Voice of America Interview October 29 2012

The Voice of America Television Network Persian language service interviewed Shokooh Mirzadegi (Founder & Director of the Pasargad Heritage Foundation), and Kaveh Farrokh regarding کوروش بزرگ -Cyrus the Great and his legacy.  The host of the program was Siamak Dehghanpour (رنامه روز کورش بزرگ، صدای آمریکا، سیامک دهقان پور).

The time of the interview was on: Monday October 29, 2012 9:15-10:30 am (West Coast)/12:15-1:30 pm [EDT]

Interview of Voice of America network program hosted by Siamak Dehqghanpour (October 29, 2012)-رنامه روز کورش بزرگ، صدای آمریکا، سیامک دهقان پور-. 

 For more information on Cyrus the Great and his Legacy kindly consult: کوروش بزرگ -Cyrus the Great

The Cyrus Cylinder (housed at the British Museum) 


The Iranian Navy: 1921-1941

The content of the article below on the history of the Iranian navy from 1921 to 1961 is derived from Iran at War: 1500-1988-(ایران در جنگ (۱۹۸۸-۱۵۰۰– The photographs are mainly derived from the Photo archives of Mehdi Farrokh, Fouman.com and Babaie. Kavehfarrokh.com will continue to produce more articles on the history and evolution of the Iranian navy.

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In 1921 the Persepolis and Shoush from the Nasser e Din Shah era were finally decommissioned. Only the four vessels acquired by Ahmad Shah (last Qajar monarch) remained to be officially formed as the nucleus of the new Iranian navy by 1923. The only “naval” operation in the Persian Gulf was that of a small naval ship, the Khuzestan which was originally a British craft in World War One. The British then handed the vessel to Iran after they removing its heavy cannon (unknown calibre).


[Click to Enlarge] A small patrol vessel manned by a small crew of 10 men. This had been built in 1933 in Palermo, Italy. This vessel was propelled by a 150 hp engine which ran on petroleum. Its dimensions (length and width) were 3/2×13/30 meters (Photo Archives of Mehdi Farrokh).

The Khuzestan carried 60 soldiers along the Karun River between Khorramshahar and Ahvaz to support the operations of the army in 1924 against Sheikh Khazal.


[Left] Sheikh Khazal of Khuzestan, circa 1920. Khazal had strong ties to the British but this failed to rescue him from the arrival of Reza Shah’s forces into Khuzestan (Picture Source: Photo Archives of Mehdi Farrokh) (Right) Sheikh Khazal’s palace in Khuzestan along the Shatt al Arab waterway. Khazal amassed considerable wealth by collecting taxes from the local Arab and non-Arab urban and tribal populations of Khuzestan. As noted by Price, Khazal’s rise in Khuzestan had been facilitated by “an … isolated population, a weak central government, and British support” (Price, M., Iran’s Diverse Peoples: A Reference Sourcebook. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2005, pp.160) (Picture Source: Fouman.com).

After the fall of Sheikh Khazal, three of the latter’s ships were appropriated by the armed forces. One of these was re-Christened as the Homa (able to carry 1000 troops) and was capable of operating as far as the Indian Ocean; the other two were contracted to American naval engineers for repairs. 

The original Palang (Leopard) manned by a crew of 70 men. This vessel had no significant armaments at first, thereby being used exclusively for the transportation of supplies. The vessel was later installed with armaments prior to World War Two (Photo Archives of Mehdi Farrokh).

In April 1925, Iran took delivery of its first German built minesweeper (weight at 141 tons). The Iranian navy however remained inadequate at disrupting piracy and smuggling along Iran’s coastline prompting the Tehran Majlis to legislate the buildup of the Iranian navy on March 20, 1928. This entailed working alongside Italian naval advisors to appropriate ships suitable for Iran’s naval needs. Italian naval advisors were in Iran from 1928-1933. The Italian naval advisors stayed in Iran until 1935. The first cadre of European trained naval officers arrived from Italy in 1933 and gradually the navy acquired Italian-built ships (two ships of 950 tons each, four ships at 330 tons, three smaller craft at 75 tons). These were named as the Gilan, Mazandaran and Azarbaijan (each armed with a 75mm cannon.


Iranian naval ships at the eve of the Anglo-Soviet invasion. The Babr (above at left) was shelled by the HMAS Yarra on August 25. Hassan Milanian, the captain of the Palang, had extended an invitation to his British Commonwealth counterpart to visit his vessel a day before hostilities began on August 24 Picture Source TOP: Babaie, 2005a, pp.435.. Babaie, A. (2005). Tarikh e Artesh e Iran [The History of the Iranian Army]. Tehran: Iman Publications).

The Caspian Sea witnessed a diminutive “navy” of s single ship, the Sefid-Rood, landing a contingent of 61 Rashti infantry on the Gorgan coast to raid rebel Turkmens in March 1925. When the ship returned to Bandar Anzali it was renamed as the “Nahang”.


Professor H. E. Wulff The Aqueducts of Iran

The article below is by professor H. E. Wulff. This originally appeared in the CAIS (Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies) venue. The CAIS site is hosted by Shapour Suren-Pahlav. Note that the article originally appeared in the April 1968 issue of the Scientific American (pages 94 – 105).

This topic of Qanats or ancient Iranian aqueducts has been presented in Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and were also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006.  


A traveler flying over Iran can see plainly that the country has an arid climate. The Iranian plateau is largely desert. Most of Iran (excepting areas in the northwestern provinces and along the southern shores of the Caspian Sea) receives only six to 10 inches of rainfall a year. Other regions of the world with so little rainfall (for example the dry heart of Australia) are barren of attempts at agriculture. Yet Iran is a farming country that not only grows its own food but also manages to produce crops for export, such as cotton, dried fruits, oilseeds and so on. It has achieved this remarkable accomplishment by developing an ingenious system for tapping underground water. The system, called qanat (from a Semitic word meaning “to dig”), was invented in Iran thousands of years ago, and it is so simple and effective that it was adopted in many other and regions of the Middle East and around the Mediterranean.


