The Mushtaid (Mojtahed) Garden in Tbilisi

The Mushtaid Garden in Tbilisi (see more about this garden/park in the Georgia About webpage) was established in the 1830’s by Mir-Fatah-Agha who was originally from Iran. By the 1830s Georgia had been fully incorporated into the Russian empire. This was made possible by forcing Qajar-ruled Iran to relinquish her Caucasian territories to the Czarist Russians.  Iran signed the Treaty of Gulistan (September 24, 1813) after her defeat in the first Russo-Iranian war (1804-1813) and the subsequent Treaty of Turkmenchai (February 21, 1828) after the second Russo-Iranian war (1826-1828). As a result of these defeats,  Qajar-ruled Iran was to permanently lose her territorial links to eastern Europe. For more on the Russian-Iranian wars of the early 19th century consult Kaveh Farrokh’s third text “Iran at War 1500-1988“.

Entrance gateway into the Mushtaid Garden in Tbilisi in the late 19th century (Source: Georgia About).

Mir-Fatah-Agha was a mujtahid (Persian: religious leader) – hence the name Mushtaid for the garden. After Nino (Mir-Fatah-Agha’s Georgian wife), passed away of an illness, Mir-Fatah-Agha buried her close to his house and had roses planted around her resting place. This became the foundation for the future Mushtaid (Mujtahid) park, which became an official public park by 1858.

Public restaurant in the Mushtaid Garden of Tbilisi in the late 19th century (Source: Georgia About).

A key question that arises is how (or why) did the Russians decide to grant this prime real estate in one of Eastern Europe’s most lush regions to an Iranian national? This would seem interesting given that the Russians had fought so hard to wrest the entire Caucasus from the Iranians in the early 19th century. The reason the Russians did this is because Mir-Fatah-Agha had greatly helped the Russian empire’s military campaign against his homeland. Mir-Fatah-Agha had been accused of spying during the Russian-Iranian wars and expelled from Iran in 1828, the same year the Treaty of Turkmenchai was signed between imperial Russia and Qajar-ruled Iran.

A view of the Mushtaid (Mujtahid) Garden as it appears today in Tbilisi. As noted in the Georgia About website: “The famous Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani (Niko Pirosmanashvili) (Georgian: ნიკო ფიროსმანი) saw French dancer/actress Margarita perform in Mushtaid Garden in 1905. He was immediately besotted and it is said that he sold everything he owned to buy thousands of roses that were strewn in front of Margarita’s hotel.”

In appreciation of Mir-Fatah-Agha’s services to their empire, the Russians not only granted him asylum but also rewarded him with five hectares of land in Tbilisi (known as Tiflis in Persian and during the time of the Russian Empire).

Children’s railway in the Mushtaid garden or park of Tbilisi. As noted in the Georgia About website: “The first children’s railway in the world was opened in Mushtaid Garden on 24th July, 1935. Operating on a 1.2 km track, it was a narrow-gauge railway, complete with real wagons and locomotives.”

Nevertheless the case of Mir-Fatah-Agha should be considered in context. While more studies are needed in this topic, it would appear that the Qajar era (1789–1925) witnessed the rise of rampant self-interest among government officials and religious clergy (Mullahs and/or Mujtahids). The primary motivation in almost all of these cases was to acquire more wealth, property, recognition and influence. This was so transparent that British officials soon realized that they could easily buy off (often at a relatively low price) most Iranian government officials and clergy (Mullahs). This has been duly noted by Christopher Andrew in his book “Her Majesty’s Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community” (London, Penguin Books, 1987):

