Farroukh Jorat: The Atashgah (Fire temple) of Baku

The article below “Zoroastrians of Apsheron: from Sassanians to present days” is written by Farroukh Jorat from the Republic of Azerbaijan (formerly known as Arran and the Khanates until May 1918).

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 Baku is the capital of the Azerbaijan Republic, which called by poets as “Land of flames”. This country was the part of Great Iran from ancient times until XIX century. In this article I will briefly talk about Zoroastrian history of Baku and Apsheron peninsula.

Before Sassanians

The earliest mention of Persians in the Caucasus is found in the Greek historian Herodotus’ account of the Achaemenid expansion of 558-330 BC, during which they annexed Transcaucasia (South Caucasus) as the X, XI, XVIII and XIX satrapies of their empire [1].

Archaeological material uncovered in present-day Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia include Achaemenid architecture, jewelry and ceramics [2].

Beginning of Sassanian times

Earliest mentions of a Zoroastrianism in Transcaucasia dates back to the Sassanians, who founded here the fire temples. Mobed Kartir (III c.) write in “Kabah of Zartusht”:

“And from earliest times onward for the sake of the Yazads and noble lords and for my own soul’s sake, I, Kartir, saw much trouble and toil. And I made prosperous many fires and magi in the empire of Iran. And I also, by command of the King of Kings, put in order those magi and fires which were for the territory outside Iran, wherever the horses and men of the King of Kings arrived the city of Antioch and the country of Syria and what is beyond Syria, the city of Tarsus and the country of Cilicia and what is beyond Cilicia, the city of Caesarea and from the country of Cappadocia to Galatia, and the country of Armenian and Georgia, and Albania, and from Balaskan to the Alans’ pass. And Shahpuhr, King of Kings, with his own horses and men visited with pillaging, firing, and havoc. But I did not allow damage and pillaging, and whatsoever pillaging had been made by any person, those things I had taken away and returned to their own country” [3].

Movses Khorenatsi in V century in the description of Bhagavan on the Caspian coast mentioned about Sanctuary with seven worshiped holes and referred to the establishment of the Shah Ardashir I (227-241) fire temples in Bhagavan [4]. Bhagavan (Bagavan) is one of medieval names of Baku. Ghevond Alishan described them as seven holes with burning oil which were called “Azer Pehram” [5].

Obviously, we are talking about a fire temple “Ateshgah” in the village of Surakhani (near Baku) where burned seven eternal flames.

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Fire temple Ateshgah (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Also there is another tower fire-temple called “Maiden Tower”. Nezami Ganjevi in his poem “Eskandar Nameh” wrote:

In that place was a fire built round with stone

Which the fire-worshipper used to call – “Khudi-soz”

For it, were a hundred priests (erbadan) of the fire-temple with collar of gold.

“Khudi-soz” (“Burning itself”) refers to the burning of natural oil or gas fires. “For it, were a hundred priests (erbadan)” – to stand before the sacred fire so many erbads could only in very large temple.

Such large tiered fire temple with premises able to accommodate a hundred erbads could be the Baku temple tower known as the Maiden’s Tower. Having examined the mortar with which the tower was built, scientists have concluded that it was built between the I and X centuries AD, i. e. in Sassanian times.

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“Maiden’s tower” in Baku (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Towering fire temple of Sassanian times existed in Ardasher-Khwarrah in the province of Pars (now Firouzabad). This fire temple was built by shah Ardeshir I and was located at the center of the city and it was a 30 m high and spiral in design. This architectural type influenced on architecture of Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq.

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Draft of towering fire temple in Ardasher-Khwarrah (now Firouzabad), Iran (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

In 1964, in front of the “Maiden’s tower” archaeologists found altar of fire, which, unfortunately, was soon destroyed. Altar had three-tier octagonal base, each step was 22-25 cm tall at the center of the upper base has been installed an octagonal tower height of 110 cm and 45 cm at the top of the column is clearly seen traces of fire and oil. The column had no openings for gas, oil burned in the bowl, which is not fully preserved. Place reliance shallow bowl was round a spherical cavity on the top of the column. The whole height of the altar was approximately 225-235 cm.

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Altar of fire near the “Maiden’s tower” in Baku (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Sketch of the reconstructed ancient altar of the fire is shown. The altar of this type has been widely distributed by the Medes and Sassanian Iran, where the altars were low (below human growth). Their images carved on coins.