Figure 1: UNDERGROUND AQUEDUCT conveys water gently downhill from the highlands to distribution canals in the and plain below. The water source is the head well (right), which reaches down to the water table. The other shafts provide ventilation and give access for cleaning and repair of the conduit tunnel below. Called qanats after the Semitic word meaning “to dig,” the irrigation systems were invented in Persia during the first millennium B.c. The horizontal tunnel of the qanat is commonly from six to 10 miles long (Picture from CAIS).

The qanat system consists of underground channels that convey water from aquifers in highlands to the surface at lower levels by gravity. The qanat works of Iran were built on a scale that rivaled the great aqueducts of the Roman Empire. Whereas the Roman aqueducts now are only a historical curiosity, the Iranian system is still in use after 3,000 years and has continually been expanded. There are some 22,000 qanat units in Iran, comprising more than 170,000 miles of underground channels. The system supplies 75 percent of all the water used in that country, providing water not only for irrigation but also for house-hold consumption.


Figure 2: EXCAVATION OF A QANAT begins at the downhill end after a trial well (right) has successfully tapped the uphill water table. Where the gradually sloping tunnel passes through zones of loose earth (left) hoops of tile support the walls, but a tunnel generally lacks masonry except at the discharge point. Ventilation shafts are dug at intervals of 50 yards or so; earth and rock excavated from the tunnel face are winched to the surface through the shafts. Sightings over a pair of oil lamps help to keep the tunnel diggers’ progress on a straight line. A lamp flame that burns badly also gives warning of bad air. Before the tunnelers break through to the head well, men at the surface hail it dry (Picture from CAIS).

Until recently (before the building of the Karaj Dam) the million inhabitants of the city of Tehran depended on a qanat system tapping the foothills of the Elburz Mountains for their entire water supply.

Discoveries of underground conduits in a number of ancient Roman sites led some modern archaeologists to suppose the Romans had invented the qanat system. Written records and recent excavations leave no doubt, however, that ancient Iran (Persia) was its actual birthplace. As early as the seventh century B.C. the Assyrian king Sargon II reported that during a campaign in Persia he had found an underground system for tapping water in operation near Lake Urmia. His son, King Sennacherib, applied the “secret” of using underground conduits in building an irrigation system around Nineveh, and he constructed a qanat on the Persian model to supply water for the city of Arbela. Egyptian inscriptions disclose that the Persians donated the idea to Egypt after Darius I conquered that country in 518 B.C. Scylax, a captain in Darius’ navy, built a qanat that brought water to the oasis of Karg, apparently from the underground water table of the Nile River 100 miles away. Remnants of the qanat are still in operation. This contribution may well have been partly responsible for the Egyptians’ friendliness to their conqueror and their bestowal of the title of Pharaoh on Darius.


Figure 3: TUNNEL CROSS SECTIONS indicate some of the variations possible in qanat conduits. The tunnel walls may be strengthened with tile hoops (a) or where the tunnel passes through clay or well-compacted soil the walls may be left unlined (b). If the head well should go dry and therefore need to he dug deeper, the conduit would also need to be deepened (c) (Picture from CAIS).

References to qanat systems, known by various names, are fairly common in the literature of ancient and medieval times. The Greek historian Polybius in the second century B.C. described a qanat that had been built in an Iranian desert “during the Persian ascendancy.” It had been constructed underground, he remarked, “at infinite toil and expense … through a large tract of country” and brought water to the desert from sources that were mysterious to “the people who use the water now.”

Qanats have been found throughout the regions that came within the cultural sphere of ancient Persia: in Pakistan, in Chinese oasis settlements of Turkistan, in southern areas of the U.S.S.R., in Iraq, Syria, Arabia and Yemen. During the periods of Roman and then Arabian domination the system spread westward to North Africa, Spain and Sicily. In the Sahara region a number of oasis settlements are irrigated by the qanat method, and some of the peoples still call the underground conduits “Persian works.” In the Middle East several particularly interesting qanats constructed by Arab rulers of early medieval times have been excavated. In A.D. 728 the caliph of Damascus built a small qanat to supply water for a palace in the country. A century later the caliph Mutawakkil in Iraq likewise constructed a qanat system, presumably with the aid of Persian engineers, that brought water to his residence at Samarra from the upper Tigris River 300 miles away.


Figure 4: REMAINS OF PERSEPOLIS, the ancient capital of Persia built by Darius in 520 B.C., are am the center of the aerial photograph on the opposite page. The rows of small holes resembling pockmarks reveal the presence of several qanat systems below the surface: each hole is the top of a ventilation shaft. Most of the qanats around the ruins of Persepolis were built only a few decades ago (Picture from CAIS).

Thanks to detailed descriptions by several early writers, we have a good idea of the techniques used by the original qanat builders. Vitruvius, the first systematic historian of technology, gave an account of the qanat system in technical detail in his historic work De Architectura (about 80 B.C.). In the ninth century A.D., at the request of a Persian provincial governor, Abdullah ibn-Tahir, a group of writers compiled a treatise on the subject titled Kitab-e Quniy. And about A.D. 1000 Hasan al-Hasib, an Arabian authority on engineering, wrote a technical work that fortunately is still available and gives surprisingly good details of the construction and maintenance of the ancient qanats.

The methods used in Iran today are not greatly different from the system devised thousands of years ago, and I shall describe the system as it can now be observed. The project begins with a careful survey of the terrain by an expert engaged by the prospective builders. A qanat system is usually dug in the slope of a mountain or hillside where material washed down the slope has been deposited in alluvial fans. The surveyor examines these fans closely, generally during the fall, looking for traces of seepage to the surface or slight variations in the vegetation that may suggest the presence of water sources buried in the hillside. On locating a promising spot, lie arranges for the digging of a trial well.

Two diggers, called muqanni, take up this task. They set up a windlass at the surface to haul up the excavated material in leather buckets and proceed to dig a vertical shaft about three feet in diameter, one man working with a mattock and the other with a short-handled spade. As they load the spoil in the buckets, two workers at the surface pull it up with the windlass and pile it around the mouth of the shaft. If luck is with them, the diggers may strike an aquifer at a depth of 50 feet or less. Sometimes, however, they dig down 200 to 300 feet to reach water, and this necessitates installing a relay of windlasses at stages 100 feet apart on the way down.

