IVth Coming Together RoundTable – Minutes



Zarathushti Heritage and Cultural Center, Houston, TX
December 31, 2008


(Compiled by Roshan Rivetna)



 The IVth Coming Together Roundtable was hosted by the Zoroastrian Association of Houston, at the Zarathushti Heritage and Cultural Center, Houston, TX, on Dec 31st, 2008, from 10 am to 5 pm. The list of attendees is attached [Att. I].att I_ctr-houston_dec08_attendees    


The meeting was simultaneously webcast through facilities provided by Yazdi Tantra of On-Lyne Systems, Mumbai.  Webcasting equipment in Houston was provided by Zoroastrian Association of Houston, with technical assistance provided by Percy Master.  Among those present on the webcast were Yazdi Tantra, Zarine Commissariat, Ader Gandi (all from Mumbai), and Dr. Zareen Karani Araoz (from Boston).


The meeting was conducted by Rohinton Rivetna, with Firdosh Mehta and Behram Pastakia.



Opening benediction was given by Mobed Mehraban Firouzgary of Tehran. “Anjumana” he said, “leads us to think of rivulets which come together at a confluence to form a powerful river.  Let thoughts from each individual assembled here, rich in all their diversity, come together in harmony to create a force of good for our beloved community, as we commence our deliberations.”


Er. Peshotan Unwalla of Houston then gave a Benediction and sang a Monajat.




Rohinton welcomed all the participants, especially those from Iran and the Indian subcontinent, from Canada and USA, who had traveled long distances to be present.


Vote of Thanks. A special vote of thanks was given to: Zoroastrian Association of Houston (ZAH) for providing the excellent facilities of the ZHCC, and for the computers and cameras  to participate in the webcast; to ZAH volunteers, especially Rustom Engineer for overall coordination, Percy Master for audio-visual technical assistance, Homi Davier for preparing flyers, Hoshang and Arnavaz Sethna for handling Registration and the ZAH Entertainment Committee for the hearty breakfast, lunch and teas; to Yazdi Tantra for providing the webasting technology and to Yazdi and other participants from India for staying up all night on New Years eve to participate in the Roundtable webcast.


An introductory flyer on the Coming together Roundtable [Att. II]  att-II_ctr-houston_dec08_ccc and the Agenda for the day including a list of Discussion Points [Att.III]  att-III_ctr-houston_programdiscussion were handed out.


Talk on Hamazor.  Bomi Damkevala (Chicago) read a presentation on Hamazor – Talk #3 [Att. IV] att-IV_ctr-houston_dec08_hamazor-3  prepared by Ervad Ramiyar Karanjia of Athornan Madressa, Mumbai.


Participants introduced themselves and gave their expectations for the day.  All participants shared a Hamazor handshake with each other.


Background and Current status of CTR. 


Rohinton Rivetna presented the Background of the CTR [Att. V]  att-V_ctr_houston_background-current-staus  starting with the first CTR held during the World Congress in London in 2005; the Vision and Mission for our “Community without Borders”, and Future Directions. He pointed out the new logo for CTR, designed by Zenobia Damania.


He acknowledged the work of Yazdi Tantra (yazdi@on-lyne.com) in providing a web presence for the Roundtable at www.zoroastrians.net; and the new administrator Percis Dubash (pdubash1@gmail.com) for producing the Annual Report and being available for followup of action items.  Yazdi Tantra encouraged all to visit the website and avail of its various facilities.  He maintains a worldwide Zoroastrian Calendar of Events at the site, and offered free publicity and announcements for any Zoroastrian organization world wide.


Rohinton presented the audited copy of the CTR Receipts and Expenses [Att VI, annexure P6]  http://zoroastrians.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/p06_roundtable-expenses-summary2008.pdf  and noted that the initial contributions covering 10 months of administration expenses (Rs. 5000 per month for the website. maintenance and supervision; and Rs. 4,000  per month for the administrative staff person, i.e. approx $200 per month) are now nearly depleted.  He made a plea to all present to consider a contribution, either personal or from their organizations, to enable continuation of these excellent services.


The need was expressed to put Farsi translations of important information/reports on the web and in Farsi-language publications.  Yazdi Tantra offered to host and link to Farsi sites, but did not have translation facilities. Alayar Dabestani offered to pay Rs. 4000 per month for the first year, for an administrator, based in India, who could translate the information into Farsi.  Dr. Ekhtiyari offered to facilitate the printing of translations in Iranian publications.  Natalie Gandhi suggested looking into automated, computer-assisted translators.  Recognizing that English is the lingua-franca of the world, Parviz Varjavand encouraged having English-language classes for Zarathushti children in Iran.




