Kavehfarrokh.com presented the first portion of an article by Fatema Soudavar-Farmanfarmain outlining the history of Iranian-Georgian relations written by Fatema Soudavar Farmanfarmaian (release date: November 24, 2012):
Kavehfarrokh.com is especially appreciative of the permission granted by Leiden publishers, notably Ingrid Heijckers-Velt (acquisitions Editor | Middle East, Islam & African Studies) and Mieke de Vries Robbé (Legal Counsel at Koninklijke Brill). A special thnaks is also extended to Dr. Parvaneh Pourshariati (Associate Professor of History and Associate Professor of Near Eastern Languages at Ohio State & Cult at Ohio State University) ) and of course Fatemeh Soudavar-Farmanfarmian.
From the Safavids to the Russian Manifesto of 1801
The Safavid invasion of Georgia and the integration of Georgian nobility into the highest spheres of the Safavid administration were to enhance the already well-entrenched cultural ties to Iran. Judgements on Safavid relations with Georgia range from positive to highly negative, depending on the perspective of writers who have devoted to this period in Georgian-Iranian relations more attention than to any previous ones, precisely because of the closer links involved.
Georgia’s love-hate relationship with the Safavids is so well documented that, even though a revision is long overdue, the focus here is on the continuation of an intensified cultural interaction. However one views Georgian-Iranian relations in the Safavid period, the Safavid attitude towards Georgia and Georgians can hardly be said to have been ‘hostile,’ as many historians term it
Had that been the case, it is hardly likely that Georgian communities would have remained in Iran as loyal citizens, while retaining aspects of their cultural origins [Footnote 40]. There is no doubt that Georgia was very much coveted by the Safavid dynasty, with whatever harshness that may imply in terms of military campaigns led by the brutal Qizilbash tribes, especially in Kakheti, or reprisals against resistance and religious pressure on the Georgian administrators of the Safavid state to adopt the official Shiite creed of Iran.
Rostevan and Avtandil hunting. From the Vepkhistqaosani. MS Tbilisi, Kekelidze Institute of Manuscripts, Academy of Sciences, S. 5006, fol. 16r. The themes on this painting are distinctly in the post-Islamic Persian style (Source: Encyclopedia Iranica).
Georgia was also haplessly caught in the crossfire of rivalry between the Safavids and the Ottomans. But Georgians also came to be seen as a highly desirable third force of the Safavid Empire and a necessary counterbalance to the power of the Qizilbash. This remained true to the last days of the Safavid Empire, when Georgian viceregal governors led the suppression of Afghan rebellions in Kandahar, albeit ultimately unsuccessfully and at great cost to themselves and to the dying Safavid state.
The history of Georgian-Iranian relations under the Safavids is fraught with the vicissitudes of imperial rule, but, whether one views the Safavids as friend or foe of the Georgians, there is no denying that significant cultural links were forged on top of an already impressive legacy from earlier times. While the pre-existing cultural background made the integration of Georgians into the state apparatus of Safavid Iran easier, the Safavid connection in turn strengthened those ties, even among those Georgians who resented the Safavid occupation.That complex and often misunderstood relationship has perhaps been best described by Roemer:
“Great was the attraction of this land for the Safavids, the difficulties confronting them were no less daunting [. . .]” (Roemer, p. 245).
So attractive, in fact, that Tbilisi was known to Iranians as Dār-alsorur (Beradze, p. 210). The term ‘hostility’ can hardly apply to a land so attractive to Iranian rulers that they desired Georgian women to mother their heirs and rule over their harems, and were keen to have Georgian noblemen serve in the highest positions as special royal guards or army leaders—against both internal and external foes—and govern their sensitive frontier provinces. Father Sanson, a French missionary of the late seventeenth century, reported that
“The greatest posts of the empire are today in their [Georgian] hands, and those who do not hold any of these have their places at the royal table and emoluments from the Treasury” (apud Lang, 1957, p. 57).
It is true that prestige came at the cost of forced conversions—inevitable within the context of a Safavid Shi‘ite state pitted against Ottomans and Uzbeks who brandished the banner of Sunni orthodoxy to pursue the agenda of their own ambitions. Genuine conviction or manifest displays of piety do not seem to have been required of the Georgians in Safavid service and no one was duped about the commitment of converts to the faith they were made to embrace, either voluntarily or following threats (idem, p. 21).
