The Notion of “Turan” in Eurasianism of the 1920s

The paired concept of “Iran” and “Turan” has undergone many modifications in history. Its classical use is associated with the medieval Persian epic, in particular, with Firdausi, where “Iran” was understood as a state of sedentary farmers, and “Turan” as a world of nomads of Central Asia (in antiquity—Iranian-speaking, and since the 6th century A.D.—Turkic-speaking and Mongol-speaking). As applied to antiquity, it was thus a question of the opposition between the Western Iranian and Eastern Iranian (in the linguistic sense) worlds.

At the beginning of the 20th century the meaning of the term “Turan” was radically changed by such pan-Turkists as Yusuf Akchurin and Ziya Gokalp. Starting from 1911-1912 on the wave of the Young Turk revolution, they began to understand “Turan” as the totality of Turkic-speaking peoples far beyond the historical Turan (Central Asia). In 1923 Gokalp published the book, Basic Principles of Turkism, thus completing the process of creating the myth of Turan opposing both the Aryan and Arab worlds.

By this time, the Eurasian movement had emerged and was gaining strength in the Russian emigration, whose leaders N.S. Trubetskoy and P.N. Savitsky opposed Pan-Turkism, contrasting it with the idea of the historical and geographic unity of the peoples of Russia-Eurasia. With this approach, the nomads of the steppes (Kazakhs) and sedentary Turks of the Volga region (Tatars) were inextricably linked with the Russian world, and the Turks of Anatolia—with the Greek, Balkan, Mediterranean world [Трубецкой Н.С. О туранском элементе в русской культуре // Трубецкой Н.С. История. Культура. Язык. М.: Прогресс, 1995. С. 141–161—N.S. Trubetskoy, “On the Turanian element in Russian culture,” in N.S. Trubetskoy, History. Culture. Language (Moscow: Progress, 1995), pp. 141-161.].

However, the intermediate position of Central Asia in such a scheme remained uncertain and caused Eurasians a sense of discomfort. Against the background of the creation in 1924 of the Soviet Union republics, primarily Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, it was necessary to determine whether this region belonged to Russia-Eurasia, Turan or Iran as a place of development. At first, however, Eurasianists had no experts on Iran and Central Asia. They could rely on the old works of V.I. Lamansky on the borders of the “middle world of Asia-European continent,” but even in them the southern border of the Russian, Eurasian world was defined extremely vaguely, mainly on the border of the Russian Empire with Afghanistan, along the ridges of the Hindu Kush and Tibet [Ламанский В.И. Об историческом изучении греко-славянского мира в Европе // Ламанский В.И. Геополитика панславизма. М.: Институт русской цивилизации, 2010. С. 86.—V.I. Lamansky, “On the Historical Study of the Greek-Slavic World in Europe,” in V.I. Lamansky, Geopolitics of Pan-Slavism (Moscow: Institute of Russian Civilization, 2010), p. 86.].

Luckily for the Eurasianists, there came along Vasilii Petrovich Nikitin (1885-1960), an experienced Orientalist, diplomat, and Iranianist. From 1912 to 1919, he worked in the Russian consulates in Persia, even headed them, was closely acquainted with the lives of the Kurds and Assyrians and their leaders, participated in the events of the First World War on this front. After the Revolution he emigrated to Paris and never returned to his homeland. Working for thirty years in a French bank, he devoted his free time to writing scientific works on Orientalism, gained recognition among French Orientalists, and became a member of various academies and scientific societies. While still in Russia, he married a Frenchwoman, which allowed him to easily enter the circle of the French ultra-right and traditionalists, the first among Russian emigrants to read and popularize the works of René Guénon.

Nikitin at various times wrote about India, China, Japan, even Poland, but he always focused on the people of Iran. After his death, his fundamental work on the Kurds was published in the Soviet Union [Никитин В.П. Курды. М.: Прогресс, 1964.—V.P. Nikitin, The Kurds (Moscow: Progress, 1964).]. Therefore, Eurasians were immediately interested in him as an Iranianist. At the first meeting with Nikitin on September 24, 1925, the leader of the Eurasian movement, N.S. Trubetskoy, asked him to write a major article on Russia, Iran and Turan in order to define the boundaries between them. Nikitin recorded a summary of his conversation with Trubetskoy: “Our Turanism interferes with Iranism and frightens it (big and small Turan).” [Сорокина М.Ю. Василий Никитин: Свидетельские показания в деле о русской эмиграции // Диаспора: новые материалы. Вып. 1. Париж – СПб.: Athenaeum-Феникс, 2001. С. 603.—M.Y. Sorokina, “Vasily Nikitin: Witness testimony in the case of Russian emigration,” in Diaspora: Novye materialy, Vyp. 1, Sankt-Petersburg–Paris 2001, p. 603].

The Eurasianists needed clarification of the concept of Turan in order to allow their ideology to spread among the Turkic-speaking peoples of the USSR. Nikitin actively took up the work, and by the end of the year he finished the article, and on January 4, 1926 he received a visit from P.P. Suvchinsky, who praised it [Sorokina (2001), p. 606]. This topic also aroused the interest of other Eurasians; in particular, L.P. Karsavin asked Nikitin: “Can a Persian become Russian? What would happen to Christianity if the Persians adopted it? After all, from Zoroastrianism, not without reason, they have deviated into “Satanic” Manichaeism.” [Sorokina (2001), p. 602].

Between January 1926 and September 1929, Nikitin published 24 of his articles in Eurasian publications. Many of them were devoted to the general justification of the need to intensify Soviet Russia’s policy in Asian countries, but a number of works dealt specifically with Persia, its relations with Russia before the revolution, during World War I, and at the present moment under the regime of Reza Shah Pahlavi.

[Никитин В.П. 1) Персия в проблеме Среднего Востока // Евразийская хроника. Вып. 5. Париж, 1926. С. 1–15; 2) Ритмы Евразии // Евразийская хроника. Вып. 9. Париж, 1927. С. 46–48; 3) По Азии. Сегодняшняя Персия // Евразийская хроника. Вып. 9. Париж, 1927. С. 55–60; 4) [Рец.:] Свентицкий А.С. Персия. РИОБ НКВТ. М., 1925; Корецкий А. Торговый Восток и СССР. Прометей, 1925 // Евразийская хроника. Вып. 10. Париж, 1928. С. 86–88; 5) Россия и Персия. Очерки 1914–1918 гг. // Евразия. 1929. 6 апреля. № 20. С. 5–6; 13 апреля. № 21. С. 5; 20 апреля. № 22. С. 5; 27 апреля. № 23. С. 6–7; 4 мая. № 24. С. 6; 1 июня. № 28. С. 7–8; 6) Персидское возрождение // Евразия. 1929. 29 июня. № 30. С. 5–6; 10 августа. № 33. С. 6; 7 сентября. № 35. С. 6–7.—V.P. Nikitin, “Persia in the Problem of the Middle East,” in Eurasian Chronicle, Vol. 5 (Paris, 1926), pp. 1-15; “Rhythms of Eurasia,” in Eurasian Chronicle. Vol. 9 (Paris, 1927), pp. 46-48; “Across Asia. Today’s Persia,” in Eurasian Chronicle, Vol. 9 (Paris, 1927), pp. 55-60; Review: A.S. Sventitsky, Persia (RIOB NKVT. M., 1925); A. Koretsky, Trade East and the USSR (Prometheus, 1925}, in Eurasian Chronicle, Vyp. 10. (Paris, 1928), pp. 86-88; “Russia and Persia. Sketches of 1914-1918,” in Eurasia 1929: (April 6), № 20, pp. 5-6; (April 13), № 21, p. 5; (April 20), № 22, p. 5; (April 27), № 23, pp. 6-7; (May 4), № 24, p. 6; (June 1), № 28, pp. 7-8; “Persian Revival,” in Eurasia 1929: (June 29), № 30, pp. 5-6; (August 10), № 33, p. 6; (September 7), № 35, pp. 6-7.

In addition, Nikitin made oral presentations on Iranian topics at Eurasian seminars in Paris. [Татищев Н. Евразийский семинар в Париже // Евразийская хроника. Вып. 7. Париж, 1927. С. 44.—N. Tatishchev, “Eurasian Seminar in Paris,” in Eurasian Chronicle, Vyp. 7. (Paris, 1927), p. 44].

The above-mentioned article “Iran, Turan and Russia,” the preface to which was written by P.N. Savitsky, stands out among these essays in terms of its conceptuality. [Никитин В.П. Иран, Туран и Россия // Евразийский временник. Книга пятая. Париж: Евразийское книгоиздательство, 1927. С. 75–120.—V.P. Nikitin, Iran, Turan and Russia, in Eurasian Times. Book Five (Paris: Eurasian Book Publishers, 1927), pp. 75-120].