In the absence of CTR administrator Percis Dubash, Roshan Rivetna briefly presented the Annual Report of the IIIrd CTR [Att.VI]   http://zoroastrians.net/2008/12/10/coming-together-roundtable-annual-report-2008/ held in Mumbai in January 2008, prepared by Percis Dubash, listing 19 Items, and their followup actions taken through the past year.  Some unfinished or ongoing items have been placed on the Discussion List again, for this meeting.


ZAH Librarian Aban Rustomji mentioned that this CTR meeting was being held in the ZAH Library, which is also now the new FEZANA Resource Center.  She made a plea soliciting  support and inviting personal collections for the new Center.  Rohinton recognized the significance of this project and gave a vote of thanks to past president Rustom Kevala for having the vision and the Houston team for making it happen.




The list of Discussion Points are in Att. III. att-III_ctr-houston_programdiscussion


(1)        Venue for the Next World Congress (WZC).  The meeting was turned over to Firdosh Mehta for this segment. A background of the process, and the Evaluation Criteria were distributed [Att. VII] .  att-VII_ctr-houston_dec08_process-for-next-ctr. The need for an equitable process to select the venue for WZCs arose at the 2005 World Congress in London.  The concept of “Request for Proposals” was mooted and approved at the CTR in London and two subsequent CTRs. An RFP document “The World Zoroastrian Congress Guidelines and Selection Process” outlining the selection process and evaluation criteria was drafted by Rohinton Rivetna, Firdosh Mehta and Behram Pastakia, with input from representative stakeholders in North America, India, UAE, UK, Iran, Australia and New Zealand whose names are listed in the document.  This document was distributed (as Annexure Point 2, 1a and 1b) of the IIIrd CTR Report [Att. VI].  http://zoroastrians.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/p02a01a_call-for-world-zoroastrian-congress-proposals.pdf  &  http://zoroastrians.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/p02a01b_worldcongressguidelines28jul081.pdf



As per the process, proposals were invited, and received from Australia, Iran, Mumbai and Singapore, and evaluated, based on the set of evaluation criteria, by a Selection Committee of four independent individuals from India, Iran, NA and Europe who had experience in hosting World Congresses.  The evaluations were tallied by an independent accountant, who provided the results in a sealed envelope.


ZAH librarian Aban Rustomji, as host of the CTR, was requested to open the sealed envelope.  Aban announced that the Selection Committee had given the highest score, as tallied by the Accountant, to Singapore.



This announcement evoked strong objection from the Iranian delegates. Dr. Esfandiar Ekhtiyari, Zoroastrian M.P. in the Iranian Majlis, made an impassioned plea for holding it in Iran:



“… We have forgotten that the Congress is for the unity of Zoroastrians … Remember that the Congress is for our children to become more aware of our culture and heritage.  I was hoping Iran or India would be chosen, so our children could be brought to their roots.  I’ve come all this way to tie back to the roots of your origins … Our Congresses are becoming more International showcases, instead of bringing us back to our roots.  If it is to be in India, I can accept it.  It is not the proposals and the paper.  Look at the reality.  Don’t forget the strongholds of Pir Sabz …. How many more generations must pass before we can bring our people back to our roots?  Making fancy proposals does not make the Congress.  We have to look at the reality.  Our proposal was made together with our young students, with their hearts.  I’ve come here all this way to do them honor … “



Dr. Ekhtiyari and Khodayar Attaie (WZCC Director, Iran Region) then proceeded to leave the meeting. Rohinton persuaded them to stay and continue the dialogue, and opened the floor for further discussion.



A lengthy discussion ensued on the viability of Singapore as host for a World Congress. There was some concern about the small number of Zarathushtis in Singapore.



Questions were raised about the selection process followed, especially in the face of the firm decision made by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet to host the Congress.



Homi Davier seconded Dr. Ekhtiyari’s sentiments.  He added that prior to the Congress in Houston (in 2000), 3 were held in Iran and 3 in India, so it would make sense to have the next one after Dubai, in India.  The Iranian delegation was agreeable to that, if Iran could host the WZCC AGM after Dubai.  Homi further recommended that, rather than a few individuals making the decision, a body be formed, with representation from all nations that had over 5,000 Zarathushtis, to decide on this issue.