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Altar of fire. Coin of shah Ardashir I (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Arabian invasion. VII-XII AD

In 642, in the Caucasus invaded by an army of the Arab Caliphate, began a violent Islamization. However, despite this, the majority of the population remained Zoroastrians a few centuries after the Arab conquest. Estakhri (X century) mentioned that not far from Baku (i.e., on the Apsheron Peninsula) lived fire worshippers [6]. This was confirmed by Movses Kaghankatvatsi in his reference of the province of Bhagavan (“Fields of the Gods” i.e., “Fire Gods”) [7] and by Aboulfeda [8].

At the same time group of Zoroastrians from Sanjan (now in Turkmenistan) migrated to India. It was the beginning the history of Parsi community.

It is known that when referring to Zoroastrians, Muslims used the word “Gabri”. To the west of Baku is located a desert area, which until the 1940’s was called “Gabristan”. In the 1940’s,after the discovery of rock paintings, this place has become famous, and the name “Gabristan” was deemed invalid because of its consonance with the word “gabir” (“grave” in Azeri) and the district was renamed the “Gobustan”. However, as noted archaeologist Gardashkhan Aslanov, in fact stated, the name Gabristan has no relation to the word “grave” and actually means “Country of Gabris”. It is likely that this desert area was a place for Zoroastrians who were trying not to attract the attention of Muslim rulers. Now the new name “Gobustan” stuck and few people know the old name of the area.

Middle ages. XV-XVII AD

From XV-XVI centuries diplomatic and trade relations between India and Shirvan were expanded. Surakhani Ateshgah was used as sanctuary of Hindus, Sikhs and Zoroastrians.

In 1683 German traveler Engelbert Kämpfer visited Surakhani and mentioned about “seven holes with eternal fires” [9]. “Surakhani” in Persian of Caucasus (language of Surakhani) means “hole with the fountain”. In other words, “Yotnporakyan Bagink” and “Surakhani” is practically calques.

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Seven fire holes, picture by Kaempfer, 1683 (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Chardin in the 17th century reported about Persian Guebres, which worshiped forever burning fire that was in two days’ journey from Shemakha (on the Apsheron) [10].

Engelbert Kaempfer wrote that among people who worshiped fire, two men are descendants of Persians who migrated to India.

French Jesuit Villotte, who lived in Azerbaijan since 1689, reports that Ateshgah revered by Hindus and Guebres, the descendants of the ancient Persians [11].

German traveler Lerch who visited the temple in 1733, wrote that here there are 12 Guebres or ancient Persian fire worshipers» [12].

Around the fire altar (“Chahar-tag”) were cells for pilgrims and guest room (“balakhani”), located at the entrance to the courtyard. According to travelers in the cells as small fires burned.

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Ateshgah of Baku, XVIII-XIX centuries (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Despite the fact that the temple was primarily used by a Hindus and Sikhs too, it represents the Sassanian “Chahar-tag” style. Fire temples of this type were in Niasar and other areas of Iran [13].

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“Chahar-tag” fire temple in Niasar (Iran) (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

On the walls of cells were encrypted dedicatory inscriptions (14 Hindu, 2 Sikh and one Persian inscriptions).

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Persian (Zoroastrian) inscription in Ateshgah (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

آتشی صف کشیده همچون دک

جیی بِوانی رسیده تا بادک

سال نو نُزل مبارک باد گفت

خانۀ شد رو سنامد (؟) سنة ۱۱۵٨

ātaši saf kešide hamčon dak

jeyi bavāni reside tā bādak

sāl-e nav-e nozl mobārak bād goft

xāne šod ru *sombole sane-ye 1158

Fires stand in line

Esfahani Bavani came to Badak

“Blessed the lavish New Year”, he said:

The house was built in the month of Ear in year 1158.

In the first line of inscription author talks about of a number of fires burning in the cells around the temple.

Jorat-Baku-10Worshiped fire and small fires stand in line in the background cells (1865) (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

In the second line the author says that he was from Isfahan and Bavan and reached the city of Badak. “Jay” is form of “Gay”, one of the earliest names of Isfahan. Bavan (modern Bavanat) is the village near Esfahan. [14, 15]. The word Badak is a diminutive of Bad-Kubeh. (The name of Baku in the sources of the 17th and 18th centuries was Bad-e Kube).

The 1158 year corresponds to 1745 AD. At the end of the reference is the constellation of Sombole /Virgo (August-September). In the name of the month the master mistakenly shifted the “l” and “h” at the end of the word. According to Zoroastrian calendar Qadimi New Year (Novruz) in 1745 AD was in August.

