[PROVISIONAL TRANSLATION FROM Persian]
[Translator’s notes appear in square brackets.]
[Personal information has been redacted.]
[The excerpt below is from the section of the article that pertains to the Baha’i Faith]
[Adapted from website:] Voice of America [VOA]
[Date:] 7 Mehr 1387 [28 September 2008]
Ehsan Yarshater: What kind of meetings can I possibly have with anyone who is affiliated with this regime?
Dr. Ehsan Yarshater, a distinguished professor at Columbia University in New York and the founder and editor of the Encyclopedia Iranica—the most comprehensive and largest English encyclopedia about Iranian culture and history—spoke with Voice of America’s correspondent, Mr. Payam Yazdian. In this interview he denies any rumours related to meeting the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or receiving financial assistance to continue his project of publishing Iranica. This Columbia University professor also explained how he became aware of this rumour.
Question: Dr. Yarshater, when did you become aware of rumours of your meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and request assistance to publish Encyclopedia Iranica?
Dr. Yarshater: A few of my friends, who are familiar with my ethics and way of life, were surprised by the news and called to inform me of the published rumour; then, of course, more people who had heard [about it] called me. Obviously, this was a shock for everyone, because I never had any connections with the current Iranian regime. They had not only confiscated all my properties, but also for six months, created a programme called “Identity” to tarnish my name, and [those of] my colleagues and the Encyclopedia Iranica. Then they published it all and reprinted it several times.
What kind of meetings could I ever have with anyone affiliated with this regime? This news is based on lies and gimmicks. These are specific tricks played by certain individuals who relay such rumours to radio and television for the sake of maybe gathering credit for themselves through tarnishing the reputation of others.
Question: Mr. Yarshater, what do you think is the cause of the Islamic Republic’s [objection to] publication of the Encyclopedia Iranica?
Dr. Yarshater: The reason is that the Encyclopedia Iranica is absolutely and one hundred percent neutral and avoids any kind of biased opinion, and that is what the current Iranian authorities are completely devoid of. We have written in the introduction to the encyclopedia that we will include all Iranian minorities, whether racial, philological, religious, or others who were part of Iran throughout the centuries or shared the Persian language. We shall compensate these minorities for the neglect they suffered in Iranian history.
So, for example, [we will be] addressing the Kurds, the Lurs, and their language and local dialects and other ethnic minorities, such as Iranian Armenians, Iranian Assyrians, and in particular, religious minorities like the Jews, the Christians, who mostly comprise Armenians and Assyrians, as well as the followers of the Baha’i Faith. The Baha’i religion, to which the Iranian government is so sensitive, is a religion founded in Iran, and its followers have always been harassed, persecuted, murdered, imprisoned, and so on.
According to statistics that I saw last year, published by the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Baha’i community in the world consists of seven-and-a-half million people scattered around the world, and after the Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, is the most wide-spread religion in the world. We have no business in the religion of individuals or whether it is right or wrong, but it is also true that the Baha’is, who traveled to different parts of the world, have taken with them the language and the culture of Iran and have propagated it.
This is not harmonious with the [preference] of the current Iranian regime to instill religious prejudice into the minds of individuals, starting from infancy. On a number of occasions, those familiar with the thinking of the leaders of this regime [Islamic Republic] have conveyed to us that the main reason for their disagreement is our writing about the “Babis” and the “Baha’is” in the same line as other religions with a similar format, and our having published them. I believe this is the real reason; otherwise, if they really had the education to read and research the articles of the Encyclopedia, they would have learned that the largest source of Shia research in foreign languages is the Encyclopedia Iranica.
When we started the Encyclopedia, the sect of Shia was not so well-known. Later on, however, with the advent of [Ayatollah] Khomeini, the world became a bit more familiar But from day one, we did state that it was unfair for the world to get to know Islam through the sect of Sunni, as was the norm within most Western compilations. Attention needed to be paid to Shia, since it was the official religion of Iran and elsewhere in the world, and it was particularly popular in Asia. Alas, they are not interested in understanding the issue, and they say whatever they want based on their own prejudice. Now, with this history, how could we have met with anyone linked to this regime? These are pure lies.
Voice of America: Thank you very much for taking time to have a conversation with us. Be well and goodbye.