Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Tribute to Babylonian God Marduk discovered at Persepolis

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

The Voice of America Persian Service has reported that a joint Iranian-Italian archaeological team has discovered at Persepolis a sample of brickwork depicting the Babylonian God Marduk (see report in Persian here…- complete Persian text available below this posting). Ali-Reza Asghari Chavoshi, a professor at the University of Shiraz and head of the Iranian wing of the archaeological exploration team (علیرضا عسگری چاووشی، استاد دانشگاه شیراز و رئیس ایرانی هیئت کاوش) noted the following points to the Cultural Heritage (میراث فرهنگی) organization:

1) -نماد ایزد مردوک و دیگر نقش های این بنا بعد از کورش دیگر در هنر هخامنشی دیده نشده است- the portrayal of the god Marduk and other forms at this post-Cyrus site has not been seen in Achaemenid arts.

Marduk Patron God of Babylon[Click to Enlarge] A Snake-Dragon image-symbol of Marduk, the Patron God of Babylon (Panel of glazed earthenware bricks, Ishtar Gate, c. 604-562 BCE; Picture source: Detroit Institute of Arts). Instead of plunder and destruction, like the former kings of the preceding Assyrian Empire, Cyrus paid homage to the local Babylonian god Marduk and ensured that no looting, plunder or destruction took place in that ancient city. 

2) در زمانی که کورش در سال۵۳۹ پیش از میلاد بابل را فتح کرد، کاهنان بابلی ایزد مردوک را به عنوان بزرگ -ایزد آسمان ها و زمین می پرستیدند و در آن زمان به دلیل ثروت و قدرت بابل، این ایزد قدرتمند ترین ایزدان بین النهرین بود. باستان شناسان احتمال می دهند که پس از فتح بابل، کورش، در ادامه سیاست رواداری فرهنگی و مذهبی خود، به کاهنان بابلی اجازه داد که نیایش گاه خود را در تخت جمشید، که مرکز سیاسی هخامنشیان بود، بناکنند و عده ای از هنرمندان و معماران بابلی را برای بنای معبد پرستش مردوک به تخت جمشید آورد-Summary statement: When Cyrus the Great (r. 559-530 BCE) conquered Babylon in 539 BCE … historians surmise that in the continuation of his policy of religious and cultural tolerance, Cyrus allowed Babylonian artisans/craftsmen to build a worship center for their God Marduk at Persepolis.

Wailing-WallThe West Wall in Jerusalem. After his conquest of Babylon, Cyrus allowed the Jewish captives to return to Israel and rebuild the Hebrew temple. It is believed that approximately 40,000 did permanently return to Israel. For more see here…

This astonishing find is yet another indication of the policy of religious and cultural tolerance practiced by the Achaemenid Empire till its final days before the invasions of Alexander (356-323 BCE).

tomb-of-cyrus-the-great-at-pasargardaeThe Tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae  where Alexander paid his respects. The tomb is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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پیش برای شناسایی شهر پارسه، در پاسارگاد به حفاری های باستان شناسی در اطراف تخت جمشید دست زده بودند موفق به کشف بنایی منحصر به فرد از دوران کورش هخامنشی شدند. به گزارش خبرگزاری میراث فرهنگی این هیئت در جریان کاوش های خود در سه سال پیش به تلی آجری برخوردند و حفاری در آن را آغاز کردند.

تل آجری در واقع بنای باستانی بزرگی ست بازمانده از دوران هخامنشیان که در سومین دوره کاوش های باستان شناسی این هیئت در نزدیکی تخت جمشید کشف شده است. علیرضا عسگری چاووشی، استاد دانشگاه شیراز و رئیس ایرانی هیئت کاوش در تل آجری به خبرگزاری میراث فرهنگی گفته است این بنا از خشت و آجر است که خشت ها در داخل دیوارها و آجرهای لعاب دار در نمای خارجی دیوار ها به کار رفته اند و آجرها با لعاب ها و نقش های حیوانات افسانه ای تزئین شده اند. به گفته آقای عسگری «این بنای شگفت انگیز حداقل ۳۳ در ۳۳ متر است و در ساخت آن هزاران آجر لعاب دار به کار رفته است». او ضخامت دیوارهای این بنا را ۱۰ متر اعلام کرده و گفته است:« کشف چنین بنایی با این عظمت، حجم و تعداد آجرهای لعاب دار در منطقه فارس بی نظیر است». به گفته او در این بنا کتیبه ای به خط میخی اکدی بابلی نیز به دست آمده است.