Chardin says that converted Georgians only embraced the Mohammedan faith externally to obtain positions and pensions from the court, or for the honour of marrying their daughters to the king or have them serve the harem (Chardin, I, p. 286). Conversion was no more than an expedient, a façade, although exceptionally reasons other than state policy came into play. On the other hand, conversion was rarely expected of the inhabitants of Georgia proper, unless appointed to hold offi ce in the name of the shah. Shi‘ite Islam generally kept a low profile in Georgia and religious persecution, when carried out, was usually done so on the personal initiative of an overzealous offi cial, much the same as under Sasanian rule (Lang, 1957, p. 86).
Eventually, Iran would come to see the advantage of “preserving long-term dominance in Kakheti and Kartli through a Christian ruler obedient to the shah” instead of “Islamized Khans who enjoyed less confidence among the broad strata of society” (KIM). Such was not the case with the Ottoman Turks who tried to impose Islam systematically in their Georgian conquests (Lang, 1957, p. 76).
In Georgia itself, as usual, there were two schools of thought with respect to Iran, not the least as a result of internal rivalries. Some Georgians elected a dual identity with remarkable success. For example, Khosrow Khan (later named Rostam Khan), “an illegitimate scion of the K‘art‘lian royal family” and “certainly one of the most accomplished of the later Georgian kings.” (Lang, 1957, pp. 12-13) had escalated the rungs of the administrative ladder in Isfahan all the way to the top, and taken back Baghdad from the Ottoman Turks. Here was a convert who alternated between the mosque and the Capuchin Mass in Isfahan and who, back in Kartli as vāli, married the daughter of a Georgian aristocrat in a dual ceremony (Christian and Muslim), who combined Iranian and Georgian styles at his court and in his administration, received people of both nationalities and faiths “on an equal footing”, and guided Georgia towards a a period of peace and prosperity (Lang, 1957, pp. 12-17, 83; Chardin, pp. 284f.). At the other extreme was Prince Vakhusht (a natural son of King Vakhtang VI) who, brought up by Catholic missionaries in Georgia, displayed a puritanical attitude in the name of patriotism.
Vis meets the nurse. From the Visramiani. MS Tbilisi, Kekelidze Institute of Manuscripts, Academy of Sciences, S. 3702, fol. 19v. The artwork is in the post-Islamic Persian style; note Georgian script (Picture source: Encyclopedia Iranica).
Ignoring no doubt that his own name was from Avestan vahishta (Pers. Behesht ‘heaven’), he criticized Rostam Khan’s introduction of Persian customs such as ‘luxury and high living’, ‘love of pleasure’, ‘dishonesty’, ‘unchastity’, as well as ‘baths’ and ‘lute and fl ute players’ (Lang, 1957, pp. 13, 81). Just as not all the people in Georgia approved of the infl uence of Persian culture spreading in their midst, so not all factions in Iran looked kindly upon Georgian appointees running their aff airs. Apart from disgruntled Qizilbash, Georgians in Iran had to contend with envious courtiers. An imported Shi‘ite clergy and an imported Caucasian élite was an explosive mix exploited by the Qizilbash and the Afghan warlords. It was a difficult wager to combine an avowedly Shiʿite state with the requisites of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-denominational imperial state which not only included Georgians and other Caucasians, but also Sunni or heterodox viziers, such as Fath-ʿAli Dāghestāni and Shaikh ‘Ali Khan Zangana.
Something had to give and ultimately it was the empire, whose reach was to shrink under the Qajars. That the Georgian role at the top of the pyramid should have lasted as long as it did was an achievement for both parties concerned. One cannot imagine a Muslim, even converted to Christianity, reaching such heights of power at a European court of that time, nor a convert serving an alien court as loyally as Georgians served Iran. The few exceptions include Vakhtang VI (r. 1711-14, 1719-23), who refused to rescue the Safavids and their capital in their greatest hour of need.
