Professor S. Peter Cowe: Church of Etchmiadzin (Ejmiatsin)

The article below by Professor S. Peter Cowe on the Church of Echmiadzin (Ejmiatsin) was first published December 15, 1998 in the Encyclopedia Iranica and last updated on December 9, 2011.

Kindly note that a number of pictures displayed in the article below are from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006 and Farrokh’s textbook  Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-).

Etchmiadzin (Ejmiatsin) is currently designation of three separate but interrelated entities: the cathedral and monastic complex which forms the residence of the supreme patriarch and catholicos of all the Armenians, the city in which this complex is located, and the district of which the latter is the administrative center. Notably, excavations conducted by the Yerevan Institute of art in 1955-56 and 1959 demonstrate that the Etchmiadzin cathedral had been constructed over an Iranian (Zoroastrian or Mithraic) fire temple.

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EJMIATSIN (or Echmiadzin; Arm. Eǰmiacin; Tk. Ūč Kelīsā), currently designation of three separate but interrelated entities: the cathedral and monastic complex which forms the residence of the supreme patriarch and catholicos of all the Armenians, the city in which this complex is located, and the district of which the latter is the administrative center. The name means “The Only-begotten descended” and is associated with a vision vouchsafed to the first primate of Armenia, St. Gregory the Illuminator, soon afer the Christianization of the court in 314 C.E., generally dated to the 460’s. In it Christ appeared to the prelate and indicated with blows of a gold hammer the site where the cathedral church (katʿołikē) should be constructed (Agathangelos, p. 276, tr., p. 277). Since the Middle Ages the term has been used to designate the church and was further applied to the city and the surrounding district in 1945.

Echmiadzin-ChurchThe Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the Church in Armenia and is in fact considered to be the world’s oldest cathedral (Picture Source: Public Domain).

Located in the central sector of the plain of Ararat in what was the Aragacotn district of the Ayrarat region and favored with a mild climate, the area has yielded up a variety of antiquities from the stone, bronze, and iron ages indicating early habitation. From the first through the early fifth centuries it was royal domain of the Arsacid dynasty branch of the Parthian royal house of Persia. It is probable that the city itself was established by King Vałarš I (117-40 C.E.), as its original name Vałaršapat implies. A somewhat embellished description of its foundation is recorded by a later Armenian historian now generally dated to the eighth-ninth centuries (Moses of Khorene, pp. 199-200, tr. Thomson, pp. 210-211). In 163 it was proclaimed capital of Armenia by the Romans under the designation Kainēpolis (New city), by which it is also known in certain early Armenian writings (Koriwn, pp. 98, 118, 140, tr., pp. 280, 288, 297). Latin inscriptions testify to the Romans strengthening its defense works and garrisoning a vexillatio (a cavalry force of 600 horsemen) of the XV Legion Apollinaris there.

The city appears to have been the residence of the Arsacid dynasty during the fourth century, but seems never fully to have recovered from its sack and the deportation of its population under Šāpūr II (after 363), apart from a period under King Vramašpuh (ca. 392-414). After Dvin became a capital in the second half of the fifth century, Ejmiatsin’s status remained primarily religious. In addition to its association with Gregory the Illuminator it gained prestige from being the locus of the martyrdom of Sts. Hṙipʿsimē and Gayanē and a group of virgins who, according to the sources, had accompanied them from Rome at the turn of the fourth century (Agathangelos, pp. 296, 298, tr., p. 297, 299). Soon annual feast days were appointed and martyria constructed in their honor, which became a source of pilgrimage. The existence of three prominent churches in the city prompted its Turkish title of Ūč Kelīsā. In 1694 the melik Ałamal Šoṙotʿecʿi endowed a fourth, the Šołakatʿ. Excavations in 1955-56 and 1959 by the Institute of art in Erevan revealed that the cathedral had been constructed over an Iranian fire temple.

A Persian Zoroastrian or Mithraic Fire Altar discovered Underneath the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, Armenia in the late 1950s. The presenters at the scene note a number of Iranian types themes at the Fire Altar. This discovery at Etchmiadzin provides further substantiation for Professor Whittow’s observation 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 [224-651 CE] to its south and east than with the world to the west” (Whittow, M. (1996). The Making of Byzantium: 600-1025. Berkley: University of California Press, pp.203-204).