It won such popularity that it was a success even more than thirty years later. Nikitin by this time gave out all its reprints and was glad when P.N. Savitsky, in November 1959, sent copies to the students in the USSR [Sorokina (2001), p. 643].

How was the problem of the definition of Turan in this work handled? Savitsky recalled the cooperation between Russia and Iran in the Middle Ages, but at the same time he refused to include Iran in the place-development of Russia-Eurasia. In his opinion, “internal Iran” is an Asian country and for centuries fought the Scythian-Sarmatian nomads of the Eurasian steppes as representatives of “external Iran.” Recognizing a certain Iranian contribution to the formation of the Russian people, Savitsky still considered this contribution to be small [Editorial note of P.N. Savitsky. See, Nikitin, Iran, Turan and Russia, pp. 75-78.].

Nikitin looked at the problem quite differently. According to him, Russia and Iran are in a similar position at the crossroads of civilizations, and the Russian national character combines in itself Turanian and Iranian traits. The Turanian character is known from the works of N.S. Trubetskoy (it is a warrior, alien to abstract philosophy, hardy, loyal, passive). But Nikitin also pointed to the other pole of the Russian soul—the Iranian, represented in individualism and mysticism of the Old Believers, sectarians, Khlysts, preachers in general [Nikitin, Iran, Turan and Russia, pp. 79-80.]. The scientist viewed the history of Eurasia as a dialectic of the struggle of Iran and Turan, their ebb and flow. He later added to his article with three hand-drawn maps, showing how the concept of Turan expanded over the centuries until it encompassed both the steppe zone and agricultural Central Asia (Maverannahr) [Nikitin, Iran, Turan and Russia, pp. 118-120.]. Nikitin referred to the works of another Eurasianist P.M. Bicilli on the attempted alliance of Byzantium with the Turkic Khaganate against Sassanian Iran as a typical manifestation of the struggle between the two Eurasian principles [Бицилли П.М. Восток и Запад в истории Старого Света // На путях: Утверждение евразийцев. Книга 2. Берлин, 1922. С. 320–321.—P.M. Bicilli, “East and West in the History of the Old World,” in On the Roads: The Assertion of Eurasians. Book 2. (Berlin, 1922), pp. 320-321.].

Considering the history of Iran’s wars with nomads over many centuries, the researcher drew attention to the lack of study of Russian-Iranian ties and mutual influences [Nikitin, Iran, Turan and Russia, pp. 103-115.]. “There is a Turanian yarn in this Iranian-Russian canvas,” he concluded [Nikitin, Iran, Turan and Russia, pp. 113.].

He summed up: “The place of Russia between Iran and Turan has also been indicated…. Under the Mongol yoke both Rus and Iran were on an equal position of subordination to the Turan ulus. After liberation from this yoke, Rus and Iran went their own ways, as a result of which Rus took in relation to Iran the geographical position of Turan, whereas on the Bosporus, the statehood of Turanian root strengthened” [Nikitin, Iran, Turan and Russia, pp. 115.]. Nikitin reinforced this political conclusion with a reflection on the need for self-discovery of the Russian character with its duality of Turanian and Iranian traits: “Turan in our mental stock is an articulate, ‘kosher’ beginning, whereas Iran is individualism, in a form that reaches the point of rebellion, of anarchy” [Nikitin, Iran, Turan and Russia, pp. 116].

Marlène Laruelle, analyzing the reasons why Trubetskoy and Savitsky had asked for a detailed study of Iran and Turan from Nikitin, suggests that “the sedentary Central Asia… presented a problem for Eurasian thought,” that “the borders with Asia remained… blurred, and the movement failed to capture all the original and imagined potential that the claims of the Timurid and Mongol heritage carried within them” [Laruelle, pp. 172-173]. Therefore, according to Laruelle, “Eurasianism will remain indecisive about the sedentary peoples of Central Asia all the time” [Laruelle, p. 173]. These conclusions, in view of the above, do not seem quite accurate, and it is unlikely that the formula proposed by Laruelle can follow directly from the analyzed works of Nikitin, Savitsky, Trubetskoy, and Bicilli: “China embodies Asia; Persia is the outer East in relation to Russia; Turan is its inner East” [Laruelle, p. 177]. Nikitin himself nowhere distinguished between “East” and “Asia,” but always ranked Iran alongside India, China, and “Mediterranean Turkey” as civilizations that were Asian rather than Eurasian.

In his later Eurasian articles, Персидское возрождение [The Persian Renaissance (1929): Никитин В.П. Персидское возрождение // Евразия. 1929. 29 июня. № 30. С. 5–6; 10 августа. № 33. С. 6; 7 сентября. № 35. С. 6–7.—Nikitin, “Persian Revival,” in Eurasia. 1929: (June 29), № 30, pp. 5-6; (August 10), № 33, p. 6; (September 7), № 35, pp. 6-7.]—Nikitin put forward the thesis that, contrary to supposed apathy, cultural life in Iran never died, began to revive rapidly from the middle of the 19th century and reached a new level after 1925 under Reza Shah Pahlavi. The scholar talked about the general rhythm of Russian and Iranian history, from the fall of the Safavids and the Persian campaign of Peter the Great to the revolutionary events of the first quarter of the 20th century in both countries. Nikitin expressed the hope that the St. Petersburg period of Russian history, with its Westernizing intellectuals who did not want to understand Asia, was over. The duties of man to God instead of rights, the collectivism of the people instead of democracy and citizenship were what, in Nikitin’s opinion, united Russia with the Islamic world. The researcher hoped that “through the joint efforts of the Eurasian and Persian nationalities and the Moscow and Tehran authorities, ways would be found for a new politics and culture beyond imitation and dependence on imperialism and capitalism of the West and America” [Eurasia, 1929: (June 29), № 30, p. 5.]. At the same time Nikitin did not abandon the Eurasian slogans “about demoticism, about ideocracy, about the labor state and the common cause” [Eurasia, 1929: (June 29), № 30, p. 6]. The scholar presciently anticipated the future ideas of Khomeini and the Islamic revolution, pointing out the necessity for Iran to develop a new state system: not parliamentarism and not absolutism, but a combination of the Shiite principle of “light-bearing” Imamate and modern conditions [Eurasia, 1929: (August 10), № 33, p. 6].

Nikitin drew particular attention to the ease of mutual understanding between Russian and Persian peasants and merchants, the “osmosis” between them, and the rapidity of Russian settlement in Iran.

Nikitin predicted the “rise of national energy” in Persia, expressed already by the end of the 1920s in that country gaining full political independence, active construction of railroads, improvements in agriculture, and the development of new fields, all with German and Soviet support. In the field of religion and culture, the scholar noted in contemporary Iran a “feverish” surge of enthusiasm for Zoroastrianism, the neo-pagan reconstruction of the Sassanid era, Babism, and renewed Shiism. He noted the gravitation of Iranian thought towards an identity as opposed to the imitative nature of the Turan, described earlier by N.S. Trubetskoy [Eurasia, 1929: (September 7), № 30, p. 7].

Thus, according to the Eurasianists of the 1920s, Iran (the West Iranian peoples) opposed the steppe, nomadic Turan (the East Iranian, and later Turkic peoples). And that Russia is a direct heir of Turan, but it should choose the path of active foreign policy and cooperation on an equal basis, and the harmonization of development and revolutionary revival of Russia and Iran, rather than confrontation with Iran (as well as with India and China), as it was in the times of nomadic raids.

As for Turan, under such an interpretation, covering not only the Kazakh steppes, but also the sedentary Central Asia, it was included in the Eurasian place-development, becoming an integral part of Russia.

Thus, Eurasianists, with their historical and geographical arguments, knocked out any ground from under the pan-Turkic understanding of the myth of Turan as a set of only Turkic-speaking “descendants of the wolf” opposed to all other peoples of Eurasia. Nikitin specifically stipulated that the “Pan-Turan idea” in Turkey and Hungary was “a phenomenon of the intelligentsia’s mugshot and a certain literary fashion” [Никитин В.П. По Азии (Факты и мысли) // Версты: Вып. 1. Париж, 1926. С. 241.—V.P. Nikitin, Across Asia. Facts and Thoughts, (Paris, 1926), p. 241.] This formulation of the question is not only of academic interest but also sounds very relevant nowadays, when the ideology of pan-Turkism is supported by the elites of Turkey and Great Britain, and the convergence of the Eurasian Union, headed by Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, has reached a qualitatively new stage.

Maxim Medovarov, PhD, is at Department of Historical Methods and Informatics, Nizhny Novgorod State University. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Geopolitica.

Featured: Promotional poster for Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Turandot” (“Daughter of Turan”), April 25, 1926.

