“Bulgarians Being of Persian Descent Is Gaining Strength,” Says Dr. Ivo Panov

“Bulgarians Being of Persian Descent Is Gaining Strength,” Says Dr. Ivo Panov

Ivo Panov is identified as one of greatest Bulgarian Iranologists who won Iran’s Book of the Year Awards in recognition of his 25 years of work to revise and edit the Bulgarian-Farsi dictionary. Panov who has translated the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám and part of Ferdowsi’s “Shahnameh” into Bulgarian emphasizes his people’s interest in the Iranian civilization. Some experts consider Bulgarians as lost Iranian ethnicities; a claim that can be traced into cultural proximities and similarities they have to Iranians.

AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with Prof. Ivo Kirilov Panov

 Head of the Iranian Studies Major at Sofia University and Winner of Iran’s Book of the Year Awards

Interview by Mohammadreza Nazari  

Why did you choose the state university of Kabul to study Iranian studies?

After graduating from high school and weaning two-year military service, I entered a students contests and I was accepted to study History in Bulgaria. At this time, I was lucky enough that my father – Kiril Stoyanov Panov, was appointed for four-year term as a sales representative of Bulgaria in Afganistan. By then I already knew about the philosophical quatrains of Omar Khayyam, about the spectacular, epic canvas “Shah-Nameh” of Ferdowsi, about the wise “Golestan” of Saadi, about the lovely poems of Hafez, Jelal ad-Din Rumi and other Persian titans of the artistic speech. So there wasn’t even a moment of doubt, when an opportunity arose to go with my father and to study the language and literature of an ancient nation with such a rich cultural heritage.

What social and political circumstances was Afghanistan in back then?

By the time I arrived in Afganistan, Hafizullah Amin was Prime Minister, and he had recently changed his fellow party member Nur Muhammad Taraki. After Amin, the post was taken by Babrak Karmal. It isn’t a secret that at that time the Afghan government was mainly oriented towards the USSR and the countries of the socialist camp. Otherwise the situation was tensed, the opposition controlled a significant part of the country. Tension was felt in the capital Kabul as well. Of course I took this with a light heart and eyes wide open, admiring the charm of the East, enjoying my new made friendships with Afghans and the hospitality of this proud nation, the knowledge I was obtaining in the university…

Where did you go after to continue your education?

After a two-year stay in Afghanistan, several bombings were carried out in the University of Kabul. Students were injured and the situation was very critical. The only way I could continue my education, was to be transferred into a University, which studied Persian Language. At that time Iranian Studies did not exist in Bulgaria. Once again I had to study abroad. So I was transferred to the Azerbaijan State University, where I studied Persian language in “Eastern Languages and Literature” at the East Faculty for another four years. After I started working in the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” as a teacher of Persian culture and literature, I defended my doctoral thesis on “New aspects in the study of poetic heritage of Omar Khayyam”.

Many times on programs from the National Radio of Bulgaria you have offered analyses on historical and religious developments. Which aspect of Iran have you addressed on these occasions?

My numerous appearances in programs of the Bulgarian National Radio and in various television programs are mostly related to my narrow specialty iranist-literary. As such, I have been invited on many occasions of world celebrations of Persian classics like Rudaki, Ferdowsi, Naser Khosrow, Jelal ad-Din Rumi, Hafez and many more. We have celebrated and explained on air the essence of Iranian national holidays as Chaharshanbe suri, Shab-e Yalda, Nowruz, Sizdah Be-dar, Ashura. The listeners and the audience have shown particular interest to the first Iranian religions – Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism, as well as to the specifics of Islam in Iran. However, I have been mostly invited to various studios as a connoisseur of Omar Khayyam works, whose Rubaiyat I translated in Bulgarian and English language. It was a huge pride for me, that the first edition of my translation was accomplished in the Islamic republic of Iran, and only then it was published by the Bulgarian Academy of Science.

How much have Khayyam’s characteristics and worldview piqued your interest in him?

It is a dangerous adventure of the spirit to enter the rebellious spiritual universe of Omar Khayyam, to cross it far and wide with a young conceit, and just when you lightly think you have conquered it, you realize that the only one that is conquered is you and that you need not months and years, but decades to become familiar with this seemingly hospitable, yet so cryptic and bottlenecks universe, and to feel happy and a little scared that you can no longer leave it. Well, I walked diligently for thirty years in the embrace of this magical universe. She stingy trusted me many of her secrets, but others still make my stiff head dash, but so far I am not giving up. And when emerging riddles catch me off guard, I wonder, am I stubborn or just fascinated. Thick is the forest of Khayyams endless universe and there is a question, peeking behind every blossomed tree in this universe, answers to which scholars and poets have been sought threw past and present times. And everyone has thought he has found them. Is it true? I would not be committed to a definite answer…

Where have Khayyam’s poems and thoughts been most effective in the cultural stream of Bulgaria?