به گفته آقای عسگری آجرهای لعاب دار این بنا دارای نقش هایی از اسطوره های ایران باستان و بین النهرین باستان است به طوری که حتی قالب هایی که برای تزئین نقش ها بر آجرها به کار رفته اند با قالب و نقش هایی که برآجرهای لعابدار دروازه معبد ایشتار در بابل به کار رفته یک سان است. شواهدی ازوجود نقش موشخوشو، نماد ایزد مردوک، گل های لوتوس شانزده پر، و روش ها و فنون تزئین آجرها، رنگ ها و نقش ها و استفاده از قیر برای محافظت آجرها، همه حکایت از آن دارند که این بنا در دوره کورش هخامنشی ساخته شده است. نماد ایزد مردوک و دیگر نقش های این بنا بعد از کورش دیگر در هنر هخامنشی دیده نشده است.

رئیس گروه ایرانی هیئت باستان شناسان می گوید در زمانی که کورش در سال۵۳۹ پیش از میلاد بابل را فتح کرد، کاهنان بابلی ایزد مردوک را به عنوان بزرگ -ایزد آسمان ها و زمین می پرستیدند و در آن زمان به دلیل ثروت و قدرت بابل، این ایزد قدرتمند ترین ایزدان بین النهرین بود. باستان شناسان احتمال می دهند که پس از فتح بابل، کورش، در ادامه سیاست رواداری فرهنگی و مذهبی خود، به کاهنان بابلی اجازه داد که نیایش گاه خود را در تخت جمشید، که مرکز سیاسی هخامنشیان بود، بناکنند و عده ای از هنرمندان و معماران بابلی را برای بنای معبد پرستش مردوک به تخت جمشید آورد.

به نظر باستان شناسان این بنای مذهبی پس از کورش در دوران داریوش اول نیز تحمل می شده اما در دوران خشایارشا و با تمرکز شاهان هخامنشی بر پرستش ایزد اهورمزدا رفته رفته رو به تعطیل گذاشته و پس از هخامنشیان تخریب و غارت شده است. هرچند که هنوز به سبب وجود نکته های مبهم و ناشناخته فراوان ابراز هر گونه نظرگاه قاطع درباره سرگذشت این بنارا زود می دانند.

 

به گفته کارشناسان چاله هایی که در میان دیوار ها و در داخل عمارت وجود دارد حکایت از حفاری های پی درپی به منظور سرقت آجرها دارد. تا جایی که بخش عمده ای از آجرها مفقود و غارت شده اند.

 

به نوشته میراث فرهنگی، سرپرستی تیم باستان شناسان ایتالیایی برعهده پیر فرانچسکو کالیری از دانشگاه بولونیاست. این کاوش ها بخشی از پژوهش های باستان شناسی شهر پارسه است که با همکاری مشترک پژوهشگاه باستان شناسی، پژوهشکده باستان شناسی سازمان میراث فرهنگی، بنیاد پژوهشی پارسه پاسارگاد، سازمان میراث فرهنگی فارس و دانشگاه بولونیای ایتالیا انجام می شود.

The Princetonian: Petition challenges Pourdavoud Chair candidate

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

The article below (The Daily Princetonian: “Petition challenges Pourdavoud Chair candidate”, Chitra Marti, January 7, 2014) was sent forward to Kavehfarrokh.com by Professor Dariush Borbor (Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge and Director of the Research Institute and Library of Iranian Studies (RILIS) at Tehran). This pertains to the petition initiated by Professor Ehsan Yarshater which challenges Princeton University’s selection of “Pourdavoud Chair in pre-modern Persia”.

Inexplicably, the petition initiated by Professor Yarshater has been disabled; for further details see article below. Note especially the interview with Professor Borbor in the below article.

Dr. Mohammad Ala (Recipient of Grand Prix Film Italia Award in June 2013) made the following revelation on December 14, 2013

Friends:

 A little research shows that the person behind this agenda is Professor Dimitri Gutas of Yale, who invented the term Greco-Arabian for scholars such as Farabi, Khwarazmi, Ebne Sina etc. to deny their Persianness. Van Bladel happens to have studied with him. The agenda behind this nomination is not known.- – petrodollars, lobby group(s), or self-promotion, but we must prevent not only this nomination, but the very idea of ‘Greco-Arabian’ which is not related to us (Iranians).

Kindly note that the pictures and captions below did not appear in the original Princetonian report.