None of this impacted the devotion of Georgians to Persian culture. A literary revival that looked to Iran for inspiration had already begun before Shah Tahmāsp’s incursions into Georgia. It manifested itself in growing interest in Jāmi’s poetry, culminating in the translation of an early version of his Yusof o Zuleikhā, including by King Teimurz I (Rayfi eld, p. 99). With Kartli and Kakheti once again under Iranian rule and with Georgians occupying the highest positions in the Safavid state, Persian literature once again proved to be the main source of inspiration for Georgian authors. Nezāmi’s undying popularity was confi rmed with several translations, imitations and adaptations of Haft peykar, resulting in Bahramguriani, which, adapted from both the Persian original and the Chaghatay translation, is regarded by some as the best adaptation of a Persian literary work (ibid).
The Qābusnāma and Kalila u Dimna, in their present versions, were introduced to Georgia by Bagratid princes, either through their own translations or through their patronage of authors, though it is believed that earlier translations of these works as well as of the Shahnama may have fallen victim to the Mongol invasions (KIM).
Even Vakhtang VI, who turned against Iran due to pressure to convert and, for the first time, appealed to the West for help, was no less addicted to the attraction of Persian literary works. No fewer than three versions of Kalila u Dimna were produced, including a literal translation by Vakhtang VI himself, whose edition was later revised by his learned uncle and tutor, Sulkhan Saba Orbeliani, on the basis of Wāez Kāshāni’s Anwār-e Soheyli (Gvakharia, 2001, p. 484).
Vakhtang VI was an enlightened and progressive king who reformed the legal code, installed the first printing press, encouraged European science, laid the groundwork for modernizing the Georgian language and had the Georgian chronicles collected and updated, yet the school for translation he founded focused mainly on Persian literature (Vivian, p. 16) and he himself translated works on astronomy and astrology, including one on the astrolabe by Nasir-al-Din Tusi and the Zij of Ulugh Beg, and he also wrote a book on alchemy while residing in Iran (KIM).
These efforts bore fruit, though not so much in the form of scientific works. They resulted in a spate of Georgian versions of popular Persian folktales, parables and Sufi lore such as the Bakhtiārnāma, Bahrām o Golandām (Baramgulandamiani), Mehr o Māh (Miriani), Qessa-ye chahār darvish (Chardarvishiani), and many others (Gvakharia, 2001, p. 484). As for Orbeliani, a Catholic convert who travelled to the West on behalf of Vakhtang VI, he wrote The Book of Wisdom and Lies, derived “from the common fund of Near Eastern traditional stories” (including Armenian and Persian fables and Georgian folklore) in which Sufi traces as well as the educational didacticism of Kalila u Dimna can be detected (Vivian, p. 5; Lang, 1957, pp. 124-26).
Although considered more typically Georgian, another work of that period, the Rusudaniani, is said by the author himself to have borrowed much from Persian and Arabic sources, including new loanwords, but with names and settings adapted to a Christian country (Rayfi eld, pp. 100f.).
Few scholars deny that, while Georgians are gifted for poetry to which their language lends itself, “Georgian writing owed much of its excellent quality to the extraordinary Persian models of literature to which it had, up to 1801 and even afterwards, an easy access [. . .] unique in the Western world” (Rhinelander, pp. 33, 270). Few of them, however, are qualified to give it its deserved due. Lang, for example, agrees that secular painting and literature owed much to Persian styles. He lauds “the poetic gifts of the Georgian people,” and gives credit to “the enlightened patronage of the Safavid shahs,” but nonetheless makes a distinction between the “two main [i.e. opposing] trends in Georgian poetic tradition,”—that of Rustaveli and his imitators, as opposed to the foreign influence of exotic Persian romance” (Lang, 1957, p. 121). Surely Persian romance was by no means ‘exotic’ to the average Georgian, literate or illiterate, who, like his counterparts in Iran, recited poetry by heart in a language little changed since Rustaveli, himself a product of interaction with Persian authors (Rhinelander, pp. 341f.). Lang’s judgement may be based on criticism proff ered by King Archil of Imereti (western Georgia), no great friend of Iran’s, about the ornate Persian style and “artifi cial mannerisms” favored by the Georgians (Lang, 1957, pp. 122f.). Yet Archil himself started off with the “conceits, forms and themes inspired by Persia,” and imitated the poetry of the hapless Teimuraz whose life story he wrote (Rayfi eld, pp. 107f.).