“The Long drawn-out ‘Great Game’ with Tsarist Russia…reached its peak in the later nineteenth century, gave rise to an equally long drawn-out series of intelligence operations…the Foreign office…particularly in Persia which acquired growing importance in British eyes…The Mullahs, who were the main authority within the country, proved vulnerable…to the ‘Cavalry of St George’. Sir Charles (later Baron) Hardinge, who became British Minster at Tehran in 1900, quickly concluded that there were few Persian clerics ‘whose religious zeal is proof against bribes’. The bribes to both Mullahs and civil officials sometimes took unusual forms: among them hyacinth bulbs, cigars, colored spectacles, silver clocks and – on one occasion – an artificial limb presented to a Persian brigand who had lost an arm in an attack on a caravan. The Marquess of Lansdowne, the foreign secretary … in Persia … acknowledged, he had ‘not hesitated to use secret service money’.” [Andrew, 1987, Pages 5-6]

In this context Mir-Fatah-Agha, a Mojtahed, was simply acting as many of his Qajar-era contemporaries would have acted: immediate self-interest even if it meant cooperation with a national adversary.

UNESCO: Recognition of Polo (Chogan) as a Sport Originating In Iran

The report “UNESCO lists polo as Iran’s intangible cultural heritage” was announced in the Mehr News Agency (December, 7, 2017) and has been also reported on Iranian.com (December 7, 2017) and PressTV (December 11, 2017).

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As noted on December 7, 2017 in Mehr News: UNESCO has recognized the team sport of polo, played on horseback, as Iran’s intangible cultural heritage during a session held in South Korea on December 7.

After three years of extensive efforts, international negotiations, and close cooperation between Iran’s sports ministry and Cultural Heritage Organization, the team sport of polo (known as ‘chogan’ in Persian) has been added as Iran’s intangible cultural heritage to UNESCO list during the 12th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, taking place from December 4 to December 8 in the South Korean capital of Seoul.

Iran submitted a proposal for the inclusion of polo in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage to UNESCO on 30 March 2016. The dossier was reviewed and shortlisted for inclusion under the 2003 Convention on Nov. 7, 2017.

The polo dossier is the second of thirteen documented Iranian intangible cultural heritages that is related to the country’s traditional sports and ritual games.

The dossier was recognized as a masterpiece of heritage of humanity and inscribed in UNESCO’s list without any objections or provisions.

A 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 first recorded game of polo, in which players on horseback score by driving a small ball into the opposing team’s goal using a long-handled wooden mallet, reportedly took place in 600 BC in ancient Persia.

As noted further in Iranian.com (December 7, 2017):

Farhad Nazari who is the head of the Iranian Office for Registration of Historical Monuments confirmed the approval, which will officially be registered next month at the 12th meeting of the UNESCO committee in South Korea. Nazari added that the case titled “The art of making and playing the kamancheh” will also be reviewed and registered by UNESCO at next month’s meeting. Four days after the Mehr News report on December 11, 2017, PressTV announced the following:

“The Kamancheh and Polo and have been officially registered as an Iranian sport and a traditional Persian musical instrument on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage.”

Polo was invented and reportedly first played in 600 BC in ancient Persia. The original name of polo is “Chogan” and in Iran the game is still referred to as “Chogan”. Throughout history, the game has been popular among warriors, generals, princes, and kings as a means of training cavalry for warfare. As noted by Hossein Jafari, head of Isfahan’s Chogan Office:

Chogan is our national sport and has its roots in ancient Iranian traditions…”

Sportsmen in Iran engage in a game of polo (Source: Iranian.com).

 

Book by Adel Bashqawi on Circassia

Adel Bashqawi, himself of Circassian descent has written a seminal book on Circassia entitled:

“Circassia: Born to Be Free”

This book is available for order from Xlibris, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Booktopia/Australia. The book is already receiving positive attention from readers in Amazon:One of the few pieces of literature on the Circassians’ history that does not stray from the Truth. Well researched and steeped in passion, Adel Bashqawi’s “Circassia, Born To Be Free” is a must read for anyone interested in the Circassians.

This book provides the history of Circassia, a small European nation in the northwestern Caucasus. It explains the Tsarist Russian invasion of this nation and the ensuing genocide which forced a mass migration. As a result of this history, most Circassians today live in the diaspora. Adel Bashqawi, himself a descendant of Circassian immigrants forcibly deported from their homeland into the Ottoman Empire, felt obligated to highlight an virtually forgotten period in the history of the Circassian nation.

