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Feb 15 2012

Yes, There is a Base in Afghanistan Named “Aryan,” and it is Spelled “Aryan”

When it came to light earlier this week that our military has a base named “Aryan” in Afghanistan, the DoD was quick to come up with excuses to explain it away. They claimed that it was the Afghan National Army, and not our military, who named the base; that it was spelled Arian, not Aryan; and that Arian is just a variation of Ariana, the ancient name of the region that includes Afghanistan.

Wait a minute! The same military that just last week was excusing the use of the Nazi SS flag by our Marines by saying they were too historically ignorant to know it was a Nazi flag are now saying that our military members are such a bunch of history whizzes that it would be general knowledge among them that Ariana was the ancient Greek name for Afghanistan?

Well, despite the DoD’s insistence that the base is named “Arian” with an “i,” it’s not. It is absolutely named “Aryan” with a “y,” a name that had already raised concerns among some, but those concerns were just joked about and ultimately ignored.

The DoD’s attempt to explain this offensive name away as a just spelling error might have worked if the only instance of it being spelled “Aryan” was just the one Army unit that referred to the base as “Combat Outpost Aryan” back in June, the only example anyone writing about this earlier this week, had. See Tuesday’s HuffPost article, “Afghanistan Base ‘Aryan’ Raises Objections From Soldiers Over Name.”

All other news outlets reporting on this story also had only the one example cited in the HuffPost article, but the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which first exposed COP Aryan after being contacted about it by members of both the U.S. military and the Afghan National Army who want the base’s name changed, has since located a number of other examples of Army units calling the base Aryan, and also obtained official DoD documents that list the base’s name as “Aryan.”

The example used by HuffPost and others when this story was first reported on Tuesday has since been scrubbed from the Army’s 170th Infantry Brigade website, but here is a screenshot of the photo and caption that were on that page.

But, as I said, this was not the only example. Here are some others.

From a January 2012 newsletter of the Army’s 18th Engineer Brigade, saying that an NCO from a unit currently deployed to FOB Sharana in Eastern Afghanistan was being sent to Combat Outpost Aryan:

 

From a December 18, 2011 photo album on the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade’s Facebook page:

 

And, finally, this is from a DoD contract document obtained by MRFF. This document, a modification to a freight container contract, shows containers going to FOB Aryan:

 

MRFF has also obtained emails showing that an employee of the United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) alerted their chain of command months ago to this base being named Aryan, asking if a different name could be designated for the base and requesting to be provided with an explanation for the choice of the name. This request was ignored. So, unlike the claims that the military didn’t know that our Marine sniper scouts were using a Nazi SS flag, officials at USTRANSCOM were absolutely aware that a base in Afghanistan had been named Aryan, and we have proof of this.

Among the twenty-one U.S. service members who contacted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation about the name of this base, two have been there and verified that the base is, in fact, named Aryan. MRFF has also been contacted by ten members of the Afghan National Army who want the name changed. Now why, if the DoD’s claim that the name Arian (however it’s spelled) is just the ancient name of Afghanistan, would members of the Afghan National Army have a problem with it? Well, maybe because of incidents like the following.

Some of our American troops at this base started joking that Afghanistan was now an “Aryan nation” because it has a base named Aryan. The Afghan soldiers realized that our troops were taunting them, which started a shoving match that almost erupted into a fist fight, but was broken up after the first punch, which missed, was thrown.

As for the DoD’s claim that this is an Afghan base and was named by the Afghans, that’s just impossible to believe. Whether it’s called a Forward Operating Base (FOB) or a Combat Outpost (COP), Americans are still running the show at these bases. The base named Aryan being referred to in some places as an FOB and some places as a COP doesn’t mean anything. A COP is just a smaller, more remote base than an FOB. Even our troops who are over in Afghanistan sometimes seem to be unsure if a particular base is considered an FOB or a COP. On one discussion board where the difference between an FOB and a COP was being discussed, the best way one service member could come up with to tell the difference was that if you had to cook your own food you were at a COP and if someone else was cooking your food you were at an FOB.

With the exception of some FOBs and COPs being named for their locations, and a handful named by other non-Afghan forces in charge of a base, (i.e. FOB Edinburgh was named by the British), the names of these bases were clearly chosen by Americans. Some are named for service members killed near the location of the base, and others are named with what are clearly American words. Unless you’re going to believe that the Afghans are naming bases with names like “Michigan,” “Eagle,” and “Lonestar,” the DoD’s excuse that the Afghans named COP Aryan is just ridiculous.

