An interview with the Director of the “Center for Iran, Balkans and Central European Studies” on the occasion of the summer school of Iranian Studies which took place between 11 and 17 September 2017, about the goals, the achievements and the future intentions of this non-governmental organization
Alireza Pourmohammad is the Director of the “Center for Iran, Balkans and Central European Studies” (IBCE), which was established in Sofia in 2016 with the intention to contribute to the scientific communication and the development of Iranian Studies in Bulgaria and in the Balkan and Central European countries. He started teaching in the department of Iranian Studies in the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” in 2008, where he covers “Introduction in Mysticism”, “Persian language and literature”, “Tehran dialect”, “Oral Persian language”, “Introduction in the Persian mythology and epic”.
Alireza Pourmohammad has graduated from the Iranian University “Allameh Tabatabai”. The joint work of the IBCE’s Director and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ivo Panov, who is the head of the department “Iranian Studies” in the Sofia University and a president of “The Association of the Persian Language and Culture’s Friends in the Republic of Bulgaria” led to the organization of several international scientific conferences in Bulgaria, to the translation and the publication of books, dictionaries and volumes with scientific articles in Bulgarian language. In the middle of September 2017 the first summer school of Iranian Studies with lecturers from Iran, Hungary and Bulgaria took place. There were lectures about Introduction to the Old Persian and Middle Persian language, Persian Classical Literature, Contemporary Iranian Literature, and about Iranian philosophy and religion. These lectures dealt also with the historical evolution of the Shi’a sects, Iranian mysticism, etc. The Persian language (Farsi) seminars contributed to the overcoming of some specific problems, connected with writing and speaking in Persian language.
After the end of the summer school a meeting of the heads of the academic centers and Iranian Studies courses from Poland, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Serbia, Kosovo, Iran and Bulgaria took place in the central building of the Sofia University. The main goal of the meeting was the mutual acquaintance and the search for possibilities for collaboration in the field of Iranian Studies research. IBCE’s activity became an occasion for the blog “Bridge of Friendship” to talk with the president of this regional center for strategic research.
Mr. Pourmohammad, an international summer school of Iranian Studies, organized by the Iranian Studies department of the Sofia University and the Center for Iranian, Balkan and Central European Studies took place in the mid-September 2017 in the Center for Eastern Languages and Cultures of the Sofia Univeristy “St. Kliment Ohridski”. What goals do you set with this summer school and how would you present it to our readers?
IBCE’s board decided that it makes sense for the Iranian Studies professors from the region to get to know better one another. That is how they could collaborate even more active. They can also enrich one another with their experience, because in the various countries there are specialists in certain fields of Iranian Studies, but there are no such specialists in other domains. In Bulgaria there is an Iranologist such as Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ivo Panov, who is an expert on Omar Khayyam, on Persian culture and civilization, but in Poland and Hungary the specialists on Iran have other profiles – they are more interested in arts. In other countries there are experts on Iranian philosophy and politics.
We understood that we can organize very successful conferences in the large region of the Balkans and Central Europe, to gather all the specialists together, without being necessary to go to Iran. These initiatives don’t prevent our students from going to education courses of various duration in the Islamic Republic.
We wanted to invite the heads of the academic Iranian Studies centers and specialists from various countries on the Balkans and in Central Europe at one and the same place. We intended to discuss the strong points of each university, where Iranian Studies are being taught, and to determine what we could achieve together. Given that our center is established in Bulgaria, we decided to organize our first meeting in Sofia. We thought that it would be good if we organized a course on various Iranian Studies disciplines, so that the heads of the university courses use our experience, while the students have the chance to converse both with their colleagues from abroad and with those who have come from Iran and from other countries.
We chose to make this summer school in a moment when the university year hasn’t started yet in the various countries of the region. That helped us evaluate how valuable is the course for the students and to present the feedback results to the professors from the region. We organize the following Iranian Studies courses of this kind in other countries and in different time, depending on the concrete topic of these schools – philosophy, politics, economy, etc. Of course, the main emphasis will fall on literature, linguistics and other humanitarian fields.
How do you evaluate the results of the first summer school of Iranian Studies in the region?
The foreign lecturers told us that the language competence level of the Bulgarian students is very high. It could have been a possible difficulty in such kind of courses if the participants didn’t know Persian at a similar level. One can’t learn a foreign language in six days. That is why we decided to offer those participants who know Farsi at least at a middle level not seminars on practical language, but lectures on its subtleties, about literature, culture and other domains of the Iranian Studies knowledge. The lectures on disciplines which don’t have established experts in the Balkans and in Central Europe – e.g. Old Persian language, cuneiform, Middle Persian language (Pahlavi) and its script, were especially valuable.
I think that in this first event of the kind, we could salute one another with success. The number of students in the courses of Iranian Studies in the two closest regions is small – 3-4 per year. 15 participants took part in this present course, which is laudable and shows the interest towards such kind of courses.
How would you describe “The Center for Iran, Balkan and Central European Studies” (IBCE)?