What neither Lang nor Rayfield appreciate is that the ornate ‘Indian style’ did not last long in Iran either and was destined to be reformed by the bāzgasht-e adabi ‘literary revival’ movement of the nineteenth century. Painting, not requiring a knowledge of language, is more within the reach of Western historians, though few may be aware of the role of Georgian artists at the Safavid and Mughal courts as well as at the courts of the Deccan.
The spectacular careers of three Georgian artists, the sublime Siavush Beg and his brother Farrokh Beg as well as ʿAliqoli Jobba-dār, prove that Georgian talents seized upon the opportunities offered by the royal ateliers of the Safavids, and, in the case of Farrokh Beg, were invited to put their talent at the service of the Emperor Akbar and the Sultans of the Deccan (A. Soudavar, pp. 55-60) [Footnote 41].
While these Georgian artists were working for Safavid and Mughal patrons, other Georgians were busy illustrating Georgian translations of Persian works with miniatures in the Persian style of Behzād; these include two manuscripts of Rustaveli. As early as the eighteenth century, however, the influence of Western art was to displace Persian miniature styles (KIM). We are far from the days when Georgian Christians praised Empress Th eodora for “freeing the whole Greek lands of the madness of iconoclasm” (Rayfield, p. 48). Georgians in Iran were also patrons of art and architecture. Allāhverdi Khan, who came from a feudal Georgian family, the Undiladze, became the Georgian governor of Fārs and as such collaborated with the English to liberate Bahrain from Portuguese occupation.
The most beautiful bridge in Isfahan was named after him, and he also launched the construction of the Khan madrasa in Shiraz, associated with Mullah Sadrā (Babaei et al., pp. 64, 93), and commissioned some of the frescoes of the Chehel-sotun Palace in Isfahan (KIM). Tragedy befell his son, however, when, after being honored in every possible way, he fell afoul of envious courtiers who framed him and succeeded in having him executed together with his own sons (Babaei et al., p. 64).
In spite of the Safavid ‘openness to talent,’ for every honor, there is a tragic tale of woe. Such were the pitfalls of finding favor. Poetry, rather than art, was the medium chosen by most Georgian princes to express distress, and none did so better than Teimuraz I, whose melancholy disposition and ill health were aggravated by miseries infl icted on members of his family by Shah ʿAbbās (Rayfi eld, pp. 102-06). Yet he borrowed his imagery and style from the Persian speech he found so sweet that it, in his words, “urged me to compose the music of verse.” His poetry included monāzeras ‘disputes’ such as those between spring and autumn or the wine and the lips, and especially a pentad or khamsa, with typically Persian titles for the first four parts (Iosebzilkhaniani, Shamiparvaniani, Varbulbuliani, Leilimajnuniani), though not for the fi fth, the Ketevaniani which is a poignant account of the tragic martyrdom of his mother, Queen Ketevan (from Pers. Katāyun), in 1624 (Gvakharia, 1995, p. 243).
The latter, devoutly Christian, had refused every plea by the shah to convert in order to become his wife. Not even torture would weaken her resolve and she went to meet her maker clinging to her faith (Gvakharia, 2001, p. 484). Lang says she was kept as a hostage to guarantee the loyalty of her son and as an extra incentive, was offerred marriage (1957, p. 83). Chardin, however, gives an amorous twist to the story by citing the shah’s unrequited passion for a not so young but still beautiful woman who had grown up with him (I, pp. 273, 278f.).
Georgian folk song -Patara
Though it hardly makes the crime more pardonable, it does give a more human face to a tale of piety, passion and revenge. Georgian women were undoubtedly considered beautiful and thus were much desired. Chardin (op. cit., p. 275) mentions the case of a Georgian wife of Shah ʿAbbās I, Peri (or Pari), whose extraordinary beauty was sung by the Persian poets of the time. Ketevan preferred monastic reclusion and, if necessary, death.
Whatever the real motive of Shah Abbās in condemning Ketevan to a cruel fate, Teimuraz was deeply affected by his mother’s death and the castration of two of his sons, as well as other miseries, not all of them attributable to the Safavids. His ultimate plight is symbolic of the nascent dilemma faced by Georgia in late Safavid times, for he died in exile at Astarabad after disillusionment with Russian hesitations to offer him help.
