The interview below is part of a longer interview conducted by Yusef Amiri with Kaveh Farrokh on the issue of historical revisionism.
The topic discussed below pertains to a recent Eurocentric and biased “review” that has been launched against Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani.
Yusef Amiri: We do not deny the presence of Turkic peoples in Iran from the Ghaznvid era since this is a historical reality. But why deny the existence of Iranians in Iran? For example when Dr. Manoucher Khorasani writes a book on Iran’s military history, he is attacked for affirming Iranians’ involvement in Iran’s military history? These even claim that Iran’s military after Islam was exclusively in the hands of Turkic peoples…
Kaveh Farrokh: The case of Dr. Manouchehr Khorasani is revealing for a number of reasons. First it shows how powerful the pro pan-Turkist lobby has become in academia, even in the venue of Iranian Studies. But before we discuss that issue let us focus on the exact nature of the attacks against Dr. Khorasani.
The person who has launched these attacks is a person by the name of Gisela Fock in Berlin. She published a very selective and biased “review” against Dr. Khorasani in the Orientalische Literatur Zeitung: Zeitschrift für die Wissenschaft vom ganzen Orient und seinen Beziehungen zu den Angrenzenden Kulturkreisen. Band 104, Mai-Juni 2009, Heft 3, pp. 342-347.
Put very simply Fock attempts to denigrate a textbook that has taken more than 10 years to write – it is the first book that has comprehensively compiled all manner of arms and armor from Iran from the bronze age to the Qajar era. It contains detailed information and photographs of Iranian military items – including a mass of items never seen in the west or in academia in general.
Fock dismisses Dr. Khorasani’s work with a simple argument: she argues that the mass of Iranian militaria is simply “Turkish”. This is an argument that is essentially based on the politically pan-Turkist writers of the 19th century and later Communists we discussed earlier.
This is again another attack against the history of Iran – yet another attempt to distort this in favor of pan-Turkist discourse. Her distortions are so many that responding to these would take volumes of pages – yet dismissing her arguments is also rather easy to do.
First, using the term “Turkish” as an anti-thesis to “Persian” or “Iranian” is misleading, distorted and divisive. If we are talking about a culture, then the correct term is “Turco-Persian” or “Persianate”. Turks and Iranians share many cultural features, with Iran and Turkey having many cultural, artistic, musical features in common. The two peoples have had a profound admixture since pre-Islamic times. In terms of military history, much of the military equipment seen in Iran, Central Asia and Iran are referred to as Turco-Iranian. How is Ms. Fock making such a sharp distinction?
As per the origins of Turkic equipment before Islamic times, Western historians are rather clear. Note Dr. Newark, who states very clearly that:
“Sassanid Persian weaponry and armor influenced steppe warriors such as the Huns and the Turks, and later influenced the Arabs” (see Newark, 1985, p.87).
Yes, it is possible to argue that Turkic or earlier Hephthalite peoples introduced the belt-lappet system for suspending swords as well as stirrups to the Sassanian Iranians. So here we see a clear interchange. But the fact of the matter is that the Iranian post-Islamic military technology and tradition is rooted in pre-Islamic Iran, whose military technology pre-dates the Turkic arrivals in Central Asia by thousands of years. Yet, Ms. Fock wants us to believe in a black and white definition of historical events and technological development.
As per weapons being in Iran built by “Turks” is again simplistic and politically driven. The notion that Azarbaijanis are Turkic in origin is simply false as Persian and other Iranian languages were highly prevalent in Iran’s Azarbaijan province well after the arrivals of the Seljuks on the 11th century AD. The archaeological analyses of urban structures and farming methods of the area, places these clearly in the Iranian domain. As per weapons construction during the Safavid era, Iran had a number of production centers. Shah Ismail himself bought many artisans and builders from Herat into Tabriz to create a fusion between eastern and western Iranian techniques of weapons construction. By later Safavid times there were major centers in Mashad, Herat, Tabriz, Shiraz, Isfahan, Kermanshah, etc. Evidently Dr. Fock is not aware of the vast amount of scholarship on this subject – just a handful of these include Safavi, Ravandi, Taheri, Pikolosekayev, Parizi, Siaghi in the references. Instead of becoming informed of the research and publications, Dr. Fock engages in highly selective analysis by stating:
“A discussion of established opinions such as those of weapons specialist David Nicolle would have been required, who namely doubted that the most successful weapon developments stemmed from Iran and in this respect he pointed out to the Ottoman Empire”
David Nicolle, like Dr. Fock, is unaware of the vast area of research in the domain of Iranian weapon’s development we just mentioned. Another issue is that Nicolle is very biased and anti-Iranian.
Nicolle’s works are rarely subjected to rigorous and objective peer-reviews. His book on the Sassanian Empire for example contains numerous errors – these are far too many go into detail here. Just three technical errors include:
(1) Nicolle’s usage of the term Paighansalah to define the commander of the infantry (Nicolle, 1996, pp.14). This is incorrect. The term “Salah” is not Pahlavi – it is Arabic in origin. The correct Pahlavi military term for commander or leader in this case is Salar not Salah. Nicolle’s mistake here may be derived from his ability speak fluent Arabic – he in fact worked in the BBC Arabic service for many years.
