Exclusive Interview with Iran Daily, published on August 5, 2013
The ECO Cultural Institute (ECI) is the initiating, coordinating, financing, and monitoring agency which undertakes cultural activities to foster and promote closer association and cooperation among the people of the Region, in general, and among mass media, intellectuals, artists, in particular.
The Charter of The ECO Cultural Institute was signed by 8 countries namely Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan on March 15, 1995 and Tehran was selected as its Headquarters.
The ECO Cultural Institute (ECI), as an independent and specialized agency along with Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) coordinates common cultural activities among the member states and promotes commonalities in this region which is of great importance in terms of culture, arts and civilization.
ECO administrators appointed Iftikhar Hussain Arif, famous Urdu poet, scholar and litterateur from Pakistan, as president of the Tehran-based ECO Cultural Institute. Arif has served as the head of Pakistan's Academy of Farsi Language and Literature. He took over the presidency of ECO Cultural Institute in April 2013. He has written several books in Persian. Iran Daily interviewed Arif, the excerpts of which follow:
IRAN DAILY: One of the major visions of ECO Cultural Institute is to familiarize ECO member-states with each other's cultural potentials. Therefore, the institute has prioritized the translation of the works of famous poets and writers from Iran and other nations. What steps ECO Cultural Institute have taken in this regard?
IFTIKHAR HUSSAIN ARIF: Iran has been the cradle of culture and civilization for neighboring nations since olden times. Poets such as Sa'di and Hafez are well known in Asian nations and the world.
Many books from Iranian poets have been translated and published in various languages.
Unfortunately, the works of contemporary poets such as Mohammad Reza Shafi'i Kadkani, Ahmad Shamlou, Shahriyar, Sohrab Sepehri and Parvin Etesami have not been translated satisfactorily and they are still unknown to the world.
This is while works of third-grade European writers have been translated everywhere. Europeans make huge investments for introducing their well-known figures.
ECO Cultural Institute seeks to translate the books of Iranian contemporary poets into other languages.
Persian language is one of the most ancient ones worldwide. It has nurtured many poets in various eras in light of its cultural richness.
You are a distinguished literary figure with many works published in various languages. How do you evaluate Iran's cultural status among regional states?
Persian is still one of the languages spoken by residents of South Asian nations and the Indian subcontinent.
It used to be the common language of a majority of South Asian nations before British colonialism. Iran plays an important role in the formation of the Middle Eastern culture
Are there cultural ties among ECO nations?
The existence of an organization like ECO shows that these nations want to have closer relations. Their common and ancient cultures have led to the establishment of ECO. Countries with common cultures and goals have launched joint organizations such as the European Union, African Union and ECO.
ECO Cultural Institute belongs to 10 nations that have a common culture.
What is Iran's role in promoting ties among ECO members?
In light of its strong cultural background, Iran can have the highest impact across the world. For example, Iranian youths are enthusiastic about visiting libraries and there are many cultural organizations and NGOs across the country.
This is not easily seen in European and Asian nations. I noticed Astan-e Qods-e Razavi (that boasts of a major library and museum) as a unique cultural complex during my trip to Mashhad in Khorasan Razavi province.
Iranians have established an academy for promoting their national language. This is a valuable measure.
Iran's Academy of Persian Language and Literature, headed by Gholamali Haddad-Adel, has been successful in promoting Persian language with translation of books such as the biography of Imam Zein-ol-Abedin (AS), Imam Hussein's Movement, as well as the works of Martyr Morteza Motahari and Ja'far Shahidi.
Also, Ali Shariati's books are famous in other nations. His works have also been translated in the Urdu language.
Experts have a good opinion about the works of Persian- language poets who are not Iranian.
For example, many books have been written by Iranian writers such as Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Morteza Motahari and Ali Shariati about Iqbal Lahori, the Pakistani poet.
You consider the translation of the works of famous Iranian writers in other languages and vice versa as key to promoting Persian language and literature. What is the reason for it?
When England colonized Persian Gulf littoral states, it removed Persian language from their academic education and replaced it with English language.
Persian language and culture can enter other nations through the translation of Iranian works into prevalent languages. Therefore, the translation of the works of famous writers is of high importance.
It should be a two-way move, as Iranian scholars become acquainted with the works of foreign writers.
Fortunately, good works have been translated from other languages into Persian. For example, Haddad-Adel has translated Kant's works into the Persian language.
ECO Cultural Institute plans to boost tourism potentials to increase the mutual interests of ECO member-states. What measures have been taken in this regard?
ECO member-states have ancient civilizations. For example, we can mention Takht-e Jamshid historical complex in Iran or other remarkable monuments in nations such as Turkey and Afghanistan, which draw many tourists annually.
Moreover, these nations have religious commonalities, which can be a good potential for boosting religious tourism.
As you know, the young generation is interested in traveling. Technology and numerous media have eased communication among the young generation worldwide. Tools such as Internet, books and promotional flyers are useful for realizing this goal.
ECO Cultural Institute seeks to pave the way for familiarizing other nations with tourism attractions of ECO nations by publishing tourism books.
Holding numerous festivals and launching cultural institutes are other measures.
We recently met the head of Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization to launch a joint tourism university among ECO member-states in Iran.