When they arrive at a moist stratum – a potential aquifer – the diggers scoop out a cavity to its impermeable clay bottom, and for the next few days the leather buckets are dipped into the hole periodically to measure the rate of accumulation of water in it. If more than a trickle of water is flowing into the hole, the surveyor can conclude that he has tapped a genuine aquifer. He may then decide to sink more shafts into the stratum in the immediate area to determine the extent of the aquifer and its yield.



Figure.5: WINDLASS CREW, sheltered from the sun by an improvised tent, raises a load of accumulated silt in the process of cleaning a qanat conduit tunnel. Standing beside the tent is a child who is needed on this job because the ventilation shafts are smaller than usual (Picture from CAIS).

The surveyor next proceeds to chart the prospective course of an underground conduit through which the water can flow from this head well or group of wells to the ground surface at some point farther down the slope. For the downward pitch of the conduit he selects a gradient somewhere between one foot in 500 and one in 1,500; the gradient must be slight so that the water will flow slowly and not wash material from the bottom of the conduit or otherwise damage it. For his measurements the surveyor uses simple instruments: a long rope and a level. (The ninth-century treatise Kilab-e Quniy described a tubular water level and a large triangular leveling device with a plumb that was then employed in this task.) The surveyor lets the rope down to the water level in the well and marks the rope at the surface to show the depth. This will be his guide for placing the mouth of the conduit; obviously the mouth must be at some point a little below the water level indicated by the rope. A series of vertical shafts for ventilation will have to be sunk from the surface to the conduit at certain measured intervals (perhaps 50 yards) along its path. Consequently the surveyor must determine the depth from the surface for each of these shafts. He uses a level to find the drop in the ground slope from each shaft site to the next and marks the length of this drop on the rope. This tells him how far down from the surface each shaft would have to be dug if the conduit ran a perfectly level course. He then calculates the additional depth to which each should be dug (in view of the prospective pitch of the conduit) by dividing the total drop of the conduit from the well’s water level to the mouth by the number of proposed ventilation shafts.

As the muqanni proceed to dig the conduit itself, guide shafts are sunk to the indicated depths at intervals of about 300 yards to provide information regarding the route and pitch of the conduit for the diggers. They start the excavation of the conduit from the mouth end, digging into the alluvial fan. To protect the mouth from storm-water damage they often line the first 10 to 15 feet of the tunnel with reinforcing stone. The conduit is about three feet wide and five feet high. As the diggers advance they make sure they are following a straight course by sighting along a pair of burning oil lamps. They deposit the excavated material in buckets at the foot of the nearest ventilation shaft, and it is hauled up by their teammates above. The tunnel needs no reinforcement where it is dug through hard clay or a coarse conglomerate that is well packed. When the muqanni come to a boulder or other impassable obstacle, they turn around it and then must recover their bearing toward the next ventilation shaft. They show a good deal of skill in this, relying partly on their sense of direction and partly on listening for the sounds of the diggers working on the vertical shaft ahead. The greatest danger encountered by the muqanni is sandy, soft, friable or otherwise unstable soil, which may cause the roof of the tunnel to collapse on them. In such passages the diggers generally line the excavation with oval hoops of baked clay as they cut away the face of the work. Gases and air low in oxygen also are hazards; the diggers carefully watch their oil lamps for warning of the possibility of a suffocating atmosphere. As the rnuqanni approach the aquifer they must be alert to another danger: the possible flooding of the tunnel by a sudden inrush of water. This hazard is particularly great at the moment of breakthrough into the head well; the well must be emptied or tapped very cautiously if the men are not to be washed down the conduit by a deluge. Because of these hazards muqanni call the qanat “the murderer.” A muqanni always says a prayer before entering a qanat, and he will not go to work co a day he considers unlucky.

Depending on the depth of the aquifer and the slope of the ground, qanats vary greatly in length; in some the conduit from the head well to the mouth is only a mile or two long, and at the other extreme one in southern Iran is more than 18 miles long. Commonly the length is between six and 10 miles. The water discharge obtainable from individual qanats also varies widely. For example, of some 200 qanats in the Varamin plain southeast of Tehran the largest yields 72 gallons per second and the smallest only a quarter of a gallon per second.


Figure 6:  TILE HOOPS are piled up near one of the vertical shafts that lead to the conduit tunnel of a qanat under construction in rural Iran. Their presence indicates that the construction crew has encountered a zone of loose earth and must shore up the tunnel walls (Picture from CAIS).

Not until the qanat has been completed and has operated for some time is it possible to determine whether it will be a continuous “runner” or a seasonal source that provides water only in the spring or after heavy rains. Because the initial investment in construction of a qanat is considerable, the owner and builders often resort to probing and laborious devices to enlarge its yield. For example, they may extend branches from the main conduit to reach additional aquifers or excavate the floor of the existing conduit in order to lower it and tap water at a deeper level [see illustration at right on page 97]. A great deal of care is also given to the maintenance of the qanat. The ventilation shafts are shielded at the top with crater-like walls of spoil and sometimes with hoods to prevent the inflow of damaging storm waters. Muqanni are continually kept employed cleaning out silt that is washed into the conduit from the aquifer, clearing up roof cave-ins and making other repairs.

As is to be expected of a system that has existed for thousands of years and is so important to the life of the nation, the building of qanats and the distribution of the water are ruled by laws and common understandings that are hallowed by tradition. The builders of a qanat must obtain the consent of the owners of the land it will cross, but permission cannot be refused arbitrarily. It must be granted if the new qanat will not interfere with the yield from an existing qanat, which usually means that the distance between the two must be several hundred yards, depending on the geological formations involved. When the par ties cannot agree, the matter is decided by the courts, which normally appoint an independent expert to resolve the technical questions at issue.