Throughout his ordeals, his love of poetry kept him alive and he excelled at it, making “the enemies’ tongue an integral part of his own” (Rayfi eld, p. 105). It was the quality of his poetry that inspired many a later Georgian to imitate him and write about the martyrdom of Ketevan with all the pathos of the story of Queen Saint Shushanik (ibid). Literary testimony of high quality has a powerful effect on historical judgment and the prominence given by literature to the tragic fate of Ketevan has contributed in no small part to the negative image of Georgian-Iranian relations under Shah ʿAbbās. Yet none fared worse under him or his successors than their own next-of-kin, many of whom were blinded or strangled when paranoid suspicions were aroused.
Persian infl uence extended into many other fi elds. A manuscript preserved at the Kekelidze Institute of Manuscripts in Tbilisi contains a portrait of King Teimuraz I and his wife in Safavid dress, complete with a voluminous turban for him and a feathered and bejewelled jiqa for both (KIM). And we have Chardin to thank for the most complete picture of Persian customs and lifestyles in Georgia under Safavid rule. Court ceremonial had remained Iranian-inspired from the Achaemenids to the Sasanians and beyond, as further confirmed by Chardin’s timeless descriptions of Persian ceremonies in Georgia.
His accounts of the welcoming ceremony for visitors, or of prosternation upon the first meeting with the king (Chardin, I, p. 290), of Persian style mansions and the banquets held therein have no parallel in other travel writing. He mentions the Persian style of noble mansions and of public spaces. They even sat and ate and slept in the Persian manner, he says (idem, p. 268). He attended a wedding banquet on a terrace with a fountain in the middle, covered with a marquee on fi ve poles (presumably such as those seen in miniatures), lined with velvet, gold brocade and painted cloth, and the whole lit by tall gold and silver torches weighing forty pounds each.
The feast included a vast variety of dishes, including piloin diff erent colors, downed with wine pouring from the Georgian drinking horn (equivalent to the ancient ritual rhyton). Reminiscent of the Achaemenid period were silver and gold cups, some of which were enamelled and/or encrusted with precious gemstones (idem, pp. 303-05).
One aspect of Persian infl uence that Chardin could not fully appreciate was language, of course, though he must have been aware that Persian was “the lingua franca of Georgian statesmen, scholars and merchants, the rich Persian culture their model,” and it showed in Georgian speech (Rhinelander, p. 33). The number of administrative words borrowed from Persian rose considerably under Safavid rule. Terms such as mdivani beg (< divān), ketkhuda, mehmandar, and Turko-Persian titles used in Safavid Iran such as eshik āqāsī, ‘master of ceremonies’ and qurchibāshī ‘head of the armoury’, would have been known to Georgian princes (Lang, 1957, pp. 23, 55, 61-66, 72).
Even Vakhtang VI’s reformed code of law, with all its nationalistic pretensions, was called dasturalamali (idem, p. 46). One reason for the increase in Persian administrative terms in Georgian was that, as of the 1555 Treaty of Amasya by which the Ottomans recognized Safavid rule over Eastern Georgia, all documents issued by the wālis became bilingual (Hitchins, pp. 490f.), no small contribution to the knowledge of the Persian language and script. And since 1600 the coins used in Georgia, except for the low-denomination copper ones, were exact replicas, in design and value, of the Safavid ʿabbāsi, tomān, mahmudi, and shāhi.
The terms for the coins survived even after the names of the kings and the captions were replaced by Georgian ones (Lang, 1957, p. 29). The defection of the Georgians who “inspired awe all over Persia” was a blow from which the Safavids did not recover. Georgia, in turn, was invaded by the Ottomans who deposed the ruling house of Kartli (idem, p. 95). Yet it did not end there. Indeed, the cultural factor may have been responsible for the new lease on life given to Georgian-Iranian relations time and again. Just when prospects seemed the bleakest, another joint venture would reaffirm those ties.
It happened under the Afsharids, thanks in part to the Ottomans who stepped into the void left by the Safavids, and in part to conversion no longer being required of the wāli, thus making it easier for King Erekle II to join Nāder Shah’s Ottoman and Indian campaigns (idem, pp. 141-43). Erekle is even said to have learned the art of war with Nāder Shah, a lesson that was soon to serve him well (Malcolm, p. 59).
