Professor Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, University of Maryland, interviewed by Dr. Homayun Alam, Georg August University Göttingen, May-September 2007
1. Prof. Karimi-Hakkak, you have contributed for the last four decades a lot to Persian literature, its history and its current state. What has been your real motivation and interest to study and investigate Persian literature?
In a great majority of academic careers devoted to researching the human past the ultimate motivation is, or ought to be, the search for truth; I would like to think that this has been true in my career as well. I sincerely have come to believe that in researching the rich, diverse and glorious tradition of literature in the Persian language, we face cases of falsehoods, half-truths and distortions that stand in need of correction in light of objective academic research and I have begun to do that in my own way.
1.2 You are by descent from Mashhad. There’s a saying from “Malek ol-Shoara Bahar” that “Khorasan is here, where the speech is not much easy”. Are there any connections between your social and intellectual environment and your interest to literature?
This is one of those often repeated assumptions that some people make with conviction and believe with zeal, but which, in my estimation, has little connection to the truth. I happen to have been born in Mashhad, the city that once, under the name of Tus, was one of the centers of literary production in the vast province of Khorasan. However, to say that people from Mashhad have a higher aptitude for Persian literature or are in a privileged position when it comes to literary production sounds false and unscientific to me, and it is divisive besides. Bahar was one of many Iranian nationalists of early twentieth century who tried to appropriate the shared heritage of an international language called Persian in the name of the modern country of Iran and, within that, to assign the lion’s share to the place which had given birth to him. However, the truth is that, as we know it today, the modern country of Iran is not the only site of literary production in that language and has no privileged claim to the heritage we call Persian literature. By extension, the city we call Mashhad has no special position in the current configuration of literary productivity in the Persian-speaking world. The republic of letters is not a geographical entity with bold borders and Persian literature belongs to all those who have produced it, those who read and enjoy it, and those who engage it creatively and critically, no matter where they were born or which country’s passport they carry.
1.3 Next to Mashhad is Neishabur to the west and Herat to the east (nowadays in Afghanistan). I remind myself that you have said in a VOA interview that you have traveled during your school vacations several times to the ancient city of Herat – which is known as the “Pearl of Khorasan”. To be honest, few people are interested in traveling to Afghanistan these days. What was your interest to travel to Herat and what did you do there? Did any contacts between you and your good old friends from that time remain?
It is true that many modern Iranians of my generation were oriented to travel to European capitals like London and Paris; I did that too, because it was the predominant orientation in Iran as I was growing up. In my case, however, an early interest in Persian literature also took me to cities like Neishabur (which was my mother’s birth place) and Herat (because I knew Khajeh Abodollah Ansari was from that city and was buried there and because I had read about the Baysonqori court there in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries); I am happy that I was different from my peers in that I looked both directions, rather than having my eyes fixed on the Western world only. It is also true that, for many centuries, the vast province of Khorasan, in which Herat and Neishabur were important centers of culture and civilization, was one of the most important hubs of literary productivity. None of that, however, privileges a modern Iranian or Afghan in any way. The best way to pay tribute to these wonderful cities is to read about them and read the works of Khayyam, Attar, Khajeh Abdollah Ansari and others who graced those urban centers with their imaginative writings. Similarly, the most appropriate way we can express our appreciation of the poets of Fars is to read Sa`di and Hafez and other great poets who picked up the torch of Persian poetry after Khorasan’s devastation in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Again, let’s remember that neither a Herati Persian speaker with no interest in Ansari’s charming prayer poems or his wonderful book on Sufism, Tabaqat as-Sufiyyeh, nor a Briton living in Stratford who has not read a line of Shakespeare are in a privileged positon vis-a-vis these great literary figures, just because they were born and live in the same cities.
2. Contemporary people think Iran in its current shape has existed since ages. We know that the Iranian nation-state comes up after many conflicts, especially in the Safavid reign and then at the time of the Qajars, and that today’s Iran was at least the result of many territorial partitions. What is your opinion when it comes to the Persian language in relation to power and politics?