Iran: The Achievements of the “Resistance Economy”

Many media outlets write about the effectiveness of Iranian drones on the front lines. The official agenda also increasingly speaks of visits by official delegations or interest in interaction in one industry or another. In mid-December, I made a fairly long trip to Iran, where I was able to see the latest achievements of this country, through meetings and in-depth interviews to assess bilateral cooperation and the prospects for further interaction between Russia and Iran.

I will begin with subjective impressions. The last time I was in Iran was in May 2017. In the intervening time, there have been certain changes that are striking. First, the procedure for entering the country has become much easier. It took me ten minutes to get a visa at the airport and pay the fee. It was given on a small piece of paper that was presented at the control window together with my passport. No stamps were put in the passport. Many premium buildings have sprung up in Tehran. High-rise buildings were being built everywhere, especially in the northern district. The subway has been expanded. In fact, a branch line to Imam Khomeini International Airport has been completed, which will make logistics much easier. There is a lot of traffic at peak hours, which is due to the infrastructure of the capital, which was expanded rather chaotically.

As for the protests, about which the Western media write so much and constantly—they simply do not exist. The so-called “hijab crisis,” which occurred after the death of a Kurdish girl, is just another attempt by the West to bring about a color revolution. Indeed, there were attempts at riots in a number of cities, and even protests took place in Tehran. But now everything is quite calm. As for the hijab: In Tehran, you regularly see girls and women with uncovered heads in all kinds of places—in the streets, in cafes, museums and parks, in bazaars and in stores. Of course, no one is allowed into a mosque without a headscarf. But in other public places women walk quite freely and look happy. No one stops them or represses them. I should add that I have seen women not only with blond hair, but also with blue, with Botox-infused lips, tattoos on the palms and necks, and even with face piercings. So, there is nothing wrong with rights and freedoms in Iran.

More sanctions by the West against a number of Iranian officials is a standard political procedure, where the death of a Kurdish girl was just a pretext for intervention. And how many people suffered from police actions in cities in Germany, France, the USA and other Western countries? Who counted the victims of the arbitrary actions of the authorities in the EU? How many people have been innocently convicted by the U.S. judicial system? And yet no one imposes sanctions against these countries because the concept of sovereignty implies non-interference in the affairs of other states. However, Washington and Brussels believe that they are allowed to do so. In general, the West’s strategy towards Iran is aimed at completely changing its political system, and for this purpose any available mechanisms are used to hit the Islamic Republic of Iran with pin-point strikes.

In the context of current events on December 15, 2022 Iran was expelled from the Commission on the Status of Women by the UN Economic and Social Council (28 votes in favor, 8 against, among them—Russia, which questioned the legitimacy of such a decision, 16—abstained). Iranian officials called the procedure nothing short of clownish, noting human rights violations within the United States, especially against the black population. And the EU sanctions against Iran, which Brussels recently imposed “for human rights violations and drone deliveries to Russia,” were assessed as a blatant act of Iranophobia. The Iranian Foreign Ministry protested, adding that the West is following a double standard by turning a blind eye to what is happening in Palestine, and that the EU will face consequences if it continues to hype Iranophobia.

Incidentally, Iran has also imposed retaliatory sanctions against officials and organizations from Britain, the US and the EU, including the media, NGOs and various companies. We can assume that in the future the West will use any pretext for new sanctions. For example, at the beginning of December in the province of Sistan and Baluchistan, the Sunni Imam Moulavi Abdulhaved Rigi was kidnapped and killed by unknown persons. Some Western media are already trying to present this case to show some kind of guilt of the country’s authorities, since the deceased was a Sunni. But everybody suffers from activities of bandits and terrorists (most of which are deliberately created by Western special services for destabilization of the situation in the country), irrespective of religion and social identity. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps recently claimed to have prevented the attempted assassination of Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolkhoda.

Now for the achievements of Iran. According to the Deputy Minister of Road and Urban Development Mohammad Muhammadi, Iran’s civilian aircraft fleet has increased by 77 aircrafts and now consists of 175 airliners.

Iran is also among the top ten steel producing countries. In 2022, the country produced 2.9 million tons in the first ten months. From March to October, the country exported 5.9 million tons, a 30% increase over the same period the previous year.

The capacity of oil terminals is expanding. The Hark oil storage facility, for example, plans to increase volumes to 4.2 million barrels. Exports of minerals and other mining resources from March to November this year reached more than 30 million tons worth $7.8 billion. Exports of petrochemical products increased by 30% and reached 90 million tons. By the way, one of the Iranian catalysts for the petrochemical industry is also supplied to Russia. Iran produces 60 of all 87 necessary types of catalysts.

China alone accounted for 30% of Iran’s foreign trade in 2022. In addition to petrochemical products, China actively buys steel, liquefied gases (propane, butane), methanol, polyethylene, bitumen, alloys, nuts, saffron and leather products. Trade figures with Africa increased by 39%. Even with the U.S., trade is up nearly 15% over 2021, although the overall numbers are lower than they were in 2019. Meanwhile, medicines from the U.S. go to Iran through third countries, particularly the UAE. And from Iran to the U.S., all exports are limited to what passengers buy and bring in. Tehran does not seem to care much about the U.S. market, which is being replaced by other countries.

It should be added that Iran itself follows the principle of economy mokavemati (resistance), the doctrine of which the Supreme Leader of Iran previously presented as a response to pressure from the West. It is based on the principle where the basis of the economy is the social unit; then comes the local level, then the regional and then the national level. The processes of the global economy are the very last concern. This approach allows Iran to rely on its own strength and not be dependent on foreign markets. Judging by the economic boom in the country, this model has turned out to be effective and efficient. Moreover, its goals are the eradication of poverty and the provision of assistance to the poor.

But Iran has made great strides beyond the export of raw materials. In the engineering and maintenance sector, exports rose by 41% to $260 million. In knowledge-intensive products, Iran ranks 15th in the world and leads the region. The country has a total of 8,735 companies in this field and 51 science and technology parks. The budget for research and development is about $80 million. The indicators related to foreign investments in Iran are interesting. For example, this year half of all investments in Iran came from the citizens of Afghanistan. For example, in Khorasan Razavi province the share of Afghan capital is about one billion dollars. This phenomenon is partly connected with the Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan, which forced many businessmen to leave the country. At the same time, a dialogue is now being established with the Taliban government, where bilateral trade and the use of Iran as a transit is an important point in the negotiation process. Earlier, Afghanistan said it was interested in exporting its coal to Iran.

Domestic consumption is also growing. In particular, domestic and commercial gas consumption is expected to grow from 600 million cubic meters per day to 650. This means that the domestic economy is developing, despite external sanctions and pressure. This is confirmed by the abundance of advertising on Iran’s central and regional TV channels—and all the advertised products, with a few exceptions, from household chemicals to motorcycles and cars are locally produced.

Relations with Russia are also actively developing. If five years ago only international relations specialists and experts knew about the EAEU and Eurasian integration, now ordinary newspapers regularly provide information about it. In particular, the Iranian media write that the terms of accession to the free trade zone with the Eurasian Economic Union have been agreed upon. The contract is 150 pages long and includes more than 7500 types of goods and services. Russia is Iran’s main partner in the EAEU with a turnover of more than $1.4 billion. In 2021 Iran’s trade with the EAEU increased by 73% compared with 2020. The creation of an additional railway branch of the North-South transport corridor is being discussed. Although there is also talk of creating a canal that would connect the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf.

In addition to official data, information is leaking out about the intensification of cooperation on other fronts as well. Thus, the U.S. media, citing Israeli intelligence, reported that Iran and Russia are negotiating the training of Iranian sailors and the production of warships in Russia. Previously, Iran had asked China for help with shipbuilding, but Beijing hesitated. The current relationship between Moscow and Tehran is conducive to the widest cooperation, so the chances of this project being realized are great. Incidentally, Admiral Tangsiri, commander of the IRGC naval forces, recently stated that “the United States cannot even imagine what kind of missiles Iran already has.” He added that Iran is the only one with small boats no more than 8 meters long equipped with missiles. This is a reflection of the “swarm strategy” adopted by Iran some fifteen years ago to use small and mobile vessels as well as drones against bulky and large enemy ships. Potential targets for Iran are U.S. aircraft carriers and destroyers in the Persian Gulf.

As for the assessment of a special military operation in Ukraine, Iranians differ in their opinions. And this is due to the lack of awareness of the background of the events that unfolded in Ukraine after the coup d’etat in 2014—although there is a common understanding of the aggressive role of the United States and NATO.

I had a discussion with representatives of scientific, intellectual, and ideological circles in Iran about the Ukrainian conflict. I tried to explain to them the background of the war in Ukraine with a historical and metaphysical context. And when there was a follow-up question as to why this war is not only just for the Russians, but also holy, since Russia does not defend itself as it did in 1812 and 1941, I had to make an additional excursus, for which my interlocutors expressed their gratitude.