Figure 7: ROW OF CRATERS, each one marking the mouth of a qanat ventilation shaft, runs across an and plain in western Iran. The walls of the craters protect the shafts and the tunnel below from erosional damage from the inflow of water during a heavy desert rainstorm (Picture from CAIS).

Similarly, there are traditional systems for the fair allocation of water from a qanat to-the users. If the qanat is owned by a landowner who has tenant farmers, he usually appoints a water bailiff who supervises the allotment of water to each tenant in accordance with the size of the tenant’s farm and the nature of the crop he is growing. When the peasants themselves own the qanat, as is increasingly the case under the new land reforms in Iran, they elect a trustworthy water bailiff who sees that each farmer receives his just share of the water at the proper time – and who receives a free share himself for his service. The bailiff is guided by an allocation system that has been fixed for hundred of years. For instance, three hamlets in the region of Selideh in western Iran still receive the shares that were allotted to them in the 17th century by the civil engineer in the reign of Shah Abbas the Great. The hamlets of Dastgerd and Parvar are entitled to eight shares apiece and Karton nine shares, and these allocations are built into the outlets from the qanat distribution basin: the outlets at Dastgerd en and Parvar are eight spans wide and the one at Karton is nine spans wide.

The agricultural production made possible by the qanats amply repays the investment in construction and maintenance. My own recent inquiries showed that the return on these investments in value of crops and sale of water ranges from 10 to 25 percent, depending on the size of the qanat, the yield of water and the kind of crop for which it is used. A qanat about six miles long between $13,500 and $34,000 to build, the cost varying with the nature of the terrain. For a qanat 10 to 15 miles long the cost runs to about $90,000.


Figure 8: MASONRY MOUTH of an Iranian qanat is equipped with a pair of sluice gates that allow diversion of the water into separate canal systems. The amount of qanat water that may be allotted to village or individual is sometimes determined by decisions made centuries ago (Picture from CAIS).

Construction costs have risen in recent years as the standard of living in Iran improved and labor costs have increased. Moreover, the division of large landholdings into smaller ones under the new land-distribution policy, as well as the introduction of expensive modern machinery has made it difficult for the individual landowners to afford the expense of constructing new qanats or maintaining old ones. Many of these farmers are now drilling wells and using diesel pumps, rather building underground conduits, to bring the water to the surface. Consequently the construction of new qanats may cease, unless the peasants’ newly formed village-cooperatives find it profitable and can raise the necessary capital to built them.

Whatever the future of Iran’s qanat system may be, it stands out today as an impressive example of a determined and hardworking people’s achievement. The 22,000 qanats in Iran, with their 170,000 miles of underground conduits all built by manual labor, deliver a total of 19,500 cubic feet of water per second – an amount equivalent to 75 percent of discharge of the Euphrates River into the Mesopotamian plain. This volume of water production would be sufficient to irrigate three million acres of arid land for cultivation if it were used entirely for agriculture. It has made a garden of what would otherwise have an uninhabitable desert. There are indications that in early times the country had a flourishing vegetation that gradually dried up, partly because of deforestation and the loss of fertile soil by erosion. The Persian people responded to potential disaster with an and farsighted solution that is a classic tribute to human resourcefulness.


Figure 9: STREAM OF QANAT WATER flows past a wall-enclosed garden in an Iranian villages. The stream first flows through the town and then is diverted into farm irrigation channels (Picture from CAIS).

Salt Mummies of Iran

Iranian miners working at the Chehr Abad salt mines (located west of the city of Zanjan in Iran’s northwest) made a startling discovery in the winter of 1993. They discovered a human body with long reddish hair, beard and a lower left leg still inside a boot. The body had been buried inside a tunnel which was roughly 45 metres long. Another five bodies were to be discovered in the ensuing years, including those of a woman and teenager.

There were other artefacts found with the body, notably three iron knives, a pair of woollen trousers, a silver needle, sling, parts of a leather rope, a grindstone, and a walnut.

Isotopic analyses have been conducted on five of the salt-preserved “mummies” to help identify their origins and determine the times they had lived.

[Click to Enlarge] The male Salt Mummy of the Chehr Abad salt mines (left) and his left boot and lower leg (right). The boot is of interest as it matches the riding boots of Iranian cavalrymen from the Achaemenid to Sassanian eras (Picture Sources: Past Horizons – pictures edited by Kavehfarrokh.com).

The bodies have been dated to a vast time range between the 4th century BCE (circa Achaemenid era) and 4th century CE (Sassanian era). See the table below for details:

[Click to Enlarge] Radiocarbon dates for the Chehr Abad bodies recovered to date; note the wide time range of the bodies. Clearly, the people buried in these mines were generations apart. There are also indications that these people hailed from different regions as well. (Source: University of Oxford).

There are variations in the geographical origins of these bodies as well. Researchers from the Department of Environmental Sciences, Università Ca’ Foscari in Italy, have matched the osteological samples from various the Iranian sites and those from the salt “mummies” found in the mine.

 Video by Davood Akhavan on the Salt “Mummies” of Chehr Abad.See also video by the National Geographic News.

The isotopic studies have led the Italian researchers to the following hypotheses:

1) Two of the “mummies” may possibly have hailed from the Tehran-Qazvin area, which is consistent with the salt mine region.

2) Two of the “mummies” were probably from Iran’s northeast regions or even modern-day Central Asia.

3) The fifth body appears to have come from further away, possibly from further east (possibly further into Central Asia towards China’s northwest or ancient Mongolia).


[Click to Enlarge] One of the mummies (number 4) has been very well preserved; note the details of clothing and personal items and equipment. (Source: University of Oxford).

According to a Tehran Times report, a number of the salt mummies are currently being housed in special showcases under controlled conditions at the Zolfaqari Museum of Zanjan.


[Click to enlarge ] One of the Salt Mummies of Chehr Abad displayed in Zanjan’s Zolfaqari Museum (Picture source: Saghar Amir-Azimi of the Cultural Heritage News Agency of Iran).