I am not sure about the relationship between the two parts of your question. Iran is a territorial concept, a land, a country and a nation-state; a realm that has always had people with many different languages. The Persian language is a language that has been spoken by many peoples: Iranians, Afghans, Tajiks, and others. For various reasons, however, this language has demonstrated its tremendous durability and amazingly deep and wide appeal to a vast majority of its speakers, so much so that, even people who have lived their daily lives in a language other than Persian, have used Persian when it comes to writings of diverse kinds. Modern Iranians may think that they – or their ancestors – are the sole makers and masters of this language, but that is part of the nationalistic frame of mind that they have inherited without questioning it.
2.1 The tie between Iran as a country and Persian as a national language is becoming in the 20th century quite tight. Observers like historians detect among Iranian citizens within the second Pahlavi Shah’s time a kind of nationalism. Do you think the Shah, his entourage and others like the intellectuals of that time, had a clue what would happen if they politicize ancient Iranian history through the Persian language?
To address the latter part of your question, the monarchial system of Iran in the 1960 and 70s probably did not understand the detrimental implications of its politicization of culture; it certainly did not have sufficient insight into the ramifications of the tight relationship that it was setting up between the country and the language.
2.2 If someone from the US, Australia, Egypt or Brazil is confronted with an Iranian they have the impression this man or woman is only a member of Persian ethnicity and stock. How should one overcome this misunderstanding of an international outlook that Iran and Iranians are the single country which championed Persian language, literature, etc.?
The only way I know for overcoming this and other similar impediments is through human effort: education, information-dissemination, and deeper and a stronger and more sincere commitment to the search for truth.
2.3 The Iranian singer Fereydoon Farahi sang a national anthem in 2010 in which he condemned a kind of chauvinism among Iranians. This song was never recognized by Iranians. Do you think a national anthem is to show off pride?
I do not know this singer and have not heard the song you refer to. I know that Iran has never had a national anthem, such as may have been instituted, recognized or ratified through a parliamentary process.
3. If we trace back history and approach the concept of Iran as a state it is difficult to find the name of Iran as an entity with a specified territory. Can you please say at what time the word “Iran” as a term of denomination comes up?
Insofar as we know and recent research has been able to determine, in pre-Islamic times, the idea of Iran as a country and a political state did not exist until well into the Sasanian empire. Then, after the Sasanian defeat at Qadesiyyeh, the land of Iran is reduced to a province, albeit a very important province, within an expanding Islamic empire. It was also the land where most of the people that the Arab overlords called the Ajam lived, gradually developing and adopting the Persian language (what in scholarship we sometimes refer to as Neopersian) as a cherished part of their civilizational heritage and an instrument of aesthetic expression. None of the dynasties that ruled over all or part of that land mass, however, ruled in the name of Iran, until well into the fifteenth century at the courts of the Ilkhanids. It is with rise of the Safavid Dynasty in the 16th century that Iran once again becomes a nation-state, that is a distinct and distinguishable political entity in its own right, with more or less a coherent sense of itself.
3.1 Western European civilizations were at the onset of modern age rich with authors, musicians, poets, diplomats, linguists or politicians who romanticized the idea of Persia and Persian to criticize their own state of being – even the founders of the USA read about the concept of the Achamenid Empire as a kind of archetype. Since then over the last two or three centuries the discourse has changed. Novelists of the 20th century like Sadeq Hedayat did not accept Iran’s being a predominantly Islamic society and country. With which measures should a young Iranian novelist approach the works of Hedayat in the 21st century?
Over the past two centuries or so, many Europeans and Americans have romanticized several oriental cultures and religions, including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism and ancient civilizations like Chinese, Indian or Iranian.
Whatever else Sadeq Hedayat may have been, he was also a crusading ideologue and chauvinist Iranian who, in many of his works, allowed the hatred of Islam and the Arabs to poison his imagination. As far as I am concerned, this is an unfortunate, if somewhat understandable facet of his life, but it is demonstrably true and all you have to do is read his works to see and be repulsed by it.
3.2 Is literature in general, and the Persian example in particular, a suitable “gateway” to approach values of human rights, liberty, justice and tolerance?