The fact is that holy war is translated as jihad, and in this context, for Muslims, their own understanding immediately emerges. First, there are differences between Shiite and Sunni fiqh (religious law). Second, there are also differences between classical and modern Shiite fiqh. But there are also common grounds, for example, in Shi’a and Sunni jihad is also a religious obligation (along with prayer, fasting, hajj, and charity). However, the Shiites have an important caveat that the imam must be of good moral character; without this, jihad would be illegitimate. Both Sunni and Shiite jihad is both defensive and offensive in nature. However, modern Shiite theologians such as Ayatollah Mortada Motahhari and Ayatollah Salehi Najafabadi interpret the ayats to mean that jihad can only be defensive in nature, since we are now in the era of the hidden Imam. But there are reservations here as well. For example, Ayatollah Khomeini pointed out that in addition to the prerogative of the Vilayati Fatih (guardian-type sovereignty held by the supreme leader of Iran for the duration of the hidden Imam), other theologians can also give the right to conduct offensive jihad. But Ayatollah Golpaigani of Qom Seminary argued that offensive jihad is the exclusive prerogative of the impeccable Imam and his authorized representative.

While contemporary Shi’a interpretations of offensive jihad differ, the opinion on defensive jihad is unanimous. Here the permission of the irreproachable Imam is not needed, and it represents a response to an enemy attack against Muslims with the intention of seizing their property and subjugating their lives. In such a case, the obligation to wage defensive jihad falls on all who can fight, regardless of gender or age. This is the context in which the Iranians interpret the special military operation in Ukraine.

With these aspects in mind, we need to have a carefully constructed system of arguments to polemicize with those forces in the Muslim world who promote the thesis that “Russia is not waging a defensive war” and question the justice of its actions. Therefore, we need more explanatory work in this direction—as well as strengthening cooperation in information exchange and jointly countering disinformation and hybrid operations of the West against our countries. And, of course, the Iranian experience of economic development under harsh sanctions will also be useful.

Leonid Savin, is Editor-in-Chief of the Analytical Center, General Director of the Cultural and Territorial Spaces Monitoring and Forecasting Foundation and Head of the International Eurasia Movement Administration. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Geopolitika.

First Cinema in Iran

The first Iranian cinema spectator (1897 AD). and the first Cinematograph theater in Iran: 21 November to 20 December 1903.

As such eminent scholars as Farrokh Ghaffari and Jamal Omid have shown in the past, an Iranian‘s initial acquaintance with the cinema is first mentioned in Ebrahim Sahhafbashi‘s memoirs.

Ebrahim Sahhafbashi (Mohajer) Tehrani was born around 1858 and died in 1921 or 1922, at the age of 63, in Mashhad His full name has been copied from a note of his reproduced below his portrait in Name-ye Vatan, and his birth and death dates are approximations provided by his son, Abolqassem Reza‘i. He was fascinated with new technologies and inventions and his trade of eastern Asian goods took him several times across the world. He was a liberal-minded modernist and rather nonconformist in his clothing. Undoubtedly, following the first cinematographic representation in Paris in 1895, and soon after that in London, Iranians living in Europe at the close of the nineteenth century were able to see various films, but since no writings from them remains—or has come to light—the first spectator (as he is called today) must be considered to have been Ebrahim Sahhafbashi, in London, seventeen months after the first public representation in Paris.

He writes in his memoirs:

Yesterday, at sunset I took a walk in the public park… [In the evening] I went to the
Palace Theater. After song and dance performances by ladies [… and a show of acrobatics, etc., I saw] a recently invented electric device by which movements are reproduced exactly as they occur. For example, it shows the American waterfalls just as they are; it recreates the motion of marching soldiers and that of a train running at full speed. This is an American invention. Here all theaters close one hour before midnight.

Sahhafbashi was mistaken as to the cinema‘s country of origin, perhaps because the film he saw was American, as his reference to the Niagara Falls seems to indicate. There is no reason to believe that Sahhafbashi‘s interest in cinema, during his first encounter with it, went beyond that of a mere spectator, but it is also probable that the thought of taking this invention to Iran crossed his mind, although this is never mentioned in his writings.

According to sources known to the present, he was the first person to create a public cinema theater in 1903, eight years after the invention and public appearance of the cinema in France, six years after Sahhafbashi‘s seeing the cinema in London, and three years after the arrival of cinema equipment to the Iranian court.

Sahhafbashi perhaps held glass plate shows (akin to present-day slide shows) before making his career in the cinema. These were performed with the lanterne magique, known as cheraq-e-sehri in Iran. In good shows of this kind, a succession of black and white—or, even better, color—glass plates depicting a story (as in today‘s comic strips) was projected on a screen. The lanterne magique was used in Mozaffar-ed-din Shah’s court and a couple of such color plates have been identified in the Album House of the Golestan Palace. Viewing was affected with one or another type of jahan-nama, including the stereoscope, in which a pair of almost identical pictures were used to achieve a three-dimensional view. It consisted of a small (or large) box equipped with two viewer lenses and a slot in which the glass plates bearing the image pairs were inserted. Examples of this type of jahan-nama, for example of Verascope brand, existed in Mozaffar-ed-din Shah’s court and in the hands of private individuals, because I have seen glass plates of this type, both processed and unprocessed, in the Album House of the Golestan Palace. Another type of jahan-nama, the Edison Kinetoscope, was completed in 1891. It was a large, hefty machine in front of which the viewer stood to watch a very short cinema-like film through a pair of lenses on its top. Other types of jahan-nama, namely Mutoscope, Kinora and Théoscope, also existed, in which cinema-like moving pictures could also be seen. The Théoscope, for example, was small and could readily sit on a foot.

As concerns lanterne magique shows, Nazem-ol-Eslam Kermani writes in his Tarikh-e Bidari-e Iranian:

The (lanter majik) cheragh-e sehri appeared in Tehran in the sixth year of the reign [of Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah]‖, which corresponds 10 April 1902–29 March 1903. What Nazem-ol-Eslam Kermani means by (lanter majik) cheragh-e-sehri is unclear. If he means the kind of shows current at the time, which consisted of projecting a succession of various scenes depicting a story (as in today’s comic strips), these had certainly―appeared‖, even if they had not yet achieved wide popularity, before this date. But, if he means the onset of private and semi-private film viewing with the lanterne magique and then the jahan-nama, then the date does not conflict with that of Sahhafbashi‘s film screenings. It is conceivable that, following the warm welcome given at the court to various types of lanterne magique, jahan-nama and Cinematograph, and perhaps after a second travel to the West in 1902, Sahhafbashi brought together a collection of such devices, together with X-ray equipment, electric fans and probably phonographs, etc., which he sold to the rich or used to hold shows. Therefore, Nazem-ol-Eslam Kermani‘s allusion to him—whom he says he knew well and with whom he was involved in underground political activity points directly to Sahhafbashi and his first public lanterne magique, jahan-nama and later Cinematograph shows. It was not rare at the time to refer to the Cinematograph as lanterne magique, and Khanbaba Motazedi, at the age of fifteen (1907), heard his father say that Russi-Khan had―brought a lanterne magique… which showed moving pictures‖ to Arbab Jamshid‘s residence.

The first reference to a theater (public cinema) is found in the absorbing memoirs of Nasser- ed-Din Shah‘s protégé. He wrote about the evening of Sunday 22 November 1903

I went to Sahhafbashi‘s shop. On Sundays he holds simifonograf shows for Europeans, and in the evening for the public. When I arrived there was no one; just me, a secretary of the Dutch embassy and a few of Taku‘s personnel. Taku was a European goods shop on Lalehzar Avenue. Apparently, on this occasion Malijak went to see a session for Europeans, because he adds: It was two and a half hours past sunset when I called for a landau. Accompanied by the supervisor [his teacher], I went to Sahhafbashi‘s shop to watch the Cinematograph.‖ Malijak. Taking the season into consideration, the cinema session began around eight o’clock PM. Malijak was interested by the cinema, because he again went to a session on the next evening. He wrote in his memoirs: “I called for a landau and we went to watch the simifonograf.”

Having watched for a while, we returned home.

This was probably no more than one or two days after Sahhafbashi had begun holding public film shows, because, had other films been shown earlier, Malijak would have certainly paid a visit or made an allusion to it in his memoirs. The study of Malijak‘s memoirs clearly shows that, fortunately for the history of Iranian cinema and photography, he truly was a full-fledged professional sloth. From morning to night, he paid visits to the court and the houses of different people, poked his nose into shops or wandered in the streets. Malijak‘s life and the style of his memoirs, particularly concerning everyday events, hunting, music, gambling… and social visits, are such that it is hardly conceivable for a public film show to have taken place without him noticing it.