Map of Circassia as drafted by James Stanislaus Bell in 1840 (Source: Adel Bashqawi “Circassia: Born to be Free”).

This book will attract the interest of readers wanting to be informed about the many challenges facing the Circassian issue. This book elaborates on a variety of affairs of concern to Circassians and non-Circassians alike, notably those of academic interest and human rights issues.

Circassians in traditional Kabardino attire (Source: Pinterest).

The Circassian tragedy is analyzed in detail by Bashqawi. While this has received little attention in Western historiography, up to 90 percent of Circassians are reported by Bashqawi as having been deported from their homeland. They are today scattered in scores of countries around the world, with the rest dispersed in their motherland, living in several Russian administrative enclaves. Today, the integral elements of the entire Circassian nation are at stake, not just in territorial terms, but their language and culture.

A Circassian man dressed in ancient Scythian warrior attire (Source: Topsy.one). The Scythians were an Iranian-speaking people closely kin to the Persians, Medes, etc. of ancient Iran. The territory of Circassia in antiquity was part of greater ancient Scythia in Eastern Europe.

The book describes how a nation has struggled to defend its very existence, identity, freedom and the very future of its generations who have endured a tremendous amount over the decades as a result of the already cited the Tsarist invasion. The Circassians have had to adapt to the conditions imposed by their displacement into the lands of diaspora, concomitant with a constant struggle against alienation.

A distinguishing feature of this book is that it deals with the issue of the Circassian identity and proposes possible legal methods with which the Circassians can utilize in order to re-attain their cultural rights. This book also examines political issues not discussed in several books discussing Circassia and Circassians. By linking the past to the present, Bashqawi arrives at a vision for the future. he also cogently argues that simply ignoring the issues is no longer an adaptive option.  It is also argued that optimism and solidarity are required to preserve the culture, heritage, language, and the entire nation of the Circassians.

Circassian girls in the Northern Caucasus (Source: Pinterest).

The book demonstrates how the Circassians have the potential of linking and uniting over the internet. The use of traditional print media, modern and advanced communications, and social media have provided solid foundations for helping the Circassians connect across the globe. Thus far, the internet has aided with the following: teaching the Circassian Adigha language, preserving culture, acquiring eBooks, addressing children’s concerns, establishing communications, connecting activists, disseminating information about the Circassian issue, learning Circassian history, sharing petitions, finding research centers, reaching libraries, accessing archives, bookstores, and other important matters.

A traditional Circassian flag featuring twelve club symbols which represent twelve of Circassia’s provinces, alongside a Circassian unity symbol (Source: Topsy.one).

Ancient Zoroastrian Temple discovered in Northern Turkey

The News report Ancient Persian temple discovered in northern Turkey could rewrite Religious History” was originally provided on November 6, 2017 by the Daily Sabah News outlet based in Istanbul, Turkey. The text of the Daily Sabah report has been reproduced below with a number of edits. Included in the text below are also translated portions of the Turkish language Ana Haber Gazete News outlet. Kindly note that excepting one photo, all other images and captions do not appear in the original Daily Sabah report.

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Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient Persian temple from the fifth century B.C. in Turkey’s northern Amasya province that could rewrite the history of the region. Istanbul University Archaeology Professor Şevket Dönmez has noted that the discoveries at the ancient Persian Oluz Höyük settlement in Toklucak village have the potential to change long-held notions of religion and culture in Anatolia.

Artifacts uncovered at the ancient Persian Oluz Höyük settlement in Toklucak village, Amasya province, Turkey (Daily Sabah & AA Photo).