We certainly have ample examples of literary works having a corrective, progressive effect on society, in terms of raising consciousness, giving rise to social movements, or changing attitudes, opinions, or even laws. In Persian literature, the tradition of advice and counsel (pand va andarz) has moderated human behavior in countless instances and, when it comes to the emergence and evolution of Islamic mysticism, at least up until Safavid times, Persian literature has altered human conceptions of God, even turning the paradigm of “fearing God” into that of “loving God”. So, we certainly can point, with justified pride, to numerous instances where Persian literature has benefited human beings in numerous ways.
However, this does not mean that literature is ALWAYS – and inherently – beneficial; in fact, we can say that many times the communicative power and influence of poetry or literature has been harnessed to instigate negative emotions and/or hateful actions, and we can cite many instances of that as well. The upshot of it all is that, neither literature, nor even language, are in themselves good or bad, progressive or reactionary; it is the ideas we communicate through these vehicles that may be beneficial or harmful, producing feelings of love and caring as well as spiteful hatred.
3.3 Has Persian poetry still the potency and charisma to express values, norms, tolerance, justice, liberty in comparison to ages before as it was influential and the exclusive agent to introduce, to criticize and to express things?
Today, more than at any time in the past, the Persian language has the capacity for propagating the truth of the human condition. It is not the language or the poetry that is defective or wanting, but the mind of the users who can use or abuse a language and a poetic tradition and take it in any direction it may wish, positive or negative, as explained above.
4. If students of social science, ordinary Iranians or even Iranian scholars are asked where the Iranian Plateau is you are going to be surprised by their answers as it happened countless times to me! You’d think what went wrong with the contemporary understanding of the concept of “Iran and Iran-zamin”?
In scientific research of a quantitative nature, it is always useful to explore why something – precisely what, one should ask – may have gone wrong in the past. However, we all need to remain mindful of the fact that “observed impressions”, expressed in statements like “it happened countless times to me” may not prove or disprove larger claims such as “contemporary understanding of the concept of “Iran and Iran-zamin”.
4.1 Referring to the last question, does literature play a minor or a major role of transmitting Iranian readership about their past, culture, shape or similar cases?
I don’t know, because I have not seen any scientifically reliable research conducted on these issues.
4.2 Shahnameh as an epic work is the collective memory of Iran – if you want. In Tajikistan it seems to be really popular and is valued as a native source about their own past as part of “Iran and Iran-zamin”. In Afghanistan within Persians from Herat, Balkh, Ghazni, Bamyan, Badakhshan or Kabul it has more or less its posture. Have you ever had any experiences concerning the importance it has in these three countries?
I have written and spoken about the Shahnameh extensively, but not from a territorial or anthropological angle that you seem to foreground here.
5. Iran is today politically separated from lands and peoples with which it has been united through the centuries. In this sense, it is not facile to remind Iranians, Persians from Afghanistan, Tajiks from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan or Persians from Pakistan that they shared for centuries a common culture based on the Persian language and its literature. Is the concept of “Persianate” or “Persianate World” of Marshall Hodgson practical to re-introduce “Persian” and the past?
There still is a Persianate world; it consists of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, plus a number of Central Asian and Western Chinese cities, plus the huge Persian-speaking diaspora all over the world. The task ahead us, I think, is to stop thinking about – or imagine – the political union that never was, but strengthen our cultural ties based on the shared heritage of the Persian language and its glorious literature.
5.1 The account of Persian as a language through its literature is coined through three genres: Khorasani, Iraqi and Hendi (Indian). According to this division, the corresponding lands of it are today divided and subdivided into nation-states with clear borderlines such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Greater India. How important is it to know these three period styles?
The phrases you have cited, Khorasani, Iraqi and Hendi, are all unfortunate misnomers coined by an Iranian nationalist called Mohammad-Taghi Bahar. The more correct and historically accurate way of speaking about the history of Persian poetry is to point out its continuous transformation in a changing Persianate world, supported by generation upon generation of poets and patrons, as well as critics and readers who were ethnically and religiously diverse. We have had ethnically Turkic and Turkish poets writing Persian poetry for Persian, Turkic or Indian patrons; we have had Muslim kings, Emirs and viziers, both Shia and Sunni, supporting Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim poets, and we have had readers the world over who have read and admired poetry in the Persian language even though they may not have been able to converse in the Persian language themselves. Again, let me reiterate that, to me at least, the Republic of Persian literature is not a territorial entity divided by boundaries and ethnic identities; it is a global republic of the human imagination.