Moreover, in those early years of the twentieth century, Malijak was also keenly interested in photography and music. He took piano lessons and was well aware of the existence of the Cinematograph. He had seen films at Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah‘s court at least as early as 1902, a year before the first public cinema was created. Although opposed with his political views, he was acquainted with Sahhafbashi and had paid him visits even before seeing films, mentioning the novelties he had seen in his memoirs. At first Malijak misjudged Sahhafbashi as an ignorant liar, but after seeing his X-ray equipment at work on the next day—Thursday 22 May 1902—he wrote extensively about it.

Unfortunately, as Malijak‘s memoirs begin on 20 March 1903 / 29, they hold no indication concerning the first four years of filmmaking in Iran. The first Iranian cinema, or tamasha-khaneh, was located in the yard behind his shop on Lalehzar Avenue.

Jamalzadeh writes about Sahhafbashi‘s estate: He had a building at the crossroads and avenue known as Comte, on the northern stretch of Lalehzar, on the left hand side, and he and his wife had transformed their home into a hospital… [and] they had [also] built a functional water cistern on the street side of their garden … The type of goods that Sahhafbashi had in his shop indicates that his customers came from among the aristocracy. Among the films shown there, Qahremanshahi mentions one in which a man ―forced more than one hundred [?] men into a small carriage and had a hen lay twenty eggs. Such comical or extravagant films were very popular at the time and lasted about ten minutes, as did most other films made in that period.

The history of the activity of Sahhafbashi‘s cinema must be limited from 21 November to 20 December 1903, because Malijak makes no other mention of its activity, Sahhafbashi having apparently traveled to America in the meanwhile. The month of Ramazan, which occurred in autumn in that year, was undoubtedly chosen on purpose, because spectators could easily use the long evenings to go to the theater after breaking their fast.

Financially, Sahhafbashi‘s venture seems to have been rather unsuccessful. For example, as we saw, only a few spectators were present at the first session attended by Malijak. And this was probably why Sahhafbashi moved his cinema to a new address on Cheragh-e Gaz (later Cheraq-e-Barq, and now Amir Kabir) Avenue after returning from America around 1905 and not later than 1908 in any case. If this change of address actually took place, it was not any more successful, and this time Sahhafbashi‘s theater closed its doors for good.

The only document on Sahhafbashi‘s travel to America is a bust photograph that shows him in European attire and which was reproduced by Jamal Omid together with the caption: “The picture] shows Mirza-Ebrahim-Khan Sahhafbashi (Mohajer) Tehrani [in] San Francisco.” Of course, the picture does not bear a date ―one must conclude that Sahhafbashi was away from Iran at least during 1904, and that the reopening of his cinema can therefore not have taken place before 1905.

The reopening of Sahhafbashi‘s theater is obscure and no contemporaneous written source concerning this event and the subsequent activity of this theater has yet come to light. As the present article does not intend to enter a long discussion on this reopening, we limit ourselves to a description of it as it was narrated by the late Abdollah Entezam, who attended Sahhafbashi‘s theater in his childhood, and another by Jamalzadeh, which may be related to
the same cinema. Neither Entezam nor Jamalzadeh gives any date, but Farrokh Ghaffari‘s inference from Entezam‘s description was that it was situated around 1905.

Entezam recounted his memories of Sahhafbashi‘s cinema to Farrokh Ghaffari in Bern, Switzerland, in October and November 1940. To his relation of this event to the author, Ghaffari added that Entezam had repeated these words in Tehran in 1949-1950), in the presence of the late Mohammad-Ali Jamalzadeh and himself, and that Jamalzadeh had confirmed to them. Jamalzadeh himself has been more cautious in his interview with Shahrokh Golestan, believing it ―very, very likely‖ that the cinema to which he had gone in his childhood was Sahhafbashi‘s, and adding that he could no more be sure about it See the full text of Jamalzadeh‘s account, reproduced a few lines below. He also spoke of Sahhafbashi‘s house on Lalehzar Avenue in a brief article he wrote on him in 1978 on the occasion of the reiterated notice of the sale of his chrome plating factory and theater equipment Jamalzadeh, but made no mention of the theater‘s reopening on Cheragh-e-Gaz Avenue or its connection with Sahhafbashi. Neither did Sahhafbashi‘s son, Jahangir Qahremanshahi, or Malijak, that professional sloth, ever mention any such reopening.

Despite these obscure points, doubting the reopening of Sahhafbashi‘s theater on Cheragh-e Gaz Avenue is not justifiable either, and for the present, in view of Entezam‘s solid testimony, the reopening in question should be considered as having taken place, and Jamalzadeh‘s memories of going to that cinema should be taken into consideration. Of course, it is much more probable that Jamalzadeh visited another, lesser, cinema on the same avenue. During the chaotic days of Mohammad-Ali Shah’s reign, others had begun setting up cinemas. They included Aqayoff, whose film shows were also held on Cheragh-e-Gaz Avenue but in the coffee-house of Zargarabad, and Russi-Khan, who had contrived a small cinema next to his photo shop.

Shahryar Adle (1944-2015) was a noted French-Iranian historian and art historian, who is recognized as one of the foremost scholars of Iranian studies. This article is an extract from a much larger study.

Iran: “Hijab Crisis,” Or Color Revolution?

In Iran, riots and mass protests continue for a third week. The Western globalist media wrote that this was caused by the death of Mahsa Amini, who was allegedly killed by the vice squad for not wearing a headscarf (in Iran, girls and women are required by law to cover their heads). However, according to official reports, she suffered a heart attack at the police station [vax status? Ed]. She was taken to the hospital, but could not be saved. The rest of the details are not known, because the situation began to deteriorate rapidly. In addition, a large number of fakes appeared on social networks and in foreign publications.

The incident with the girl occurred on September 16. By September 18, mass protests and riots began. A security officer was killed by a mob of unidentified people, and four young Iranians were also killed by protesters during the clashes. Clearly, the situation was deliberately escalating.

In the following days, the protests spread to a number of cities in Iran. Women were demonstratively tearing scarves from their heads. There were reports of weapons being seized. A video shared on social media showed rioters throwing Molotov cocktails at police cars and beating police officers. Footage has also emerged of the crowd chanting “Long Live Shah Pahlavi.” Such chants are surprising because the vast majority of Iranians today don’t remember the times of the Pahlavi dynasty (the Shah fled the country during the 1979 Islamic Revolution; and it was the repressive nature of the Shah’s regime that was the key to that Revolution’s success).

This scenario resembles the events in Libya which also began with a small incident and then developed into political actions (monarchist banners appeared immediately), and then civil war. Similar developments also took place in Iran, during the presidential elections, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was running for a second term.

After Mahsa Amini’s death, the “green movement” in Iran, by way of social networks, called for mobilization and mass protests. By September 22, it was known that 61 ambulances had been destroyed by vandals. By the second week, more than forty deaths were known. By the third week, the number of victims was close to a hundred.

Hijab Riots

Across Iran, ordinary women and public figures, including Iranian actresses, removed their headscarves in protest or cut their hair in public to show solidarity with the demonstrators. We do not have complete statistics on criminal and misdemeanor crimes in Iran. However, we can assume that there are the usual incidents, with the deaths of offenders, as well as cases of abuse of power by members of the executive branch. But in this case there is a deliberate promotion of the theme of “the victim and the bad officials.” In general, the Arab Spring in Tunisia began with a similar episode. In the case of Iran, it is also indicative that the protesters are not demanding to “get the culprits,” but are blaming the authorities in general; that is, their actions are directed against the Supreme Leader of Iran and the rahbar institution, which represents the spiritual authorities that are above secular bodies.

Leaving aside the emotional factor, as well as the socio-political turmoil in Iran (which is less than it was a year ago), one should pay attention to the geopolitical context and international relations. In Iran, the wave of protests began immediately after the SCO summit in Samarkand, where Iran was accepted as a full member of the organization.

In addition, Iran is currently working on adjusting a number of laws in accordance with the norms of the EAEU, in order to move from a free trade zone to full membership. Numerous agreements have been signed with Russia, including the supply of natural gas to Iran and the use of the country for transit to the neighboring Republic of Pakistan, which is also interested in Russian energy resources. Cooperation in infrastructure and military-technical cooperation is also being enhanced. The appearance of Iranian kamikaze drones by the Russian army conducting the operation in Ukraine has also changed the situation on the front in favor of Russia.

Let us note another interesting fact: Albania officially severed diplomatic relations with Iran. The reason given was a cyber attack that allegedly had been carried out by Iranian special services on the infrastructure of Albania. But, in fact, this is a double-edged case. There are training camps in Albanian territory of the terrorist organization, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, who advocate the overthrow of the Iranian government. In particular, they spread propaganda and conduct cyber operations against Iran. It is likely that retaliation by Iranian security forces, or hackers, against the Mojahedin Organization servers led to cascading effects that affected other elements of critical infrastructure. Microsoft was involved in the investigation of the cyber incident in Albania.

