Photos of Old Zanjan

The photos graphs below provide rare glimpses into the city of Zanjan, which is the provincial capital of Zanjan province in northwest Iran. Exact dating of these photos however is challenging as the sources accessed provide no specific dates.


The first official major of Zanjan, Haj Ali Akbar Tofighi (1872-1945) (Source: Public Domain).

Zanjan-1A rare photo of the square at Zanjan during the late Qajar era taken by the Italian photographers Louis Montalbone (1827-1877) and Luigi Pesce (1827-1864) (Source:

Zanjan-2-mirbahaaldinAn old (undated) photo of the bridge of Mir-baheddin built during the Qajar era (Source:

3-Zanjan-bankThe Zanjan branch of the Iran National Bank, possibly early 1940s (Source:

4-Zanjan-Sabzeh MeydanSabzeh Maydan square of Zanjan (Source:

6-Zanjan-Mosque in old BazaarThe mosque in the old Bazaar of Zanjan, possibly 1930s or 1940s (Source: &

Photographs from Ancient Kahib, Daghestan in the Caucasus

The photographs below of ancient Kahib in Daghestan were forwarded by Guseyn Guseynov to on March 1, 2015. Additional photographs of Kahib will be posted in October 2015.

Ancient Mountain Village: Overview

The below photographs are of the ancient mountain village at Kahib, Daghestan in the Caucasus.

Kahib-Dagestan-4A view of the ancient village of Kahib, note the tower (Source: Guseyn Guseynov).

Kahib-Dagestan-1The tower at Kahib. It is not clear what function this tower served; perhaps this an observatory and/or served some type of religious function (Source: Guseyn Guseynov).

Kahib-Dagestan-8Walled settlement at Kahib (Source: Guseyn Guseynov).

Kahib-Dagestan-11Pathway in Kahib (Guseyn Guseynov).


There is an archway at Kahib which bears strong parallels to architecture of the Sassanian era (224-651 CE).

Kahib-Dagestan-6This archway bears an almost exact resemblance to one of the archways at the ancient Ādur-Gushnasp or Shiz (modern-day Takhte Suleiman) Fire-Temple in Iran’s Azarbaijan province (Source: Guseyn Guseynov). The Ādur-Gushnasp sacred fire was dedicated to the Arteshtaran (Elite warriors) of the Sassanian Spah (Modern Persian: Sepah = Army). For more on Ādur-Gushnasp, read here…

The photograph below shows the parallels between Sassanian architecture and that of ancient Kahib, in Daghestan of the Caucasus.

Takhte-Suleiman-2The archway at the ancient Ādur-Gushnasp or Shiz (modern-day Takhte Suleiman) Fire-Temple in Iran’s Azarbaijan province (Source: World Historia).

Symbols Carved upon Stone Bricks

The stones of the ancient village often feature various symbols and depictions; again their meaning and symbolism remain open to speculation but were evidently part of an ancient culture indigenous to the Caucasus.

Kahib-Dagestan-9Five-pointed star and upside down bird (Source: Guseyn Guseynov).

Kahib-Dagestan-2Eroded “Chevron” motifs (Source: Guseyn Guseynov).

Kahib-Dagestan-3Left stone brick depicting a dog and possibly a horse (?); right stone brick with a “Plus” sign, possibly a pagan cross (?) (Source: Guseyn Guseynov).

Sassanian Relief at Salmas (ancient Shapur)

Salmas (ancient Shapur) in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province is an ancient heritage settlement. Notable are the ties of the Sassanian rock reliefs of the Khantakhti region of Salmas: these depict Shapur I (r. 240-270 CE) and his father Ardashir I Babakan (r. 224-242 CE), the founder of the Sassanian dynasty (224-651 CE). Khantakhti is located approximately 15 kilometres from the Shapur-Urmia highway.

Scholars in general are of the opinion that the reliefs represent the military victory of Ardashir I over the Roman Empire in Armenia. This thesis is mainly based on crown depictions seen on Sassanian reliefs and coins.

1-Sass Relief-SalmasThe mounted figures of Ardashir I (to the front) facing a standing figure and Shapur I (behind Ardashir) (Source: Azariha). It is possible that this relief commemorates a Sassanian military victory in Armenia. The first captive held by Ardashir may be Armenian king Khosrov (Persian: Khosrow) with the captive to the rear held by Shapur I apparently being the Armenian Vizier.

Father and son, Ardashir I and Shapur I, fought hard against multiple powers, notably the Roman Empire, to maintain the independence and territorial integrity of the newly founded Sassanian dynasty.

2-Sass Relief-SalmasClose-up of Ardahsir I at Khantakhi (Source: Azariha). Note the monarch resting his hand over his scabbard-slide sword, like his son Shapur I behind him. This type of scabbard-sword pose is seen in several Sassanian sites, notably at Nagshe Rustam and Bishapur. 