Kersi Limathwalla said that in the selection process, we should focus on two things: content, and as large a participation as possible. The last Congress in India was in 1992.  It is high time that we seek a mass base, where there is large participation.  We need to have a Congress periodically where there are large numbers of Zoroastrians residing.  Maybe we should defer this decision by 6 months, and take another look at the criteria.



Bomi Patel suggested, and most concurred, that a global council/committee with elected representatives from Federations/Associations from India, Iran, UK, North America and other major regions, be charged with allocating future world congresses.



Alayar Dabestani reminded that when the 6th World Congress was held in Iran, in 1996, it really helped the Zoroastrians there, and improved relations with the government.  Maybe we should revisit the selection criteria.



Homi Davier suggested that we would get a large audience, and based on the strong sentiments expressed by the BPP, we should have the Congress in India.  He urged that the WZCC Board consider having the next WZCC AGM in Iran.



Kaemarz Dotiwalla questioned why no one had approached BPP, being the Apex Body, as had been done when Houston was contending for the World Congress in 2000. 

Firdosh Mehta responded, giving historical background of the creation of the RFP,   starting from the 8th WZC in London and subsequent CTR’s in Mumbai where representatives from BPP and Zarathushtis from around the globe were present and invovled in the decision making.


Behram Pastakia made a plea that the majority populations be concerned about the interests of the smaller populations of Zoroastrians, around the world.



Rohinton requested a group of four, including Kersi Limathwalla (WZCC president, from India), Bomi Patel (FEZANA president), Dr. Ekhtiyari (MP, Iran) and Alayar Dabestani (USA and Iran) to discuss the matter over the Lunch break and come to a consensual agreement. 



After Lunch, spokesman Kersi Limathwalla presented the outcome:   “In view of the strong decision made by BPP (Mumbai) that the Congress should be held in Mumbai, Iran and USA had agreed to support Mumbai.”  Also, Kersi would urge that the next WZCC AGM after Dubai in 2009, be held in Iran. Iran has also requested that if the next Congress is held in Mumbai, the following one after that be held in Iran.



Rustom Engineer said that while we may have resolved the issue of the next Congress, we have not resolved the matter for future Congresses.



Bomi Patel said that we should request BPP to take the initiative, and consider the Diaspora communities in future decision-making.  We also need to discuss the venue of the next Youth Congress.  We must formulate a procedure.



Alayar Dabestani said that while I agree with the resolution, we would like to acknowledge the hard work done by Rohinton, Firdosh and Behram, in formulating the procedure and carrying it through.


Rohinton gave a vote of thanks to all participants – “It shows the power of collectively working together towards a resolution.”  He also acknowledged the hard work and professionalism displayed by Singapore and Australia in the preparation of their bids, and the commitment shown by Iran and India, for holding the Congress in their respective countries; the members of the Selection Committee and the Accountant for their services in preparing their evaluations and tabulating the scores.  He closed with the hope that the larger strongholds (in India and Iran) keep the smaller Diaspora communities connected and involved.



(2)        Nou Rouz. 

Fariborz Rahnamoon presented a paper on promoting the celebration of Nou Rouz more widely. He explained the Zarathushti roots of the word Nou Rouz and the Gathic significance of the Nou Rouz Table. He urged the community to take a leading role in promoting public celebrations of the event all over North America and around the world, and initiate programs to promote the real significance of Nou Rouz. He drew attention to the astronomical event, when sunrise will coincide with the equinox,  which will unfold in the vicinity of Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville Kentucky, on Nou Rouz 2009. He urged communities in these areas to spearhead the celebration of the Real Nou Rouz and promote mass media coverage.  Fariborz offered to help those associations in formulating the program. All present agreed to promote it at their local levels. Details are at  www.ancientiran.com.


Rustom Kevala  said that FEZANA has made a strong effort in the last two years to promote the celebration of Nou Rouz.  They have circulated prayers and writeups to all Associations.  Behram Pastakia strongly endorsed this project, as “one which we can all get behind together.”


Rohinton requested Fariborz to spearhead this effort.  Fariborz will write a short description of Nou Rouz, and especially this unique event, for wide distribution around the world.  Minoo Shroff and Yazdi Tantra will work with the Iranian Consulate in India, and others, to promote this celebration.  Bomi Patel committed to promote it among all the FEZANA Associations.  Kaemarz Dotiwalla suggested getting together with Interfaith organizations and set up exhibits at Museums, and get celebratory messages from public officials.