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A petition organized by Columbia professor Ehsan Yarshater surfaced challenging the University’s current candidate for the position of the Ibrahim Pourdavoud Professorship in Persian Studies.

The petition, which has been taken down, argued that having the name of Pourdavoud, a pioneer in the field of pre-Islamic Iranian studies, meant that the professor who occupies the Pourdavoud Chair should continue his work in the field of pre-Islamic studies. But the current candidate suggested by the search committee, according to the petition, was a Greco-Arabic scholar who has not specialized in pre-Islamic culture and who would thus not exemplify the memory of Pourdavoud.

The petition was taken down the week of Dec. 22 for unknown reasons. Yarshater did not respond to a further request for comment as to why the petition had been taken down.

Professor Ehsan YarshaterProfessor Ehsan Yarshater (Picture Source: NPR.org)

The petition, which was addressed to University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, copied Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani ’80 and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani ’74, whose $10 million donation to the University in 2012 will help establish a Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies. The Mossavar-Rahmanis did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

However, the Pourdavoud Chair was not established by the Mossavar-Rahmani family. It was separately established by Dr. Anahita Naficy Lovelace ’75 and her husband Jim Lovelace. Dr. Lovelace said they were aware of the petition and declined to comment until after an appointment has been made.

According to Yarshater, the candidate being considered was Kevin van Bladel, a current history professor at Ohio State University. Van Bladel declined to comment for this article and said he had not received any formal offer from Princeton University.

“To allow a chair named after Pourdavoud, who spent all his life teaching and writing about Zoroastrianism and the pre-Islamic culture of Iran,” the petition read, “to be held by someone whose formal academic training has been in Arabic, Syriac, and Greek, and who by and large is unknown in the field, is considered a slap in the face of Iranian Studies, the community at large, and the memory of Pourdavoud.”

Van Bladel has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Yale University and was previously an assistant professor of classics at the University of Southern California. He specializes in the cultural and intellectual history of the Near East in the first millennium CE, focusing on the translation of works between Arabic, Greek, Syriac, Latin, Sanskrit and various Iranian languages such as Middle Persian and Arabic. His teaching also focuses on the ancient Mediterranean and Near East.

“In the perspective of my research, the advent of Islam is not the beginning or end of a period; it can be understood only by reference to what came before as much as to what came after,” van Bladel’s OSU biography states.

van BladelAssociate Professor & Chair Kevin van Bladel of Ohio State University (Picture source: OSU).

Ibrahim Pourdavoud, for whom the chair is named, was a Persian scholar who studied pre-Islamic Iranian history, focusing particularly on Zoroastrianism and Zoroastrian culture. He is perhaps most well known for translating the Avesta, the primary collection of Zoroastrian sacred texts, into Persian and providing explanatory commentary.

Dr. Lovelace said in an email that by naming the chair after Pourdavoud, they intended to “honor him and his life’s work on the occasion of his 125th birthday in 2011, which happened to coincide with [her] mother’s 90th birthday.”

In an interview with The Daily Princetonian, Yarshater acknowledged that although van Bladel has many strengths, they do not lie in the same field Pourdavoud spearheaded.

“The one scholar that Princeton University was thinking to appoint — although they haven’t appointed yet — was not an expert on any of those things that are Persian history, Persian culture or Iranian language. Even though under other standards he is a very good scholar, he would be more appropriate for chairs in Arabic or Greek,” Yarshater said.

Changing the Selection Process

Yarshater also suggested that the selection process be altered so as to better represent the intentions of a chair named for Pourdavoud.

“In order to do justice to the chair, to the donors and to the name of Pourdavoud, the selection committee should include several people of expertise in Iranian studies,” Yarshater said. “Ideally they would advertise the chair, a number of people would apply, and they will then decide who is the best choice for the chair … The committee would compose of people specialized in Iranian studies, not people in Arabic or Greek or Syriac.”

Dean of Faculty David Dobkin, who was also copied on the petition, said in an email that the selection committee for a chair position is typically made of faculty from the relevant department, or of faculty whose departments overlap with the area of the chair. Often, other faculty with broader interests are also included. Then, the search committee will begin placing ads and sending out requests for nominations to leading scholars in the field.

LIVE.NB_DobkinProfessor David Dobkin of Princeton University (Picture Source: Princeton Alumni Weekly)

Once the search committee has found a potential candidate, Dobkin said, he or she is proposed to the Advisory Committee on Appointments and Advancements, which solicits input from leading scholars in the field as to the candidate’s suitability for the position.