In addition, the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program is nearing resolution. Russia fully supports Tehran on this issue. The EU states are also interested in returning to the state of affairs before the imposition of new sanctions by the U.S. Only Washington is still stubborn, which is explained by the close ties between the U.S. and Israel. Normalization of relations has also been noted with Saudi Arabia, a longtime antagonist of Iran. Taken together, these factors indicate a significant strengthening of Iran in the region in recent times, despite continuing U.S. sanctions.

This raises the question—who benefits from a crisis or coup d’état in Iran?

Neighboring Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey and Iraq are hardly interested in a serious deterioration of the political climate in their neighboring country, because any unrest could spill over to them. But there are other actors who would benefit from any crisis in Iran.

First of all, Israel, Britain and the United States are not interested in increasing the role and status of Iran. Israel and the U.S. have been outspoken about the need to overthrow the “ayatollah regime” in Iran. For Israel, because of security and ties of Palestinian groups and the Lebanese Hezbollah to the Iranian government. The U.S., because of the idée fixe of establishing a Western liberal democracy.

We should add that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Representatives of this organization are constantly and groundlessly accused by Washington of planning and organizing unlawful acts and threatening U.S. interests.

Finally, the victim-heroine of the protests was a native of the Kurdish region of Iran, which adds both a regional and Kurdish factor to the story, since a number of Kurdish organizations have subversive activities against the Iranian government, from political propaganda to organizing attacks on border guards and security forces. Given the long-standing Israeli and U.S. ties with the Kurds of Iraq, as well as the ability to manipulate social networks, we can assume that those concerned would be unlikely to miss the chance to use the girl’s death to foment discontent and social unrest.

In addition, the level and experience of the intelligence services of the above states allows us to conclude that only these three countries can conduct an operation of this level in another state. Reliable sources in Iran report increased activity of Zionist and Western propaganda inside Iran. A chain reaction has begun. These events will obviously go down in history as another attempt at a color revolution.

Leonid Savin, is Editor-in-Chief of the Analytical Center, General Director of the Cultural and Territorial Spaces Monitoring and Forecasting Foundation and Head of the International Eurasia Movement Administration. This article appears through the kind courtesy of the Oriental Review.

Of Iran And Its Last Shah: A Conversation With Gholam Reza Afkhami

The last King of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, is commonly given a harsh verdict. But is this assessment fair, or even accurate? Through the kind and generous courtesy of Kayhan Life Magazine, we are so very pleased to present this interview with Gholam Reza Afkhami, who rectifies many of the assumptions about the late Shah. Mr. Afkhami is an academic, author and former Deputy Minister of Iran. He is currently a senior scholar and research director at the Foundation for Iranian Studies (FIS), a research institute in Washington, DC.

Mr. Afkhami served as Iran’s deputy interior minister in the mid-1970s, and Secretary General of Iran’s National Committee for World Literacy Program (1975–1979), a committee headed by Mohammad Reza Shah. After the Revolution in 1979, Mr. Afkhami moved to the U.S. and became a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institute, from 1980 to 1983. He is the author of several books, most recently, The Life and Times of the Shah. He is here interviewed by Cyrus Kadivar, the London-based author, journalist and consultant.

Cyrus Kadivar (CK): As an insider, you had a unique opportunity to observe the Pahlavi dynasty’s daily workings. Eleven years ago, you published your epic biography of the Shah. How would you summarize the monarch’s personality compared to his father Reza Shah?

Gholam Reza Afkhami (GRA): I have learned most of what I know of the life and times of Mohammad Reza Shah by studying the history of Iran under the two Pahlavi kings and by communicating with those closely involved with their personal and political lives. The young Mohammad Reza acquired many of his father’s habits, though temperamentally he was his father’s opposite. Reza Shah was naturally aggressive. Mohammad Reza was shy and withdrawn, even when at the apogee of power. The father slept on the floor in an unadorned room. The son also lived in relative simplicity, though the difference in the circumstances of their respective birth and childhood made his surroundings more opulent. The father dressed invariably in a plain soldier’s uniform—no adornment, no medal, no pomp. The son was in full regalia when in military uniform. Normally, however, he wore civilian clothes. He was punctual, disciplined, and given to daily routines he almost religiously followed, even when on vacation. Like his father, he also walked around his office while receiving government officials and discussing state affairs.

CK: Mohammad Reza Shah married three times in his lifetime. Can you tell us about his relationships with each one of his queens?

GRA: His first wife, Fawzieh, an Egyptian princess, was chosen for him. She was beautiful, and he grew to like her, but Fawzieh remained cold and distant. With Soraya, his second wife, he truly fell in love, allowing her to dominate him in family matters. Much to the Shah’s chagrin, Soraya could not give him an heir, and refused to submit to an operation which might have enabled her to become pregnant. That refusal did not diminish the Shah’s affection, though it led to divorce, because the imperative of [producing] an heir to the throne trumped the Shah’s love.

The Shah’s third wife, Farah Diba, later Shahbanu Farah, was 21 years old when she married, almost the same age as the king’s other brides at the time of marriage. She was smarter, more energetic, more active, and considerably more interested in the affairs of the nation. More importantly, she bore the Shah a male heir in less than a year, which made her position secure, and the Shah’s relationship with her unique.

CK: What were some of the King’s personal hobbies?

GRA: The Shah was good at sports. He had learned skiing at Le Rosay [his Swiss boarding school] and, back in Tehran, never missed a chance to ski on the rare days that snow covered the rather primitive ski slopes of the Elahiyeh hills near Tehran and, in later years, of Shemshak and Gajereh on the slopes of the Alborz. He also skied in the Alps near his winter cottage in St. Moritz. He regularly played tennis, until it became difficult for him to continue because of his eyesight.

He was also an accomplished horseman, the kind who liked his horses sprightly and quick to the touch, requiring no encouragement to move. He enjoyed speed and courted danger beyond the boundaries of propriety for a king. His queens, though with him at different periods of his life, were equally afraid to be in the car when he drove, and they told him so. It was the same when he piloted a plane or a helicopter. He followed the rules, but also took risks, explaining that he was protected by the Almighty.

CK: Did the 1953 Crisis with Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh have an impact on the Shah’s psychology and his mode of governing after his dramatic restoration to the throne?

GRA: The Shah never forgot the effect of the first decade of his [reign.] Never again, he might have thought, as he flew back to Tehran from Rome. Never again would he be so poor and vulnerable as he was in Rome. Never again would he be the plaything of another man, as he had been of Mossadegh. Never again would he forget his father’s advice: any man worth asking for help in the arduous work of making a nation will seek your place if allowed. This was in 1953.

Twenty years later, by 1974, his country and the world had changed. He had solved the oil issue, his country was on the verge of having more income than it needed, the Iranian military had become one of the most powerful in the Middle East, significant economic and technological relations had been established between Iran and the rest of the world, and the Shah was satisfied that his country was making palpable progress. His problem now was of a different genre: he knew he was ill and had to prepare the country and his son for a future of which he could not be sure.

CK: The Pahlavi regime has been described by some historians and critics as having been politically repressive and socially progressive. Do you agree with that assessment?

GRA: Politically, the White Revolution, by increasing the mobility of the population, facilitated the political atomization of society, rendering a greater number of people accessible to the authority and command of central government. By focusing political attention on the Shah, it gradually eroded the authority of other central sources of power, leading toward a concentration of power in his hands. This suggested political power but not necessarily political repression. The regime, however, was socially progressive.

CK: Mohammed Reza Shah began his rule as a constitutional monarch. By the Seventies he was the King of oil and the supreme autocrat ruling over 34 million Iranians. He abolished the two-party system in favor of a single party, Rastakhiz, began to liberalize the political system, and in August 1978, after protests in the streets, he promised free elections. Did the Shah ever believe in democracy?

GRA: The Shah was deep down a democrat. Democracy, however, is first and foremost an expression of culture. He began to understand this during the first years of his reign, especially his experience with Mossadegh. His 1976 liberalization policy was likely a plan to prepare the ground for the Crown Prince to ascend the throne when he no longer would be able to continue.

CK: How would you describe Iranian society in the 1970s?

GRA: Iran under the Shah was an open society. The economic boom had made it possible for people from different walks of life to travel abroad by the hundreds of thousands each year, while foreigners came in by comparable numbers. Women were gradually achieving equality with men and increasingly participated in the kinds of work that had been traditionally reserved for men. All of this irked the traditional populations and puritans, but it was hardly an example of repression.

In the mid-1970s, Iran’s relations with the West were determined largely by Iran’s relations with the United States. By 1975, Iran had become a showcase of development among Third World countries, boasting one of the highest rates of economic growth, a superior record of social services, and a critical mass for takeoff in science and technology — making steady progress in fields ranging from women’s rights and environmental protection to intercultural and cross-cultural communication and literacy and life-long non-formal education. As a result of these and other changes, the country was a brain gainer in 1975, unprecedented for a Third World country at the time.

