A photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 clearly shows his family has Jewish roots. A close-up of the document reveals he was previously known as Sabourjian – a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver. The short note scrawled on the card suggests his family changed its name to Ahmadinejad when they converted to embrace Islam after his birth.An article from 2005 in the Guardian also talks about the name change, but without mentioning that the family was Jewish previously.
The Sabourjians traditionally hail from Aradan, Mr Ahmadinejad's birthplace, and the name derives from "weaver of the Sabour", the name for the Jewish Tallit shawl in Persia. The name is even on the list of reserved names for Iranian Jews compiled by Iran's Ministry of the Interior....
A London-based expert on Iranian Jewry said that "jian" ending to the name specifically showed the family had been practising Jews. "He has changed his name for religious reasons, or at least his parents had," said the Iranian-born Jew living in London. "Sabourjian is well known Jewish name in Iran."
The Saborjhian family rented the two-storey house before leaving their impoverished environment in the late 1950s in search of prosperity in Tehran. Mr Ahmadinejad was little more than one year old when they went to the city.A skeptical take from Evan Hill, a blogger on a site called The Majlis, points out that the Telegraph and Guardian articles contradict themselves on the meaning of the name Sabourjian. Another thing that strikes me as possibly fishy about the Telegraph article is that it quotes an unnamed "London-based expert on Iranian Jewry." Who is he? Why didn't the article name him?
It was a move that coincided with changing the family name, a step taken for a mixture of religious and economic reasons, relatives say.
The name change provides an insight into the devoutly Islamic working-class roots of Mr Ahmadinejad's brand of populist politics. The name Saborjhian derives from thread painter - sabor in Farsi -a once common and humble occupation in the carpet industry in Semnan province, where Aradan is situated.
Ahmad, by contrast, is a name also used for the prophet Muhammad and means virtuous; nejad means race in Farsi, so Ahmadinejad can mean Muhammad's race or virtuous race.
"Moving from a village to big cities was so common and widespread at that time that perhaps people, not wanting to show their roots, would change their names," said Mehdi Shahhosseini, 31, son of one of Mr Ahmadinejad's cousins, still living in Aradan.
An article on the Radio Free Europe website from January of this year says that:
Mehdi Khazali, the son of the conservative Ayatollah Khazali, has written on his personal website that he recently learned that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has Jewish roots. Khazali notes that Ahmadinejad changed his family name from Saburjian, and says that the origins of the Saburjian family in the town of Aradan should be investigated.Is Khazali likely to be a reputable source? Or could he have written this simply to smear Ahmedinejad? A follow-up on this story comes from the Jewish Chronicle:
Dr Mehdi Khazali was reportedly detained after writing on his website earlier this year that the president had changed his family name from Saburjian — thought to be Jewish in origin. And during the election campaign, reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi also challenged Ahmadinejad in a live TV debate to give his full name. The “Jewish Ahmadinejad” dispute has even spread beyond Iran. A Bahrain newspaper, Akhbar al-Khaleej, published an article on the claim.More on Mr. Khazali's arrest comes from an article this summer (July 5, 2009) in the Jerusalem Post. (The link appears to be broken - I have the text from the International Free Press Society).
The Iranian blogger who claimed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has Jewish roots is being detained by the authorities after he was arrested along with 150 university students earlier this week, according to sources in Teheran.It will be interesting to see if this report is borne out by further investigations.
Dr. Mehdi Khazali, who reportedly participated in several recent opposition demonstrations, was reportedly summoned to a special court convened for religious figures, detained and transferred to an unknown location. The son of a prominent, conservative pro-Ahmadinejad ayatollah, Khazali wrote on his Web site earlier this year that the president – a Holocaust denier and relentless critic of Israel – was of partially Jewish origin, asserting that Ahmadinejad had changed his family name from Saburjian, and calling for the origins of the Saburjian family in the town of Aradan to be investigated.
The assertion featured in the bitter presidential election campaign, when rival reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi challenged Ahmadinejad in a live TV debate, reportedly stating: “My full name is Mehdi Karroubi. What is your full name?” Ahmadinejad gave his full name, according to an Al-Arabiya TV report, but left out one surname which is said to indicate Jewish ancestry.
The “Jewish Ahmadinejad” dispute even spread beyond Iran, when Bahrain’s oldest newspaper, Akhbar al-Khaleej, was briefly shut down by the governing authorities two weeks ago after it published an article recycling the claim.