What motivates me to donate?

The legacy of Cyrus the Great is an eternal source of pride for us all. To be the heir to a culture as rich and majestic as Iran’s is indeed a unique honor. But what have we done to demonstrate our appreciation for this privilege? What have we done to introduce to the world this exceptional civilization that has enriched the lives of our people through millennia, led us to heights reached by few other nations, and served as our sanctuary even when all else seemed lost? The defense and promotion of this heritage is a task that cannot be accomplished simply through boasting about the past; we all know much more needs to be done. And is there any doubt education is the first and most important step of all?

In the modern era, due to a lack of proper representation in the media and academic institutions, most Western citizens have an understanding of our culture that rarely extends beyond inaccurate stereotypes and archaic clichés. Through no fault of their own, their perception of Iran amounts to little more than a hollow caricature. How can this unfortunate condition be remedied? Pondering this issue, I am always reminded of individuals and anecdotes that highlight the transformative effect of the Iranian culture on those who come in contact with it.

Professor Arthur Pope, a renowned American expert on Iranian art and literature, developed such a passionate affection for our country through his studies that he requested to be buried in Isfahan. His mausoleum today is one of that city’s tourist attractions. Recently, another distinguished Iran-scholar from America, Professor Richard Frye, expressed the same wish for his resting place.

These stories are symbolic of the enduring impressions left on Westerners when offered a realistic representation of the Iranian culture. Evidence shows the more they become familiar with Iran, the more they come to respect its culture and the more they understand the lives of the Iranian people. Knowing that education is the most effective method to convert the misinformed and uninformed, what is the path that lies before us? How do we ensure that this process is carried through by those most passionate and dedicated to the Iran that we know and love? We must provide resources and encouragement to those who would be able to do so.

Throughout history, a multitude of aggressors attempted in vain to undermine or obliterate the Iranian heritage and sense of identity. While they failed without exception, some did manage to destroy valuable historical records and documents, and, by brute force, were able to suppress the teaching and inheritance of Iranian intellectual legacy for prolonged periods. As a result, large segments of Iranian history have been written by foreigners often with no passion for or tangible ties to the country. It was not until the past century that the opportunity finally arose to organize a concerted effort to remedy this national tragedy. But we can and must do much better. But how?

Currently, individuals living abroad have access to few academic programs exist to introduce the Iranian civilization – with an even fewer number of those taught by scholars who are passionate about Iran. As it stands, in most universities where Iranian or Persian Study is part of the curriculum, the subject is commonly taught under the umbrella of African, Oriental, Religion, and Middle Eastern studies while Greek or Roman Studies benefit from their own individual departments. This is mainly due to a lack of funding which limits the expansion of Iran-related programs. How can we support their growth?

With proper contribution from concerned individuals and personal involvement by academics across the world, universities will be able to fund and design Iranian or Persian studies on BA, MA and PhD levels and offer incentives for prospective students through scholarships. Such a process can help replicate the successful experience of a number of Iran-related programs already present in Europe and North America, such as Göttingen University’s Iranian Studies department (http://www.uni-goettingen.de/en/40031.html), UCLA’s Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture (http://www.humanities.uci.edu/persianstudies), the graduate program for Iranian Studies offered by Concordia University (http://graduatestudies.concordia.ca/SIP/researchcurrents/currents/iranianstudies), Maryland University (www.ricps.umd.edu)

We should support the students who have this passion for Iran and who wish to share this passion across the world. Since establishment, the Houtan Scholarship Foundation has assisted 187 Iranian and non-Iranian graduate students internationally in their pursuit of master and doctoral levels degrees. Most of the recipients’ areas of study have been related to Iran; those with a major not related to Iranology have demonstrated strong and active interest in promoting Iran’s recognition locally, nationally, and internationally. The Foundation has helped graduate students from all over the world, including America, France, Italy, Sweden, Greece, Russia, Mexico, Armenia, Egypt, and Iran. In addition, the Houtan Scholarship Foundation, in collaboration with other organizations, has sponsored three-year fellowships for the Anthropology of Iran at St. Andrews University in Scotland. The Foundation also sponsored another three-year fellowship for the Anthropology of Iran at Manchester University in England, again in collaboration with other organizations. Of note, the interest in Persian culture and civilization of all of the non-Iranian scholarship recipients had been cultivated through interactions with Iranians and the Iranian culture; the seeds of interest that had been planted developed and resulted in the pursuit of advanced studies, many of them toward doctoral degrees, focused on the history of Iran and related subjects. The Foundation has assisted 187 students worldwide. This is just a portion of what a larger consolidated effort would be able to achieve.

As I glance with admiration upon the men and women who advanced and preserved the Iranian civilization through the ages and have entrusted subsequent generations with its safekeeping, I think of the state of the world and ask myself: Has there ever been more of a need to build a better understanding of Iran, its culture, its history, and its people? Has this education ever been more vital than it is today?

Please join me in reaching out and supporting those who have a love for Iran and who will accurately reflect the beauty and richness of Iran to current and future generations around the world. Please join me in preserving the story of Iran. Would our forefathers expect any less from us?