5.2 In many ways contemporary Iran claims to be the last heir to a rich cultural heritage. Don’t you think that it is better to re-write the history of “Iran and Iran-zamin” with experts – who should fulfill virtues like being in their approach and judgement impartial?
What I think you mean is “some contemporary citizens of the modern country of Iran claim” to be the last heir to that cultural heritage, and I say: their claim is invalid. They may have some claim to that inheritance, but only if they can prove that they know it, cherish it, and use it – and use it wisely. Nobody is “the last heir” to anything in human heritage because humanity has not ended and the final word of the world or about the world has yet to be spoken.
5.3 At the renowned book fair in Frankfurt/M. I talked once with people of Persian descent from Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, India and Iraq on the topic of Shahnameh. We realized that there is no movie on the tales of Shahnameh. Why has nobody, especially no Iranian, turned the stories of Shahnameh into films or serials?
I have no idea why.
5.4 Collective memories are hints to give rise to a better understanding of other popular knowledge on an issue. Unfortunately, I think it is taken for granted in the three countries where Persian is national language – Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan – that these languages are also disconnected ones. What are your experiences in this regard?
I think that if political and intellectual leaders in the countries you name put their minds together and come up with ways of highlighting and strengthening cultural connections among their peoples, the gap you identify can be bridged within a generation or two.
5.5 In this series of interviews on “Iran and Iran-zamin” Ofran Badkahshani of Amsterdam is one of the experts. He has a poem titled “Man Iranam” (I am Iran), which is available on youtube. The book where this poem is published also has the same title. His publication and his scientific work is an avatar of his native country of Afghanistan. Concerning Ofran’s historical approach I would ask how much “Iran and Iran-zamin” can someone detect in contemporary Iran?
If I understand it correctly, you are asking how much awareness exists, in today’s Iran, about the larger culture that connects all Persian-speakers to each other. If that is indeed your core question, I must say, I don’t think there is much, certainly not an adequate awareness, even though at times I too come across people who show a lot of enthusiasm about the shared language heritage among the three countries.
6. What are your suggestions to improve the perception for students to know impartially concepts about “Iran and Iran-zamin”?
Keep on trying! Is there any other way?
6.1 The Goethe-University of Frankfurt/M. is noted for “Frankfurt School” in the subjects of philosophy, social sciences and political theory. I myself encountered pundit Jürgen Habermas at the University of Frankfurt and we talked about his stay in Iran. He saw among Iranians a huge interest in western philosophy, as he stated. I perceived really impartial students and scholars of the “Frankfurt School” who shared their findings and applied researches – when I asked or discussed with them. Immanuel Kant plays a pivotal role for “The Frankfurt School”, as you know. I have never honestly experienced Germans claiming Immanuel Kant as their acquired property. If Immanuel Kant was an Iranian how would Iranians act according to our previous questions as we tried to find out what are the reasons of entitlements of cultural heritage?
Most of them would probably act in an arrogant way; that is in the nature of ignorance. Ignorance is arrogant because it is not aware that its true name is “ignorance”. All we can do is educate, educate, educate! Again, do you know of any other way?
6.2 The greatest contribution to Persian literature in the 20th century with worldwide respect was the work of Iqbal Lahuri (1877-1938). If I would explain to someone why Iqbal is important for the representation of Persian literature in colonial era how should I produce an argument?