For further reading on this topic kindly consult:

Ramaroli, V., J. Hamilton, P. Ditchfield, H. Fazeli, A. Aali, R.A.E. Coningham, and A.M. Pollard, The Chehr Abad ‘‘Salt Men’’ and the Isotopic Ecology of Humans in Ancient Iran. American Journal Of Physical Anthropology 143:343–354 (2010). See abstract.


Letter to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher Regarding Azarbaijan

Letter to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher Regarding Azarbaijan

To: Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (Chairman-Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee – House Committee on Foreign Affairs)

From : Kaveh Farrokh (PhD)

Regarding: Letter (dated July 26, 2012) to The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton (US Secretary of State) (download in pdf)

Date: September 1, 2012


Dear Congressman Rohrabacher,

I am writing this letter to you regarding your letter to the US encouraging the break-up of Iran (a fellow member country at the United Nations) by forcing the secession of its Azarbaijan province.

It is clear that you have adopted or been influenced by post-Soviet era propaganda. In that endeavor I am humbly obliged to address your misconceptions by expostulating the works of non-partisan professors regarding Russo-Soviet (and especially Stalin-era) Persophobic historical revisionism.

You are perpetuating what are essentially propaganda statements from the Soviet era regarding the validity of the existence of a “South” versus “North” Azarbaijan.

Historian Nazrin Mehdiyeva, who is from the Republic of Azarbaijan herself, corroborates this by affirming that:

“…the myth [of a North versus South Azerbaijan] was invented under the Soviets for the purpose of breaking Azerbaijan’s historical links with Iran. To make this historical revisionism more acceptable, the Soviet authorities falsified documents and re-wrote history books. As a result, the myth became deeply ingrained in the population [of the ROA] … as part of the rhetoric.” (Mehdiyeva, 2003, p.280) Full article: Mehdiyeva, N. (2003). Azerbaijan and its foreign policy dilemma. Asian Affairs, 34, pp. 271-.285.

Professor Mehdiyova makes a very important point. The Soviets retained the pan-Turkist invention for Arran and the Khanates. these were now known as ”The Soviet Republic of Azarbaijan”. A quick study of rare historical archives reveals a very cynically self-serving Soviet approach to this affair – note Professor Bartold who noted:

The name “Azerbaijan” for the Republic of Azarbaijan (Soviet Azarbaijan) was selected on the assumption that the stationing of such as republic would lead to that entity Iranian to become one…this is the reason why the name “Azerbaijan” was selected (for Arran)…anytime when it is necessary to select a name that refers to the territory of the Republic of Azarbaijan, we should/can select the name Arran…” (Bartold, 1963, p.217) Source: Bartold, Soviet academic, politician and foreign office official. See Bartold, V.V., Sochineniia, Tom II, Chast I, Izdatelstvo Vostochnoi Literary, 1963).

Bartold’s above quote also hints that the term “Azerbaijan” did not exist as an appellation for the republic of that name. Soviet-era terminology of “Az/e/rbaijan or Azerbaidjanskii (note emphasis on /e/ instead of the traditional /a/) which began in earnest by the 1930s does not corroborate with the linguistic origin of the term which lies in Iranic languages and the Persinate cultural dynamic.

After a thorough study of Soviet and Russian archives Zenkovsky concluded that prior to the rise of the Baku Musavats in 1918:

Azarbaijani [in reference to modern Republic of Azarbaijan and not Azarbaijan in Iran] territory never formed a separate, united state, and even under Persian domination eastern Transcaucasia was divided into a multitude of loosely connected feudal principalities”. The very term ‘Azarbaijan’ was rarely applied before 1917 to the Elizavetopol [Ganja] and Baku provinces which later formed the Azarbaijani Republic, this term being commonly used only for the Persian provinces bordering Russian Transcaucasia” (Zenkovsky, 1960, p.274). (Zenkowsky, 1960, p.94). Text: Zenkoswki, S.A. (1960). Pan-Turkism and Islam in Russia. Harvard University Press.

A leading proponent of the Caucasian khanate’s name change to “Azerbaijan” was Mohammad Amin Rasulzadeh (1884-1955), the first leader of the newly created Republic of Azerbaijan (see photo below). Rasulzadeh was of Iranian origin from Baku, and was in fact heavily involved in the constitutional democratic movement of Iran during the early 1900s (Chaqueri, Cosroe, Origins of Social Democracy in Iran, 2001, p.118, 174-181, 209-210).


Mohammad Amin Rasulzadeh (1884-1955) was a leading proponent of changing the name of the Caucasian Khanates into the “Republic of Azarbaijan” on May 1918. He also became the president of that newly created republic. Under his political party (the “Musavats”) the notion of abosrbing the real historical Azarbaijan in Iran was officially proposed. The Soviets who then entered Baku in 1920, expanded on the former Musavat policies to give rise to the “Greater Azarbaijan” myth,

Historical maps serve to consistently demonstrate that the notion of the historical existence of a “Greater Azarbaijan” is false. Kindly see the examples below:

Below is an Ottoman map drafted in 1893:


Ottoman map [Click to Enlarge] outlining Western Iran and the Caucasus in 1893.  Note that Azarbaijan is clearly shown to be the land below or to the south of Aras (Araxes) river – the territories corresponding to the present Republic of Azarbaijan were not known as “Azarbaijan”, but variously as the Caucasian khantes (i.e. Baku, Sheki, Nakhchevan, etc.) or as “Albania” or “Arran”.

See also a map from 1742:


[Click to Enlarge] Map of the Caucasus in 1742 (part of Senex’s map of the Caspian Sea). Note there is no entity known as “Greater Azarbaijan”. The only reference to Azarbaijan is the province of that name which is clearly marked inside present-day Iran. Note that the location of the region known as Republic of Azarbaijan (since 1918) is identified as “Schirvan” which north of the Araxes River. The only reference to historical Azarbaijan is the Iranian province of that name located to the south of the Araxes river. Picture Source: R. Galichian, The Invention of History: Azarbaijan, Armenia and the Showcasing of Imagination, London: I.B. Taurus (2004)/Yerevan:  PrintInfo Art Books (2009),  pp.30.

