Back in high school, I had classmates who described themselves as ‘Persian’. Of course, there’s no country called ‘Persia’ anymore, so it always baffled me. In addition to English, these Persians spoke a language called ‘Farsi’.
I need to confess my ignorance on this: I don’t know where Persia was (or is, in the imagination of its former occupants). I also, generally speaking, don’t know what languages are spoken in sundry Middle Eastern nations. This blog post will act as a little research exercise for me, to get a better grip on the answers to these questions.
From the Wikipedia entry on the Persian people:
Persians are the main ethnic group of Iran and are the majority and dominant ethnic group of Iran. In addition, Persians are found as minorities in other countries, particularly Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, though in these countries they are usually thought of as sub-groups. Significant numbers of Persians also reside outside of Iran, with the largest communities found in the United States, Germany, England, Canada, Kuwait, Turkey and UAE. Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, and the UAE also have large populations of Persian descendents, referred to as Ajamis.
Well that’s pretty clear. A non-Persian recently pointed out to me that those of Iranian descent who aren’t keen on being identified first as Iranian. I don’t know how accurate that is. Here, by the way, is what the Persian empire looked like at its height.
Now, let’s talk languages. What do they speak where? From the CIA World Factbook, here are the major languages spoken per country:
Iran: Persian and Persian dialects 58%, Turkic and Turkic dialects 26%, Kurdish 9%
Iraq: Arabic, Kurdish (official in Kurdish regions), Assyrian, Armenian
Syria: Arabic (official); Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian widely understood; French, English somewhat understood
Lebanon: Arabic (official), French, English, Armenian
Israel: Hebrew (official), Arabic used officially for Arab minority, English most commonly used foreign language
Jordan: Arabic (official), English widely understood among upper and middle classes
Afghanistan: Afghan Persian or Dari (official) 50%, Pashtu (official) 35%, Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen) 11%, 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%, much bilingualism
Saudi Arabia: Arabic
And what, by the way, is Farsi? It’s the local name for the Persian language.
Well that clears things up a bit. The mad language mix of Afghanistan reflects the difficulty everybody has conquering and controlling that region.