According to Dobkin, the donor and the University will come to a consensus on a description for a position, and the search committee will begin the selection process from there. Donors are not involved in the identification nor selection of candidates to occupy the chair.

Dobkin declined to comment on the search committee organized for the Pourdavoud Chair, citing the need to uphold the integrity and confidentiality of the selection process.

Greco-Arabic vs. Pre-Islamic

Dariush Borbor, Director of the Research Institute and Library of Iranian Studies in Tehran, signed the petition, citing his personal and academic belief that the current candidate does not meet the ideals of a Pourdavoud Chair.

“My personal feeling, as many other scholars, most of us agree with what Professor Yarshater has written in his letter that this endowment for the professorship at Princeton was made by two Iranians and they wanted to concentrate on Iranian studies,” Borbor said. “The chair which is named after [Pourdavoud] should be occupied by a person who specialized either in the languages of ancient Iran or the religion or generally the culture of ancient Iran.”

YSU-16-Asatrian-Farrokh-Borbor-3Professor Garnik S. Asatrian (Chair, Iranian Studies Dept., Yerevan State University; Editor, “Iran and the Caucasus”, BRILL, Leiden-Boston), Kaveh Farrokh and Professor Dariush Borbor (Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge and Director of the Research Institute and Library of Iranian Studies (RILIS) at Tehran) at Yerevan State University conference “Shirvan, Arran, and Azerbaijan: A Historical-Cultural Retrospective” (November, 2013). Professor Borbor has often lectured and written about the misconceptions against Iranian Studies perpetuated by Greek scholarship.

Like Yarshater, Borbor acknowledged that van Bladel has many strengths in other fields, but that he may not be suited for this position.

“He may be a very good scholar as well, of his own right, but if he is a scholar specialized on Arabic, Syriac and Greek, I don’t think it’s a very suitable choice … Especially the Greek side, because with most of the scholars who were specialized in Greek studies and on the history or culture of Greece, their interpretation of Iranian studies was often very one-sided and sometimes quite wrong,” Borbor said. “I have, myself, written and lectured in many universities about the misconceptions that Greek scholarship has given to Iranian studies.”

Hosi Mehta, president of the Zoroastrian Association of Chicago, signed the petition as well, also citing a concern for the potential misrepresentation of Iranian history.

“Persian history is really rich, and I was surprised that they could not find somebody who would be into that than finding someone who has the Arabic background,” Mehta said. “I read his qualifications, that he was an Arabic scholar, and the concern was that sometimes things get misrepresented … the winner usually writes the history, so it could be changed in different ways. There are people who say the Holocaust never happened.”

Historical Novels by Gordon Doherty

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Gordon Doherty is a Scottish writer, who describes himself as being addicted to reading and writing historical fiction, a task for which he is certainly highly accomplished.

mugshotHistorical writer Gordon Doherty

Gordon Doherty’s most recent book “Legionary: land of the Sacred Fire” is of keen interest to readers of Sassanian Military history as it deals with the Romano-Byzantine’s Eastern frontier with the Sassanian Empire.

Legionary_Land of the Sacred Fire_pb [Click to Enlarge] Gordon Doherty (2013). Land of the Sacred Fire. Available through Amazon.

The book is set in 377 CE, just as Emperor Valens has stripped the Sassanian-Persian frontier of its legions, sending every available man to Thracia in an effort to contain the rampaging Gothic hordes. This allows the Sassanian leadership in Ctesiphon to cast their gaze upon Rome’s trade-rich but (now) weakly-defended  desert provinces. Shapur II (309-379 CE), Shahanshah (King of Kings) of the Sassanid Empire and his many client Shahan (kings) have long challenged Rome’s eastern holdings as theirs by ancestral right, and those lands have never been more vulnerable to a powerful Sassanian military strike. Thus, Valens must grasp at the slimmest of hopes that a Sassanian invasion can be staved off, not by the brute force of absent legions, but by the tenacity of a hardy few.

Julian's failed invasion of Persia in 363 AD[CLICK TO ENLARGE]- Emperor Julian is killed during his failed invasion of Sassanian Persia in June 26, 363 AD. Above is a recreation of  Sassanian Persia’s elite cavalry, the Savaran, as they would have appeared during Julian’s failed invasion.  Note the heavily armored Sassanian elite guardsman (Pushtighban) whose lance has pierced a Roman infantryman. Further right is a Savaran officer whose sword is drawn in what is now known as the “Italian grip” but Sassanian in origin. To the far right can be seen a Zoroastrian or Mithraist Magus brandishing a Sassanian era symbol. Also of interest are the armored elephants in the background. Armored elephants featured elevated cabs over the battlefield, allowing for more effective Sassanian archery (Picture source: Farrokh, Plate D, -اسواران ساسانی- Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005).