CK: And Jimmy Carter?

GRA: When in 1977 Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as the 39th president of the United States, the Shah was certain that he would survive him. Carter was ambivalent about the Shah, as reflected in his administration. When they first met on 15 November 1977 in Washington, the President found the Shah to be “a likable man—erect without being pompous, seemingly calm and self-assured, and surprisingly modest in demeanor.”

Carter’s Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan later observed that “of all the people we had seen during that period — [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat, [German Chancellor Helmut] Schmidt, [British Prime Minister James] Callaghan, [French President Valery] Giscard [d’Estaing], and scores of others—the Shah was easily the most impressive.” The Shah conducted “a tour d’horizon of the world,” Jordan continued, “describing with great accuracy the problems facing the West, the strategic importance of Iran, and the critical nature of US-Iran relations. He spoke for almost an hour without notes. It was more than a presentation—it was a performance.”

The Shah was pleasantly surprised to hear in mid-December that the President wished to spend New Year’s Eve 1977 in Tehran, in between trips to Poland and India. The most surprising event of Carter’s visit, however, was his toast at at the dinner the Shah gave in his honor at Sahebgharanieh Palace. Carter lavishly praised the Iranian monarch’s leadership and called his country ‘an Island of stability in one of the most troubled regions of the world.’

A few months later, the Shah began to suspect that the West was planning to unhinge his rule.

CK: Why did the king hide his illness from his people and most of his inner circle? Did his cancer impact his decision making and morale during the final months of his rule?

GRA: What would have happened if the Shah had disclosed his illness is a moot point. Chances are that nothing significantly different would have occurred from within the regime, but the opposition would have become more empowered learning that the Shah was incapacitated. The Shah, however, was not incapacitated, at least not as a result of his illness. Those who knew him intimately saw nothing debilitating in his mental or physical agility. His twin sister Ashraf believed he was in complete control.

His government and those he consulted with never suspected that he was ill. His generals saw some indecisiveness at the end but attributed it mostly to the pressures of the time. The two ambassadors who met him several times a week saw in him mood alterations, but nothing that would suggest illness. His friends who were with him almost daily during his moments of rest never thought he was ill.

“He was active; he did his exercises, and his demeanor was not changed,” said Professor Yahya Adl, an old friend going back to the times when he was still crown prince. Adl was a witness night after night to the Shah’s orders to his generals not to be violent enforcing martial law. He was not surprised, nor did he attribute it to the shah’s being ill or in any way not being himself. “He was always like this, since I have known him. He shunned violence, hoping some other way would be found to calm the situation.”

CK: Liberals, followers of Mossadegh, and leftwing opponents who supported Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the leader of the revolutionary movement later complained that their movement was ‘hijacked’ by Islamic fundamentalists. Do you agree with that view?

GRA: No. Neither of these groups was in a position to oppose Khomeini or successfully depose him after he had returned to Iran once the Shah had shown that he would not fight. Theirs was not a movement. It was at best a support for Khomeini’s movement.

CK: What were the Shah’s domestic challenges in the last years in power? Could he have done anything differently to save his throne?

GRA: In 1976 he opted for a new path. He experimented with decentralization of decision making, tried to rebuild the political structure through a movement called Rastakhiz that he hoped would evolve into a multi-party, democratic system. Had he had more time for civic organizing or been prepared to fight the far left and far right opposition, Iran and his son would have been the most precious legacy he would have left his people. He did not, and died a far better man, unwilling to succeed at the cost of his people’s life. Iranians lost a promising future. Less than three years later, he died in Egypt.

CK: Do you still regard the Iranian revolution as Thanatos on a National Scale, the title of one of your books?

GRA: In Greek mythology, Thanatos represents death. In his psychoanalytic interpretation of human life process, Sigmund Freud speaks of “the death instinct,” suggesting varieties of the urge toward self-destruction. In my representation of Thanatos, diverse groups of intelligent Iranians belonging to a spectrum of left to right, knowing little about Khomeini and what he stood for, abandoned reason and fact in favor of destroying a progressive system of government.

CK: Was the 1979 Iranian revolution inevitable? Could the Shah have done anything to forestall it? To what extent was he badly advised or contributed to his own downfall?

GRA: The Iranian revolution was not inevitable. It happened because it was made possible. It was made possible because the Shah’s military could but did not stop it. The military did not stop it because the military obeyed the Shah and the Shah would not allow it. The Shah did not allow it because, as always, he would not accede to causing his people’s death. And though he had a variety of advice, at the end, he himself became the cause of his own downfall.

CK: How would Iran have looked today if the Pahlavi monarchy had not fallen?

GRA: Clearly, Iran would be very different today had the Revolution not occurred. So would the rest of the Middle East. There would have been no Iran-Iraq war; Islamism would have been contained; untold number of Iranians, Iraqis and others would not have died, become maimed, or suffered displacement and exile; untold amounts of wealth, property, or infrastructure would not have been destroyed; clashes of civilizations likely would not have been invented, or if invented, believed [in] or implemented; the United States would not have been involved in war in the Persian Gulf; and, perhaps, globalization would have taken a slightly kinder hue. These, of course, are mere speculations. What has been and what might have been, however, can alert us to our past mistakes, present options, and future possibilities.

The featured image shows the official 1973 portrait of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.

Arab Science: Dispelling The Ambiguity


In 1883, Ernest Renan gave a lecture at the Sorbonne entitled, “Islamism and Science” (later published by Calmann-Lévy). It was the rationalist credo of a man of science who was familiar with history. Above all, it had the merit and interest of calling attention to an ambiguity, which had not escaped the Semitizer that he was, and which is contained in these words: “Arab science, Muslim civilization, Muslim science”.

This ambiguity has never been dispelled, and it is urgent to do so. Ernest Renan can actually be used in doing so.

His observation is simple: From about the year 775 until about the middle of the thirteenth century, there can be no doubt that there were very distinguished scholars and thinkers in Muslim countries. From this assumption was constructed the idea of an “Arab science,” of a “Muslim civilization” (today named as, “Islam, cradle of civilization”), even of a “Muslim science.” The ambiguity, meanwhile, has far from disappeared.

The Prominent Role Of Persia And Eastern Christians

What happened from the Hegira to the year 775, in other words, during the reign of the first four caliphs? Of course, “Omar did not burn the library of Alexandria;” but the principle that he conquered the world is infinitely more destructive: it attacks scholarly research and the very work of the mind. There is nothing more foreign to what can be called the “philosophy of science” than the first century of Islam.

Under the first four caliphs, there were no intellectual movements of a secular character. Islam was, “in the moment of conquest,” as the orientalists of the 19th century put it euphemistically, that is largely occupied with conquering, dominating, sowing desolation and ravaging the old lands of civilization.

But around the year 750, Persia gained the upper hand. It saw the dynasty of the children of Abbas come to triumph over the children of the Beni-Omeyrra. In other words, Persia chose the Abbasids against the Umayyads. The center of Islam was transported to the Tigris-Euphrates region.

This is where the traces of one of the most brilliant civilizations that the East has known can be found: that of the Sassanid Persians, who defeated the Arsacid Parthians, and took up the torch from the Achaemenids, whose brilliant state had been destroyed by Alexander. This Sassanid civilization experienced its zenith under the reign of Khosrow I Anushirvan. All tradition recognizes him as a great king. He did not just try to merely continue and resume a tradition of art and industry that had flourished for centuries; rather, he added to it an intellectual endeavor of great openness. Driven from Constantinople, the Eastern part of Greek philosophy took refuge in Persia.

Khosrow had books translated from India, which he commanded his personal physician, Burzoe, to personally research. The Fables of Bidpaï constitute one of the sources of our fabulist, Jean de la Fontaine. But this book disappeared when the Muslim armies arrived on the Iranian plateau, when the river, according to tradition, ran black with the ink of books. It was only later that this book of wisdom was rediscovered and translated from Pahlavi (Middle Persian) into Arabic, as Kalila wa Dimna , by Ibn al-Muqaffa, a Persian zindiq who had converted to Islam.

Above all, Christians of all persuasions formed the largest part of the population, for by then Persia was largely Christianized. They were well-versed in Greek science and philosophy, and medicine was entirely in their hands. Bishops were logicians, geometers. Khusrow founded the Academy of Gundishapur, the first medical university, a kind of “Silicone Valley” of its day.

When the followers of Muhammad arrived on the Iranian plateau, they put a stop to all this development for a hundred years.