J. Hanway visited Baku in 1747 and left few records of Ateshgah. People, who worshiped fire in Ateshgah he calls “Indians”, “Persians” and “Guebres”. [16].

S. Gmelin, who visited Ateshgah in 1770, wrote that in the present Ateshgah lived Indians and descendants of the ancient Guebres [17].

XIX AD

As said M. J. Saint-Martin, French orientalist of early XIX century: “The city of Baku is regarded by Parsis as a holy place due to many sources of naphtha with natural burning fire and in many places worshiping a eternal fire”. (La ville de Bakou est regardée par les Parsis comme un lieu saint, à cause du grand nombre de sources de naphte qui s’y enflamment naturellement, et qui, en plusieurs endroits, y entretiennent un feu perpétuel.) [18].

In 1820 the French consul Gamba visits the temple. According to Gamba here lived Hindus and Persian guebres, the followers of Zoroaster. [19].

In 1840 Avraham Firkowicz, a Karaite collector, wrote about his meeting in Darband in 1840 with fireworshiper from Baku. Firkowicz asked him “Why do you worship fire?” Fireworshiper replied that they do not worship fire at all, but the Creator, which is not a person, but rather a “matter” (abstraction) called Q’rţ’, and symbolized by fire. Term Q’rţ’ (“kirdar”) means in Pahlavi and Avestan as “one who does”, “creator” [20].

The Englishman Ussher visited Ateshgah in September 19, 1863. He calls it “Atesh Jah” and said that there are pilgrims from India and Persia [21].

German Baron Max Thielmann visited the temple in October 1872 and in his memoirs he wrote that Parsi community of Bombay sent here a priest who after a few years will be replaced. His presence is necessary, because here come the pilgrims from the outskirts of Persia (Yazd, Kerman) and from India and remain in this sacred place for several months or years. [22].

In 1876 English traveler James Bruce visited Ateshgah. He noted that the Bombay Parsi Punchayat provides a permanent presence in the temple of their priest [23].

E. Orsolle, who visited the temple after Bruce, said that after Parsi priest died in 1864, the Parsi Punchayat of Bombay a few years later sent another priest here, but the pilgrims who came here from India and Iran have already forgotten the sanctuary, and in 1880 there was nobody [24].

O’Donovan visited the temple in 1879 and refers about religious worship of Guebres. [25].

In 1898 in the “Men and Women of India” magazine was published an article entitled “The ancient Zoroastrian temple in Baku”. Author calls Ateshgah as “Parsi temple” and notes that the last Zoroastrian priest was sent there for about 30 years ago (that is, in the 1860s.) [26].

XX AD

Henry in 1905, in his book also noted that 25 years ago (i.e. about in 1880) in Surakhani died last Parsi priest. [27].

In 1855, with the development of oil and gas fields the natural flames of Ateshgah began to fade. In 1887, Ateshgah had greatly weakened flames and was visited by the Emperor Alexander III. The temple flames finally extinguished January 6, 1902.

In 1925 the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic at the invitation of the “Community for the survey and study of Azerbaijan” visited the famous Bombay Zoroastrian scholar and professor J. J. Modi. Modi claimed that the ancient texts say about the Parsi fire temples on the shores of the Khazar (Caspian) Sea.

Parsi scientist visited completely abandoned Ateshgah, but due to the large number of attributes of the Hindu religion (the inscriptions, trishul) he ranked Ateshgah to Hindu temples. In the Persian inscriptions he was able to partially disassemble only the first and last row.

He visited the “Maiden’s tower”, which he considered as “ancient Ateshkade” (fire temple), and suggested the architectural similarity of the tower, discovered during excavations of the ancient city of Taxila, near Rawalpindi (now Pakistan). It should be noted that Modi’s assumption had remained unconfirmed [28].

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J. J. Modi, Baku, November, 1925 (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

He gave lectures in Baku on the two subjects: “The Parsees” and “The Importance of Azerbaijan from a Parsee Point of View”. His objective was to create an interest in our religion among the local learned people.

After J. J. Modi’s visit Ateshgah 50 years was in oblivion. But since 1975, after the restoration it was re-opened to the public. Flames of Ateshgahs burn again.

XXI AD

Since the 1991 Zoroastrian community of Iran began missionary work outside of Iran. One of the objectives of Zoroastrians of Azerbaijan is the recognition of Zoroastrianism by society and the State as one of the traditional religions of Azerbaijan. Zoroastrians of Azerbaijan, as well as from Iran and India carried out in Ateshgah religious ceremonies.