The spiritual world of Omar Khayyam has put a spell on me, as well as on dozens of Bulgarian intellectuals. A correspondence is preserved from 104 years ago between one of the most colorful Bulgarian couples – Lоrа Karavelova and the great Bulgarian poet Peyo Yavorov. Even then in this correspondence the presence of the image of the philosopher and poet Omar Khayyam is visible. Which clearly shows that the spiritual valences of the Bulgarian educated community are densely populated with the poetry of the great Persian thinker ages ago. Because undoubtedly it is this long-term interest that lays at the core of the subsequent attempts for those nine hundred thousand years old Khayyams stanzas to be settled permanently in the Bulgarian spiritual space. Seven are the names of Bulgarian intellectuals who engage the difficult work of translating the quatrains of the Persian philosopher, scientist and poet Omar Khayyam. These are: Nikolai Rainov, Geo Milev, Leda Geo Mileva, Jordan Milev, Ivan Jeglov, Vladimir Svintila and Georgi Stanev. All names different by weight, that had left traces with different depth in our cultural life, but all captivated by the charm and insight of the quatrains of Khayyam and that have devoted a significant part of their creative efforts on these quatrains. The mere fact that they were unable to work directly with Persian originals, and resorted to the help of translations from third languages, prompted me to join in this not an easy endeavor.

You have translated the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám and Ferdowsi’s Shah-Nameh into Bulgarian. How much can a translated work keep the aesthetics and meanings of a work into a target language?

First, let me clarify. I completed the translation of the history of Rostam and Sohrab from “Shah-Nameh” together with our Iranian guest Lecturer and my dear friend Alireza Pourmohammad, who has already been teaching Persian language and literature at Sofia University for eight years. And this work received the special award of the Union of Bulgarian translators and the edition was awarded with the Grand Annual Award “Bronze Lion” for 2012 by the Association “Bulgarian Book”. Of course, a translation, no matter how talented it is, can not replace the original. You Persians have a great wisdom. I will try to paraphrase it. If a poetic work is translated in best way possible, then we will have one magnificent, full of promises bud of a rose. But if we can read this piece in its original, this bud will dissolve before us with all the splendor of its forms, the richness of its colors, the intensity of flavor…

What is the main reason Persian language and literature are growing prevalent in Bulgaria?

There are at least three answers to your question.

The first is that the Persian literature justly compared in size and depth with the Greek, Persian philosophy and culture have always aroused tremendous interest among Bulgarian enlightened public. In this sense, one of the reasons for the creation of the “Iranian studies” specialty at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” is to fill this still insufficiently promoted space in Bulgaria.

Second, soon we will be celebrating the 120th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Iran and Bulgaria. There are not many countries that can boast such a long-term friendly relationship. However, our country is still experiencing an acute need for specialists in all areas of our cultural, economic, political and any other relationships. And it is much more foresight and statesmanlike to create them yourself than to take them outside.

And last but not least, in the last years the thesis that our ancestors, the ancient Bulgarians have come to our lands today from in the area around the Pamirs, is accelerating more and more. This is the so called “Iranian thesis” for the origin of the ancient Bulgarians. Two expeditions in this direction were already accomplished, but to prove this thesis will take decades of hard work and effort of numerous teams of specialists in different areas of knowledge. Including the Iranian studies, of course.

You have paid special attention to the similarities Farsi and Bulgarian share. Where do these similarities originally come from?

This is one of the fields that will require lots of hard work in the future. Because there are really hundreds of common words in Bulgarian and Persian language, passing in our language, mainly through intermediaries languages – Arabic and Turkish. But also there are some words that exist only in our two languages. Which exactly are they, at what time did they pass in Bulgarian, how did it happened, whether by the line of neighborhood or by tradе, so many questions…

Is the claim that ancient Bulgarians descended from Iran reliable?

I think I partly answered this question. The real scientific work is yet to come. I really hope that in the near future we will be able to give a positive answer to this question. But the hypothesis is one thing, and proving it is another. And in this respect, we should not relay on emotions and desires. Without the scientific justification, even the most alluring proposition will remain only a hypothesis.