Despite the oppressive exactions that alienated the Georgians as much as they did Iranians, Nāder Shah’s nephew and successor, ʿĀdel Shah, married Ketevan, the granddaughter of Erekle I, and remained on the friendliest terms with Georgia until he was dislodged by his brother who fomented a revolt in favor of a rival Georgian line, only to be deposed by Nāder Shah’s grandson, Shāhrokh, who, in turn, appointed King Teimuraz II, father of Erekle, as viceroy for Azarbaijan and central Iran (Lang, 1957, pp. 146-48).
When a change of orientation did occur in the name of religious affinity, the greater attraction for Georgians was the Russian adoption of progressive European ways. Yet, even after the Russian Military Highway over the Daryal Pass transformed geopolitical prospects, travellers’ reports give testimony to the endurance of Persian customs, language and literature as late as the early nineteenth century. Erekle II still favored the tall Persian shawl-wrapped hat he is shown wearing in his famous portrait at the Shalva Amiranashvili Fine Arts Museum (idem, p. 189).
Georgian National Ballet Sukhishvili
And Georgian “Dowry Books” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries mention clothes made “from fabrics manufactured in Iran, e.g. daraia of Yezd, wool of Kerman, daraya of Gilan, wool of Rizayih, sheidish of Yezd and of Khar, as well as zarbab [i.e. zarbāft], darayabavt and diba” as well as turquoises from Nishapur, rubies from Badakhshan and pearls from the Persian Gulf (KIM). Despite flirtations with Russia which culminated in the 1783 Treaty of Georgievsk under which Georgia came under Russian protection, Erekle’s reign saw the introduction of more Persian manners, for he loved pomp and entertainment of the kind described by Chardin, though this did not exclude concessions to new European manners adopted in Russia since the time of Peter the Great, such as knives and forks, dining table and chairs (Lang, 1957, pp. 188f.).
“Eating with utensils was a mark of civilization; eating with fingers, a remnant of Georgia’s Eastern and ‘barbaric’ past”, says Rhinelander (p. 50) who adds that “the old idea of arrogance and independence. . . . had no place among a civilized people,”—i.e. in the eyes of the Russian overlords. (Rhinelander p. 50).
Although Georgian princes looked seriously at the Russian option, the aura of the crown of Iran had not yet lost its lustre and attracted a host of contenders for a much disputed throne (Lang, 1966, p. 34). Few of these were feared and respected as much as Erekle II, for Georgian arms still inspired fear and respect “throughout Persia” (Lang, 1957, p. 157).[ Footnote 42].
Meanwhile he had become the uncontested king of a united Eastern Georgia, and set out to establish the fi rst pan-Caucasian empire since Queen Tamar, though his army behaved no better than that of the Safavids or of Nāder Shah (idem, pp. 171, 175) [Footnote 43].
The above video shows a version of the Ajameti Music and dance of Georgia. “Ajameti” in Georgian refers to Iran and Iranians. The Ajameti dance and music piece was popular in Iran up to the early twentieth century. Note the parallels of this music to the Rashti music of Gilan province in northern Iran.
His successes to the north of the Araxes, where several khanates had come under his suzerainty, with the approval of Karim Khan Zand, could only have added to his rising prestige (idem, pp. 152f.). Might one conjecture that, were it not for the narrow outlook of the Shiʿite clergy, Erekle might even have stood a fair chance among the contenders had he chosen to stake a regency claim in the name of the legitimate Safavid heir? Favoring Erekle was a unique suitability that included his assimilation of Persian culture; and yet it was in his reign that change came about when he agreed, in 1783, to sign off Georgia to Russia as a protectorate, thus opening the way for the 1801 Russian Manifesto which formalized Georgia’s incorporation into the Russian Empire and the abolition of its old monarchy.
Change did not become manifest overnight. Georgian princes had begun to settle in Moscow in the seventeenth century, but massive emigration only took place when Vakhtang VI, who had helped Peter the Great in his Caspian campaigns, abdicated and migrated to Russia “with a suite of some 2000, a government in exile composed of members of the élite of Georgian society” (Rhinelander, p. 29).