“The Center for Iran, Balkan and Central European Studies” was an idea of mine, which was born more than three years ago. As I was travelling in the countries from the region, I saw that the experts on Iranian Studies in it don’t have a good communication with one another. But I also discovered that there is great desire and there are many possibilities for closer collaboration.
IBCE could act as an umbrella, which could develop regional communication. When this idea was born, I started to gather opinions from colleagues from various countries, and among them was also the head of the department of Iranian Studies in the Sofia University Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ivo Panov. He accepted enthusiastically my proposal. I consulted with colleagues from various Iranian universities, and from the Balkans and Central Europe too.
We decided to create work groups with members from the region, e.g. for history, philosophy, literature, etc. Every group is to have a head, who would be a specialist in the respective field and could easily attract specialists from the Balkans and Central Europe. The goal is to create a database on various topics step by step. If somebody is interested in Iranian philosophy he should know when and where there will be conferences on this matter, he should be able to send a publication, which is to reach the respective conference and the experts in the domain.
Our work in this direction started with the conference “Iran and Europe in the Mirror of History”, which took place on 2nd and 3rd of June 2016. We have already printed a few books on behalf of IBCE. We try to be a connection between the institutions that deal with Iranian Studies, to publish humanitarian literature, to support the study of Persian language, to drive closer the researchers from Iran and the world.
Our status of NGO gives us wide freedom of action. Of course, we hope to receive support from the state institutions of each country. We deal with research on Iran, on its civilizational model, on its culture. The Iranian Studies experts from the region are those who will determine the direction of their research.
What are your achievements with regard to your relations with the countries of the regional and what have you accomplished as organization so far?
The conference “Iran and Europe in the Mirror of History”, which took place in Sofia in 2016 had 115 participants. Professionals came to Bulgaria – a small country, which is relatively remote from the European and international centers for Iranian Studies. The selection committee chose 35 publications, which were presented at the conference. We value high this event of ours. Most of the participants were not Bulgarians. There were scientists from all over Europe and even from the USA. Even though we had some financial difficulties, we managed to organize an impressive conference.
After that we organized the conference “Persian Manuscripts on the Balkans and in Central Europe” (23-24 February 2017).
What books have you managed to publish so far?
There are two books, which we managed to publish in Iran in Persian language. The first one is a catalogue of the Persian manuscripts in Bulgaria. The second one is a Persian-language astronomical treatise, called “Zij-e Yamini” (Astronomical tables of Yamini”). Its manuscript is deposited in the Bulgarian National Library. These are books which are important for Iranian science and literature. Their publication in Iran allows Iranologists from all over the world to research them.
We also print volumes with publications from our conferences. We published the scientific articles from the conferences “Iran and Bulgaria in the Mirror of History” (2011), “Iran and Balkans in the Mirror of History” (2013) and “Persian manuscripts on the Balkans and in Central Europe” (2017). In October we are going to publish a fourth book – about the conference “Iran and Europe in the Mirror of History” (2016). There was a delay with it, because a few authors sent their publications later.
In fact in 2014 the first large two-volumed Bulgarian-Persian dictionary obtained an international award in Iran – “Book of the Year”…
The Iranian Studies department of the Sofia University has published in its 25-year history more than 50 books. They are the result of our joint efforts – Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panov’s, mine, and those of the other specialists in the department. Of course, some of these books came out before IBCE’s establishment. For example, we translated and published in Bulgaria the first volume of the Iranian national epic “Shahname” by Abulqasem Ferdowsi. The book obtained the award “Bronze Lion”, given by the Association “Bulgarian Book”, in 2012.
Two years later the Bulgarian-Persian dictionary, whose scientific editor is Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ivo Panov obtained “The Book of the Year” Award in Iran.
After that my book “On Friendship” came out in 2013. It is a comparative study of the evolution of the notion “friendship” in various cultures – the Persian, the Roman, the Ancient Greek, and also in various writings of authors such as Aristotle, Plato and Cicero…
What does IBCE intend to do in the near future?
We will continue the organization of seminars, conferences and other scientific forums. From the autumn, we intend to start printing a quarterly magazine of IBCE, where scientific articles by specialists from the region will be published.
Why the Center claims it will research not “Iran and Europe”, but “Iran, the Balkans and Central Europe”?
In Western Europe there are Iranian Studies centers – in Vienna, Berlin, France, England. But in the region of Central Europe and the Balkans there is no such Iranian Studies center as IBCE under the form of an NGO. We intend to work synchronal and in mutual respect with the Iranian Studies experts from this part of Europe.
How is the Balkan and Central European region seen in Iran? It looks like the existence of an organization such as IBCE unveils a certain hope or expectation that this region will be opening itself more to Iran?
I see a very strong reason for the state institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran to support scientific and cultural organization such as ours, whose goals are the spread of Persian language and culture and the collaboration between Iranian Studies experts, aimed at their further development. Our goal is to have relations with universities and scientific institutes in the region, to exchange information with them and at the same time to have scientific relations with Iran. We also aim at sharing ideas and being useful for the Iranian Studies specialists in the region. As far as Iran is concerned, it has a sincere wish to develop more intensive official relation with the countries and the universities of the region, to contribute to the progress in acquaintance with its culture.
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