Are the roots of Bulgarians Aryan or Slav?

It is a historical fact that on their way to the Balkans from the East to the West the compact masses of Bulgarians participate in different state unions – in Panonia, in Central Europe, in Caucasus and Armenia. Bulgarians also establish their own systems of state in several regions. These are the Old Great Bulgaria (632 p.c.) on the territory of today’s Ukraine; Bulgaria of Kuber (670 p.c.) in the land of today’s Macedonia; Bulgaria of Volga-Kama (X century) situated along the banks of Volga river and Bulgaria of Danube river where is our today’s home land.

There are still questions concerning the number of Bulgarians settled in the South of the river Danube, what were their roots, were they minority or majority in comparison with the native Slavic population. I hope the answer to these questions will be given in the near future.

You made a trip to Iran to further know about the roots of the Bulgarian people. What was your most notable achievement in the studies you carried out?

After the successful expedition in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in 2008, the scientific team set out to search for the “roots of ancient Bulgarians” have had the chance to visit IR Iran for twenty days, as well. The first thing that impressed us all was the exceptional hospitality of the Iranian country (of course, I had already had repeatedly the opportunity to convince myself in it!), where we did not feel like foreigners, but as among compatriots. On the streets, in the markets, in the historic sites, libraries, government and scientific institutions, we were greeted warmly and with understanding to the aim we pursued. Personally for me, the most useful was the meeting in the National Library of Iran with the exceptional specialist cartographer prof. Karachanlu. Aware of the forthcoming meeting, he had not only prepared himself with a two-hour lecture talk, but also gave us the titles of medieval Iranian sources referencing ancient Bulgarians. Of course we had many other fruitful meetings, but I’m afraid not to miss by mistake the name of anyone of our hosts and our associates, so I will confine myself again to the statement of our immense gratitude to all of them. Thank you, dear Iranian friends and colleagues!

Asparukh of Bulgaria is said to have borrowed roots from Iran in his name. Is that right?

Indeed, Asparuh is the founder of today’s Bulgarian country or as it is known in the Persian chronicles Danube Bulgaria. As for the etymology of the name we do not know how it was pronounced. If you proceed from the assumption that it has a Persian root, then the options are few: اسپاروخ or اسپروخ, but اسپرخ or اسپارخ or روح اسپا or اسپروح. And the translation would be “face like a horse”, “appereance, like a horse” or “horse-soul”, “horse spirit” and etc.

You travelled around 6000 kms in Iran. Which cities appeared most attractive to you?

Perhaps this is the most difficult question you are asking me. We visited nearly 20 cities in Iran including Khoy, Tabriz, Sarein, Bandar-e Anzali, Resht, Masuleh, Tehran, Kashan, Isfahan, Yazd, Takht-e Jamshid, Shiraz, Bishapur, Susa, Hamadan, Kandovan and others. And each one of them with its original spirit, with its own fascination, with its own colors, with its numerous historical monuments. The only exception is Takht-e Jamshid, which in itself is a unique monument of the Persian civilization that went through the Hell of history, endured terrible invasions of alien invaders, but stood and carried over the greatness of the Iranian people over the centuries. So, I could hardly distinguish any of the cities of Iran. Each one of them is unique because it treasures up part of the richness of the Iranian life, culture and identity and this is the most valuable possession of a nation.

What are Bulgaria’s most studied area in the Aryan Culture?

In relation to this question I would say that basically our interest is aimed at studying the great migration of Iranian-lingual nations, the ways in which they settled Iranian plateau as well as would it be possible to detect and prove the presence of ancient Bulgarians there. And of course no less interest for Bulgarians is a study of ancient Persian culture and history and its impact on both the Bulgarian culture and history in particular and on European culture and history.

 You currently are the head of the Department for Iranian Studies of the University of Sofia. When was this department first established? How many undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students does it annually register? 

The teaching of Persian language has its origins in the country by 1959, when Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” began studying it as an optional subject in Turkic specialty. After the discovery of the Arabic and Indology specialties, this optional discipline entered into their curricula as well. During the 1991-1992 academic year “Persian philology” opened as a second specialty in which Persian language, Theoretical grammar of the Persian language, History of Persia and Iran, Classical Persian literature and contemporary Persian literature subjects were studied. “Iranian studies” as a regular university degree opens during the 1993-1994 academic year within the Centre for Eastern Languages and Cultures Department Faculty of Classical and Modern Philology. Since then, “St. Kliment Ohridski” annually announces regular intake of students in “Iranian studies”.