The territoryof Schirvan (also known as Arran, Albania, etc.) was a part of Iran as is Azarbaijan today. Note that Schirvan was a distinct provinces of Iran before the Russian conquests of the Caucasus. in the early 19th century, This makes clear one fact:

The notion of a so-called “North” and “South” Azarbaijan that was “divided” is a Soviet-era and pan-Turkist fabrication. Russia simply conquered Iran’s Caucasian provinces in the early 19th century.



[Click to Enlarge] French Map of Iran or Persia in 1749 (drafted by Robert de Vaugoudy). Note there is no entity known as “Greater Azarbaijuan”. The territories to the north of the Araxes river are not known as “Azarbaijan”. The only Azarbaijan identified resides to the south of the Araxes River which corresponds to the province of that name inside modern Iran’s northwest. Note that many of the regions north of the Caucasus were also part of Persia at the time. Pictures of the Planet.

Despite their victory over Iran, the Czarist Russians were determined to stamp out the Caucasus’ Persian cultural legacy as they colonized the region in the 19th century. According to Professor Hostler:

This cultural link between the newly conquered country [modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan, historically known as Arran until May 1918] and its still strong Persian neighbor annoyed Russia who tried to destroy it by supporting local Turkish cultural developments“(Hostler, 1957, p.22). Text: Hostler, C. W. (1957). Turkism and the Soviets: The Turks of the World and their Political Objectives. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

Professor Zenkowski notes that despite the finalization of Russian conquests by 1826 (Treaty of Turkmenchai):

“…the Persian language remained the main language of administration in these provinces [Karabagh, Ganja, Sheki, Shirvan, Derbend, Kuba, Baku, and Talysh] until the reforms of 1840…the Persian tongue continued to be spoken in the courts until the 1870s…Persian also remained the language of the upper classes and of literature” (Zenkowsky, 1960, p.94). Text: Zenkoswki, S.A. (1960). Pan-Turkism and Islam in Russia. Harvard University Press.

Note that none of those Caucasian khanates cited by Zenkoswku were called “Azarbaijan”. The local authorities in the khanates were either Persian-speaking or of aristocracies who spoke Persian. The Shiite clergy who held considerable influence over the local courts and schools, helped maintain the influence of Iranian culture in the Caucasus.


[Click to Enlarge] Kuban Cossacks enjoy and repose with a cup of tea pr “Chai” in the Perso-Turkish style in early 20th century or late 19th century. Even their dress is based on Old Iranian riding costume worn by the ancient Medes, Persians and Scythians. The Communists worked very hard to stamp out all “Oriental” – meaning Persian – influences from mainstream culture in the Slavic and Turkic regions of the Soviet Union (including the Caucasus and Central Asia). The Soviet Union also promoted its Persophobic philosophies by publishing books and distributing these its Moscow and Baku outlets.

As noted by Professor Swietochowski:

The hold of Persian as the chief literary language in [the current Republic of ] Azerbaijan was broken, followed by the rejection of classical Azerbaijani, an artificial, heavily Iranized idiom that had long been in use along with Persian, though in a secondary position. This process of cultural change was initially supported by the Tsarist authorities, who were anxious to neutralize the still-widespread Azerbaijani identification with Persia.” (Swietochowski, 1995, p.29). Text: Swietochowski, T. (1995). Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition. New York: Columbia University Press.

Few are aware that the Czarist Russians and their Communist successors began an intense Persophobic campaign to erase the Caucasus of its Persian heritage.


[Click to Enlarge] Cartoon of the Czarist-supervised Mulla Nassreddin Magazine which often published anti-oriental cartoons in the Caucasus, especially against Iran and Persian speakers. The above cartoon portrays Persian-speakers as donkeys with large feet, a visual way of portraying Persian-speakers as dumb and stupid. The Shahs of Iran are portrayed as cruel, and destructive despots. Picture source: Azer.com.

Cartoons like the one shown above were part of the Russian Czarist propaganda campaign to show Iran as a backward and ignorant “oriental” country. The notion of equating the Persian language with the “braying of a donkey…” was first made by Hassan Majidi Zardabi (or Hasan Bey Zardabi) , the chief editor of the Ikenci newspaper (1875-1877) published in Baku (consult Hajibely, Jeyhoun Bey, 1930, “The Origin of the National Press in Azerbaijan” in The Asiatic Review, 26(88, p 757). Much of this anti-Persian propaganda was to continue into the Soviet era and beyond.

Professor Thorez (see article Caucasus and Iran” in the Encyclopedia Iranica) also corroborates these facts by reporting that:

Although throughout history the Caucasus has usually been incorporated in political entities belonging to the Iranian world…Russia took it…from the Qajars (1779-1924), severing those historical ties.”

Shireen Hunter, who (like myself) is of Iranian-Azarbaijani descent, notes the following:

In the Republic of Azerbaijan, the long Soviet practice of historic falsification has left a legacy which has distorted …the views of …the true nature of their cultural, ethnic and historic connections…The first myth is that there was an ancient Azerbaijani state which incorporated most of what is currently northern Iran…. Yet, historically, the Republic of Azerbaijan was not known by this name until 1918, … using this myth to justify irredentist claims toward Iranian territory. The second myth is that the division of united and ancient Azerbaijan into two separate regions was the result of a Russo-Iranian conspiracy… The third myth is that the Persians colonized and oppressed the Azerbaijanis… the indigenous Iranian peoples…were linguistically colonized as a result of Turkic invasions… However, even the most ardent pan-Turkists are aware – as indeed were the Communists – of the historic falsity of their views. They freely admit this in private and argue that the reason for their continued promotion of these themes is to help strengthen nationalist feelings and to forge a purely Turkic Azerbaijani identity.”” (Hunter, 1998, pp.106-107) Full article: Hunter, S. (1998). Iran and Transcaucasia in the post-Soviet era, in D. Menashri (ed.), Central Asia meets the Middle East, London: Frank Cass Publishers, pp. 98-128.