As noted by Dönmez during a press conference regarding his excavations at Amasya (as cited/translated from the Turkish language Ana Haber News outlet):

“The excavations proceeded to explore the Persian (Achaemenid) time period (c. 425-300 BCE) at Asmaya… Oluz tumulus, where cella with sacred fire burned, living quarters, stone pavilions, and potholes where unusable temple goods were buried were discovered … the history of Anatolian religion now has to be revised … Portable fire burning vessels (fire) and skulls used in the temples were destroyed in the course of Alexander the Great’s Asian campaign (300 BCE). Shovels and pots pointing to Haoma (holy drink) were discovered. It is the first time that the ruins of Oluz mound, which reflects the formation and development periods of the Zoroastrian religion which are understood to have come to Anatolia with the Medes and the Persians. these finds are notably unique as he richness of these finds have yet to be found in Iran itself which is the Zoroastrian religion‘s  geographical source.”

 Professor Şevket Dönmez of Istanbul University presents his findings at Asmaya, Turkey in a news conference followed by questions by Turkish academics and reporters (Source: Ana Haber). Note the Zoroastrian artifacts also on display at the lower right of the photo.

In 11 seasons of excavations, the team uncovered thousands of artifacts, as well as temple structure. In respone to questions by the Anadolu news agency Dönmez noted:

“In this settlement from the fifth century B.C., we discovered a temple complex which is related to a fire culture, more precisely to the early Zoroastrian religion, or to the very original religious life of Anatolian people … They built a massive religion system here [Asmaya]… No 2,500-year-old artifacts have been found in Iran, yet they appeared in Anatolia. [With this discovery] Anatolia has entered the sacred geography of today’s Zoroastrians” 

Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest extant religions, is believed to have originated from the prophet Zoroaster in present-day Iran. The discovery of a temple for fire worship suggests the religion may also have had roots in Anatolia, as well.

Professor Şevket Dönmez of Istanbul University provides the architectural layout of the Zoroastrian temple that he and his archaeological team have excavated at Asmaya (Source: Ana Haber),

Describing the temple, Dönmez said it includes a holy room for burning fires and other stone-paved areas with many goods used in worship practices. Dönmez also said Oluz Höyük is the only known Persian settlement in the region.

Excavations at Oluz Höyük started in 2007, after the site was first discovered during surface research near Tokluca village in 1999.

Dönmez and his team plan to continue research work at the site, possibly working on restoring the temple area in the future.

Remains of ancient Zoroastrian urns at Gonnur Tappeh which were once filled with the sacred drink known as “Soma/Haoma” (Source: Balkh and Shambhala). Gonnur Tappeh is situated  at approximately  sixty kilometers north of Mary in modern-day Turkmenistan.

Shireen T. Hunter: The New Geopolitics of the South Caucasus

Readers are introduced to the following comprehensive textbook edited by Dr. Shireen T. Hunter pertaining to the Southern Caucasus:

The New Geopolitics of the South Caucasus: Prospects for Regional Cooperation and Conflict Resolution

 

Publisher: Lexington Books

Series: Contemporary Central Asia: Societies, Politics, and Cultures

Hardcover: 304 pages

Release Date: September 22, 2017

ISBN-10: 1498564968

ISBN-13: 978-1498564960

Order textbook through Amazon.com or Lexington Books

The above volume features an impressive array of scholars and experts: Bulent Aras, Richard Giragosian, Mohammad Homayounvash, Shireen T. Hunter (also editor of the textbook), Richard Kauzlarich, Eldar Mamedov, Sergey Markedonov, Mohaiddin Mesbahi, Nona Mikhelidze, Ghia Nodia.

This textbook, which is essentially a collection of examinations of the three South Caucasian states’ economic, social and political evolution since their independence in 1991, is remarkable in its depth and breadth of examination of the geopolitical processes in the Southern Caucasus.

