The brouhaha over the use of the word "genocide" by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls made me think about my people on my father's side.
My ppl were almost wiped off the earth 1000 years ago. Our conquerors coopted our history, our names, destroyed our writings to a thin sliver of the original, continue to persecute. My grandparents finally felt they had a home when they came to Canada. I am not demeaned. #cdnpoli https://t.co/FQ0b73K8pL— Shireen Jeejeebhoy (@ShireenJ) June 4, 2019
The UN defines genocide as:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Zoroastrianism is the oldest monotheistic religion in the world. But few know that, for most of the acts listed above were committed against Zoroastrians. Over one thousand years ago, in the seventh century, the Arabic Muslim conquest of the Zoroastrian empire lead to the decimation of the population and our writings. It also changed one of the fundamental aspects of Zoroastrianism. The story my father told me is related in Wikipedia as well:
"a dastur added a coin to the milk, saying like the coin, no one would be able to see that they were there but they would enrich the milk nonetheless. . . . their settlement is approved by the Rajah who addresses certain conditions for it: they would explain their religion, promise not to proselytise, adopt Gujarati speech and dress, surrender their weapons and only conduct their rituals after nightfall."
It used to be okay for people to convert to Zoroastrianism, but those who found refuge in India and Burma were told not to intermarry with the native population. You can tell by skin colour that this was not adhered to strictly, but it was well enough that it lead to inbreeding-related health problems over the centuries. Inflicting conditions on a population guaranteed to create poor health is one way to reduce their numbers. The condition not to convert also meant that whereas a millennium ago, a person like me, the product of one Zoroastrian parent and one not, could have gone through the Navjote, I was not allowed to when I reached puberty, the traditional age of this ritual. Only about a decade or so ago, in Canada, I was told that I could if I wanted to. Those who decide such things, I guess, decided that it was safe enough to revert to our traditions. Imagine that, only in the 21st century had we become considered human enough and began to feel safe enough to practice all of our traditions! But even more remarkable, over a millennium of persecution and slow genocide had made Zoroastrians docile to the dictates of the dominant population so that even when freedom came under the British in India and Burma, even with monetary and professional successes, they dared not stand up and demand full religious freedom until centuries later, decades after they landed on Canada's shores.
The Zoroastrians left in what is now modern-day Iran experienced persecution and active diminishment of their population and religion. Between the great fire of the Alexandria library and the conquest, very little remains of the writings. The conquerors claimed our history, language, names, achievements as their own, and institutions today like the British Museum abide with that revisionist move by calling it Ancient Iran, which effectively wipes out from memory the existence of Persians as a separate people from their conquerors and their descendants. That's the end game of genocide.
Today, our numbers are a small fraction of our original population a thousand years ago. That's the opposite of the planet's population increase. In essence, the genocide of Zoroastrians began violently but continued slowly and relentlessly over the centuries. The intergenerational trauma effect continues to today, something I've only barely begun thinking about although I know without a doubt I suffer from it, both from the genocide of my people and the effect of WWII horrors on my parents when they were children. I was told older GPs whose patients encompass two or three generations of one family can see this sort of thing, but how many psychiatrists can identify the insidious effects of slow genocide on the way a family views itself and acts out the hatred of the surrounding culture on its own members?
Our history validates what the National Inquiry is talking about. And provides lessons on what happens to traditions, culture, population, families, individuals, and knowledge in the world when this kind of slow genocide continues over the centuries and is not stopped.