[Click to Enlarge] Map of Iran in 1805 before the invasions of Czarist Russia. Note the Caucasus, north of Iran and along the eastern Caspian littoral, which was Iranian territory. There was no “Greater Azerbaijan” supposedly “divided” between Iran and Russia. Russia invaded Iran and forced her to cede the Caucasus. Iran also lost important eastern territories such as Herat, which broke away with British support.  Picture source from CAIS.

As noted by Professor Roy with respect to those territories situated above the Araxes north of the historical Azarbaijan province in Iran:

The concept of Azeri identity barely appears at all before 1920. Up until that point Azerbaijan had been a purely geographical area. Before 1924, the Russians called Azeri Tatars “Turk” or “Muslims“ (Roy, 2007, p. 18) Full text: Roy, O., The New Central Asia, I.B. Taurus, 2007.



[Click to Enlarge] A British map of Qajar Persia in 1814. Note the absence of a “Greater Azarbaijan”. Picture source: Fouman.com.

Professor Kaufman has observed that:

In fact, the very name “Azerbaijani” was not widely used until the 1930s; before that Azerbaijani intellectuals were unsure whether they should call themselves Caucasian Turks, Muslims, Tatars, or something else” (Kaufman, 2001, p. 56). Full text: Kaufman, S., Modern Hatreds: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War, Cornell University Press, 2001].

Below is an actual map drafted during the Arab caliphates which reveal the historical Azarbaijan being in Iran and distinct from Arran (modern Republic of Azarbaijan):


[Click to Enlarge] A map drawn by Ibn Hawqal (ابن حوقل) during the Arab caliphates which shows the clear distinction between Arran (north east Caucasus just above Araxes), Armenia (north/northwest Caucasus just above Araxes River) and Azarbaijan inside Iran and below the Araxes River. Ibn-Hawqal:clearly cited the Araxes River as the southern limit of Arran.

Here are more examples of the Arran (modern Republic of Azarbaijan since 1918)-Azarbaijan distinction made by Islamic and medieval era cartographers and historians:

  • The Hodud-ol-Alam Text (10th century AD): Cites the Araxes River as the northern limit of Azerbaijan. The Araxes River divides the historical Azarbaijan in Iran (south of the River) versus the north of that River which was not called “Azarbaijan”.
  • Ibn Khordadbeh (ابن خردادبه) made a clear distinction between Arran and Azarbaijan.
  • Al-Muqaddasi (10th Century AD): Divided Persia into eight regions which include both Azarbaijan and Arran. Defines Arran as being situated between the Caspian Sea and the Araxes River.
  • Yaqut Al-Hamavi (13th Century AD) (یاقوت حمودی، ): Defines Arran and Azarbaijan as distinct territories with the Araxes River forming the boundary between them. Arran defined as north and west of the Araxes, with Azarbaijan to the south of the River
  • Borhan-e-Qate (فرهنگ برهان قاطع) (Completed 1602 or 1632 CE– during the Safavid era): Aras (Araxes) defined as a river flowing past Tbilisi in Georgia and forming the boundary between Arran and Azarbaijan..
  • Hamdollah Mostofi (حمداله مستوفی): makes a clear distinction between Arran and Azarbaijan being divided by the Araxes River.
  • Abu al-Fadai Dameshqi (ابوالفدائ دمشقی): makes a clear distinction between Arran and Azarbaijan being divided by the Araxes River.

The same distinction in antiquity and pre-Islamic times is seen between Azarbaijan (in Iran) below the Araxes River versus Arran (in the Caucasus above the Araxes River with Strabo (64/63 BC-23 AD) who noted that the people of Iranian Azarbaijan (known as Media Atropatene at the time of Strabo) as Iranians with Persian as their language (Strabo, Geographica, see p. 17-18). Another example is Arrian (92-c. 175 AD) who noted that the region north of the Araxes River is cited as “Albania” and south of the Araxes as “Media Atropatene”.


[Click to Enlarge] Sassanian Emperor, Shapur I (r. 241-270 CE)شاپور اول ساساني ] , cited Albania and Media Atropatene as two separate provinces of the Persian Empire. Professor Mark Whittow’s map of Oxford University clearly shows the historically attested distinction between ancient Arran/Albania and the original Azarbaijan in Iran. Note how the Araxes River separates Arran from the historical Azarbaijan (in Iran).

Professor Whittow has clearly noted that:

The oldest outside influence in Trans-Caucasia is that of Persia…many of its populations, including Armenians and Georgians, as well as Persians and Kurds, the Transcaucasus had much closer ties with the former Sassanian world to its south and east than with the world to the west”. Whittow, 1996, p.203-204. Text: Whittow, M. (1996). The Making of Byzantium: 600-1025. Berkley: University of California Press.

These references continue well into the post-Islamic era. Another primary Arab historian, Al-Mas’udi, notes clearly that:

The Persians are a people whose borders are the Mahat Mountains and Azarbaijan up to Armenia and Arran [modern Republic of Azarbaijan since 1918], and Bayleqan and Darband, and Ray and Tabaristan and Masqat and Shabaran and Jorjan and Abarshahr, and that is Nishabur, and Herat and Marv and other places in land of Khorasan, and Sejistan and Kerman and Fars and Ahvaz…All these lands were once one kingdom with one sovereign and one language… although the language differed slightly. The language, however, is one, in that its letters are written the same way and used the same way in composition. There are, then, different languages such as Pahlavi, Dari, Azari, as well as other Persian languages.” Source: Al Mas’udi, Kitab al-Tanbih wa-1-Ishraf, De Goeje, M.J. (ed.), Leiden, Brill, 1894, pp. 77-8.

There are also academic references to the role of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) of the Soviet in deliberately falsifying history to suit imperialist purposes. Professor Kolarz for example noted of Stalin’s statement with respect to Nizami Ganjavi:

“…the great poet of our brotherly ‘Azerbaidzhani people’ who must not be surrendered to Iranian literature, despite having written most of his poems in Persian.” (Kolarz, 1952, p. 246.). Text: Kolarz, W. (1952). Russia and her Colonies. London: George Philip.