Sassanian military parity with Rome was assured by the victories of Shapur I over the armies of Roman emperors Gordian III (r. 238-244 CE) at Misiche (modern Anbar, north of the Sassanian Ctesiphon) in 244 CE, Philip the Arab (r. 244-249 CE) at Barbalissos in c. 256 CE, and Valerian (r. 253-260 CE) who was defeated and captured in c. 260 CE.

3-Sass Relief-Salmas-Shapur_IClose up of Shapur I at Khantakhti (Source: Public Domain). Shapur was to follow up the military successes of his father Ardashir I by scoring victories over three Roman emperors. 

Interestingly after more than 1800 years, the local Iranian Azeri populace at Salmas remain cognizant of the region’s original name of “Shapur”.

4-Khantakhti PlaquePlaque for visitors and tourists at Khantakhti (Source: Azariha).

Iranian Tribal Women in Shooting and Horseback Riding Competitions

The photographs below are from a national Olympiad in Iran between different tribal elements with respect to horseback riding, sharpshooting, and other various athletic skills. Most of these can be found here:

(۱۳۹۳/۱/۲۳) دومین المپیاد فرهنگی ورزشی ملی عشایر ایران به میزبانی شهرستان فریدونشهر اصفهان برگزار شد [The Second Cultural National Nomads/Tribes Sports Olympiad hosted by the Fereydanshahr county of Isfahan was Held (April 12, 2014)]

These types of activities have been in Iran since ancient times, with Classical authors and later European travellers reporting on exercises in riding, firing arrows from horseback, etc. What is of interest in the photos below are Iran’s tribal women partaking in shooting and horseback riding competitions. Western media and news outlets have avoided mentioning such events. The reasons for this are open to speculation.

1-ContestantsRepresentatives of a number of Iranian tribes holding signs designating their respective regions – from left to right: first sign-Northern Khorasan, second sign unintelligible, third sign-Kurdistan, fourth sign-Kahkiloye & Boyerahmad, fifth sign-Golestan(?), sixth sign-Luristan, seventh sign-Sistan and Baluchistan; remaining signs unintelligible. Note that the photo is partial, in that it does not show all of the tribes participating in the event (Source:

What is certain is that given the heavy impact of media (news, etc.), TV and movie industries, the overwhelming majority of Western and international audiences have never seen the below images of Iranian tribal women.

2-Lur girl on horsebackLur girl swings round to her side to fire at target (Source: 

It is a fact that one of the domains that have received the least amount of attention by Western scholarship is the role women warriors of ancient Persia.

Women for example were seen in positions of military leadership in the armies of the Achaemenids (550-330 BCE). A prime example of this is Artemesia of Halicarnassius (now in modern western Turkey) one of Xerxes’ most capable admirals during the failed invasions of Greece in 480 BCE. The daring naval exploits of Artemesia reputedly led Xerxes to state that:

“…my men have become women and my women have become men”.

Artemesia was also one of Xerxes’ chief military advisors.

3-Kurdish-checking gun barrelKurdish girl checks her rifle barrel before engaging in sharpshooting competitions (Source: 

The role of ancient Iranian female warriors continued after Alexander’s conquests and the overthrow of his Seleucid successors in Iran by the Parthians (250 BC – 224 CE).

A Reuters newscast from Tehran in December 4, 2004 reported on the findings of an archaeologist who had been engaged in excavations near Tabriz, in Iran’s northwest province of Azarbaijan. A series of DNA tests revealed that the 2,000 year old bones of an entombed warrior and accompanying sword belonged to a woman.  As noted by Alireza Hojabri-Nobari to the Iran-based Hambastegi Newspaper:

Despite earlier comments that the warrior was a man because of the metal sword, DNA tests showed the skeleton inside the tomb belonged to a female warrior…

According to Nobari, there were 109 such warrior tombs, and plans were in place to conduct DNA tests on the skeletons of the other ancient warriors of those sites as well.

4-Lur girl takes aimYoung Lur girl takes aim with her rifle (Source: 

Roman historical sources have reported on the exploits of the women warriors of the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE). Zonaras (XII, 23, 595, 7-596, 9) states in reference to the forces of Shapur I that:

“…in the Persian army…there are said to have been found women also, dressed and armed like men…”

5-Turkmen girlsTurkmen girls in their traditional attire at the Fereydanshahr competition (Source: 

The exploits of Persia’s female warriors are recalled in the post-Islamic Shahnama epic of Ferdowsi. One sample quote states of the female warrior Gordafarid that:

“…as she was turning in her saddle, drew a sharp blade from her waist, struck at his lance, and parted it in two.”