(3)        Community Enhancement Projects were discussed.



  Firdosh Mehta presented the status of Community Enhancement Projects [see details in Att. VIII]  att-VIII_ctr-houston_dec08_com-enhance-proj  many of which needed further support, including: participation in Pravasi Bharatiya Divas; ParZor Foundation projects; Gene Study project (Avestagen); Dastur Meherji Rana Library and K. R. Cama Oriental Institute projects and efforts for Manuscript Restoration; World Zarathushti Cultural Foundation projects including archeological excavations at Sanjan; web-based world-wide directory of Zoroastrian individuals and businesses at ZoroastrianDirectory.com and Parsiana Yellow Pages;   academic fund for school children in Iran;  the Iranian newsletter Amordad;  Parsi Resource Goup projects; the Persepolis Fortification Tablets of the Oriental Institute in Chicago; assistance to religious infrastructure – agiaries, atash behrams, dokhmas, aramgahs, darbe mehrs; Sadhana School for Autistic students in Mumbai; Farohar Foundation, producers of Zarathushti heritage films;  and various other  needy welfare projects for food distribution, hospitals, schools, playgrounds, sports centers, science centers, rural community support and more.



– Behram Pastakia mentioned that Dr. Sorab Sidhva at Parsee General Hospital had offered to screen eligible Zarathushti women for breast cancer.  He appealed for help in getting the message out to eligible beneficiaries and also in helping the project with funds and expertise. Alayar Dabestani asked what resources were needed to do the program in Iran. Behram explained that we need a doctor and a qualified technologist at the local level to do the test. 



– Behram Pastakia noted that eyeglass collections will be made at the Dubai Congress, for Operation Eyesight  [Att. IX].–  att-IX_ctr-houston_dec08_operation-eyesight


– In regards to Manuscript Restoration, Natalie Gandhi has contacted Google books. Digitization is possible, however, transportation of valuable, ancient manuscripts would be dangerous.

   Report by Dinshaw Tamboly, of WZO welfare projects in Gujarat undertaken by WZO, through WZO trust, was circulated [Att. X].    att-X_ctr-houston_dec08_wzo-trust      




(4)      UN and Interfaith Programs. 


  Rohinton Rivetna, a founding trustee of the Parliament of World’s Religions announced the next Parliament, to be held in Melbourne, Australia, December 3 – 9, 2009.  The Zoroastrian effort there is being coordinated by Perviz Dubash and the Zoroastrian Association of Victoria (pwr@zav.org.au).  A beautiful glossy brochure was distributed [Att. XI]  att-XI_ctr-houston_parliament-of-worlds-religions  with a warm welcome from ZAV which read: “We the Zoroastrians of Victoria open up our hearts and homes to all Zoroastrians of the world, to visit our beautiful country, enjoy our hospitality and take pride in our glorious heritage.”



    Rohinton stressed the need to set up a cohesive Interfaith organization in India.  K. Limathwalla and Homi Dhalla will work on that.



    Behram Pastakia mentioned that a team of young women will be participating in the next meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women at United Nations headquarters, NY [Att. XII].    att-XII_ctr-houston_women-status-un  Over 70 young Zoroastrians have participated in past years.  This being the 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Behram encouraged participation in UN events at the local level highlighting this theme.




(5)        Diaspora: Duties, Rights and Privileges. 



What do we expect from the mother countries, and vice versa?  Pravasis have a lot to offer. India (maybe BPP) should set up a Bureau to service the needs of the community in the diaspora, so that they remain connected, and part of the global Zarathushti community. Rustom Engineer asked if there were youth hostel facilities that young Zarathushtis could avail of; yes, Marzban Giara has published a list of Parsi Dharamshalas.  List of places to stay are available on www.zoroastrians.net .  Minoo Shroff pointed out the ongoing problem of NRI’s keeping their flats in India locked up and unoccupied.


Yazdi Tantra and Ader Gandi have set up a website www. TheParsiMall.com offering a variety of services.




(6)        Passing the Torch to the Next Generation.  The YLEP (Youth Leadership Enhancement program) is an initiative of the World Congress in Dubai.  For more information contact Congress chair Meher Bhesania (bhesania@emirates.net.ae).




(7)        Religious/Cultural Infrastructure worldwide.  This item was skipped due to lack of time.




