeh. On New Year’s Day, people put on new clothes and begin visiting relatives and friends. The festivity ends with Sizdah Be-Dar (Thirteen Outdoor), the 13th day of the new year when people picnic outdoors to end the new year festivities.
Instead of the Nowruz celebration, the clerics have consistently boosted the importance of Islamic holidays. The clerics have tried to diminish the importance of Nowruz or replace it with imam Ali’s birthday or Eid al-Fitr, which it marks the end of dawn-to-sunset fasting in the month of Ramadan, and Eid al-Ghadir, which is the day that prophet Muhammad was said to have appointed Ali ibn Abi Talib as his successor. Nevertheless, the clerics have not been able to get rid of Nowruz because it has been practiced for more than 2500 years. Despite the mullahs ignoring of this important celebration, Nowruz has not only survived, it has even become more popular, not only in the Iranian motherland but also throughout the formerly greater Iran. The Mullahs’ immense hostility towards the Iranian national heritage is a very clear indication of their devotion to Islamic fanaticism and the fact that they do not have any support among the Iranian people.
Akbar E. Torbat (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the author of “Politics of Oil and Nuclear Technology in Iran,” Palgrave Macmillan, (2020), https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030337650 . He received his Ph.D. in political economy from the University of Texas at Dallas.