6-Lur female sharpshooter-ویسگونLur woman in a local competition in Luristan province in Western Iran, partaking in a shooting contest on horseback (Source:

There are reports that the wife of Karim Khan Zand of Luristan and the wives of his Lur troops often fought beside them in battle against the Afghans in Nader Shah’s time. The Afghans made a point of heaping scorn upon the Zand units who defeated them by characterizing their men as:

“…hiding behind their women’s skirts

7-Kurdish lady on horsebackKurdish lady partaking in a riding competition in Iran’s Kurdish regions (Marivan or Kermanshah?) (Source:

While Western media, entertainment (especially Hollywood and the entertainment industry) continue to block and ignore such images and information, the legacy of ancient Iran’s warrior women continue to endure.


Lur women from Malayer (near Hamedan in the northwest) engaged in target practice in the Eznab area of Malayer city limits in the late 1950s.  The association between weapons and women is nothing new in Iran; Roman references for example note of Iranian women armed as regular troops in the armies of the Sassanians (224-651 CE).

Lev Nussimbaum: from Eastern European Jew to Caucasian Muslim Prince extraordinaire

The article below by Valeriya Nakshun has been reprinted with the permission of Bekhrad Joobin, the editor of the Reorientmag website.


Since the widespread Rachel Dolezal scandal, which involved an American woman claiming to be of African-American descent, discussions about cultural and ethnic appropriation have become increasingly heated and reconsidered. As controversial as the scandal may have been, it was certainly far from being anything new. There have been numerous cases throughout history where Europeans, for instance, have appropriated the cultures of others and misused them towards their own benefits and ambitions. When this occurs in relation to ‘Eastern’ peoples, it is often accompanied, one may argue, by a heavy dose of Saidian Orientalism. As a Jewish native of the Caucasus with an Eastern Mizrahi upbringing, at one stage in my life I became particularly interested in the life of Lev Nussimbaum, an Ashkenazi Jew from Eastern Europe who posed as an ‘exotic’ Muslim prince from Aran (renamed ‘Azerbaijan’ in 1918) and to have documented his adventures under the pseudonym ‘Essad Bey’, and later – according to American author Tom Reiss – ‘Kurban Said’. In his book, The Orientalist, Reiss examines Nussimbaum’s life, and how he shed his identity as a European Jew to become the famous Azerbaijani author. Under the pen name Kurban Said, Nussimbaum’s work (as per Reiss’ findings) became so popular that the love story, Ali and Nino (currently being made into a film by director Asif Kapadia), came to be revered as the national novel of Azerbaijan.

1-Lev-NussimbaumLev? Essad? Kurban? (Source: Reorientmag).

Raised in Baku, Nussimbaum traveled across the Caucasus, the Middle East, and Central Asia whilst fleeing the Bolsheviks with his father. Later, the pair emigrated to Germany, and it was there that Lev crafted his identity as Essad Bey and wrote several books about the exotic peoples he claimed to have encountered earlier on. With hostility and hatred towards Jews on the rise, Nussimbaum fled the Gestapo for America, where he continued with his writings. His works about the Caucasus, his childhood home of Azerbaijan, and Persia in some ways seemed to mirror the writings of William Walker Atkinson on India and South Asia. In a piece entitled American Orientalism, scholar and filmmaker Vivek Bald wrote about a former American lawyer and how he founded a publishing firm for books concerning Hinduism and spirituality. Like Nussimbaum, Atkinson wrote under several different Indian-sounding pseudonyms such as Yogi Ramacharaka, Swami Panchadasi, and others, in an effort to pander to European and American audiences. It has often been suggested that authors like Nussimbaum and Atikson exploited the Eastern traditions and cultures they wrote about for their own personal gain.

2-Sergey-Prokudin-GorskyA Dagestani couple photographed in 1910 by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (Source: Reorientmag).

According to Bald, when ‘Oriental goods’ started making their way to the West, many Europeans and Americans (particularly the former) with colonial attitudes began to appropriate ‘conquered’ cultures and assert their dominance as superiors over the savage-yet-passionate Easterners. The undefined ‘Orient’ became a sort of monolith through which Europeans could fantasise about ideas that might not have been acceptable in their own societies. Images of harems, belly-dancers, and the like often transformed into fantastical and erotic escapes; and, because they so sexualised Eastern peoples, it was not considered inappropriate to view them as unintelligent, backwards, and lustful.

6b-Lev-NussimbaumLev Nussimbaum (1905-1942) in Caucasian attire. As noted by Valeriya NakshunIt may be said that Nussimbaum, like others before and after him, assumed an ‘exotic’ identity in an escapist attempt to shed what he considered ‘boring’ or quotidian” (Source of Photo: RioWang Blogspot).