Allow me to leave aside the question of who has made “the greatest contribution to Persian literature in the 20th century”. I agree that Iqbal is a very important Indo-Pakistani poet who produced seminally significant works in the Persian language. For my part, I would situate his importance in the context of the tension between our Persian heritage and our drive to modernize it. Iqbal imagined the mystical tradition in Persian poetry as a dynamic force that could be revived and put to work for the renewal of what he imagined to be an “Eastern Culture”. At the same time, he defined this imagined entity in a relationship of perpetual opposition with Western culture. There, I think, lies the core of his problem. He did not value – perhaps even did not comprehend – the perennial interaction between the East and the East, the Orient of the Orientalists and the culture that he participated in while living and studying in Germany – as in the example of Goethe glorifying an imaginary Hafez – as a parable for cooperation and complementarity, rather than as the potential for the triumph of the East over the West. In the twenty-first century, this way of thinking, though not completely defeated and dead, is gradually giving way to more constructive models of interaction among culture clusters.
7. In your writings and talks you have often discussed the late Ahmad Shamlu (1925-2000). He has not few readers who read Persian among ethnic Persians in Tajiksitan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, India, Iraq and Pakistan, as I experienced in conferences of Iranian studies. Do you think Shamlu is solely a national Iranian poet or was he much more a cosmopolitan by his habits?
I gravitate toward the latter view. I think Shamlu was a modern Iranian poet who aspired to appropriate models of poetic creativity from contemporary European cultures, particularly that of French literature. At the same time, he maintained intellectual connections with the socialist thought of early twentieth century, or at least could not liberate himself from certain leanings in that thought-system, one that had found its way into Iran through its manifestation in Stalinist communism. Like Iqbal, he too, is an example of the uneasy cohabitation of native and foreign tendencies, but that is a whole other story.
7.1 Mehdi Akhavan-Sales (1929-1990) highlighted in his works the notion of “Khorasan”. What was the aim of him?
I am not sure what you are referring to; it would be good to open this statement up a little bit. Akhavan was from Khorasan, and like most other people, he felt an affection for the land that had nurtured him. However, I do not think that in his poetry he privileges Khorasan over and above other parts of Iran. If you consider his famous Qasida, titled “I Love You, Ancient Homeland”, which I have translated, discussed and analyzed in one of my articles, you will see that his ultimate allegiance goes to the greater Iran, or what you call Iranzamin, and not necessarily to any particular part of it. As far as we can determine his purpose in doing so, he may have been a nationalist, but not in any narrow sense, like valuing his native region over and above the rest of the country of which he was a citizen.
7.1.1 Where was and where is Akhavan’s geographical Khorasan today?
Khorasan is now divided between Iran, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia. However, I think you mean to explore the fate of the old region which, in academic parlance, we refer to as “The Greater Khorasan”. If so, that region no longer exists, since both political boundaries of the region and the realm of the Persian language have been altered over the past several centuries. In acknowledging this, we should be very careful not to nurture the sense of nostalgia that might lead to thoughts of the revival of an old territory that has been altered irretrievably. Changes of this kind happen all the time and all over the world, and the best we can do is acknowledge what the territory of that Greater Khorasan accomplished in the centuries that stretch from the fall of the Sasanian Dynasty to the devastations of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
7.2 Khalilullah Khalili (1907-1987) of Kabul was a Persian poet. What is his importance for “Iran and Iran-zamin” today?
I prefer to speak of Khalili’s importance as a twentieth century Persian-speaking poet nurtured by the great land of Afghanistan who made impressive contributions to the modernization of Persian poetry. Unfortunately, his importance as a modernizer has been misunderstood because, like so many great poets of Iran before Nima Yushij, he produced poetry that preserved the appearance of continuity, rather than signaling ruptures with the classical tradition. When and if critics and historians of Persian poetry begin to view modern Persian poetry in ways that do not highlight form over theme, structure, social imperatives, or other aspects of the poetic art, then Khalili’s value will be seen in more meaningful ways, perhaps equaling that of Dehkhada, Bahar or `Eshqi among Iran’s modern poets.
7.3 In Tajikistan Loyeq Sherali (1941-2000) was one of the celebrated poets of 20th century. How is his reception in Iran?