(8a)      Zoroastrian Bank, Mumbai.  A letter from Hosi Sinor of Zoroastrian Bank, Mumbai was circulated [Att. XIII],  att-XIII_ctr-houston_dec08_zoro-coop-bank  seeking patronage from NRI’s and offering enterprise development programs for Zoroastrians.




(8b)      Code of Civil Conduct. A paper on this topic has been written by Er. Dr. Ramiyar Parvez Karanjia [Att. XIV].   att-XIV_ctr-houston_dec08_code-of-civil-conduct  Comments are requested prior to adoption.




(8c)      Ethic of Collective Giving. At the last CTR, participants felt the need to reawaken our tradition of charity and philanthropy, and urged that Zarathushti families worldwide consider giving 2% (or more) of their gross income to any Zoroastrian cause of their choosing.  An Opinion Poll in this regard has been conducted by Yazdi Tantra and results are at www.zoroastrians.net.  See http://zoroastrians.net/category/polls and http://zoroastrians.net /category/collective-giving/.




(9)        Economic Support for Iran. 


Dr. Ekhtiyari presented the economic status of Zoroastrians in Iran:  “Unfortunately, the number of Zoroastrians per family is only 3.6, i.e. each couple has only 1 child.  The population trend is therefore dwindling. Also, Zoroastrians have high education, but do not develop specific job skills.  They need sources of employment.   Many youth want to leave Iran and come to America.  Many have come through the Hebrew Immigration Assistance Society, via Austria. But then there is no one to help them when they come to America.  Many  highly educated youth are doing “pizza delivery” jobs.  We need to help them get jobs.  They all have Zoroastrian id cards, and come with refugee status, and get an “employment authorized” stamp immediately upon entry to the US.  Very few youth are left now, especially in Yazd and Kerman. 

The best way we can help is to create employment opportunities in Iran, so that they are not drawn to come to America.  This can be done (1) Through direct foreign investment in Iran.  Arrangements can be made to protect the investment; or (2) By bringing an old/outdated technology system that may still be usable in Iran.  The system can be re-done, with credit given to the donor.  It can bring jobs, and the products can be sent back or sold at a profit.  This would be mutually beneficial – it would create jobs for Iranian youth, and profits for the investor. …”

Iranian Zarathushti youth immigrants to USA. Fariborz Rahnamoon drew attention to the fact that on a daily basis Zarathushti youths from Iran are legally landing in USA. They are well educated but are lost in their new environment and need guidance to find the right job, to upgrade their education and to settle down. Finance is not their problem – they need help to settle down quickly in the right environment with the right job. He urged that local associations take the initiative to seek out these new immigrants and assist them, as they have no means of finding the local associations.



Zareen Araoz offered assistance and hospitality to new immigrants through the ZWIN network.  Contact zareen@managingcultures.com, tel: 617-852-2055.



Kaemarz Dotiwala stated he had been involved with Iranian refugees in the past.  We need to give them a point of contact in the US.



Alayar Dabestani suggested that we pay a translator in India, to communicate with them.  It is important to keep communications open with them – otherwise we will lose them.  He suggested that we set up a 1-800 number, maybe at the FEZANA Office.



Mobed Firouzgary was of the opinion that while we do help the ones who have already come to America, the best approach would be to help the youth to stay and prosper in Iran.


Rustom Engineer suggested helping Iranian youth with training facilities and English language classes.


It was decided to form an Iran Economic Advisory Council, comprising of Khodayar Attaie of WZCC Iran, Alayar Dabestani, FEZANA president Bomi Patel, MP Dr. Ekhtiyari, and WZCC president Kersi Limathwala, to help and advise in this matter.


 The next Coming Together Roundtable will be held on December 30, 2009, at 10:30 am, during the 9th World Zoroastrian Congress in Dubai (December 28 – 31, 2009).

For reports of all the proceedings visit www.zoroastrians.net  (category “Round Table”) .maintained by Yazdi Tantra of On-Lyne Systems, Mumbai, or contact CTR administrator Percis Dubash of Mumbai (pdubash1@gmail.com).





Firdosh Mehta responded, giving historical background of the creation of the RFP,   starting from the 8th WZC in London and subsequent CTR’s in Mumbai where representatives from BPP and Zarathushtis from around the globe were present and invovled in the decision making.

Firdosh Mehta responded, giving historical background of the creation of the RFP,   starting from the 8th WZC in London and subsequent CTR’s in Mumbai where representatives from BPP and Zarathushtis from around the globe were present and invovled in the decision making.

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