(2) Nicolle’s definition of the term Varhranighan-khvadhay as “Thousand Immortals” (Nicolle, 1996, pp.26). This is not correct as “thousand’ in Pahlavi is “Hazar”. The term “Immortal” in Pahlavi can be variously defined as Anosag, Ahos, Anos (this can also mean antidote, elixir and the next life), and Amahraspand (this means “Holy Immortal”). The term Fravahar, which refers to the holy Zoroastrian symbol, can also mean “the immortal soul of man and the guardian angel during his lifetime”. Note that the term Anos is root of Anoshirvan (He of the immortal soul) that was used to refer to Khosrow I. The unit being referred to was known as the Zhayedan which was a revival of the Immortals of the Achaemenid era. Nicolle has confused the title of the commander of the Zhayedan who was known as Varthragh-Nighan Khvadhay with the name of the unit.
(3) Yellow and green appear as significant colors for Sassanian kings in Persian art…” (Nicolle, 1996, p. 27).
This is incorrect as such colors appeared many hundreds of years before the Sassanians, namely, during the Achaemenid era; the yellow-saffron color is used in the shoes of the nobility of the Achaemenid court just as green was one of the colors used in the Alexander mosaic (see Sekunda, 1992, pages 9 and 30 respectively).
Nicolle also completely ignores the major battles of the Sassanian army yet over-emphasizes the role of the Arabs before Islam and diverts pages 48-50 to information that is essentially irrelevant to Sassanian military affairs – one example being his detailed discussion on the origins of Arab dress on page 50.
It is clear that Nicolle’s lack of knowledge of Iranian military history makes him an unreliable source in Dr. Fock’s review.
Nicolle also displays a distinct Arabo-phile stance. He repeatedly refers to the Persian Gulf as “Arabian Gulf” (pages 28, 45) a term which is not recognized by the United Nations as designating the body of water known as the Persian Gulf. It certainly does not exist in ancient sources, except in reference to the modern Red Sea. The originators of this incorrect terminology are pan-Arab nationalists such as Gamal Abdel Nasser, Moammar Ghaddafi and Saddam Hussein. This means that Nicolle is using a politically-loaded term, an action which reduces the objective reliability of his work.
Nicolle goes further. He makes statements which are virtually identical to the propaganda statements of the now discredited Baathist pan-Arab party of the late Saddam Hussein. Just two examples of these include:
The Iranian concept of society collapsed before the Muslims in the 7th century but…re-emerged in the following years to corrupt the egalitarian character of Arab Islam” (Nicolle, 1996, page 11).
The Arabs steadily increasing role was a political and cultural embarrassment” (Nicolle, 1996, page 47).
The above sentences are rigid, simplistic, unbalanced and smack of strong ethnic prejudice. It is very clear that Nicolle is very biased against Iranian military history and history in general. His overtly anti-Iranian stance compromises his objective reliability.
So in summary Dr. Fock relies on a single highly questionable source for her assertions while ignoring over 95 percent of the established research in the domain.
If Dr. Fock’s “review” had been peer-reviewed by non-partisan specialists of Iranian militaria, it is not likely that her analysis of Dr. Khorasani’s work could have been published.
But far more interesting is how Dr. Fock has arrived at the fantastic conclusion that the ethnic origin of all weapons producers outside of Turco-phone Azarbaijan, were “Turkish”. As per the Turco-phone Azarbaijanis, they were originally Iranian-speaking and are culturally in the Iranian domain – they have been a part of the ancient Iranian realm for thousands of years. There are plenty of references for this subject as well, just a handful of references include: Thomas, (1977), Atabaki (2000), Abdullaeva (2007), Melville (2007), Radtke (2007), Rezazadeh (1973), Sharma (2007), Tourkin (2007) (we have full references for readers in the references section).
There are so many historical references reporting Azarbaiajnis as Iranians and Iranian-speaking, especially before the Turkic arrivals that it would take a textbook to compile. Recall the reference by Al-Masudi in the 10th Century AD we cited previously in this interview.
So to put it mildly, Fock’s usage of terminology is clearly misinformed – she mistakes historical Iranian Turco-phone Azarbaijanis as ethnic Turks. This issue however, as we have already noted, is highly political – so much so that politics has now begun to invade academia. Dr. Fock’s “review” is clearly such a case in point.
But perhaps most interesting is that Dr. Fock is associated with highly prominent members in Iranian Studies and venues. Dr. Fock was present at the book launch of Parviz Tanavoli and Abbas Kiarostami in November 2009:
Dr. Tanavoli is an excellent world-class scholar and very respected by his peers. He has also written for the Encyclopedia Iranica:
Dr. Fock’s success in associating herself with Dr. Tanavoli again shows how far individuals with Persophobic views have circuitously entered the domains of Iranian studies. It speaks volumes to the gullibility of us Iranians in welcoming Persophobic persons into the domain of Iranian Studies.
Abdullaeva, F.I. (2007). What’s in a Safina? In A.A. Seyid-Gohrab & S. McGlinn (eds.), A Treasury from Tabriz: the Great Il-Khanid Compendium, pp. 46-68. Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers.
Atabaki, T. (2000). Azerbaijan: Ethnicity and the Struggle for Power in Iran. IB Taurus.
Melville, Ch. (2007). Qadi Baidawi’s Nizam al-tawarikh in the Safina-yi Tabriz: An early witness of the text. In A.A. Seyed-Gohrab & S. McGlinn (Eds.), The Treasury of Tabriz: The Great Il-Khanid Compendium (pp. 91-102). Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers.
Nicolle, D. (1996). Sassanian Armies. Montvert Publications.
Parizi, M. (1999). Siasat va Eghtesad dar Asre Safavi