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Iranian Zoroastrians in Ateshgah (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

In July 2009, Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan announced a grant of AZN 1 million for the upkeep of the shrine.

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Ateshgah at present days (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

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Ateshgah and balakhani (house above the entrance) at present days (Source: Farroukh Jorat).

Footnotes

[1] Herodotus, The Histories, Book III (Thaleia) 92, 94.

[2] Kroll Stephan. “Medes and Persians in Transcaucasia: archaeological horizons in north-western Iran and Transcaucasia”, in : G. B. Lanfranchi, M. Roaf, R. Rollinger, eds., Continuity of Empire (?) Assyria, Media, Persia. Padova, S.a.r.g.o.n. Editrice e Libreria, 2003, pp. 281-287. History of the Ancient Near East / Monographs – V.

[3] Royal inscription found on the Kabah of Zartusht. An account of how Zoroastrianism was propagated beyond Iranian territories during the Third Century, and other religions suppressed.

[4] Movses of Chorene “The History of Armenia”.

[5] Alishan. Hin Havatk gam Hetanosagan gronk Hayots (“Ancient Beliefs, or Pagan Religions of Armenia”], pp. 55-56, Venice, 1895).

[6] Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Farisi al Istakhri. Ketāb al-masālek wa’l-mamālek.

[7] History of the Caucasian Albanians by Movses Dasxuranci. Translated by C. J. F. Dowsett. London, 1961.

[8] Geographie d’Aboulfeda traduite de Parabe en francais et accompagnee de notes et d’eclaircissements par M. Reinaud, t. I-II, Paris, 1848-1883.

[9] E. Kämpfer. Amoenitatum exoticarum politico-physico-medicarum fasciculi V, quibus continentur variae relationes, observationes et descriptiones rerum Persicarum et ulterioris Asiae, multa attentione, in peregrinationibus per universum Orientum, collecta, ab auctore Engelberto Kaempfero. Lemgoviæ : Typis & Impensis Henrici Wilhelmi Meyeri, Aulæ Lippiacæ Typographi , 1712, p. 253—262.

[10] Chardin J. Voyages en Perse et autres lieux de 1’Orient. Vol. II. Amsterdam, 1735. p. 311.

[11] J. Villotte, Voyage d’un missionnaire de la Compagnie de Jésus en Turquie, en Perse, en Arménie, en Arabie et en Barbarie, Paris, 1730.

[12] Лерх Иоанн. Выписка из путешествия Иоанна Лерха, продолжавшегося от 1733 до 1735 г. из Москвы до Астрахани, а оттуда по странам, лежащим на западном берегу Каспийского моря. «Новые ежемесячные сочинения», ч. XLIV, февраль, СПб., 1790 г., с. 75.

[13] Fire Temple at Niasar.

[14] Bavan on Google maps.

[15] Ali Akbar Dehkhoda. Loghatnameh, (in Persian), Tehran.

[16] Jonas Hanway. An Historical Account of the British Trade Over the Caspian Sea, 1753.

[17] Samuel Gottlieb Gmelin. Reise durch Russlaud zur Untersuchung d. drei Naturreiche, p. 45.

[18] Saint-Martin M. J. Mémoires historiques et géographiques sur l’Arménie I, Paris, 1818, p. 153-154.

[19] Jean Françoise Gamba. Voyage dans la Russie meridionale. II. Paris. 1826. P. 299.

[20] Dan Shapira. A Karaite from Wolhynia meets a Zoroastrian from Baku. Iran and the Caucasus, vol. 5, no. 1, 2001, pp. 105-106.

[21] Ussher. A Journey from London to Persepolis. pp. 208-207, London, 1865.

[22] Thielmann, Journey in the Caucasus, Persia, and Turkey in Asia, Eng. tr. by Heneage, 2. 9-12, London, 1876.

[23] James Bryce. Transcaucasia and Ararat: Being Notes of a Vacation Tour in the Autumn Of 1876.

[24] E. Orsolle. Le Caucase et la Perse. Ouvrage accompagné d’une carte et d’un plan. Paris, E. Plon, Nourrit et cie, 1885, pp. 130-142.

[25] O’Donovan E. Merv Oasis: Travels and Adventures East of the Caspian during the years 1879-80-81. 2 vols. New York, 1883.

[26] Men and Women of India. Vol. 1, no. 12, p. 696, Bombay, Dec. 1898.

[27] J. D. Henry, Baku, an Eventful History, 1906.