The name of this base needs to be changed immediately, and the military needs to initiate an investigation to find out who decided to name the base Aryan and who approved this name.

28 comments

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  1. 1
    peterh

    “Aryan” comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “noble.”

  2. 2
    Chris Rodda

    @ peterh … Yeah, and that’s certainly why our troops named this base Aryan and made jokes saying that now Afghanistan was an “Aryan nation.” And the DoD’s excuse is that it’s the ancient Greek name for Afghanistan, another meaning that would explain our troops making jokes that now Afghanistan was an “Aryan nation.” Do you honestly think that whoever named this base had either the ancient name of Afghanistan or Sanskrit etymology in mind when they chose the name?

  3. 3
    'Tis Himself

    the DoD was quick to come up with excuses to explain it away.

    To put the situation in military terminology: An asshole stepped on their dick and some REMF is cleaning up the shit.

  4. 4
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    While I think it was probably a bad idea, given the (especially post 1930s) Western (mis)use of “Aryan”, I can easily imagine the name did not come from some white-supremacist ideology. Of course this would inspire ignorant white USAnians to be stupid with it. Certainly, the responses to the questioning of the name don’t make the situation look any better.

    The term Aryan fell into disuse in linguistics mostly because North European abuse. But lets not forget that much of the population of these regions are Caucasian, and Aryan refers to those peoples from the north who settled from Iran to India. Of course, this is all mixed up and vague, and better refers to language and culture rather than “race”. And since all these languages share roots with much of the European languages, some thought it would be really cool if their “barbaric” Germanic ancestors were Aryan descendants, and their regions were the original source of an Aryan “race”.

    Whatever, taunting Afghanis with “Aryan” is stupid on multiple levels. It’s racist even if the targets share the same damned “race” with the racists. And I doubt anyone could come up with a verified source for the name of the base at this point, but I don’t necessarily believe that the original intent was negative, if ill-conceived. It has quite apparently been used negatively (and stupidly).

  5. 5
    I'm_not

    “Iran” is Persian for “land of the Aryan”. Perhaps they should have waited to see who won the presidential election because they may well be needing some Iran-appropriate camp names in the very near future…

  6. 6
    Winterwind

    peterh:

    “Aryan” comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “noble.”

    Gee, thanks for displaying your knowledge of Indic languages. It’s just too bad that you’re either ignorant of or downplaying the effects of white supremacist ideology.

    This base is located in Afghanistan, not India. Sanskrit is not a liturgical or culturally significant language in Afghanistan, not for thousands of years.

    Also, while the word “Arya” has a number of innocuous meanings in Indian languages, the word “Aryan” used in a Western context specifically refers to the bullshit white supremacist concept of a fictional master race of Nordic European people.

    The swastika is a holy symbol in Hinduism. Are you suggesting it would be appropriate for US soldiers to display the swastika? NO. The swastika, like the word Aryan in the West, has acquired a specific meaning, and is inextricably linked to white supremacist ideologies. You might argue that Afghanistan is not “the West”, but actually much of Afghanistan, Iran and other parts of Central Asia have been infested with white supremacist ideologies for decades. As I said earlier, Sanskrit is not a culturally significant language in Afghanistan (or Iran). The name of the base is either unrelated to the Sanskrit word or borrowed deliberately from white supremacist ideology.

    F:

    But lets not forget that much of the population of these regions are Caucasian, and Aryan refers to those peoples from the north who settled from Iran to India.

    Actually the word “Arya” as it appears in the Vedas refers not to a race, but to a specific cultural group, like the Jewish Levites. It’s primary meaning is “one who has studied the Vedas”, and secondary meanings are “noble, upper class”. Since the 19th century, Western scholars have continued to mistranslate the word “Arya” as a racial term, and identified the writers of the Vedas with their own ancestors.

    I’m_not:

    “Iran” is Persian for “land of the Aryan”.

    Yes, and Persian people love to remind us that they are “Aryans”, in order to distinguish themselves from the Arabs, whom they perceive to be filthy “Semites”. However, Iran has always historically been referred to as Persia. It was renamed “Iran” in the 20th century by the Shah, who was embarrassed and humiliated by the way Persia had been outstripped in development by Western Europe. He decided to blame the lack of progress in Persia on invasion by the Arabs. He decided that Persia would have to purge its culture of the Arab influence and return to pure, pre-Islamic roots of Persia, in which the Persian Empire was one of the world’s foremost powers.

