Wednesday, July 05, 2006

On The Relative Viscosity Of Blood

Iran's population is a diverse mix of many different ethnic groups, of which Persians comprise only 50% or so. The biggest minority group are the Azeris who make up a quarter of Iran's population, mainly in the northwest of the country. The lilting, softly guttural (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) tones of the Azeri language already envelops you as you step into Tehran's western bus terminal, and by the time you reach Qazvin, some 2 hours further west, you don't hear Farsi any more. Luckily I have contacts. My grandparents were originally from Azerbaijan (the region in Iran, not the ex-Soviet country) and so the majority of my mother's numerous cousins live in Tabriz, the regional capital. It's when I visit the Tabriz clan that I fully appreciate how central the family, and family ties, are to Iranian culture. Despite only having visited Tabriz twice before, my many cousins, variously removed, all seem to have vivid recollections of me and my juvenile antics (which are invariably very embarrassing for me) whereas I'm struggling, and failing, just to remember everybody's names. At least they make the concession to me by speaking mainly in Farsi rather than Azeri which, although I love the sound of it, I don't understand at all. But for me the most wonderful thing is how readily and openly I'm accepted in spite of the fact that I'm only around for a few days and I'm not likely to return for several years at least. It is this unquestioning acceptance that makes family (by which I mean the extended family and ties of relation, rather than the blinkered "mother, father and two kids" nuclear version) such a magical and special thing. And it's sad that such relationships are becoming less and less common as our societies become more and more "advanced".

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