[28] Maari Mumbai Bahaarni Sehel – Europe ane Iran-nee Musaafari-naa 101 Patro. 1926, p. 266-279 (English translation: “My Journey outside Mumbai – 101 letters of my Europe and Iran Journeys.” by Ervad Shams-Ul-Ulama Dr. Sir Jivanji Jamshedji Modi. Translated from Gujarati by Soli P. Dastur in 2004.

The Mausoleum at Goor Dokhtar

The article below and the photographs originally appeared in the Historical Iran Blog. Kindly note however, that that the site is located in Dashtestan (Borazjan) and not Kazeroon as the article avers.

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Goor Dokhtar is a structure very similar to the mausoleum of Cyrus the Great. This structure is made of 24 slabs of stones, according to the Orartoie and Elamite principles such as the ziggurat of Choghazanbil. It is believed that Goor Dokhtar dates back to the Achaemenid era and is thought to be the resting place of the daughter or sister of Cyrus the Great, although the more prominent belief is that it may be that of his grandfather. While modern maps of the area place Goor Dokhtar in the Bushehr province, due to the proximity to Kazeroon, many tourist brochures of Kazeroon will claim Goor Dokhtar as their own. Goor Dokhtar literally means Zoroastrian girl.

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While from a historical standpoint Goor Dokhtar is not any less important than Pasargadae, however, it currently sits alone and unattended in Dasht Eram in Bushehr, surrounded by mountains on all four sides. Without even knowing the history behind it simply its physical characteristics and appearance remind one of Pasargadae and any possible connection between the two structures.

Goor Dokhtar is a rectangular structure with a pointed roof which sits on top of a platform with 3 steps. The platform measures 5.5 by 4.5 meters and one meter high while the monument itself is 3 by 2 meters and with a height of 5.1 meters. Its entrance faces northwest and had a stone door which has long since disappeared and today simply appears as an opening. Currently the inside of the monument is empty and there is reason to believe that an inscription used to exist on the V shaped gable ceiling.

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On the exterior of the roof, the stone which formed one side of the arched roof has been removed by vandals and its broken pieces are scattered around the structure. While from a preservation point this act is very unfortunate, however, it led to the discovery of an open space under the roof. Unlike Pasargadae this space had no opening to the outside and thus makes it unlikely that it was to contain a corpse.

Goor Dokhtar was discovered in 1960 by the Belgian archeologist Louis Vandenberg. This valuable monument is registered on the records of the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran.

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The Last Iranian Tiger in Georgia

The information cited below was forward to Kavehfarrokh.com by Kooshan Mehran. It was originally posted in the Georgian National Museum.

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The Turan tiger-Male, Panthera (Tigris) Virgata species is now unfortunately extinct. The sample seen below was hunted near Tbilisi, specifically in the village of  Lelobi in 1922 by the Tiklauri brothers. The tiger is believed to have come to Georgia from Iran, before meeting his demise in Lelobi.

Panthera-virgata The Panthera (Tigris) Virgata who originated in Iran and met his end in the village of Lelobi, near Tbilisi in Georgia. This is one of the last known specimens of this species of Tiger, now believed to be extinct (Picture Source: Georgian National Museum).

 

The Castle-Citadel of Zahak

The Zahak Castle is located in Hashtrud, within Iran’s East Azerbaijan Province. The name Zahak or Zahhak is derived from ancient Iranian mythology (possibly from Azhi Dahak).

Zahak Castle-Multi ViewThe Zahak castle in Azarbaijan province in northwest Iran. Note pattern of brick works, archways and stairway. The origins of the site has been dated as far back as 2000 BCE, during the reign of the Parthian dynasty (c. 250 BCE-224 CE) (Photo sources: Images forwarded to Kavehfarrokh.com by Ms. Tara Farhid-Gallo in the article –گردایه (مجموعه) باستانی آژدهاک ( ضحاک ) آذرآبادگان– and in Darvakeran Blogspot).

Experts share a general consensus that this region was inhabited from the second millennium BCE until the Timurid era (1370-1507).

Zahhak_castle_stucco_1[Click to Enlarge] Stucco from the Zahak castle housed in the antiquities museum in Azarbaijan. The above depicts a large bird of prey digging its claws onto the back of a bull. There are striking parallels between this stucco and the depictions of the sacred bull in ancient Mithraic temples. Interestingly the depiction of the bull (especially its lifted and exposed neck) is strikingly similar to the image of Mithras slaying the bull in Romano-European Mithraism (Photo sources: Images forwarded to Kavehfarrokh.com by Ms. Tara Farhid-Gallo in the article –گردایه (مجموعه) باستانی آژدهاک ( ضحاک ) آذرآبادگان– and in Darvakeran Blogspot).