    The Avestan (old Persian) word “airya”, cognate to the Sanskrit “arya” appears in the Zoroastrian scriptures a few times, with the same meaning of “noble.” It was never used as a racial term to refer to the entire Persian people – that was what the word “Persian” was for. (The country was “Pars”, the people who lived in it “Parsi”. Note that the Greeks referred to the Persian capital as “Persepolis” not “Aryapolis”, and the Romans called the country “Persia” not “Ayria”.) The whole Persian = Aryan thing was manufactured by the Shah to allow the Persian people to restore faith in themselves during the colonial period (See, we belong to the same master race as Europeans, so we can become developed and successful like them, if only we destroy the backward, Arabic, Islamic influence in our society and return to our pure Aryan roots).

  7. 7
    Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    The official languages of Afghanistan are Dari and Pashto, which are both members of the Iranian language group and thus related both to Farsi and (more distantly) to the Indian languages such as Sanskrit. My guess – and it’s only that – is that the name “Aryan” is from one of the local languages. I find it extremely hard to believe that anyone in the Army would actually choose such a name on account of its modern racialist connotations. On the other hand, it’s quite easy to believe, and in fact predictable, that insensitive Americans personnel would take this name and use it as the basis of offensive jokes. For that reason, even if the name is from an innocent native source, it was somewhere between stupid and indefensible for the powers that be to apply it to a U.S. facility.

  8. 8
    helenaconstantine

    I think Hercules is on to something. Once the original Indo-European community split, the ancestors of the Iranian and Indians lived in Arya (it means hero), which is generally thought to be in Afghanistan. As others have point out, the Nazi mis-use of the word was based on a rather jumbled misunderstanding.From that viewpoint, it makes all the sense in the world to use name Aryan for one of our bases there.

    On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that the troops had anything in mind except Neo-Nazism. There certainly ought o be an investigation, and any Neo-nazis in the Army either dishonorably discharged or imprisoned.

    As an aside, I’ve encountered something like this same problem before. My husband and I went to visit his father after not having seen him for a couple years. He was a virulent Racist and Neo-nazi (he was proud once to have shook David Duke’s hand). But at the time of this visit, he had shifted from anti-Semitism to a new target.He let his pent-up rage spill out against Arabs. He had a whole litany of his special contempt for each kind of Arab (as he imagined them), and reserved his worse vituperation for the Iranians. My husband told him, “Iranians aren’t Arabs. They speak an Indo-European language like English or German. In fact, Iran is a form of the word Aryan.”

    This brought him up completely short. he had never been able to imagine such a thing, but he hardly dispute what my husband was saying, since he had just gotten a PhD in linguistics. He finally rounded on him with this: “If you ever find yourself in prison, You better not try to tell that to the Aryan Brotherhood!” Irrational through and through.

  9. 9
    helenaconstantine

    Winterwind:

    As far as I know, Ardashir I in his Naq–I Rustam inscription refers to him as shah of shahs of Iran, which indicates it is the name of the Iranian nation (clarifying that that is what Iran must mean in the Avesta also), which is somewhat at variance with what you propose. Also, the normal term for Iran in Medieval Arabic was either Iran or Aria, not Persia. In fact, Persia seems to be specifically what the Greeks called the Iranians Persians after the home province of Cyrus. It was not widely used in Iran, as far as I am ware.

    The interested can read more about this at the Encyclopedia Iranica:

    http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/iranian-identity-ii-pre-islamic-period

    (looking that over just now, there appears to be robust evidence for the use of Iranian/Aryan as a national name in Achaemenid times)

  10. 10
    bbgunn

    I guess COP Mein Kampf was already taken.

  11. 11
    marcus

    ‘Tis @3 Roger that! Typical Charlie Foxtrot. SNAFU.

  12. 12
    jamessweet

    I’m with those who think the name was almost certainly chosen without any negative intentions. Many have pointed out candidate words from local languages. This seems highly likely to me.

    A separate question is how the DOD has dealt with this issue. Clearly, as the “shoving match” incident has demonstrated, the name of this base is causing practical issues. And it should be obvious the potential for offense. The name ought to be changed independent of whether the original intentions were innocent (and FWIW, I think they probably were).

