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Marashi, Afshin

Nation and Memory. Commemorations and the Construction of National Memory under Reza Shah. Afshin Marashi.
In: Nationalizing Iran. Culture, power, and the state, 1870-1940. Afshin Marashi. Seattle, University of Washington Press, 2011. ISBN 9780295800615

On a Fall morning in November 1934, several dozen european orientalists made a pilgrimage to pay their respects at the mausoleum of Omar Khayyam, the thirteenth-century Persian poet whose famous Rubaiyat had long been canonized as a masterpiece of Persian literature The group of pilgrims included such luminaries in the study of Iranian art, literature, and culture as Henri Massé, Jan Rypka, Arthur Christensen, and Vladimir Minorsky. The gathering at Omar Khayyam’s grave was more than a casual homage, it was what the French historian Pierre Nora
described as a lieu de mémoire, a symbolic event, site, or object designed to“inhibit forgetting, to fix a state of things, to immortalize death, and to materialize the immaterial . . . all in order to capture the maximum possible meaning with the fewest possible signs.” The gathering at Omar Khayyam’s grave was just one example of this phenomenon. It worked to create a new set of associations with the memory of Khayyam. The construction of the mausoleum and the respects paid to the poet by national political leaders and international arbiters of cultural prestige drew attention to his memory and reinforced his place in the national pantheon. At least as important was the way in which the gathering was represented, portrayed, and made to circulate in the public’s mind. The most important detail of the ceremony was neither the toast nor the lines of poetry inscribed at the base of the obelisk but rather the headline, story, and photograph depicting the ceremony in the national press. In understanding the nature of commemorative activity, two basic procedures can be identified: the construction of national memory in its general form and the popularization of that memory as a form of normative consciousness.