The site was first excavated by British archeologists in the 19th century. Iran’s Cultural Heritage Organization has been researching the structure in a methodical six-phase study.

 

Zahak Castle-ExcavationsImages of excavation works at the Zahak site in Azarbaijan province (Photo sources: Images forwarded to Kavehfarrokh.com by Ms. Tara Farhid-Gallo in the article –گردایه (مجموعه) باستانی آژدهاک ( ضحاک ) آذرآبادگان– and in Darvakeran Blogspot).

The site has also yielded a very rare visual glimpse of what the Mede infantry of the Parthian era may have appeared during the invasion of Marc Antony in 37 BCE. Marc Antony was defeated, in large part due to the actions of the local Median infantry who supported the Parthian armored cavalry and horse archers.

Parthian Stucco-Zahhak[Click to Enlarge] Another stucco discovered at the Zahak site, now housed in the Museum of Azarbaijan in Iran. The image depicts a Mede infantryman of the Parthian era. It was Mede infantry such as these who defeated the invading troops of Roman general Marc Antony in 37 BCE (Photo sources: Images forwarded to Kavehfarrokh.com by Ms. Tara Farhid-Gallo in the article –گردایه (مجموعه) باستانی آژدهاک ( ضحاک ) آذرآبادگان– and in Darvakeran Blogspot).

There have also been interesting discoveries of stucco from the site, with some traces of coloring still visible.

Zahak Castle-Stucco[Click to Enlarge] Display of artifacts discovered at the Zahhak castle, at the Azarbaijan Museum in Tabriz. Note that the left petal-type stucco still has visible traces of red and yellow color with the right facial-flower stucco still bearing traces of yellow upon it (Picture Source: Public Domain).

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 Signage in Azarbaijan province in Iran at the Zahak site (Picture Source: in Darvakeran Blogspot).

Azerbaijan Republic acknowledges Historical Legacy of Polo Game

One enduring legacy of the former Soviet Union is its school of falsifying history. That same school of historical falsification now continues to endure in one the former Soviet Union’s satellite regions, the modern Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918). Nazrin Mehdiyeva, a historian from the Republic of Azerbaijan, has noted 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 Republic of Azerbaijan-known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918] … as part of the rhetoric” (Mehdiyeva, N.,2003, Azerbaijan and its foreign policy dilemma. Asian Affairs, 34, pp. 271-285, cited from p.280).

A post-Soviet era propaganda map produced in Baku. The above map promotes the false notion that a “Greater Azerbaijan” was divided in two by Russia and Iran in 1828 [Click above map to view the official Baku establishment narrative]. Historically false claims such as these were first promoted by the pan-Turkists of the early 20th century which were then propagated by the former Soviet Union and the Communists, notably Joseph Stalin and Mirjaafar Baguirov. Unfortunately the legacy of historical amnesia has continued to persist at the official level in the Caucasian state.

The Baku administration has based its falsification of history by appropriating the historical legacy of its neighbors, especially Iran as well as Armenia. In mid-September 2013 for example, the Baku establishment replaced the Persian-inscribed tiles at Nezami mausoleum – for more on this topic consult: Lornejad, S., & Doostzadeh, A. (2012). On the Modern Politicization of the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. Yerevan Series for Oriental Studies (Volume I), Edited by Garnik S. Asatrian. Yerevan: Caucasian Center for Iranian Studies. (pdf) – NOTE: This is the Official Digitized Version by Victoria Arakelova; with errata fixed from the print edition. False Statue in RomeBaku Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov at Nizami Ganjavi monument at Rome’s Villa Borghese park in early February 2013. The Aliev Foundation  funded the installation of this statue as part of the initiative of falsifying Iranian historical icons (see Petition to correct the historical identity of the statue in Rome). Ganjavi composed his poetry in Persian and wrote extensively on the Iranian cultural realm.

The very name “Azerbaijan” had never been applied to the region of the modern-day Republic – this was first proposed by pan-Turkist elements of the Musavat movement on May, 28, 1918 – prior to that date, the only historical reference to Az/a/rbaijan was to the historical province located in northwest Iran. The succeeding Soviets who followed the Musavat regime in Baku retained that incorrect name for the region. As noted by Barthold:

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

Ata Yurduتبلیغات ضد ایرانی در کتابهای درسی رژیم حاکم بر باکو!-[Anti-Iranian propaganda in school textbooks printed by the current regime of Baku]. History books are being re-written in Baku and exported to major Western libraries and universities in the effort to undermine Iranian history.

