On March 8, 2015, Ali Younesi, advisor to Iranian President Hassan Rohani and previously intelligence minister (2000-2005) in the government of president Khatami, spoke at the "Iran, Nationalism, History, and Culture" conference in Iran; his statements were published by the Iranian ISNA news agency the same day.
According to Younesi, Iran is once again an empire, as it was in the past, and its capital, Iraq, is "the center of Iranian heritage, culture, and identity." Delineating the borders of the Persian Empire, or, in his words, "greater Iran," he included countries from China, the Indian subcontinent, the north and south Caucasus, and the Persian Gulf. He added that since the very dawn of its history, Iran had been an empire and a melting pot of different cultures, languages, and peoples.
Younesi stressed that despite the current obstacles to the unification of the countries in the region under Iranian leadership, Iran cannot disregard its regional influence if it wishes to preserve its national interests. Iran, he said, has been operating in this region, particularly in Iraq, with the aim of ensuring the security of the peoples there, whose connection to Iran is obvious because of history and culture. Saudi Arabia has nothing to fear from Iran's actions, he added, because the Saudis themselves are incapable of defending the peoples of the region. He also assured the peoples of the region that Iran is operating there against Islamic extremism as embodied by ISIS, as well as against the Saudi Wahhabis, Turkey, secularists, Western rule, and Zionism.
Further emphasizing that anything that enters Iran is improved by becoming Iranian, especially Islam itself, he added that Islam in its Iranian-Shi'ite form is the pure Islam, since it has shed all traces of Arabism, racism, and any other element that divides the various Islamic groups.
Following are excerpts from Younesi's statements:
"Every Cultural Or Ethnic Group That Arrived From Other Places To The Iranian Plateau Has In Time Become Iranian"
"The central, western, and eastern parts of the Iranian Plateau have always protected and nurtured Iranian ethnic groups, and all the people living in this expanse are ethnic Iranians. Every cultural or ethnic group that arrived from other places to the Iranian Plateau has in time become Iranian, as have their language and culture - even a language originating from somewhere else takes on a distinct Iranian flavor once it reaches the Iranian Plateau.
"The Azeris are one of the oldest tribes of the Iranian empire, and some of them spoke a Turkic language. But when this language reached the Iranian Plateau, it became Iranian and totally different from Turkic languages in other countries. The Azeris in Iran have always defended [Iran's] national literature, language, and culture.
"A large section of the Iranian Plateau stretches in the east to the peaks of the Pamir [mountains in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan] and to the great River Sindh; in the north to the River Amu [Darya]; in the west to the peaks of the Caucasus; and in the central part to the peaks of Alborz and Zagros, overlooking the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf, and Oman...
"Today Iran is restricted to [only] the central plateau. Several countries have emerged from the eastern and western plateaus. The name and culture of greater Iran have always had a good reputation in the region... We cannot preserve our interests, national security, and historic identity without attention to Iran's regional influence and borders..."
"If We Disregard The Region That Lies Within Our Sphere Of Influence, We Will Be Unable To Protect Our Interests And Security... Since Its Inception, Iran Has [Always] Had A Global [Dimension]; It Was Born An Empire"
"In essence, the greater Iran and Iranian culture, civilization, religion, and spirit are present in this expanse, and constitute a natural union in this region. While differences prevent such a union, in truth the Iranian Plateau includes countries from the borders of China and the Indian subcontinent to the north and south Caucasus and the Persian Gulf - all of which are part of this union...
"There is no dismantling our borders. Our borders have been recognized throughout history, like our territory and our culture. This region is impacted greatly by cultural and historical partnerships. If we disregard the region that lies within our sphere of influence, we will be unable to protect our interests and security.
"Since its inception, Iran has [always] had a global [dimension]; it was born an empire. Iran's leaders, officials, and administrators have always thought in the global [dimension]...
"Of course, I do not mean that we want to take over the world again, but we need to know what our status is and must arrive at historic self-awareness - that is, thinking globally but acting as Iranians. [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu acknowledged with certainty Iran's might and influence; he said that Iran has taken over four countries in the region. But Iran was only trying to help these [countries]."
"Iraq Is Not Merely A Sphere Of Cultural Influence For Us; It Is Also... Our Capital"
"In the current situation, Iraq is not merely a sphere of cultural influence for us; it is also our identity, our culture, our center, and our capital. This issue [of Iraq as our capital] exists today as it did in the past, because just as there is no way to divide the territory of Iran and Iraq, there is no way to divide our culture either. We must either fight each other or unite. The purpose of such a union would not be the elimination of borders; rather, that all the countries in the Iranian expanse would become closer, since their interests and security are interconnected."
"We Are Protecting The Interests Of [All] The People In The Region -Because They Are All Iran's People"
"Now, when Iran is defending Iraq from the extremists, our historic rivals are displeased, and in order to annoy us they are helping their own enemies - thus destabilizing the region. Today, the [Saudi] Wahhabis are angry that Iran is supporting Iraq, but their fear is misplaced, since they themselves are incapable of fighting the fossilized Islamic thought in the region [i.e. ISIS]. We [on the other hand] are protecting the interests of [all] the people in the region, because they are all Iran's people. We will support all the people living in Iranian Plateau, and we will defend them from fossilized Islamic thought, takfirism, and atheism, from the new Ottoman regime [Turkey], from the Wahhabi regime [Saudi Arabia], from the Western regime, and from Zionism."
"When Islam Reached Iran, It Shed Arabism, Racism, And Nationalism"
"Everything that comes into Iran is improved. When Islam reached Iran, it shed Arabism, racism, and nationalism, and Iran eventually received pure Islam. Even during the time when the Iranians were Sunnis, their Islam was mystical, as opposed to Wahhabi; now, when [Iranian] Islam is Shi'ite, it belongs to Ahl Al-Beit - the Islam of unity and friendship.
"We must try to once again spread the banner of Islamic-Iranian unity and peace in the region. Iran must bear this responsibility, as it did in the past."