But a century later, the rise of the Abbasids was akin to a resurrection of the brilliance of Khusrow Anushirvan. The Abbasids were like resurrected Sassanids. Persian troops, Persian leaders were at the head of this revolution. The founders – Abul-Abbas and especially Mansur, surrounded themselves with Persians. The intimate advisers of the princes, the prime ministers, were the Barmakids, a family from ancient Persia, who had converted to Islam late and without conviction. Christians soon surrounded these little believing caliphs – and with a sort of exclusive privilege, became their first doctors. The city of Harran, which remained pagan, and which had kept all the scientific tradition of the Greeks (and no doubt Indian) antiquity, as well as Syriac, provided the new school with a considerable contingent of scholars – foreign to the new revealed religion – especially skilled astronomers.

Baghdad thus stood as the capital of this resurgent Persia. All the great surviving tradition of the Gundishapur school was transported there.

Greco-Sassanid Science

Certainly, the language of conquest cannot be supplanted, religion cannot be completely denied. But the spirit of this new civilization was essentially mixed: The Parsis, the Christians, won. The administration, (especially the police) was in Christian hands.

All of these brilliant caliphs were hardly Muslims, and if they externally practiced the religion of which they were leaders, their spirit was elsewhere. They sought out the learning of India, old Persia and Greece. From time to time, the pietists appeared, and the caliph of the moment sacrificed his unfaithful friends or free thinkers. Then the breath of independence took hold again and he called back his scholars and his companions of pleasure.

The fables of the One Thousand and One Nights have fixed the features of this civilization, a curious mixture of official rigor and concealed laxity, where the serious arts, like those of the joyful life, flourished, thanks to the protection of misguided rulers of a fanatic religion.

The Syrian Christian doctors, continuers of the last Greek schools, well versed in philosophy, mathematics, medicine and astronomy were then employed by the caliphs to translate into Arabic the encyclopedia of Aristotle, Euclid, Galen, Ptolemy – the entire body of Greek science, but also Syriac, and undoubtedly also Indian.

A few more active minds were beginning to speculate on the eternal mysteries, with Al-Kindi in the lead. They were called filsuf; today they say falsafa; and afterwards, this exotic word was taken up within Islam but with a negative connotation. But rationalism prospered there: a sort of philosophical society, “Brethren of Purity” began to publish a philosophical encyclopedia; Al Fârâbî and Avicenna emerged; chemistry continued its underground work.

Muslim Spain took up these studies after the East; the Jews bring an active component of the collaboration there. Men like Avempace, Abubacer, Averroes elevated philosophical thought in the twelfth century to new heights.

This great ensemble which is called “Arabic” is called so only because what it wrote was in Arabic – and again, it also passed through a powerful Syriac corpus, largely destroyed, deliberately, in order to erase the traces of any existence of this Eastern Christianity. In fact, this “Arab science” was above all Greco-Sassanid. And a deep Christian leaven was its ferment.

The Awakening Of Europe

Science should have reached the West through Byzantium. But on the one hand, the treasures that they did not read, the Byzantines did not deign to share, and on the other hand, between the Latin world and the Byzantine world, religious discussions had created a deep antipathy, reinforced by the crusade of 1204. What Europe could not get from the libraries of Constantinople, where the originals were located, she sought out in the often-mediocre translations of a language which did not lend itself to rendering Greek thought, with all its abstraction and its subtleties.

It was through the Syriac and Arabic translations of books on Greek science and philosophy that Europe received the leaven of ancient tradition, necessary for the blossoming of its genius. For Greek science to reach Europe, it had to pass through Syria, Baghdad, Cordoba and Toledo. A poorly translated Greek science was sought out in Spain.

By the time Averroès died in Morocco, lonely and abandoned, Europe was on the rise. But it was predominantly Latin in its culture, and it had no Hellenists. We would have to wait another three hundred years for a Lefèvre d´Etaples, or a Budé.

From 1130 to 1150, an active college of translators, established in Toledo under the patronage of Archbishop Raymond, translated the most important works of this “Greco-Sassanid science in the Arabic language” into Latin. From the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Arab Aristotle entered the University of Paris. He had earlier entered the orbis litterarum through Boethius, but Boethius was not able to translate anything more than the Organon.

From around 1275, two shifts appeared. The first saw the Muslim countries enter into a state of the steepest decline. The second saw Western Europe resolutely take the path of the scientific search for truth. By the time Averroes became famous in the Latin schools, he was entirely forgotten by his co-religionists.

After the year 1200, there was no longer a single renowned philosopher within Islam. From 1200, philosophy and science were abolished in Muslim countries: philosophical manuscripts were destroyed (they burned the books of Averroes). Astronomy alone was tolerated to determine the direction of prayer.

Then the Turks took hegemony of Islam and manifested a complete lack of philosophical and scientific spirit. Apart from a few rare exceptions, like Ibn-Khaldun, Islam no longer had a broad mind. It killed off science and philosophy in its midst. It also killed a lot of men, women, children; and when it didn’t kill them, it oppressed them.

Among all the philosophers and scholars, only one was Arab: Al-Kindi. All the others were Persians, Transoxians – people from Bokhara and Samarkand (in other words from Central Asia), and Spaniards – from Cordoba, Seville. They used Arabic because it was the language of the dominant who had imposed themselves. In the 14th and 15th centuries, historians or historiographers of Islam were compilers and translators of encyclopedists – they did not innovate. But this corpus would reach nascent orientalist science, through Antoine Galland, then stationed in Constantinople. And, above all, thanks to the compilation work of Barthelemy d´Herbelot, the author of the Bibliothèque orientale.

Giving Arabia credit for science and philosophy is like giving credit for Latin Christian literature, the Scholastics, the Renaissance, the science of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to Rome, because it is written in Latin.

Arab Science Or Muslim Science?

This science was not Arab. But was it Muslim? No, because this movement was the joint work of Persians, Christians, Jews, Harannians, (inhabitants of Harran), Ismailis and Muslims (who inwardly revolted against their own religion). This great movement received nothing but curses from Orthodox Muslims: Mamun was damned by theologians (the misfortunes which afflicted his reign were regarded as punishments for his tolerance of doctrines foreign to Islam). It was not uncommon for those who cultivated these studies to be called sendiks or zendiks – they were beaten in the streets, their houses burned down, and often the authorities put them to death.

Islam had always persecuted science and philosophy. Then it ended up suffocating both.

We must therefore distinguish three periods. The first, from the Hegira to the 7th century, is a period of conquest and crimes. But also barely concealed disbelief. The first Arabs, who joined the movement hardly believed in the Prophet’s mission.

Second, from the 7th to the 12th century, Islam, undermined by sects and tempered by a species of Protestantism (mutazilism) was less organized and much less fanatic than it was in the second age yet to come, and the work of the mind succeeded in maintaining itself.

Third came the absolute reign of dogma, without any possible separation of the spiritual and the temporal.

In the first half of the Middle Ages (the second period), Islam supported philosophy because it could not prevent it, for the it was without cohesion, and thus poorly equipped for terror. The policing was in Christian hands and was mainly engaged in pursuing Alid intrigues.

When Islam gained truly believing masses, it stifled everything. But at the same time, it destroyed the salt of the earth and the leaven which makes the dough rise. It turned conquered countries into regions that were closed to the rational cultivation of the mind. For Islam, research was pointless, frivolous, godless; the science of nature was an offense against God; historical science applying to times before Islam might revive old errors – and applying science to Islam might lay bare the extent of its devastation and its power of destruction and desolation.

Anyone who yet maintains a little lucidity today cannot fail to see the current inferiority of Muslim countries: the decadence of governed states, the intellectual poverty of those who derive their culture and education from this religion alone, and the boundless contempt. for other religions, which then authorizes all persecutions, exactions and the worst crimes of our times. And then there is the treatment inflicted on women. Believing that God gives fortune and power to whomever he sees fit, Islam has the deepest contempt for education, for science, and for everything that makes up the European spirit.


To all appearances, the Muslim world has entered a sort of fourth period. On the one hand, it has a mass of believers who have never questioned their doctrine, and who more often than not know nothing about the Koran which is not translated into their language. On the other hand, it has an army of fanatics. An army, and not just a few intellectuals – determined to do battle with a Europe that for several centuries held the destiny of the world in its hands. But which no longer holds them.

Islam intends to establish the kingdom of Allah on earth, which involves converting all peoples, and bringing the whole world under its own Law, the law of submission and oppression.

Conversion to Islam removes all religious diversity in the world. But not only that – It eliminates ethnic diversity: the Berber, the Sudanese, the Circassian, the Afghan, the Malay, the Egyptian, the Nubian who have become Muslims are that no longer. They are Muslims. Persia alone was an exception. French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Swabian, Croatian who have become Muslims will no longer be all those. They will only be Muslims.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.

(The original article in French was translated by N. Dass)

The featured image shows an imaginary debate between Averroes and Porphyry, from Monfredo de Monte Imperiali’s Liber de herbis, 14th century.