Most recently the Baku establishment had contacted UNESCO to consider the game of polo as an “Azerbaiiani” sport. For more see: Fars News (October 28, 2013): Iran urges UNESCO to reject Republic of Azerbaijan’s claim on ancient Polo game. Polo is the one of the world’s oldest known competitive team sports, in which players use mallets on horseback to shoot a ball through the opposing team’s goal post. The game continues to be intensely popular in modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. In fact, as noted by Mehdi Hojjat (Deputy Director ICHHTO) Afghanistan, Pakistan and India who have claims to the legacy of Polo, have also objected against the Republic of Azerbaijan’s application to UNESCO. As noted by Hojjat:

 “We will tell UNESCO that the traditional game is a common element that should be not registered exclusively in the name of a single country.”

Polo_game_from_poem_Guy_u_ChawganA Persian miniature made in 1546, during the reign of the Safavid dynasty of Iran (1501-1722). This artwork is of the Persian poem Guy-o Chawgân (“Ball and Polo-mallet”) depicting Iranian nobles engaged in the game of polo, which has been played in Iran for thousands of years (Picture Source: Public Domain).

The efforts of Mehdi Hojjat have borne success and the truth of history has prevailed – see Tehran Times based report Payvand News Report (December 5, 2013): below:

Azerbaijan concedes chogan is not an Azeri game: Iranian official

Below is the full report provided by Payvand News – readers are encouraged to read further comments further below after the Payvand News report:

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An official of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization (CHTHO) has said that Azerbaijan has officially accepted the fact that chogan (polo) is not an Azeri game.

ICHTHO’s Department for Registration of Natural, Historical and Intangible Heritage Director Farhad Nazari made the remarks on Tuesday after UNESCO registered chovqan (the Azeri word for chogan) as a traditional Karabakh horse-riding game for the Republic of Azerbaijan on its List of Intangible Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding during the 8th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The efforts made by the Iranian delegation at the meeting convinced Azerbaijan to officially acknowledge verbally and in writing the fact that chogan is not an Azeri game,” he said.

He added that the efforts also led to the modification of Azerbaijan’s file on chogan in the meeting.

In the file, Iran’s West Azarbaijan Province and East Azarbaijan Province had been referred to as “south Azerbaijan”, but this reference was removed when, during the meeting, it faced opposition from the Iranian delegation.

As a result, Iran also can to apply for registration of the Iranian chogan on the list. In addition, UNESCO experts in the meeting agreed that chogan would be registered as a multinational element on the UNESCO list,” Nazari stated.

ICHTHO Director Mohammad-Ali Najafi asked UNESCO in October to register chogan as a multinational element on its List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

ICHTHO Deputy Director Mehdi Hojjat previously said that Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, along with Iran, have a claim on the game.

The 8th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage will continue in Baku until December 7.

The Paach ceremony, a corn-veneration ritual celebrated in San Pedro Sacatepequez in Guatemala was also on the List of Intangible Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

The Committee is also scheduled to review four other nominations for the list and 30 nominations for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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In summary, this has been a very positive development and shows once again that with reference to proper historical sources combined with an academic and objective approach, the truth of history is safeguarded.

So what about the origins of Polo? There certainly is diversity of opinion, however reputable mainstream academia simply does not place the origin and invention of polo in the southeastern Caucasian territory north of the Araxes River (known as “Azerbaijan” since 1918). There are suggestions that this was invented in Iran and/or by Iranian peoples in antiquity, examples being:

  • Goel and Goel (1988, p. 318) who attribute this to the Persians in 2000 BCE (Goel, R. G. & Goel, V., 1988. Encyclopaedia of Sports and Games. Vikas Publishing House).
  • Craig (2002, p.157) who attributes the origins of polo to the Medes in the 100s CE (Craig, S., 2002. Sports and Games of the Ancients. Greenwood Publishing Group)

Singh (2007, p. 10) however challenges the Iranian origin thesis by highlighting Polo’s possible origins in China and India for example (Singh, J., 2002. Polo in India. London: New Holland).

Meydan Naghshe Jahan-Isfahan-Iran[Click to Enlarge] The Safavid era Meydan e Nagshe Jahan in modern-day isfahan which was a major venue for the game of polo in Iran (Picture Source: Public Domain).