  13. 13
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Winterwind

    Actually the word “Arya” as it appears in the Vedas refers not to a race, but to a specific cultural group, like the Jewish Levites.

    Um, thanks for not reading what I wrote? I’m aware of some of the Vedic uses, which are not the only uses of the term. Which I have described, if not in depth. I clearly state that “Aryan” is not a race.

    The Levites are nominally a familial descendant group and a caste.

  14. 14
    Anri

    I find it extremely hard to believe that anyone in the Army would actually choose such a name on account of its modern racialist connotations.

    Good point.

    Next thing, you’ll be telling me there are pictures of US military personell posing with Nazi iconography – that’s crazy talk!

    Oh… wait…

    Um, that kind of thing is, um, err, um, just one o’ them… you know, coincidence thingines.

  15. 15
    jamessweet

    I think those who are saying, “But they MUST have known!” are overestimating Americans’ (and particularly young Americans’) knowledge of history. In the case of the SS flag, I totally believe that most of the kids in the unit might have had no idea where it came from (though Chris has done a phenomenal job of documenting that at least one of them — i.e. the one who bought it — had to know). In this case, I totally believe that some bureaucrat might have said, “Hey, this seems like a good name” without realizing the connotations.

    Doesn’t matter. DoD needs to change it, post-haste. The fact that they’ve been dragging their feet on that point is the scandal.

  16. 16
    reasonbeing

    I can’t accept any form of linguistics justification here. Lets call a spade a spade and call it what it is. The U.S. troops made a bad error. The DoD should just come out, apologize, change the name and move on. Any other course of action is only more embarrassing to our country.

  17. 17
    naturalcynic

    If they used Arian, then good Christians should object. Arian [or Arianism] was a Christian heresy that differentiated itself from the Nicene [later Catholic] Church in rejecting the co-equal trinity. They believed that Jesus was from God and therefore subordinate to God. The Arians gradually lost out to the Catholics by the 9th century and had a revival with the first Unitarians [like Newton] and later the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  18. 18
    Jafafa Hots

    The origin of the swastika long preceded the Nazis, and the symbol was used by many cultures. Therefore it should be totally a-ok to plaster swastikas all over the walls outside the US embassy in Israel.

  19. 19
    Crissa

    This is why we shouldn’t be screwing around with translators and why everyone needs cultural sensitivity training.

    And someone should start a book of ‘words which can look bad’.

    The name probably did come from locals. But every American there should’ve known to say ‘I’m sorry, it means something bad in our language, we can’t use it in documents.’

    Fvck, man.

  20. 20
    robertbaden

    Wasn’t there some concern a while back about white supremacists and the like joining the army to get explosives training?

  21. 21
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    The reason for the name is pretty obvious to me. Look at that first picture. The buildings are all lily-white.

    Or at least, that’s an obvious reason to me why some white supremacist asshole would want to call it Aryan. Why the name stuck and became official? That’s a matter worthy of some investigation.
    The fact that the military lied about it suggests that the consequences of learning the actual answers to these questions was decided to be worse than the consequences of having the lies discovered. I suspect that it’s not an issue of ‘a few soldiers on the ground’ are actually white supremacists. It seems far more likely that someone very important in the military hierarchy is ALSO guilty of that label, and his ass is being thoroughly covered.

  22. 22
    harold

    The words “Aryan” and “Caucasian” are both largely meaningless by now, due to misuse.

    However, “Aryan” should be used with great caution by ethical English-speaking people, and the camp should be renamed, even though Afghans are unlikely to be offended by it, unless they are very familiar with western abuse of the word.

    The reason for this is that the word has become synonymous with white supremacist nonsense in Western European languages.

    It happened in a stupid way. In the eighteenth century it was discovered that many Northern Indian languages are Indo-European and that there was an association between at least some of these languages and an ill-defined historical group known as “Aryans” (in one version of English spelling) in some ancient literature. Nothing stupid about any of that, but then European fascists adopted it to mean “pure European people”, even going so far as to uproariously especially apply it to say, Scandinavians, when it originally referred to, if anything meaningful, people from the ares in the north of and to the north of the Indian Subcontinent.