Loyeq Sherali was a great friend of mine. When I first visited Tajikistan in 1990 he asked me to appear on a television program which he hosted. I did and there, on his program, he asked me to comment on the state of poetry in Tajikistan. In my response, I likened his poetry to that of Akhavan in Iran and mentioned that I thought in comparison, the other Tajik poet Bozor Sobir’s poetry might be seen as closer to that of Shamlu. He was fascinated by the comparison and asked me to elaborate. I did, by saying that whereas his poetry, like that of Akhavan, had its roots in the local and national Tajik legend and lore, Sobir’s poetry attempted to reach a more cosmopolitan and universal audience. He said he took this as a compliment and observed that all poetry has to have its roots in the language of the people before attempting to appeal to wider audiences. I agreed but added that, having an organic life, poetry needs both tendencies, just as a tree needs both old roots and new leaves. He liked that comparison very much.
The point I want to make here in connection with your question is twofold. First, that in transplanting the poetry of one culture to that of another social clime, say through the act of translation or in the case of Tajikistan and Iran in changing the language’s register from one variety of Persian to another, much more is lost of the poem’s roots in the linguistic and aesthetic local culture than of its leaves, that is its attempt to reach an audience removed from it by the language or culture and lore or the sociopolitical systems that surround it. Therefore, in Iran Loyeq’s poetry may appeal more widely to those who value traditional aesthetic expression than those who value more modern aspects of a poem. The important thing is to realize that all cultures need both of these orientations for a poetic culture to thrive in it.
7.4 Qahar Asi (1956-1994) of Kabul wrote a poem in defense of the Persian language, titled “Persian is our heart” (Del-e Ma’st Parsi). It was made into a song among Persian singers from Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Do you think that Qahar Asi is known in the Iranian intellectual, literature and poetry discourse?
The bad news is that non-Iranian Persian poets are not recognized adequately by modern lovers of poetry in Iran. The good news is that this situation is changing rapidly. As modern Iranians begin to educate themselves on the value of poetry as much as on its being an exquisite linguistic artefact as for its relevance as a national icon or emblem for this or that country then they’ll begin to understand and appreciate the poetry of Afghanistan and Tajikistan in general, and of course that of Qahar Asi’s as well.
8. Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī or Rumi was a great poet. In my Iran course, I tell my students that Rumi, like Hafez, Sa’di, Rudaki, Khayyam and others was at once a poet and a philosopher. In German you can call it easily in a single word “Dichterphilosoph”. Is this expression right if we call the “prophet of love” a poet and philosopher?
I am not sure. The fact that the German word Dichterphilosoph encompasses the crafts of the poet as well as the thoughts and ideas of a philosopher has little relevance to the way the relationship between poetry and philosophy has unfolded historically in Iran or in the Persian-speaking world. In the latter milieu, clearly you come across philosophical musings or meditative poetry, such as in the works of the poets you mention here. However, in the end, philosophy goes for a systematic expression the objective facts of, and ideas about, the world as we know it and the place of human beings in it in a way that relates to an age or an epoch. Poetry, on the other hand, especially modern poetry, is more premised on the expression of feelings and emotions not bound by systemic constraints, and true only for the moment of expression, not for ever or even for a long duration of time.
8.1 As you know Rumi was born in what today is contemporary Afghanistan and died in present-day Turkey. In between these two states you will find Iran. Who is the truthful heir of Rumi’s legacy?
That question is philosophically impossible to resolve and culturally divisive in the end. While the man lived, neither Iran, nor Afghanistan or Turkey existed as sovereign states that they are in 1207. More importantly, he would not identify himself in terms of his relation to this or that country. He would probably say that he was a Sufi Muslim from the city of Balkh in the region of Khorasan who had moved to Konia in the territory of Rum.
The readers who have followed the line of thinking I have charted throughout this interview know that very well by now. Only those who benefit in some way from dividing people of centuries past by terms that apply only to the people of today would still insist on putting the question in those terms. To reiterate what I have said before: Rumi was a poet who wrote in the Persian language, and he belongs primarily to those who understand this language and who read the beautiful poems that he has offered to all humanity, and read them preferably in the original language but at least through translations, version, renditions, etc.
