Iran and Myanmar: Select Comparisons

When I wrote on this blog previously about Delaware and New Jersey, I did so because up to that point I hadn't had a visit from Delaware on my blog - information provided to me by Flag Counter. Soon after the post, I got a visit from Delaware! (Imagine that.) Now I've decided to do that sort of suck-up post again, except this time with two world nations. I've discovered that the two most-populated countries from which I have received zero visits are Iran and Myanmar. Just check out my flag map on the right to see; there are 143 flags on there, supposedly, but not Iran or Myanmar. So, in the following post I will write about these two countries, and maybe that will bring in some visits from them.

Iran and Myanmar: What traits do they share? Both have two relatively well-known names in English. The first case is simple: Iran has been Iranians name for their own country for many centuries, while Persia is a Western term originally coming from Greek. In 1935, the Shah formally asked foreign diplomats to use the name Iran in all their correspondance, but "Persia" has still stuck around as a romantic name. Myanmar, however, is a more controversial and precarious name in the West, if only because it was made the official name by a military government seen by many as illegitimate. Before then the name of the country was Burma, and many people in the West still call it Burma because of the issue of legitimacy. As to the etymologies of each name, however, Burma and Myanmar are very similar: Both ultimately come from the name of the majority ethnic group, with the former being a colloquial term and the latter more literary.

I just think this is awesome. (source)
Geographically, both nations border South Asia, or might be considered part of it, peripherally. If not in South Asia, they belong to different regions that both have "east" in them - the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Both nations have proud imperial histories - concerning empires that existed before European imperialists came. Iran and Myanmar also have much more ethnically diverse populations, (of over 75 million and nearly 50 million people, respectively), than many in the West would assume. In religious terms, most Iranians and Myanma practice faiths that originated elsewhere - Shia Islam in the first and Theravada Buddhism in the second. Interestingly, both countries have been pariahs in the (U.S.-led) international community for some decades now.

photo from the Iranian
Revolution (source
For Iran, this is largely because of its Islamic Revolution, which took place from 1978-1979 and overthrew the Shah, Reza Pahlavi, who had been backed by the United States and had been empowered in 1953 by a CIA-led coup. As for the Islamic Revolution, a book I read during the summer and discussed recently in class offers an interesting interpretation of that event. In Arrival City, Doug Saunders writes that anti-Shah street demonstrations in 1978 reflected the anger of people in the new urban slums or "arrival cities". Revolutionaries of all political factions attempted to harness this anger, and finally it was the Islamists who were able to do so, using mosques to spread promises of free land and housing while deemphasizing their theocratic streak. “There is every indication that ordinary Iranians, when they voted overwhelmingly for Khomeini’s government in the referendum of March 1979, believed they were voting for a nationalist, liberal-democratic party that happened to have a mullah for a leader.” However it happened, the revolution ended up creating a theocratic state.

Aung San Suu Kyi (source)
Myanmar has been a pariah largely because of its autocratic military governments, which have been around since 1962 in various incarnations. In 1990 the government decided to hold free elections, but then forcefully rejected them when the party of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi won 80% of the seats in parliament. The government had Suu Kyi under house arrest for about 15 years, cumulatively, but in 2010 she was released, and in 2012 she was elected to a seat in parliament, along with other members of her party. Although negotiations are ongoing between Suu Kyi, her allies, and the militaries powers that continue to be, it seems the Myanmar government is now opening cautiously to democracy and eagerly to Western countries, some of whom had previously imposed economic sanctions on it. I apologize for not being able to provide a link to this, but I have read - and find it a convincing argument - that the military government wanted to reopen contacts with the West because it had become increasingly reliant upon (and perhaps dominated by) its also-authoritarian ally and neighbor, China. I hope that Myanmar will continue to liberalize its politics, giving its people free and fair democracy and a pathway toward better livelihoods.

Iran and Myanmar differ in many ways, of course, as do any two countries in the world, especially two that really don't have any shared cultural heritage or any history of direct contact with one another. All the same, it's interesting to point out parallels between seemingly "random" places. It's likely that these are the two most-populated countries not to have sent visitors to my blog because they are both countries that have authoritarian governments and low rates of internet access. On the other hand, I've gotten visits from many poor and less populous countries that also have restrictive governments, so perhaps I just haven't written anything that an Iranian or Myanma would happen to find online. Now after publishing this post, maybe I finally have.