In the curriculum of the Bachelor degree course there are 29 mandatory and 40 electoral subjects included.

Currently, the specialty is constituent of the “Classic East” Department. The students in our Bachelor program are nearly 40 people, but the Persian language is studied by students from the other Eastern specialties as well. We also have two interdisciplinary Master’s programs – “Applied Linguistics” together with the “Arabic and Semitic” and the “Indian and Iranian social science and Cultural Studies” Department together with the “Indology” subject. Currently we have six PhD students as well. Today the “Iranian studies” specialty graduates are more than 100 specialists, realizing their knowledge and skills in various spheres of public life. Our graduates are currently working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, in the field of culture, science, the system of state security, tourism and trade, abroad …

Next year we are starting the preparation for the 25th anniversary of the specialty.

What are the most common subjects Iranology students pick to write their dissertations about?

The students in our Bachelor program complete their education by passing a state exam in linguistics and philology. During the semester training, they develop course works in various aspects of Iranian studies: history, civilization, mythology, religion, linguistics, literature, social studies, theory of translation and so on. Students of the Master’s program graduate after defending a thesis, and the choice of the theme is provided entirely on their preferences. I dare to say, however, that so far we have had some very valuable and interesting thesis developments. Lexicographical works such as Dictionary of the philosophical terms in Persian language, Dictionary of economic terms in Persian language have been defended with excellent evaluations and currently a Dictionary of the military terms in Persian language is being prepared. We also have successfully defended works on modern and classical Persian literature. But there are also other topics of theses such as: “The ethnic question in IR Iran – from the national to the foreign policy dimension”, “The teaching of Persian language in Turkish medreses”, “For the Friendship” … The last work is a comparative reading between “Gabus-name” by Kay Kavus and the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero. The topic immediately attracted the attention of teachers and publishers. Eventually the thessis came as an independent paper body. Perhaps I will surprise you telling you that the developer of the work is Iranian. His name was already mentioned – Alireza Purmohammad.

What arrangements have been made between Iranian universities and the University of Sofia to conduct joint archeological, historical, touristic, linguistic and anthropological works and exchanges of students?

So far, St. “Kliment Ohridski” has signed cooperation agreements with the “Tehran University”, with the Qazvin International University “Imam Khomeini” and the “Islamic Culture and Relations Organization”. I must say that these contracts are not the only agreements which frame the parameters of our possible cooperation. These contracts are alive and proactive, and our two countries learn from one another taking the best of their provisions. For example, every year our students depart for short courses in Persian language in Iran, literally a few months ago, two of our students successfully completed a master’s degree of education in the Qazvin International University. Teachers and students from the “Iranian studies” specialty periodically visit Iran to get acquainted with its cultural and historical monuments, with the lives of modern Iranians. Our teachers are regular participants of international Iranian forums in IR Iran. And all this is doing at the expense of the host country – Iran. For which once again we express our deep gratitude. On the other hand Iranian scientists are involved in reports of international forums organized by the “Iranian studies” specialty and the “Society of Friends of the Persian language and culture in Bulgaria”. The last two forums were titled: “Iran and Bulgaria in the mirror of history. Past, Present and Prospects” and “Iran and the Balkans in the mirror of history. Past, Present and Prospects”. Only in a few months time – in early June the next International Conference “Iran and Europe in the mirror of history. Past, Present and Prospects” will be held. After every such forum there is a collection of reports of the participants released to the interest of the Bulgarian audience and the fact that circulation has been exhausted in less than half a year is a measure of the audience interest. Under the contracts signed with the Iranian institutions, your teachers are guest speakers at Sofia University, which has an inestimable benefit for both Iranian students and Bulgarian teachers in the specialty.

Are you now having any work in progress regarding the history and civilization of Bulgaria? Can we say that the end of WWI was the demise of Bulgaria’s dream to form an empire of Bulgarians?