8.2 In comparison to Iran in Afghanistan there are few or no devotions of birthplaces of great thinkers, poets, philosophers, astrologists who thrived in the last few centuries. Today, the government of Afghanistan may describe itself as the capital of the Muslim world, but if you look for images of individuals such as Abu-Rayhan Biruni or Jalal-ad-Din Rumi and many others the government seems not to value these great thinkers of the Islamic world. Why do they neglect such historical treasures?
I don’t know, and I am not sure that what your question implies is actually happening, or if it is relevant or valid at all.
9. What are your personal and scientific hopes for the future of “Iran and Iran-zamin”?
It is my personal hope that literary and cultural interaction among contemporary Persian-speaking countries of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan – as well as certain other urban areas in Central Asia and Western China, such as Samarqand, Bukhara, Kashghar and Urumchi – would grow both quantitatively and qualitatively. I also hope that academics such as you clarify the concepts they work with in a way that would bring about more convergence among these linguistic cultures than divisions.
9.1 Do you have any suggestion for the institution of “Farhangestan” in Tehran?
I do, and I have written much and made many suggestions, but that is a totally different topic way outside the boundaries of this interview.
9.2 Iranian studies outside Iran is still capable to investigate issues related to “Iran and Iran-zamin” – even having little budget to do so. In western countries we have many Iranians, also Persians of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq and Tajikistan, who are wealthy. Taking this fact into consideration are “rich” Persians aware enough to help out scientific projects like The Encyclopedia Iranica?
There is a degree of awareness and it is increasing ever so slowly; but much more can and should be done to raise that awareness.
10. Do you have any plans in mind for your future research?
Yes, I am laying the foundations for a multivolume research project tentatively titled “The History of Persian Poetry”, and it is being welcomed in some quarters, but I will have much more to say about this project in the near future than I do now.
10.1 Are you interested to teach one day in Iran, in Iran-zamin, in Samarkand, in Nishabur, in Herat, in those places where you have carried out researched through the decades?
I would love to, but I do not see it in the cards that have been handed to me!
10.2 Can you tell me if there’s someone who is in your field of scholarship a kind of up and coming “star” in Iranian studies?
I’d rather not name names, but I do have high hopes for the up and coming crop of scholars in the field of Persian literary studies.
Thank you for your time and interest, Prof. Karimi-Hakkak.
You are very welcome.
Dr. Homayun Alam studied General Social Science (Allgemeine Sozialwissenschaften), Political Science, Law, Sociology, and Comparative Religion at the Goethe University Frankfurt/Main. He graduated in Political Science with a thesis on “Menschen- und Flüchtlingsrechte im Iran” (2007; “Human and Refugee Rights in Iran”). He took his doctoral degree in Iranian Studies (Neu-Iranistik) and Islamic Studies at the Georg August University Göttingen, submitting a dissertation on “Ethnische Minderheiten im iranischen Film” (2014, “Ethnic Minorities in Iranian Film”).
Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak is a professor of Persian Language, literature and Cultures at the University of Maryland. He has studied in Iran and the United States, receiving his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Rutgers University in 1979. Karimi-Hakkak has taught at Tehran University, University of Washington, and the University of Maryland; he is now a visiting professor in UCLA’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. He is the author, editor or translator of over twenty books and around one hundred and fifty research articles. The study of language, literature and culture in their various sociopolitical contexts and along the diachronic dimension has been at the center of his scholarship. He counts Recasting Persian Poetry: Scenarios of Poetic Modernity in Iran (University of Utah Press, 1995), Essays on Nima Yushij: Animating Modernity in Persian Poetry (Brill, 2004), and Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature (Arcade, 2005) as most representative of his contributions to the study of Persian literature. In 2012 his landmark Book Recasting Persian Poetry was reissued in paperback form by Oneworld Publications of London. He has also written entries on Iran and Persian literature for many reference works, including The Encyclopedia Britannica, The Encyclopaedia Iranica, and The Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, among other reference works. Karimi-Hakkak has won numerous awards and honors, and has served as President of the International Society for Iranian Studies (ISIS) and several other professional academic organizations. He is spending 2014-15 as the Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), after which he plans to retire and devote his time exclusively to research and writing.