Shireen T. Hunter is a research professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. History , Culture and Politics of Iran and the Persian Gulf, Central Asia and the Caucasus, Culture and Politics of Sh’iism, Islam and Politics, Muslim Communities in Europe and Russia, Theory of International Relations, Foreign Policy Analysis, Religion and International Affairs. For a comprehensive overview of Dr. Hunter’s expertise and publications see her profile at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service …

The textbook assesses the successes and failures of the Southern Caucasian states in their economic, social and political domains, especially their attempts at construction wholly new national identities and value systems in the endeavor at replacing Soviet-era cultural constructs. Readers are also encouraged (as a preamble to reading the book) to read the following report submitted by Dr. Shireen Hunter in a conference sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, held at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service on October 28, 2016:

Shahram Akbarzadeh (Deakin University) provides the following assessment of Dr. Hunter’s text:

Shireen T. Hunter has brought together a truly international team of experts to examine the complex geopolitics of the South Caucasus. The breadth and depth of analysis of key questions such as state-building, democracy, and the US–Russian rivalry present the reader with a rich and textured account of the region. This volume is a tour de force on the interplay of global and regional dynamics that have made the geopolitics of the South Caucasus a continuing source of challenges and opportunities.”

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. Note that the above map is one of many archival and cartographic sources demonstrating that there has been no “Greater Azerbaijan”  allegedly “divided” between Qajar Iran and Tsarist 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 (Source: CAIS).

The textbook clearly expostulates the complex interaction of domestic factors with international pressures and how these have impacted upon the new states. There is an exhaustive examination of regional forces neighboring the Southern Caucasus as well as international geopolitical forces (political, economic, etc.), especially with respect how the (often) divergent aims of these players (regional and international) are affecting the development trajectory of these states. The textbook also provides a comprehensive analysis for how the Southern Caucasian states can engage in resolving conflicts and to engage in constructive cooperation.

Greetings across the Araxes: Iranian Azeris greet the citizens of the ROA or Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) in 1990. Interestingly many Western news reports at the time noted how many of the ROA were demanding re-unification with Iran, an ancient state with strong cultural and historical influences in the southern Caucasus.

Ronald Grigor (Suny, University of Michigan):

Shireen T. Hunter, herself an expert in Caucasian and Central Asian affairs, has gathered an exceptional team of specialists on the local histories, recent experiences, and geopolitics affecting the three South Caucasian republics—Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Geography may be destiny, but surviving and thriving in an area contested for centuries by Iran, Russia, and Turkey requires both diplomatic and political skills as well as good luck. In essays written with deep local knowledge and exceptional clarity, leading specialists guide the reader through the intricacies and complexities of the region. If you want to understand the past, present, and future of the South Caucasian peoples, this is the book with which to begin.”

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 Joseph 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 History School” was the rewriting of Iran’s cultural, linguistic and historical legacy in the Caucasus. As noted by Dr. Nazrin Mehdiyova (herself originating from the Republic of Azerbaijan) has noted thatAs a result [of Soviet manipulation of history], the myth [of a Greater Azerbaijan] became deeply ingrained in the population [of the Republic of Azerbaijan] …” (Mehdiyova, 2003, p.280; “Azerbaijan and its foreign policy dilemma”, Asian Affairs, 34, pages 271-285). To be clear: history books were actually falsified and re-written by the Soviet Union in large part to (literally) erase the legacy of Iranian history, culture and the Persian language in the Caucasus. The Soviets also invented terms such as “Persian chauvinism” and “pan-Iranism” and used these against any scholars daring to question the Soviet Union’s manufacturing of history. Unfortunately, despite Trotsky’s warnings, Soviet-era propaganda narratives are being promoted by various Western venues at present.  Trotsky paid a high price for questioning Stalin’s methods: he was finally brutally murdered by Stalin’s Soviet agents in Mexico on August 20, 1940.

John Evans (former US ambassador to Armenia):

This study puts today’s volatile South Caucasus in its proper historical and geopolitical context. Readers new to the subject will become conversant with the main issues; old hands will find much to ponder and discuss. Shireen T. Hunter’s own unique perspective is especially valuable.”

Remains of an “Atash-kade” (Zoroastrian fire-temple) undergoing repairs in Georgia. The cultural ties between Iran and the Caucasus  stretch back for thousands of years (Picture courtesy of Dr. David Khoupenia with caption from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division – also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

Finally readers are also encouraged to read the following selection of recent articles by Dr. Shireen T. Hunter: