Iranian governors have always paid special attention to these rights. It is clear from both the Cyrus Cylinder which was dubbed the 'first declaration of human rights' by the pre-Islamic Iranian government in 538 BCE and also Article 13 in Iran's Constitution after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran Daily interviewed Esfandiar Ekhtiari, a Zoroastrian Member of Parliament, to know about civil rights in Iran in general and rights of the followers of divine religions in particular as integral part of Iran's society.
Excerpts from the interview follow:
IRAN DAILY: Please tell us briefly about the population of Zoroastrians in Iran and around the world.
ESFANDIAR EKHTIARI: Based on Iran's official census, there are approximately 25,000 Zoroastrians residing in Iran. They mainly live in the Iranian capital Tehran, central province of Yazd and the southern province of Kerman respectively.
Wherever Zoroastrians live, they are originally from Iran. The 200,000-member group called Parsis are Zoroastrian community who migrated to India hundreds of years ago due to political, social and religious issues.
How long ago did the migration process begin?
After the advent of Islam in Iran, along with Umayyad and Abbasid eras and then during Safavid period, Zoroastrians migration increased because of high jizyah (per capita annual tax historically levied on non-Muslim subjects). The process continued in the Qajar Era till the removal of jizyah encouraged them to return to their hometowns.
What are the reasons for the success of the Zoroastrians (Parsi community) in economic fields?
At present, 60 percent of India's economy is controlled by the Parsi community. The head of Tata Investment Corporation Limited, the biggest investment company in India which is involved in various fields including automobile, is a Parsi Zoroastrian.
Different countries make great attempts to employ the best and most skilled individuals, irrespective of their religion and ethnicity, to develop their countries.
Iranians have been always among the most skilled people in the world, but the point is that how these capabilities are used.
Why don't they bring their capabilities to Iran?
They did it whenever they could. They never forgot their homeland. Iranian Parsis returned to Iran one hundred years ago and used their assets to build educational and medical centers mostly in Yazd, Kerman and Tehran.
They introduced modern schools in Iran and also built 42 institutes just in Yazd. They also established Bahman Hospital, the first hospital in Iran's southeastern region. Zoroastrians highly emphasized on education and health and that they undertook developmental projects in Iran based on the two disciplines.
Firoozgar Hospital, schools of Anooshirvan, Giv, Gashtasb, Jamshid Jam and Firooz Bahram are among significant constructions undertaken by Zoroastrians in Iran. None of them were built exclusively for Zoroastrians and others could also use it because Zoroastrians believe that the constructions should be used nationally.
How do you evaluate the rights of religious minorities in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution?
First of all, I must say that please do not use the word 'minority' because it connotes a kind of discrimination. The proper word for them is 'followers of divine religions'.
According to Article 13 of Iran's Constitution, followers of divine religions "may exercise their religious ceremonies within the limits of the law. They are free to exercise issues of personal status and religious education and they follow their own rituals".
What is the reason that unlike many countries in the world, in Iran followers of divine religions can coexist in peace?
Given that followers of each religion exercise their own rituals without any intention to express superiority over others, they can live together without any conflict and even help develop the society. Iranians are used to being proud of the similarities between different divine religions and respect the differences. This is the key cultural point that despite a large number of ethnic and religious diversities, Iranians are able to coexist peacefully and solve the problems together.
We have learnt to be proud of being Iranian and behave based on Iranian culture in which human rights are of high importance.
What do think of the Charter of Civil Rights in Iran?
Charter of Civil Rights was proposed by Iran's President Hassan Rouhani but it has not been implemented yet. Once it is ratified in Iran's Parliament, it will be implemented.
Rights of divine religions and their freedom have been emphasized in this document, as in Iran's Constitution. A number of people argue that Charter of Civil Rights and Iran's Constitution are equal, but others believe they are different. I personally believe that the charter needs some amendments but it basically intends to respect different religions and remove the feelings of difference between them.
The charter includes six articles on religious minorities and followers of divine religions. One example is that Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting should show rituals of different religions and not one specific one.
To what extent, will the neglect of Iran's original occasions lead to their replacement by Western programs and occasions?
For example, in Iran, Valentine's Day has recently been emphasized in various forms. This is while we have the ancient celebration of Esfandegan which is the celebration of kindness, humbleness and respect to women. When the Iranian ceremony is removed for whatever reason, it is crystal clear that people go for a substitute. It is highly recommended that Iranian and national programs and culture are given greater attention.