    (The word “Caucasian” is used for “white” people because of the strongly supported but not definitive hypothesis that the proto-Indo-European language group originated in the Caucasus region; using it to refer to people with pale skin and “European looking” features is rather dumb but culturally ingrained.)

    Human ethnic divisions tend to be primarily of cultural origin. As a matter of fact, many people from Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Northern India do have, despite tending to have darker skin and dark hair (although neither of those is universal among Afghanis), features that are culturally perceived as “European”. There are many Afghanis who could pass for European in dressed in European clothes. Ironically, in the past, promoters of racism often made a big production of grouping these people with “whites”, in order to focus more racist firepower on the groups they excluded from that categorization.

  23. 23
    M'thew

    Read “The History of White People” by Nell Irvin Painter for more insightful accounting of the ways in which white people have obsessed about whiteness and the various misnomers (like ‘Aryan’ and ‘Caucasian’) they came up with to describe themselves as being better than other white people.

    Although, you might not want to become more misanthropic than you already are…

  24. 24
    Andrew G.

    (The word “Caucasian” is used for “white” people because of the strongly supported but not definitive hypothesis that the proto-Indo-European language group originated in the Caucasus region;

    Actually it’s used because Blumenbach thought Georgians were pretty, and therefore the closest to the “original” humans (he believed in a degeneration theory, where the differences between races were the result of environmentally-induced degeneration from some original perfect form).

    The South Caucasus region and Georgia in particular is one of the few parts of western Eurasia that can more or less definitively be ruled out as the origin of the proto-Indo-Europeans, because it appears to be the origin of the (non Indo-European) Kartvelian language family (to which Georgian belongs) instead.

    There is no reason to use the term “Caucasian” for whites other than two centuries of rather ill-founded convention.

  25. 25
    jesse

    I’ll throw in with those who say:

    1. the name was probably not originally chosen to highlight something racist; odds are it was a word in a local language — god knows there are plenty that have those two syllables — that nobody understood. Expecially if it were pronounced in a way Americans would not recognize. Think of the difference for American English speakers between how you would pronounce “Air-ee-an” — short a at the end — and “Ah-ree-ahn” which is damned likely to show up in that region as a name for something. After all, “Ariana” is a pretty common name-usage there (and the name of at least one Afghan restaurant I know of). More to the point it could be a corruption of lord knows what, since it was transcribed by an American who odds are doesn’t speak ANY local language. In any case, since most Americans have so little understanding of non-English, I can see it being spelled the way it was.

    2. That said, the name should be changed. Period. It’s just a bit too far on the creepy side. It can’t be that hard.

  26. 26
    pelamun, the Linguist of Doom

    Winterwind,

    while lecturing us all on how Sanskrit hasn’t been spoken in Afghanistan for a long time, overlooking the fact that the two major languages in Afghanistan are in fact from the Indo-Aryan branch (note how linguists are still using this term) of Indo-European (originally known as Indo-Germanic, this term was changed due to the war) was kinda embarrassing. Indeed, Dari, which is spoken by 50% of the population, is considered a Persian dialect. And at least for Persian, the Pfft says that the root now has taken on the meaning of a specific ethnic group: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aryan#In_Iranian_literature Maybe someone knows Pashto and can tell us if the root is used there.

    Now, other than that though, I agree that the base name should be changed due to the negative meaning of the word in Western languages.

  27. 27
    alexmartin

    Hi.
    Allow me to simplify issues for you and expose your viewpoint, so as to clear all obfuscation and expose some of the hate that drives the Collective Left.

    America is Evil.
    The U.S. military is, historically, the blunt, bloody weapon of guilty, Evil, Imperialist America.

    Even under Obama, a great president of 60′s radical sentiment, who works assiduously to break the power of the brutish military ethos, blunt the force and power-projection of this mindless juggernaut, and soften it’s capabilities down to that of a treed kitten.

    Right?
    Happy?

    Give it enough time. Your evil nemesis, the U.S. military, will be destroyed, rendered utterly ineffectual.

  28. 28
    bellbob

    I am the father of a soldier presently serving this great nation. I am shocked more at the tone and approach of this article than at the obvious poor choice of this camps name. The insinuation that our military leaders would use this name to support some sort of “white pride” is atroscious. Our military is the most racially diverse military in the world. Lets can the hype a bit and keep our heads in the game. Yes, the word ARYAN could and should be extremely offensive when used improperly.

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