Its fourth century basilica structure was damaged during Yazdegerd II’s campaign of 449-51 and was rebuilt in the cross-in-square design which it still retains by the sparapet Vahan Mamikonean in 483 (Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, p. 157, tr., p. 217). As the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia was subjected to increased Mamluk pressure at the end of thirteenth century and contemplated various accommodations to Latin faith and order to gain support from the pope and Western powers, a movement of civil and religious leaders in Greater Armenia began to press for the seat of the catholicate (currently in the Cilician capital of Sis) to be transferred to Ejmiatsin. This is embodied in the evocative lament of 1304 by Stepʿannos Ōrbēlean, in which the cathedral is personified as a widowed mother mourning the loss of her children. Finally, through efforts of Yovhannēs Hermonecʿi and Tovama Mecopʿecʿi a council was convened at Ejmiatsin in 1441 which created a new supreme catholicate, the jurisdiction of Sis thereafter being of purely local significance. Catholicos Grigor X Jalalbekeancʿ (1443-65) then purchased the city and surrounding district which remained under ecclesiastical control until the establishment of Soviet orders in 1920.

The district remained under Persian rule from 1502 to 1827 as a component of the Khanate of Erevan (q.v.). In order to retain a powerful Armenian presence in Persia in the aftermath of his widespread deportations, Shah ʿAbbās I (996-1038/1588-1629, q.v.) determined to dismantle the cathedral stone by stone and have it reconstructed in New Julfa in the suburb of Isfahan. However, upon reflection he contented himself with its primary elements, the four corner stones, the altar, stone of Christ’s descent, baptismal font, right hand of St. Gregory utilized in consecrating bishops, etc. From the 1630’s until the end of the century a succession of pontiffs supervised the edifice’s repair and extension and the provision of auxiliary buildings, such as a belltower, bakehouse, refectory and enlarged retaining wall as well as irrigation canals and artificial lakes. Expenses for these operations were provided by the Armenian ḵoǰas of New Julfa, who enjoyed great influence in the election of the catholicoi at this period, and čelebīs of Constantinople. The century also witnessed the foundation of a school of higher theological studies at Ejmiatsin where secular subjects were also taught, in part in order to combat Catholic missionaries. The latter seem to have had a special devotion toward St. Hṙipʿsimē, whose relics one of them attempted to purloin from their shrine (Ghougassian, p. 168).

Echmiadzin-Farrokh-1[Click to Enlarge] Portrait of Shah Abbas at the Etchmiadzin Cathedral (Picture Source: Kaveh Farrokh, November, 5, 2013).

Two other councils convoked at Ejmiatsin were directed against Persian rule over the eastern provinces of the Armenian homeland. Since the catholicos was recognized as ethnarch in both civil and religious affairs he has the obligation to take the initiative in such measures. Consequently, Catholicos Stepʿannos Salmastecʿi summoned both clerics and lay representatives to the first in 1547 which planned overtures to Venice and the the Pope to institute the new crusade. Subsequently, the catholicos approached Emperor Charles V and Sigismund II of Poland. However, his death in 1552 brought the episode to a close. The second, which was destined to end in similar fashion, was organized by Catholicos Yakob Jułayecʿi in 1677. Hearing about its purpose, the khan of Erevan attempted to obstruct it, but the catholicos managed to escape to Georgia where he enlisted the support of Giorgi XI, King of Kartli, before continuing to Cosnstantinople. There he entered into correspondence with Jan Sobieski of Poland, but died before much progress was made. One delegation, Israel Ori, son of one of the meliks (secular lords) of Siwnikʿ, attempted single-handedly to pursue negotiations but with no success.

The skillful diplomacy of Catholicos Abraham Kretacʿi (1734-37) kept Ejmiatsin out of the Turko-Persian war and was rewarded by a vistit of Nader Shah to the city in June 1735, during which he granted the catholicate various privileges (Marvī, p. 411). The pontiff’s history of his times was published in 1870 at the monastery press established by Simēon Erevancʿi in 1771. The eighteenth century saw a steady improvement in the complex’s situation maintained by his successors’ political conservatism. Between 1715 and 1799 various members of the renowned Yovnatʿanean family were commissioned to paint different parts of the cathedral in the Persian style. The monastery built a hospice in the 1730s, opened a paper factory in 1776 to supply the press, and invested in a cotton production plant.

Etchmiadzin Cathedral 5th century planThe 5th century floor plan of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral which bears parallels with the Sassanian-era architecture of Iran – for more on Armenian-Iranian-Roman architectural links see “Professors Curatolia and Scaria: Dome Architecture and Europe(Picture Source: Public Domain).

During the first Russo-Persian War (1804-13) Ejmiatsin was threatened by ʿAbbās Mīrzā’s forces, until relieved by General Tsitsianov who transported some of the monastery’s treasures to Tiflis for safe keeping. The city was again taken by Russian troops in September 1806, but was ceded to Persia by the Treaty of Golestān. In the prelude to the second Russo-Persian War (1826-28) both ʿAbbās Mīrzā and Ḥosaynqolī Khan Īravānī tried unsuccessfully to win the support of Nersēs Aštarakecʿi, the pro-Russian candidate for the pontifical office. He responded that he would consider Persian rule only if the church’s large debt repayments were reduced to small installments and Ejmiatsin were solely responsible to ʿAbbās Mīrzā, thus creating a small autonomous Armenian enclave under royal protection. Subsequently, the cleric raised Armenian militias which participated in the Russian advance on Ejmiatsin and fostered plans to encourage Armenians from the north of Persia and the Ottoman empire to immigrate to the Erevan region, many of whom settled around the city.

Surrender of Iranian Garisson to Paskevich-1828Surrender of the 3000-man Iranian Garrison in Yerevan to Russian forces on October, 1, 1828. The ensuing Treaty of Turkmenchai (February 21, 1827) resulted in Iran renouncing all of its Caucasian territories to the Czarist Russian empire. For a full history of the Russo-Iranian wars leading to the Treaty of Turkmenchai, readers are referred to Farrokh’s third text Iran at War: 1500-1988 in pages 187-198 (accompanying footnotes in pages 433-435) (Picture forwarded to Kavehfarrokh.com by Kooshan Mehran). Note the domed mosque on the left side of the street; this appears to be the famous Blue Mosque of Yerevan, which exists intact today in the city’s Mesrop Mashtots avenue.

During the nineteenth century more amenities were added to the monastic complex, especially under the catholicate of Gēorg IV Kostaninupolsecʿi (1866-82). In addition to inaugurating Ararat, the first periodical in Armenia, and opening a museum and reading room, the latter founded the only institution of higher learning in the Erevan province, which achieved renown under his name as the Gēorgean Jemaran (academy). It counted a number of celebrated cultural figures among its teaching staff and student body, e.g., Komitas, Y. Yovhannisean and M. Abełean. After the revolution of 1905 it developed social democrat and later Bolshevist cells until its closure in 1917.

During Soviet rule the Ejmiatsin district underwent a marked degree of industrialization and became one of the most densely populated areas of the Armenian Republic. The main plans for the modern city were laid in 1939-46 under architect S. Manukyan. After reaching a nadir with the murder of Catholicos Xorēn Muradbekyan on April 4, 1938 in Ejmiatsin the church experienced a partial easing of its position after the Second World War under the long reign of Vazgēn I Palčyan (1955-94). Since 1988 both city and district have given shelter to numerous refugees from the ethnic conflict in the Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates since 1918).

Primary Sources

Aṙak’el Dawrižecʿi (Arkʿel of Tabrīz), Girkʿ pamutʿeancʿ (Book of histories), ed. L. A. Khanlaryan, Erevan, 1990; tr. L. A. Khanlaryan as Kniga istoriĭ, Moscow, 1973.

B. M. Arutjunjan, Ečmiadzin, Erevan, 1969.

Koriwn, Varkʿ Maštocʿi (Life of Maštocʿ), ed. A. Pivazyan; tr. B. Norehad, Erevan, 1981.

A. Kretacʿi, Patmagrutʿiwn ancʿicʿn iwrocʿ ew Natr-Šahin Parsicʿ (Historiography of the events of his own time and that of Nadir Shah of the Persians), 1870.

Moḥammad-Kāẓem Marvī, ʿAlamārā-ye nāderī, ed. M.-A. Rīāḥī, 3 vols., Tehran, 1364 Š./1985.

Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, Patmutʿiwn hayocʿ (Armenian history), ed. G. Tēr-Mkrtčean and S. Malxasean, Tbilisi, 1904; repr. with introduction by D. Kouymjian, New York, 1985; tr. R. W. Thomson as The History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, Atlanta, GA, 1991.

Ps. Pʿawstos, The Epic histories, tr. N. G. Garoïan, Harvard Armenian Texts and Studies 8, Cambridge, MA, 1989.

Stepʿannos Ōrbēlean, Ołb i S. Katʿołikēn (Lament on the holy cathedral of Ejmiacin), Tbilisi, 1885. Tovma Mecopʿecʿi, Višatakaran (Colophon), Tbilisi, 1892.

Z. Agulecʿi, Ōragrutʿiwn (Diary), Erevan, 1938. Zakʿria Sarkawag, Patmagrutʿiwn (Historiography), Vałaršapat, 1870.

 

Secondary Sources

Ł. Ališan, Ayrarat, Venice, 1890.

A. Alpoyašean, Patmutʿiwn hay dprocʿi (History of the Armenian school) I, Cairo, 1946.

H. M. Anasyan, XVII dari azatagrakan šaržumnern arewmtyan hayastanum (17th-Century liberation movements in western Armenia), Erevan, 1961.

B. Aṙakʿelyan, Kʿałakʿnerē ew arshestnerē Hayastanum IX-XIII darerum (Cities and trade in Armenia during the 9th-13th centuries) I-II, Erevan, 1958-64.

V. Bastameancʿ, Nkaragrutʿiwn mayr ekełecʿwoyn hayocʿ S. Eǰmiacni (Description of the Armenian mother church of Holy Ejmiacin), Vałaršapat, 1877.

S. Epʿrikean, S. Eǰmiacin 303-1903 (Holy Ejmiacin 303-1903), Venice, 1903.

V. S. Ghougassian, The Emergence of the Armenian Diocese of New Julfa in the Seventeenth Century, Ph.D. thesis, Columbia University, New York, 1995.

H. Hübschmann, Die altarmenischen Ortsnamen, Strassburg, 1904, repr. Amsterdam, 1969.

Ł. Inǰiǰean, Storagrutʿiwn hin hayastaneaycʿ (Description of ancient Armenia), Venice, 1822.

A. Kʿalantʿar, Hin Vałaršapati pełumnerē (The excavations of ancient Vałaršapat), Erevan, 1935.

H. F. B. Lynch, Armenia Travels and Studies I, London, 1901, repr. New York, 1990.

K. Maksoudian, Chosen of God. The Election of the Catholicos of All Armenians, New York, 1995.

A. Mxitʿareancʿ, Vałaršapat kʿałakʿamayr Hayastani (Vałašapat capital of Armenia), Vałaršapat, 1874.

H. Šahxatʿunean, Storagrutʿiwn katʿołikē Eǰmiacni ew hing gawaṙacʿn Araratay (Description of the cathedral of and the five districts of Ararat) I-II, Vałaršapat, 1842.

A. A. Sainjan, Nobye Dannye ob arxitekturnom oblike Ečmiadzinskogo sobora , Moscow, 1960. M. Santʿrosyan, Arewelahay dprocʿē XIX d. aṙaǰin kesin (The east Armenian school in the first half of the 19th century), Erevan, 1964.

A. Smbatyan, Eǰmiacni miabanutʿyan grakan-krtʿakan gorcuneutʿyunē ew Mayr atʿoṙi tparanē (The literary and educational activity of the brotherhood of Ejmiacin and the Mother see press).

Discovery of one of Ten largest Achaemenid buildings with Persepolis Structure

The report below was originally by Payvand Iran News (July 2, 2008) (with the original Persian-language report by ISNA).

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Have the archaeologists reached the ancient city of Lidoma, mentioned in historical plates?

In the second round of excavations in the historical site of Achaemenid region in Noorabad, Mamasani, of Fars province in Southern Iran, a restricted amount of remains of a columned balcony and a hall and its stairway, were discovered; this is one of the ten largest buildings having a structure similar to Persepolis.

Achaemenid-Noorabad-1[Click to Enlarge] Excavated column bases and stairway at Noorabad (Photo Source: Payvand News).

According to the cultural heritage reporter of ISNA (Iranian Students’ News Agency), the Iranian chief of the excavation site in this area, confirming the above news, said: The excavations have been going on from Dey (January) and has reached a balcony and a hall and stairway belonging to a large building. He added: This Achaemenid building has huge columns with a base about one meter thick. The styles of columns are the same as the Persepolis columns. The dimensions are similar to columns of Hall of Hundred Columns of Persepolis.

According to this report, there are traces of lotus flowers on the base of columns and the colour of the columns are the same as the Persepolis columns.

He pointed out to the fact that the discovery of this building has created several questions and said: The exact date of Achaemenid period in which the building was erected is not yet clear. The building could be one of the buildings of the famous Lidoma city, which has been mentioned in Persepolis plates.

The excavations in this are is carried out under the supervision of Ali Reza Asgari, from the archaeology research center and Daniel Thomas Pats from the Australian Sydney University.

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAExcavation work at Noorabad (Photo Source: Payvand News).

The joint team of Iranian archaeology research centre and the Australian Sydney University, began the excavations from 1381 [2003] in Mamasani region in Fars province. The outcome of excavations of this stage is the discovery of 51 historical sites in Rostam 1and 2 plains, 25 historical plates in Noorabad and 16 other in Espid hills. The dates were verified by radioactive process and give valuable information regarding the settlements in the sixth millennium BC to year 50 in this region.

Asgari stated the following:

The second phase of excavations started in 2007 and was planned to continue the explorations done in the previous stage. At this stage the excavations were concentrated in Achaemenid historical zones. These zones have different names such as Qal’e Koli, Servan, and Jinjan. The discoveries in this region open the path to an understanding of the Achaemenid studies in South and South-West Iran“.

Hertzfeld first discovered this area in 1924 and called it Jinjan. In 1935, Stein, mentions the villages in this region by the name Jinjan.

The first excavations in this area were carried out by an Iranian-Japanese archaeological team in 1959, during which a column-base colored in grey was found, having lotus figures on its top.

Asgari pointed out that the remains of a large building with columns in this region, along with numerous stone made pots, similar to those found in Persepolis area suggest that maybe as Herodotus has said, the king’s road passed by this area. Or as Hertzfeld and Stein suggest this area could have been a caravanserai in the kings’ road towards Shush. Some have also suggested that this place could have been a depot for collecting and storing the tax of the region.

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA[Click to Enlarge] Remarkably intact Lotus-flower pattern column base excavated at Noorabad (Photo Source: Payvand News).

The Iranian supervisor of the archaeology team insisted: Although it is speculated that the functions of this place is similar to that of a region called Borazjan, but it is too early to conclude anything about the Jinjan region. It is true that large collection depots were numerous in this region, including the one in Borazjan, but more studies should be carried out in Jinjan region.

He corrected his last year statements according to which he had said that the building discovered in this region was the fourth in its kind and said: Considering the building discovered from the Achaemenid period, this is the tenth building of its kind which belongs to this period.

Tehran in the 1960s-1970s

Below is a selection of photos of Tehran in the 1960s and 1970s. Readers may find these previous postings of interest as well:

Snapshots of some of Tehran’s Major Avenues, Hotels and Mehrabad airport in the 1960s and 1970s

 

[Click picture to Enlarge] Aerial view of Vali Ahd Square (Meydan e Vali Ahd) in 1971 (Picture source: R. Tarverdi (Editor) & A. Massoudi (Art editor), The land of Kings, Tehran: Rahnama Publications, 1971).

Pahlavi avenue ingress to Vali Ahd Square (Meydan e Vali Ahd) in the 1960s (Picture source: Fouman.com).

Tehran’s Hilton Hotel in 1961 (Picture source: Iranian.com).

[Click picture to Enlarge] Mehrabad airport in 1971. Note the four-engined Boeing 707. Mehrabad was to become one of the busiest and most modern airports in Western Asia by the late 1970s (Picture source: R. Tarverdi (Editor) & A. Massoudi (Art editor), The land of Kings, Tehran: Rahnama Publications, 1971). 

 [Click picture to Enlarge] Takht e Jamshid Avenue in the 1971.

Istanbul Avenue in 1965.

 
Firdowsi avenue towards the north as seen in the 1960s.

[Click picture to Enlarge] Queen Elizabeth Boulevard in 1971 (Picture source: R. Tarverdi (Editor) & A. Massoudi (Art editor), The land of Kings, Tehran: Rahnama Publications, 1971).

Tehran University

[Click picture to Enlarge] Aerial View of Tehran University in the 1970s (Picture source: R. Tarverdi (Editor) & A. Massoudi (Art editor), The land of Kings, Tehran: Rahnama Publications, 1971).

[Click picture to Enlarge] Entrance to Tehran University in 1971 (Picture source: R. Tarverdi (Editor) & A. Massoudi (Art editor), The land of Kings, Tehran: Rahnama Publications, 1971).

[Click picture to Enlarge] Tehran university students in 1971 (Picture source: R. Tarverdi (Editor) & A. Massoudi (Art editor), The land of Kings, Tehran: Rahnama Publications, 1971).

Iranian university students in the 1970s.

[Click picture to Enlarge] Medical students at Tehran University. 

Tehran’s entertainment-recreation venues and cultural icons in the 196os and 1970s

 

 

The Shahyad Landmark of Tehran (re-named Azadi in 1979) under construction in 1966 (Original Source: Iranian.com)

 [Click to Enlarge]Miss Iran 1967, Shahla Vahabzadeh (Original Source: Iranian.com). For more see Miss Iran Pageants in 1960s and 1970s…

[Click picture to Enlarge] The Shemshak ski resort in 1971 (Picture source: R. Tarverdi (Editor) & A. Massoudi (Art editor), The land of Kings, Tehran: Rahnama Publications, 1971).

The Abeali Ski resort in 1966 (Picture Source: Iranian.com).

[Click to Enlarge] The late actor Mohammad-Ali Fardin (1933-2000).

Ski enthusiasts at the Abeali Ski resort in 1966.

Am Iranian Pepsi-Cola cap from the 1970s. Tehranis often claimed that their version of Pepsi-Cola was better tasting than the American original!

جرای گروه بلک کتز در سالهای دور – The original Iranian rock and jazz band known as the Black Cats. The name of this band was revived from the early 1990s by the Iranian diaspora community in Los Angeles.  For more see Selections and Memories of Iranian Popular Music of the 1960s…

Golden City Cinema in 1971 (Picture source: Fouman.com).

Tehran’s posh Chattanooga restaurant and coffee bar in 1966.

Snapshot of Tehranis in the 1960s and 1970s

[Click picture to Enlarge] The Tehran Twist: The Tehran jet-set entertaining themselves with rock and roll music in the early 1960s (Picture Source and with special thanks to: Shamsi V (Original photographer) posted in Flickr). 

[Click picture to Enlarge] Old men amusing themselves with water-pipes on Isfahan street in the 1960s. 

[Click picture to Enlarge] A Tehran government official takes a break from the office. 

 Department Stores 

[Click picture to Enlarge] The Kourosh department store in the 1970s. The department store also featured a popular restaurant on its top floor (Picture source: R. Tarverdi (Editor) & A. Massoudi (Art editor), The land of Kings, Tehran: Rahnama Publications, 1971).

[Click picture to Enlarge] Mother shopping for her young son in the children’s section of a Tehran department store in 1971 (Picture source: R. Tarverdi (Editor) & A. Massoudi (Art editor), The land of Kings, Tehran: Rahnama Publications, 1971).

Radio Stations

 Iran radio station circa early 1970s.

Health Care

[Click picture to Enlarge] A Tehran hospital operating room in 1971 (Picture source: R. Tarverdi (Editor) & A. Massoudi (Art editor), The land of Kings, Tehran: Rahnama Publications, 1971).

Persian Heritage Journal article on Babak Khorramdin

The Persian Heritage Journal has published an article by Kaveh Farrokh on the historical background of factors that led to the revolt of Babak Khorramdin:

Farrokh, K. (2014). An Overview of the Historical Circumstances that led to the Revolts of Babak Khorramdin. Volume XIX, No. 74, Summer, pp.21-23.

Babak_Castle-2An ingress into Babak Khorramdin’s Castle of Bazz in Iran’s Azerbaijan province in the northwest (Picture source: Pouya Yazdchi). Built during the Partho-Sassanian eras, Bazz proved to be a formidable fortress. Bazz finally fell to the Caliphate’s Turkish troops in August 15, 837 CE. Babak was executed five months later by the Caliphate in Samara (in modern Iraq) in January 838 CE.

As noted in the the article: “…though conquered [By the Arabo-Muslims in 637-651 CE], Persian language and cultural traditions such as the Nowruz (Iranian New Year) continued to endure (Axworthy, 2006, p.107). Ettinghausen corroborates this by noting that Iran had “…lost its independence, though not its cultural identity” (Ettinghausen, 1972, p.1). “

Babak Korramdin (795-838 CE) was to lead the last and perhaps greatest of all anti-Caliphate movements in Iran; as averred to in the article, Ibn Hazm has stated that: “the Persians…were greater than all of the people… after their defeat by the Arabs, they [the Persians] rose up to fight against Islam…among their leaders were Sunbadh [Sindbad], Muqanna, Usta- sis, Babak [Khorramdin] and others…”.

Babak in BattleA portrayal of Babak Khorramdin (Picture source: Babak Khoramdin) who led a three-decade (816-837 CE) rebellion to eject the Caliphate from Iran.

As cited in the article: “Primary historical sources are clear that Babak was a Persian. One of these is medieval Armenian historian Vardan Areweltsi, approx. 1198-1271 CE (Muyldermans, 1927, p.119).

Plaque-BazzSignpost at Bazz which reads “Let us become familiar/get to know the Castle of Babak”  (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog).


The Iranian Air Force 1924-1941

This article provides a brief synopsis of the Iranian air force in 1924-1941. For a full history, with references and footnotes, readers are referred to Farrokh’s third text Iran at War: 1500-1988 in pages 267,  271-281 (accompanying footnotes in pages 443-445). Readers are also referred to the following article:

The Junkers Services

The Junkers Company had begun operating a civilian air service, providing flights between Tehran, Mashad, Shiraz, Bushehr, Anzali, Baku, western India and Turkey. Junkers aircraft and personnel had been deployed for reconnaissance flights and possibly transport for the Iranian air service in 1924. In that same year, Iran was to take delivery of ten combat aircraft from France, Germany and Russia.

Pic-9-Junkers F13A Junkers W 33 D-1684 of Junkers-Luftverkehr bearing the Persian inscription of “Qomri” (Persian: Ringdove). It is not clear what the man with the stick is doing; perhaps he is guiding the aircraft towards a parking position (Picture Source: Volker Koos & Lennart Andersson).

Official Birth of the Iranian Air Force

The official formation of a distinct Iranian air arm can be officially dated to June 1, 1924. On that day, Reza Khan (not yet Shah on that year) issued a directive separating the Air Office of the Iranian armed services into a distinct branch wholly independent of the army. By June and August 1924, Iranian pilots were training in France and Russia. The air service however had to wait another two years before being officially recognized as the Iranian Air Force on February 24, 1926. By that same year, the Iranian air service possessed a modest total of just three Junkers F.13 aircraft.

By 1926 the number of aircraft in the Iranian air force inventory doubled to 20 machines. This increased to 30 with the arrival of 10 Russian Polikarpov R-5 aircraft by June 1933.

Pic-8-Polikarpov-R5Two of the ten Polikarpov R-5 reconnaissance aircraft purchased from the Soviet Union in 1933; above is aircraft number 33 preparing to take off (Picture Source: Lennart Andersson). Iranian pilots however, disliked this aircraft’s handling characteristics and the type remained unpopular during its tenure with the nascent Iranian air force.

Aircraft Repair and Manufacturing

The Iranians had worked hard to develop their indigenous aircraft maintenance and production facilities since the early days of Reza Shah. By August 1932 technical schools for the repair of aircraft and pilot training had been established.

Pic-3-Iran Air Force Hawker Hind No. 601An Iranian Air Force Hawker Hind No. 601 before the Second World War. Iran received 35 of these by the fall of 1938 with the Shahbaz Aircraft manufacturing plant in Tehran producing another 20 Hawker Hinds in Iran (Photo Source: Artiklar)

More strides were made in 1935. Production machinery for aircraft manufacturing arrived from England, France and the Pratt and Whitney Company of the United States.