Of course, we have dozens of editions for the Bulgarian civilization. One of them is the bilingual book “Bulgarian civilization”, published under the editorship of prof. Alexander Fol, one of the brightest minds of our time. The book is a work of team of authors, including the names of some of the most famous Bulgarian scholars: prof. Atanas Stamatov, Assoc Kalin Porozhanov, prof. Georgi Bakalov, Dr. Georgi Vladimirov, Assoc. Prof. Plamen Mitev, prof. Georgi Markov. I will mention other similar publications: “Ancient Thrace” by prof. Ivan Marazov, “The True Story of Bulgaria: The Beginning” by Ivan Petrinski, “Written signs of Bulgarians. Flashback of civilization” by Bono Shkodrov, “Ethnogenesis and migration in Eurasia in antiquity and the early Middle Ages and the site of the ancient Bulgarians in them” by Dr. Zhivko Voynikov “East and Bulgarians: Etnolandshaft and ethnogenesis” and “Bulgarians from Imeon to Humar and Pliska” by Angel Litchkov “Ottoman-Roman Empire, Bulgarians and Turks” by Stoyan Dinkov. I’m afraid that if I continue and happen to be too lavish in my words, I will not be invited for interviews in the Iranian press anymore. As for the dream of a Bulgarian empire – such a dream never existed. The only thing that Bulgarians crave for is that our country, which is surrounded by forcibly torn from her flesh Bulgarian population, again to join the land itself and that it inhabits again become part of our homeland.

Which book of yours has received the global prize of the I. R. Iran? Would you explain about its content?

I see that you are familiar in detail with the activities of the Iranian Studies in Bulgaria. That definitely flatters me.

In 2009, after nearly 15 years of work, a team of four experts finalized the two-volume “Bulgarian-Persian dictionary”. I had to finalize their efforts, edit and prepare the publication for print. It took me nearly four years to close my part of the overall endeavor. And so in 2013 the Dictionary was published. We were delighted that our team who finalized the issuance of the dictionary was awarded in early 2014 with the Grand Prize of the World 21st session of “Book of the Year” in the field of Iranian studies by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic contacts IR Iran. I would like to expressly emphasize that this dictionary would not have been published, at least not in the form in which it was printed, without the help of the Cultural representation of the Embassy of the IR Iran in Bulgaria. For which we are grateful. The team, who worked on the compilation of the valuable edition includes Evche Pesheva, Abbas Mehdavi Dr. Hajar Fiyuzi and Assoc. Prof. Reza Mehraz. The last two are longtime teachers in the Iranian studies specialty. The layout of the dictionary is a work of the young Iranian artist Nahid Gahramoni. The size of the two volumes exceeds 1400 pages and includes over 55,000 words.

Did you face any problems while writing the book in terms of gaining access to proper sources?

Yes, there were problems. Especially with the set of the Persian text, it’s editing and pagination. The Word program repeatedly refused to perceive simultaneously writing from right to left and back. Sometimes occasional command happened to delete the work after several days of working. One crash and everything started all over again. So we did continuously copies of the files, we archived them on various electronic media after each coupling of new pages to the text, also re proof-reading of the text was necessary, because sometimes it shifted in the lines back. It was really hard, but the pleasure of completing the work and the subsequent assessment by the Iranian side was truly rewarding.

As for the sources, we were provided with all the necessary ones. Starting with the English-Persian and Russian-Persian dictionaries and ending with the six-volume dictionary of Dr. Mohammad Moin and most voluminous Iranian dictionary by Dr. Ali Akbar Dehkhoda.

What are your top works about Persian literature?

As already mentioned, my first and I guess the most precious book about Iranian literature was the translation of Rubayyat of Hakim Omar Khayyam. After that, my monograph on the projection of the new Khayyam Rubaiyat in Bulgaria came out. With these two editions I was admitted to the Union of Bulgarian Writers (2002.), and then to the Union of Translators in Bulgaria (2006), “History, Theory and Criticism of Translation” section. I was editor of a collection of over 400 Persian proverbs, entitled “The right way is only one, and thousands are wrong”. Then the “Persian-Bulgarian” and “Bulgarian-Persian” dictionary came out, to which I was a scientific editor, and finally “History of Rostam and Sohrab” was published. At first glance, not much at all, but only I know how many years of my life I devoted to them. And I do not regret this. Still I can add more than 50 books to which I’ve been editor, reviewer or consultant, and nearly 70 scientific and artistic publications to the list.

What will your next Iranology work be about?

I am currently completing the first volume of the Trilogy “Persian classical literature”. I hope that by early summer it will be available in the bookstores in the country. Immediately afterwords I intend to convey for printing the first and second volume devoted to the life and work of Omar Khayyam. I’ll have to finish my book on Persian language as well, focusing on Arabic loan words in it. And finally, if we receive funding, we will proceed with the translation of the next part of “Shah-Nameh”. These are my plans for the near future, but as Bulgarians say “Man proposes, but God disposes!”

Thank you for the opportunity to represent myself and the “Iranian studies” specialty to the Iranian audience! Best wishes for prosperity and happy future of the Iranian people!

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