In many ways, it could be said that Nussimbaum’s view of the ‘East’ played out in more or less the same way. In his book, Twelve Secrets of the Caucasus, Essad Bey wrote about the various peoples inhabiting the region. Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Chechens, Georgians, Ossetians, Persians, and a host of others all provided rich subject matter for Nussimbaum. Written primarily for German readers, Nussimbaum often wrote about these peoples in a light many now might not deem particularly ‘rosy’, and painted them in many instances as a wild bunch with a penchant for swindling, beastly rituals, and savagery. Like Iran to its south, Azerbaijan, though predominantly Shi’a Muslim today, is a country with a strong history of Zoroastrianism (azar meaning ‘fire’ in Persian, and the name of the country referring to the Achaemenid satrap Atropates, ‘Protected by the Fire’). It is also known for its religious diversity, having been home to Eastern Christians and Jews for many centuries, if not millennia. According to Reiss, Nussimbaum was incredibly fascinated with Islam and the Arabic language, his infatuation leading him to ultimately convert officially in Berlin’s Turkish Embassy. It could be said, possibly, that his conversion had an influence on the author’s intentions with regard to his writings.


An illustration of Baku’s Zoroastrian fire temple (Pers. ‘atashgah’) from John Ussher’s 1865 travelogue, A Journey from London to Persepolis (Source: Reorientmag).

While Nussimbaum’s conversion might certainly have been genuine, it could be argued that it gave him a rather false sense of validity. To me, the most peculiar thing about the enigmatic author was his encounter (whether it actually occurred or not) with the indigenous Mizrahi Jews of the region – the same group that I belong to. We speak a Jewish dialect (Judeo-Tat) of Tati, an Iranian language closely related to Persian. Being a Jew, Nussimbaum’s writings on the Mizrahis of Dagestan and Azerbaijan should in theory, one could say, have been more familiar. However, it seems that Nussimbaum wrote even more harshly about them than any other group, as if in an attempt to distance himself from his origins and further emphasise his new identity. Such efforts may come as striking, as Azerbaijanis and other Muslims of the region lived in relative peace with members of other religious communities. Amongst other things, Nussimbaum wrote that the native Jews practiced strange blood rituals with their Muslim neighbours, and that their women washed the feet of men with their hair, both of which ‘observations’ have no historical basis or validity whatsoever. In a way, these sensual examples further evoke a sort of sexualised imagery about the practices of the region, far removed from its realities.

4-Caucasian-JewsTwo of Valeriya’s relatives in Derbent in the early 20th century (Source: Reorientmag).

As Reiss posits in The Orientalist, Nussimbaum was at one point exposed as a fraud, and as such, had to change his pen name from Essad Bey to Kurban Said, such that he could regain some legitimacy for his writing. A sort of Orientalist Romeo and Juliet with similarities to other ‘Eastern’ romances such as the Persian Khosrow and Shirin (in which the Zoroastrian Sassanid monarch Khosrow falls for the Christian Armenian princess Shirin), Ali and Nino tells the story of Ali, an Azerbaijani Muslim man, and Nino, a Christian Georgian woman, set in Azerbaijan, Iran, and other nearby countries. Reiss’ assertion that Nussimbaum was Kurban Said cannot be taken for granted as a fact, as the relationship between the two is still being debated amongst scholars. Writers such as Betty Blair of Azerbaijan International, for example, are convinced that Kurban Said was in reality an Azerbaijani author by the name of Yusif Vazir Chamanzaminli – a view also held by many Azerbaijanis. However, due to what many have claimed to be Orientalist overtones throughout the novel, as well as the presence of hot-headed characters acting on their ‘Caucasian’ and ‘Asian’ emotions, their obsession with revenge, and Ali’s aggressiveness, others have rejected Blair’s argument and instead hold Nussimbaum to be the more likely author amongst the two.

5-Ali-and-NinoAn English translation of Kurban Said’s “Ali and Nino” (Source: Reorientmag).

Regardless of whether or not Nussimbaum was Kurban Said, his life as Essad Bey is nonetheless interesting. Overall, his Orientalist tendencies, it could be argued, seemingly came from some sort of self-loathing and the desire to belong (to a greater degree) to the region he was raised in. As a Jew in the early-mid 20th century, it makes sense that there may have been other reasons (e.g. anti-Jewish hatred and the pogroms) for his desire to reject his European or Jewish identity; but, if he simply wished to save himself from fascism, why were his writings so sensual, so egregiously incorrect and full of factual errors, and over-the-top with respect to the Orient? While the Jewish predicament certainly complicates the reasoning, it may be said that Nussimbaum, like others before and after him, assumed an ‘exotic’ identity in an escapist attempt to shed what he considered ‘boring’ or quotidian. Unfortunately, such newly-forged identities often turn out to be mere caricatures of those they strive to represent and their way of life.