The Shahbaz Aircraft manufacturing plant at Doshan Tappeh was formally inaugurated on September 12, 1936. The plant produced ten Hawker Audex combat aircraft that same year under license. Plans were underway to produce more combat aircraft but the onset of World War Two put a halt to these projects.

Pic-2-Hawker Audax bombersA squadron of Hawker Audax bombers, close air support and reconnaissance aircraft stationed in an airfield in southern Tehran prior to the outbreak of World War Two (Photo Source: Cooper, T. & Bishop, F. (2000). Iran-Iraq War in the Air 1980-1988. Atglen, PA: Shiffer Military History, p.11). Ten of these were built in Iran under license in 1936 by the Shahbaz Aircraft manufacturing plant in Tehran. Sixty of these had already been delivered to Iran in 1934. A number of these flew against British and Russian forces during their invasion of Iran in August 1941.

The Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran (August 25 – September 17, 1941)

By the onset of World War Two Iran possessed 122 outdated Hawker series combat aircraft (Audax, Hind and Fury) with only forty of these fit for combat when the Anglo-Soviets invaded Iran in August 1941. Iran also had (approximately) another 160 aircraft (i.e. trainers, transport, etc.) prior to the outbreak of World War Two. The Iranian air force had a total of 1000 trained personnel at the eve of the Anglo-Soviet invasion. Iran’s obsolete aircraft were distributed to the four major airbases in Tehran, Ahvaz, Tabriz and Mashad.

Pic-6-Iran air force-French made-Breguet 19-recce-bomber An Iranian air force French-manufactured Breguet 19 reconnaissance and bomber aircraft. The aircraft delivered to Iran in 1925 were powered by a 450 hp engine. The aircraft was capable of 145 miles per hour and could fly at a maximum ceiling of 21,982 feet (Photo Source at left: Matofi, 1999, p.1054; Color Draft at right: PlaneTalk Forum).

In practice only the ten P-40 Curtis aircraft at Ahvaz air base were capable of challenging British and Russian aircraft, but only one of these had been assembled from its kits. This was flown by an American pilot-mechanic to Iraq as soon as the Anglo-Soviets invaded in August 1941.

Pic-1-Iranian Hawker Fury no. 482Iranian Hawker Fury no. 482 before the war (Photo Source: Matofi, A., 1999, Tarikh-e-Chahar Hezar Sal-e Artesh-e Iran: Az Tamadon-e Elam ta 1320 Khorsheedi, Jang-e- Iran va Araqh [The 4000 Year History of the Army of Iran: From the Elamite Civilization to 1941, the Iran-Iraq War]. Tehran:Entesharat-e Iman, p.1055). Just weeks after the ceasefire (August 28, 1941), two of these from the Qalemorqhi 1st Air Regiment took on five Soviet Polikarpov I-16 fighters on September 17, 1941 over the Caspian Sea. One plane flew by Captain Vassiq was shot down and crashed into the Caspian Sea. The other flown by Wing Operator Shushtari ran out fuel and crashed into the forests of northern Iran (Cooper & Bishop, 2000, pp.12-13).

The total numbers of actual combat and training aircraft in the Iranian air force are believed to have been as follows (numbers subject to revision with further research data):

  • 63 Audax
  • 34 Hind
  • 24 Fury
  • 10 Curtis P40 (Tomahawk) in crates at Ahvaz airbase (only of these was assembled prior to August 25, 1941 Anglo-Russian invasion – this was flown to Iraq by an American mechanic for the aircraft)
  • 3 Oxford
  • 1 (unserviceable) Hurricane
  • 25 Rearward Cloudstar Trainers

The Ahvaz, Tabriz and Mashad air bases were decommissioned after the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran in August 1941 but reconstituted after the Second World War.

Pic-7-Shahbaz first Iran domestic fighter A vintage Shahbaz Manufactured De Havilland DH-82A Tiger Moth II aircraft housed at an Iranian hangar; this is in desperate need of restoration (Photo Source: Copyright “Babak T” – available at Airliners.Net).