Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Nowruz – Culture, Human Rights and Geopolitics

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The International Nowruz Day has been inscribed in the United Nation’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. The UN points out that “Nowruz is an ancestral festivity marking the first day of spring and the renewal of nature. It promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighbourliness, thus contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among peoples and different communities.”

A cross-generational interview with Dr. Mojtaba Shamsrizi by Bahador Azad, Nuri Karo and fc_org Blogger Manouchehr Shamsrizi.

Dear Dr. Shamsrizi, this weekend feeds into the ending of this years “Nowruz”, which as we understand is the  most traditional and important holiday in Iran. How come this meaningfulness?

Well, you already mentioned the main reason in your question. Nowruz, which we can’t say for sure how long it is  celebrated but most scholars believe since at least 3000 years, is definitely a pre-Islamic holiday and therefore a way to show the predominant inconsistency of Iran’s geopolitical situation and democratic deficit compared with Persian traditional culture and humanitarianism.

What do you mean by that?

Iran these days is in public dialogue only seen for its theocratic regime, its nuclear policy and – to sum it up – as a rogue state. This frustrates Persians all around the world, because there is so much more and more essential our culture stands for. If you walk into the main building of the United Nations in New York, you will first of all see a copy of the “Cyrus Cylinder“, which the American philosopher Professor William J. Talbott described as “perhaps the earliest known advocate of religious tolerance” and a proof that “ideas that led to the development of human rights are not limited to one cultural tradition.”.

Could Persia’s traditionally delivered view on human rights and political co-existence be a fundament for a possible peace process for Iran and the middle-East?

Well, I believe what is written on the Cyrus Cylinder is absolutely right and applicable to many distressed geopolitical situations across the globe as a historic Persian vision towards a peaceful public management approach, which has apparently been exercised at least 2500 years ago in the region of Babylon and Jerusalem – not far from Baghdad, Tehran and Gaza today.

The timelessness of Cyrus declared vision of federalist sovereign power and individual freedom and responsibility, might be the main reason why the UN is valuing it as the “ancient declaration of human rights” and exhibiting a copy in New York. Shirin Ebadi emphasised this in her Nobel Lecture stating that Cyrus was probably the first monarch constituting “he would not reign over the people if they did not wish it”, and who “promised not to force any person to change his religion and faith and guaranteed freedom for all.” But here you can see the political inconsistency, this doesn’t sound like current policy of Iran, does it?

Then of course you have the more cultural paradigms that have to be taken into regard: Persia it the native land ofHafizFerdowsi and Rumi, of Ibn Sīnā and Zoroaster, who Raphael painted next to himself in his “School of Athens“, and until today Persian filmmakers and dramaturges are worldwide respected and win important cultural awards, here in Germany the Golden Bear of the Berlin film festival, or just think of Asghar Farhadi who recently won an Academy Award.

How does this pluralism and diversity fit to a rogue state? And this is why Iranians want change and why they love to celebrate Nowruz as a holiday free of repressions and associated with their cultural proud.

Let us come back to the origin of Nowruz – we thought it is Zoroastrian?

We do not know this for sure, but if you want to read the most beautiful version of its genesis you should read it in Ferdowsis “Shahnameh“. What we know is that after the Iranian Revolution, Khomeini tried to prohibit the performance of Nowruz, which never worked out.

You mentioned a geopolitical role of Nowruz, what do you mean by that?

Nowruz, as you could easily see these days, is not only celebrated in Greater Iran but in many countries like India, Afghanistan, Iraqi,Azerbaijan and more in Caucasus and Central Asia. The Canadian parliament has passed a bill in general consent a few years ago to add Nowruz to the national calendar of Canada. Each year the President of the United States or another high-level representative of the US gives a congratulatory address. Nowruz is a global and transnational happening, which is important as a symbol between the peoples of different countries, not so much between their governments.

Tell us about how Nowruz is celebrated in the Persian diaspora.

Well, most of this people live outside the Iran for a political reason, because their freedom or live has been threatened inside the country. You can not think of the persian diaspora to be coherent in the way they think about Irans political situation and the way they want to induce change, or even what kind of change this should be. But Nowruz is a chance to unite these different groups for an ancient festival of humanity, which is happening all around the world. It is also a great way to give our children and probably their European friends an understanding of the Persian culture. This next generation, especially young women who are gaining leadership positions already in corporations, NGOs and political institutions, they are our hope for a better future in our homeland.

Thank you for your time!

D.Sc. Shamsrizi, born in Esfahān but living in Germany, is a business and cross-cultural mediator, EU environmental auditor with emphasis on energy management and a lyricist. He is a political analyst of the World Security Network Foundation, a member of the Hamburg Cultural Forum (Kulturforum Hamburg) and belongs to the managers’ network of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. He was a lecturer at the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg and has previously worked with ZDF, NDR, WDR, and various book publishers. In 2012 he is an advisor to the HanauInternational Forum for Culture and world understanding.


Manouchehr Shamsrizi

Manouchehr Shamsrizi (24) is a Global Justice Fellow at Yale University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts as well as the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy. His academic activities includes membership in several think-tanks including the "beta-group" of ZEIT Foundation, Google's Co:llaboratory, the German Council on Foreign Affairs, Siemens "Future Influencer", British Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Wilton Park’s Atlantic Youth ForumWilton Park's Atlantic Youth Forum and the "Yunus Brainpool", a Generation Y advisory board of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus' Grameen Creative Lab. He was elected a "European Future Leader", a "One Young World Ambassador", a "Leading Digital Native" (IBM), a "Sandbox Global Ambassador" and twice a "Leader of Tomorrow" at the St. Gallen Symposium. Manouchehr is a strategist for StartUps, especially consulting Private Equity firms and VCs. He is dramaturg of the "Center for Political Beauty" (Zentrum für Politische Schönheit), consisting of more than one hundred performance artist as well as a Senior Advisor to the "What took you so long" Foundation's disruptive-filmmaking Team. His first directed play (“incipit parodiae – wir zweifeln zuwenig und zuviel”) was perform first at the MorgenLand Festival at TAK Liechtenstein. He published on geopolitical, sociological and philosophical issues, is columnist of the REVUE - Magazine for the Next Society and was a speaker at universities as well as TEDx. Manouchehr holds a BA in Political Science, Economics and Cultural Studies from Zeppelin University (where he was also the coordinator of the European Center for Sustainability Research) and is a student of Humboldt-Viadrina School of Governance's Master of Public Policy class of 2014.