Stalin wanted to twist the facts of history to give the false impression that (a) Nezami was Turkic in origin and (b) wrote his “other” poems in Turkish. This does not jive with mainstream historians who acknowledge that Nezami was “…one of the famous Persian poets…” and “…wrote exclusively in Persian” (From the Brockhaus and Efrona Encyclopedia as cited by HOEB article of Moscow, Russia – Full text of report by Amal Tarzan-Zade entitled “Monument to Great Persian poet opened in St. Petersburg” posted on-line at Noev Kovcheg).

For more on this topic consult:


 Falsifiers of history: the late Ziya Bonyadov (1921-1997) (left) and Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) (right). Stalin continued the former Czarist regime’s Persophobic policies by promoting the “Greater Azarbaijan” myth in which he referred to Iranian historical icons as “Azarbaiajni historical figures”. Stalin’s myths (called “Stalin’s school of historical falsification by Leon Trotsky) have been adopted by the modern day citizens of the Republic of Azarbaijan. Ziya Bonyadov for example deliberately falsified history to omit the fact that Babak Khorramdin is identified as a Persian in ancient sources. Instead, he promoted Stalinist terminology which is essentially Persophobic.

Communists and pan-Turk activists have often falsified historical facts to promote their political agenda. The role of Stalin in such processes was even criticized by ardent Communist Leon Trotsky.


Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) one of the ideological founders of the former Soviet Union. Trotsky who was finally deported from Russia in 1929, was highly critical of Stalin’s falsification of history to suit political purposes, a process which he characterized as “Stalin’s School of Falsification”. One of the results of “Stalin’s School” was the rewriting of Iran’s cultural, linguistic and historical legacy in the Caucasus. Trotsky himself was brutally murdered by Stalin’s agents in Mexico in August 20, 1940.

But perhaps you may wish to consult those Iranians of Azarbaiajni descent (whom you choose to call “South Azarbaijanis”). You may have fallen victim to the propaganda of Baku lobbyists and their supporters. You may not realize that vast majority of Iranian Azarbaijanis reject (and are also insulted by) your letter.

I was profoundly shocked by your letter as an Iranian with Azarbaijani roots. Perhaps pictures speak louder than any words I could convey. Kindly see these below:


[Click to Enlarge] Iranian Azarbaijanis carrying protest notes against Baku propaganda. [LEFT] The poster held by the lady wearing a red-white scarf reads “Demand of the Iranian People: Repeal the Turkmenchai and Golestan treaties”. These refer to treaties in which Imperial Russia forced Iran to relinquish all of its historical possessions in the Caucasus in the early 19th century. Once Czarist Russia began its occupation of the Caucasus, it began a relentless anti-Persian cultural offensive, a policy which continued into the Communist era (till 1990) and continues to this day by the Baku government and its Western lobbies [RIGHT] Iranian Azarbaijani girl holds a caption which reads “Country means Persian Gulf”. Photos by Ariaman.

Iranian Azarbaijanis have been Iran’s culture bearers in both pre and post-Islamic times, a fact which has been virtually erased from Baku’s history books. Interestingly many of the pictures shown above were ignored in the Baku media and the West.

You may of course be aware of racist and fascistic lobbyists from Baku who are consistently trying to recruit Iranian Azarbaijnis (especially in California) to then lobby in the US and Western governments?

With a few isolated exceptions, these efforts have met with spectacular failures. Kindly see the picture and caption below:


[Click to Enlarge] The Hercules of Iran: Hossein Rezazadeh seen above weighing in at 156.6 kg for the 2004 Games, Rezazadeh is the first Iranian to win two Olympic gold medals and enjoys a hero status across Iran. It was in November 2002 when Rezazadeh stated publically in Istanbul in November 2002 that “I am an Iranian and love my country and people” (see report in Payvand News). This was in response to Naim Suleimanoghlu’s (see inset) attempt to get Rezazadeh (an Iranian-Azari) to renounce his Iranian identity in favor of 10 million Dollars, luxury cars and Turkish citizenship. Rezazadeh represents the vast majority of Iranian Azaris who identify themselves as Iranians.

The video below makes clear that Iranian azaris reject the current policie sof the Baku authorioties to falsify history.

-سخنرانی یکی از فعالین آذری زبان صدای موج سبز لندن- Iranian Azari Green Movement activist in London speaks in Azari Turkic against pan-Turk activists and highlights their historical falsifications. At the end of the video, he and all other Green Movement activists chant “Payande Iran” (Long Live Iran).

It is at this juncture where I am happy to share with you the new book by Professor Garnik Asatrian (Chair, Iranian Studies Department, Yerevan State University; Editor, “Iran and the Caucasus”, BRILL, Leiden-Boston) entitled: The Ethnic Composition of Iran (published August 29, 2012)

Professor Asatrian’s book, which will become a major reference text in academia, adresses the false myths regarding Iran with respect to ethnic identities, territories, etc. In addition, the text deals with the following domains:

  • The anthropological, historical and linguistic aspects of the formation of the population of Iran from ancient times to the present.
  • Demonstration that Iran is not a multiethnic country but rather a mono-ethnic construct with linguistic diversity.
  • Scientific studies showing that much of Iranian population is the direct continuation of the Iranian plateau’s population before the Indo-European migrations.
  • The real statistics of Azarbijanis in Iran and their number.
  • The book is currently in Russian and will most likely be translated into English and Persian.

There is one final point we must adress: the tragedy that continues to take place within the Republic of Azarbaijan today. There are gross Human Rights violations that have been taking place since the Communist era and which continue to this day. These are the forced assimilation policies of the Republic against the region’s Talysh and Lezgian minorities. Please consult the following:

It is my sincere hope that you consider drafting a letter defending the human rights of these oppressed minorities to your colleagues in Congress.


An undated photo of a Talysh woman and her child. Despite massive Russian and later Soviet political pressure, ethno-engineering efforts and funding, the Talysh have retained their Iranic identity in Arran (modern Republic of Azarbaijan).

Sincerely Yours

Kaveh Farrokh (PhD)