Minorities are no primordial categories but instead are continuously constructed through ideological assumptions, legislative as well as social and political processes in a given society. Generally speaking, a religious minority is to be characterised as a numerically smaller group in regard to the majority. Depending on the existing state or society in ancient or modern times, majorities and minorities may be created according to religious, ethnic, linguistic or other indicators. Relations between a self-defined majority in a society/state and its (imagined) minorities – however they may be defined – are often characterised by (purposeful) incomprehension and misunderstanding. Also, questions arise as to the rights members of minority groups enjoy in a given society: Are they regarded as equals, are they ascribed particular rights, or are they seen as not fully belonging to the state, the nation and the society?
Various political or religious ideologies dominant in Iran at a given time also depict taboos, themes not to be discussed, words not to be uttered and subjects not to be openly addressed. In modern times, the official discourse in Iran depends on political imperatives and quite easily adapts to changing political contexts. Likewise, counter-discourses like the anti-Aryan narrative in the 1940s, might challenge official discourses and their construction of minorities. As the papers to be presented in this panel will show, incomprehension and misunderstanding are not limited to modern times. In ancient Iran, Armenians tended to the “othering” of Persians, while Greek “minorities” in the Achaemenid Empire were divided between contesting loyalties. In modern Iran, the question of “rights” or “equality rights” in regard to Iran’s multi-confessional population was and is discussed in diverse historical contexts: When Reza Shah Pahlavi was forced to abdicate in 1941, and in the Islamic Republic of Iran. “Minorities” might be made “invisible” in the Islamic Republic or they might be made “visible” by looking through official biographies of Shiite clerics. Also, “minorities” may play an important role in foreign relations.
There were many more Greeks living in the Persian Empire than there were subjects of the Great King who had come or fled to Greece. Most of the Greeks worked for the Achaemenid kings as mercenaries, artists, doctors or the like, others had been deported in the course of military engagements. But there were others who had been exiled from their Greek mother cities by their own countrymen, the most prominent of those people being the families of the former Spartan king Demaratus or the Athenian victor of Salamis, Themistocles. The aim of the pper is to describe their partly precarious situation and status in the empire and at home but also their scope of action and their special relationship to the Great King.