When Optio Numerius Vitellius Pavo and a select group of the XI Claudia are summoned to the Persian front, they leave Thracia behind, knowing little of what awaits them. They know only that they are to march into a land of strange gods. They whisper tales of the mighty Persian Savaran cavalry and pray to Mithras they will see their homes and families again. All too soon it becomes clear to them that this is no ordinary mission – indeed, the very fate of the empire might rest upon their efforts. But for Pavo the burden is weightier still, for he knows that the east also holds something even more precious to him . . . the truth about his father.

Gordon’s love of history was piqued during spells living and working close to both Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, sites of rich history winding back through thousands of years. The later Roman Empire and Byzantium hold a particular fascination for Gordon.

Gordon’s Legionary series is set in the Eastern Roman Empire circa 376 AD and follows the adventures of the border legions as the empire begins to waver under the relentless crush of the empire’s enemies, namely the formidable armies of the Sassanians from the east and the menacing Germanic warriors to the north.

Gordon’s Strategos trilogy is set around the build up to the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 AD and follows the dark and troubled life of a Byzantine general in a land riven with bloodshed and doubt.

Strategos-Rise of the Golden Heart-6by9n[Click to Enlarge] Gordon Doherty (2013). Strategos: Rise of the Golden Heart. FeedARead. Available through Amazon.

All of of Gordon’s novels are available from good online stores in paperback and eBook format. Just click on any one of them on the slideshow (left) to find out more.

In the coming years Gordon endeavors to provide his readers with more writings about these eras and to explore antiquity to the full. So, as long as the ideas keep coming to Gordon, there will be many more books to enjoy.

Runes from Aknada in Daghestan

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Below are photographs sent by Dr. Guseyn Guseynov and Dr. Rabadan Magomedov to Kavehfarrokh.com. These are two stone bricks inscribed with what appear to be ancient rune-type insignia and patterns. The location is in the village of Aknada in Daghestan, located in the northwest Caucasus.

Guseyn-Guseynov-1[Click to Enlarge] The circular patterns resemble the arts of the ancient Celts of Europe as well as the Dailamites of Northern Iran (Picture Source: Dr. Guseyn Guseynov and Dr. Rabadan Magomedov).

Guseyn-Guseynov-2-Svastika[Click to Enlarge] Another stone brick bearing circular patterns resembling the Celtic arts of ancient Europe as well as the Dailamites of Northern Iran (Picture Source: Dr. Guseyn Guseynov and Dr. Rabadan Magomedov).

Tindi[Click to Enlarge] This brick of stone was found in the village of Tindi in Dagestan (Picture Source: Dr. Guseyn Guseynov and Dr. Rabadan Magomedov).

Stone-Bricks-Rabadanov[Click to Enlarge] The above picture is from Magomed Rabadanov, from the village of Shapikh in Daghestan. It would appear that the stone bricks seen in the above photo were originally collected outside of Shapikh in order to build the above wall (Picture Source: Magomed Rabadanov, sent to Kavehfarrokh.com by Guseyn Guseynov).

Azerbaijan Republic acknowledges Historical Legacy of Polo Game

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

One enduring legacy of the former Soviet Union is its school of falsifying history. That same school of historical falsification now continues to endure in one the former Soviet Union’s satellite regions, the modern Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918). Nazrin Mehdiyeva, a historian from the Republic of Azerbaijan, has noted that:

“…the myth [of a North versus South Azerbaijan] was invented under the Soviets for the purpose of breaking Azerbaijan’s historical links with Iran. To make this historical revisionism more acceptable, the Soviet authorities falsified documents and re-wrote history books. As a result, the myth became deeply ingrained in the population [of the Republic of Azerbaijan-known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918] … as part of the rhetoric” (Mehdiyeva, N.,2003, Azerbaijan and its foreign policy dilemma. Asian Affairs, 34, pp. 271-285, cited from p.280).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Azerbaijan concedes chogan is not an Azeri game: Iranian official

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ardashir1[Click to Enlarge] The founder of the Sassanian dynasty (224-651 CE) Ardashir I (180-242 CE) depicted in a lance-joust scene at Firuzabad. Ardashir and the Sassanians in general, were greatly fond of Polo (Picture source: Photo taken by Farrokh in August 2001 and shown in Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at The University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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