Polo is indeed an international sport, whose origins overlap several modern nations in Western and Central Asia. The Republic of Azerbaijan is one of the heirs to this tradition, especially given its long-standing cultural and historical ties to Iran until 1828.  The south Caucasus region such as Armenia and modern-day Azerbaijan Republic (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) were introduced to Polo and equestrian sports by  thousands of years of cultural interaction with the Iranian realms.

Polo is referred to as “Chovgun” in the Republic of Azarbaijan – this term is actually derived from the Persian word “Chowgan” which means polo stick. It is possible that the term “Chowgan“, may have entered Western lore as “Chicane” (French), “Choca” (Spanish and Portuguese), “Schaggun” (German) or “Chekan” (Russian). On the other hand, the name of “Polo” is believed to have been derived from the Tibetan word “Puulu” which means ball (Crego, 2003, p.23 – Crego, R., 2003, Sports and Games of the 18th and 19th centuries, Greenwood Publishing Group). Etymology however is  insufficient at academically “proving” a Tibetan, Iranian or other (Indian, Chinese, etc.) origin for Polo – but it certainly is suggestive of an east-west cultural dynamic.

Ardashir1[Click to Enlarge] The founder of the Sassanian dynasty (224-651 CE) Ardashir I (180-242 CE) depicted in a lance-joust scene at Firuzabad. Ardashir and the Sassanians in general, were greatly fond of Polo (Picture source: Photo taken by Farrokh in August 2001 and shown in 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).

While the questions of origins remained debated, it is generally agreed that Polo has been an integral aspect of the culture and history of Iran since pre-Islamic times. Below are some excerpts from the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

A game of Central Asian origin, polo was first played in Persia (Iran) at dates given from the 6th century bc to the 1st century ad. Polo was at first a training game for cavalry units, usually the king’s guard or other elite troops. To the warlike tribesmen, who played it with as many as 100 to a side, it was a miniature battle. In time polo became a Persian national sport played extensively by the nobility. Women as well as men played the game, as indicated by references to the queen and her ladies engaging King Khosrow II Parvīz and his courtiers in the 6th century ad. From Persia the game spread to Arabia, then to Tibet (the English word polo is the Balti word meaning “ball”), to China, and to Japan. In China (910) the death of a favoured relative in a game prompted Emperor A-pao-chi to order the beheading of all surviving players. Polo was introduced into India by the Muslim conquerors in the 13th century…

Polo-Tang Dynasty[Click to Enlarge] Chinese Polo players of the 8th century CE during the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) (Picture Source: AsiaSociety.org).

Despite the aforementioned official efforts with UNESCO and negotiations with the Republic of Azerbaijan by Iranian authorities, Dr. Mohammad Reza Said-Abadi (دکترمحمدرضا سعیدآبادی), the chair of Iran’s commission to UNESCO ( دبیرکل کمیسیون ملی یونسکو ) has contradicted his Iranian colleagues by stating:

مهم این نیست که قدمت و ریشه چوگان در کجای این منطقه است و توسط کجا به ثبت رسیده است بلکه مهم این نکته است که این بازی و مهارت در کجا فعال و به خطر افتاده است ،بنابراین اگر بخواهیم در چارچوب حقوقی صحبت کنیم با وجود اینکه قدمت چوگان در ایران است اما این اشتباه است که بگوییم آذربایجان نباید آن را به ثبت برساند و چوگان مال ماست! درباره اینکه ما زودتر باید این را به ثبت می‌رساندیم سؤال دیگری است

Dr Said-AbadiTranslation: It is not important which region of this locale is identified with the antiquity and roots of Chowgan [Polo] or who has registered this [with UNESCO] – what is important is where this game and its skills/expertise have been endangered, therefore if we wish to speak in legal terms even-though the antiquity of Chowgan [Polo] is in Iran, it is wrong to say that [Republic of Azerbaijan] should not register Chowgan [Polo], because Chowgan [Polo] belongs to us! As to whether we should have registered this sooner is another question…(Picture Source: UT.ac.ir)

First, as noted previously by Mehdi Hojjat (Deputy Director ICHHTO, Iran’s official position is not that Polo is exclusively Iranian. Instead Hojjat’s argument is that Polo is a shared heritage not exclusive to just one country. Second, Mr. Said-Reza appears to be stating that “it’s ok” to distort history and register this with UNESCO.   Perhaps it may be conjectured that Dr. Mohammad Reza Said-Abadi is speaking from an ideological standpoint  consistent with pan-Islamism which downplays the history and legacy of Iran in favor of the wider pan-Muslim dynamic. Much like the former “pan-internationalist” Communists of the Soviet Union, all forms of “national” history are dismissed as “bourgeois”.