Beyond Politics, Iranians Share Their Rich Art and Culture

Toronto's Tirgan Festival is the largest of its kind in the world
By Madalina Hubert, Epoch Times
July 17, 2013 6:25 pm Last Updated: July 17, 2013 10:45 pm

TORONTO—Legend has it that the land of Iran was expanded into a diverse nation when the Iranian archer Arash shot an arrow to end the dispute between the feuding kingdoms of Iran and Turan. 

The understanding was that the place the arrow landed would mark the territory between the two countries. 

The arrow flew for a long time—from dawn to noon—and significantly expanded Iran’s boundaries, encompassing in its path different cultures, ethnicities, languages, and traditions. 

This legend inspired Tirgan, a traditional festivity honouring diversity, and today this celebration continues with a multi-day Toronto festival called Tirgan (Tir is a reference to arrow in Farsi).

“For thousands of years, Iranians have been celebrating diversity … and Tirgan is a celebration of diversity,” said Behrouz Amouzgar, the festival’s public relations director.

The Tirgan Festival, taking place July 18-21 at the Harbourfront Centre, is the largest celebration of Iranian art and culture in the world. With over 90 events and 150 Canadian and international artists of Iranian descent, the festival features artistic and cultural events of various genres, as well as a food and shopping bazaar.

As a city embracing diversity, Toronto is a good fit for the festival, said Amouzgar. It is also home to an estimated 120,000 Iranians, the largest Iranian community after California. 

Initially started in 2006 as a Nowruz (New Year) celebration in March, the festival opened as a summer event in 2008, growing to attract an audience of 120,000 people by 2011. This year, the festival expects 150,000 people, Iranians and non-Iranians alike. 

“Iranians are very interested in art and culture, and presenting their art and culture to the world, so that’s one of the main reasons why Tirgan has grown so significantly,” said Amouzgar.

Some of the prominent guests this year include honorary chair Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist, and Dr. Firouz Naderi, the director of the Solar Systems Exploration at NASA.

Discovering Iranian Culture

When people hear about Iran, the first thought that usually comes to mind is its politics rather than its culture, said Amouzgar. 

One of the goals of the festival is to change this perception.

“We hope that one day when a non-Iranian hears the term “Iran,” instead of being reminded of politics and policies taken by a government, they get reminded of a particular musical performance, or a performance in dance or visual art,” he said. 

“Art and culture is a universal language,” Amouzgar added, noting that in today’s globalized world, it is important to learn about all the different cultures. 

“For example, if I don’t know what’s important in your life, what kind of values that you hold dear to you, I’m not going to be able to communicate with you effectively.” 

He finds two main aspects that surprise non-Iranians when first encountering the culture. One is its cultural and linguistic diversity, the other is the food.

“Many non-Iranians just presume that Iranian food is awfully spicy. When they come and try Iranian food, they find that it’s actually very delicate, and with a touch of saffron. 

“It’s very unique and it only belongs to that region.”

Preserving the Heritage 

In addition to introducing the culture to non-Iranians, the festival also aims to help Iranians preserve their traditions.

“Like many other nations, upon immigration, we are exposed to a new culture, a new society, a new geographic location, and it is quite natural for all of us to change slowly with time,” Amouzgar said. 

“In addition to providing this information to non-Iranians, we also want to remind Iranians of their traditional art and culture, to make sure that despite their dislocation and their far distance with their home country, they do not lose touch with the cultural values that made them the beings that they are today.” 

Some festival highlights include the opening performance narrating the journey of Arash the Archer; a special concert by rock band Blurred Vision, known for their remake of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”; the Hope Collaboration Project, an art project in which visitors express their hopes for the future; and a cooking workshop by renowned chef Najmieh Batmanglij, “the guru of Persian cooking.”

Most events will be held in English, although the traditional theatrical performances will be held in Farsi. Amouzgar encourages people to visit the website tirgan.ca and plan their visit according to the schedule. 

“I highly recommend that they do their research before coming to the site so that they know exactly what performances they are going to attend and watch,” he said.

Those who cannot attend the festival can watch it online at tirgan.ca/live