The House of Sand and Fog
As part of the course I took in professional writing we studied the film “The house of sand and fog” a film by Vadim Perelman which featured Sir Ben Kingsley as Colonel Massoud Amir Behrani, an Iranian political refugee living the United States. Even though he was a high-ranking army officer in Iran, Massoud was working several menial jobs in order to provide his wife, Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and his son, Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout) with an acceptable standard of living.
The members of my course were almost equally divided between an admiration for the creativity of the acting and the brilliance of the direction .
In contrast there was a third opinion that the story, one of great tragedy, in which Massoud, his son and his wife all died, was fundamentally flawed in that the succession of events leading to the tragedy was unbelievable. They were of the opinion that no group of people could behave as illogically as was depicted in the film.
Personally I found it difficult to be objective because of a crisis of conscience. In 1973 I had met and befriended a senior Iranian official, and I had no idea what had happened to him during the revolution of !979. What is worse is that it had never crossed my mind to be concerned.
A Blessing and a Curse
In 1975 I was the Engineering Manager of a heat treatment company selling equipment to both Iran and Iraq for the hardening of artillery shells. If we thought about it at all it was that we were assisting allies prepare to resist a potential soviet invasion.
My Iranian contact looked and spoke as though he had been born in Sussex, but he was a very proud Iranian. His name was hardly iranian, Maurice Lyon. his father had been english executive with an oil company who had been instrumental in setting up the government controls on the oil industry. Apparently his name was fortuitous as the symbol and flag of the Persian state at that time was the Lion and the Sun.
He told me that Persia, and he always preferred to use that name, had been been given the name Iran in deference to the wishes of Adolf Hitler, as Hitler believed that the Persian people were the origins of his “Aryan” race.
I was told that Persia’s blessing and subsequent curse was that it sat across the rich trading routes linking the east and the west. These goods travelling along these routes generated great wealth but also great jelousy.
War with Egypt
They were one of the root causes of Persian expansionism and the persian determination to rule Egypt can be attributed to a desire to exert firmer control of the spice route to add to it’s domination of the more northerly silk road.
There were also determined efforts to expand further north as a northerly branch of the silk rd by passed Persian territory,feeding Northern Europe via the Viking routes along the Volga. there was also a branch across the northern Black Sea and along the dniester/vistula and Danube rivers.
The ill fated attempt by Persia to invade Greece was probably in part an attempt to grab control of these routes.
Alexander the great stepped in to take advantage of the situation and grab control for himself. however alexanders conquest had little impact on the Persian people they became alexanders subjects and provided the experience administrators who stabilised Alexander’s empire.
Alexander’s task in invading Persia was made easier by the “Royal Rd”
This road was well paved and ran from Sardis to Persopolis facilitating the trasport of precious goods and troops from one end of the empire to the other. another feature of the road was that there were a string of signalling posts all within sight of each other, enabling messages to be sent from Persopolis to Sardis in less than a day
The Palace Burns
For reason’s which have never been understood Alexander burned Persopolis. The blame was put on Thais, an athenian woman who was travelling with Alexander, who later married Ptolemy 1st of Egypt,one of Alexander’s generals. The theory is that Thais incited Alexanders companion’s to set fire to Persopolis in revenge for the persian attacks on Athens. However an alternative theory is that Alexander was overawed,or even frightened by some of the information he found in the library and made a deliberate decision it should be destroyed.
Under the rule of Alexander and his generals, Persia for a short period totally controlled the trade routes. but interal bickering led to fragmentation and vulnerability.
Rome too wanted to gain control of the trade routes.
Conflict with Rome
The conflict with Rome lasted 700 years and Rome suffered many serious defeats at the hands of the Persian’s. According to maurice it was during this lengthy period that Persia’ reputation and standing was continually denegrated by the Roman’s, in contrast to the adulation given to Greece and Egypt. It was as if the persian civilisation had never existed. Because the inflence of rome streches through to the present day, much of the western world’s thinking still ignores Persia’s heritage and the contribution made to civilisation.
The Romans took control of the western end of both the the spice route in Egypt and the silk rd on the mediterranean coast. A decision was made to by-pass the western end of the royal road and to transport directly to rome from Caesarae Rome and redistribute from there. Thus rome grew rich whilst other communities were deprived of their livelyhood. The concentration of wealth in what is now Northern Israel lay the seeds of the never ending middle eastern conflict. Rome and Persia fought until they were both exhausted leaving themselves both vulnerable to attack by the Arabs whose reason for expansion was also to get control of the trade routes.
Today what we call Iran has many different races, many different languages and many different religions within its borders. Despite the long series of conquests and this diversity the persian peoples retained a sense of identity nevertheless.
The discovery of oil gave the state a new found importance and Maurice was proud of the progress being made to establish a liberal minded, forward looking state. in all these discussions he clearly identified himself as iranian, the successor to a proud tradition. However by 1976 he did have some concerns.