Those who settled in Russia were “thoroughly Russianized,” with their own regiment, their estates with serfs in the Ukraine; they were “accepted into the highest circles of Russian society” and even married into it (ibid) [Footnote 44]. Many of the nobles in Vakhtang’s suite had reached high positions in Russia and fought in its wars [Footnote 45]. One of them was the grandfather of the later terror of the early Qajars, General Tsitsianoff , who came from an older branch of the Bagrationi. Tsitsianoff was a product of Russian schooling, devoted to Russia’s interests more than to those of Georgia. Russianization had bred in him a demeaning arrogance towards everything Eastern, an attitude that would cost him his life (idem, p. 84) [Footnote 46]. The likes of Tsitsianoff had little sympathy for the undeniable fact that:
“Georgian culture at the end of the eighteenth century was an intricatelywoven web, the strands of which derived from a distinctively non-Western past” (Rhinelander, pp. 268f.).
With the Russianization of part of the élite, the two rival cultural trends in Georgian society were reaffi rmed, with the one looking towards Russia, and a minority obstinately looking towards Iran.
Under Erekle II, matters came to a head. Keen on attracting European technology and science, Erekle turned reluctantly to Russia only as a means to achieve that end. But, for some time yet, “Persia could not be ruled out; indeed, over the next two generations she would strenuously contest Russia’s supremacy” (idem, p. 19) and the battleground would be the Caucasian provinces so dear to Iran.
“It could be expected that any sovereign of Persia, once peace and order was established, would attempt to recover Georgia—a fine province,” Sir John Malcolm rightly judged (Malcolm, p. 59).
It is interesting to note that, in one of his rare conciliatory moods, Āqā Mohammad Khan envisioned Erekle precisely in the role the latter had craved, namely as viceroy of a pan-Caucasian entity, but tributary to the crown of Iran; accordingly, he off ered him Ganja, Erevan, Qarabagh, Shaki, Shirvan, and “the government of Azerbaijan” (W. Allen, p. 213).
The Russians, who by then were active on both sides of the Caspian Sea as far south as Astarabad, would have had none of it, had Erekle envisioned to accept the off er. Embittered and old, Erekle died in 1798, having witnessed the assault on Tbilisi, without any attempt on the part of Russia to send relief. Georgia had hoped for some improvement under fellow Christians, but it would take more massacres before Russia changed its ways. Suvorov’s slaughter of the Nogais and, later, Yermolov’s massacre of Chechen and Daghestani tribes in genocidal campaigns that spared neither women nor children were, if only because of their calculated intent, worse than the savagery of the Qizilbash troops (Idem., pp. 209f.; Kelly, p. 54). But the die had been cast and the compass was pointing clearly to the north.
Stubborn Survivals and Radical Change
As of 1803, with the arrival of Tsitsianoff as commander-in-chief of the Russian forces, most of the Georgian royals were sent off to an honorable but prolonged Russian exile. Their mere presence in Tbilisi meant that they could become a focus of resistance, as they did indeed in 1831-32 when the last plot, in the name of Prince Aleksandre, the vāli in absentia living in Iran, was nipped in the bud. Of the few princes who escaped, most of them ended up in Iran, and stayed for periods ranging from a few days to several years, except for Aleksandre who was to die in Iran. Some of them would cross the border to engage in a skirmish and end up inside Iran, while others took refuge at the welcoming court of Crown Prince ʿAbbās Mirza in Tabriz to join him in resisting the inexorable Russian advance. Apart from dynastic rivalries and the humiliating abolition of the Georgian monarchy by the Russian occupation, as well as the growing disillusionment of Georgians with Russian rule, it was the magnetic pull of cultural affinities that made these princes join those of their compatriots who had integrated and remained in Iran from earlier times.
Georgian nobility had grown up living a Persian-style life, both indoors and outdoors.
“From the time King Erekle united eastern Georgia under his rule to the time of the Russian incorporation, Persia remained the major source and the Persian language the medium, of intellectual stimulation for the educated elite in Georgia” (Pakravan, 67-68).
By contrast, the cultural impact of Russia was still insignificant except among the Russian-based élite, hardly among those still living in houses with painted woodwork “a la mode d’Ispahan”:
Assez de goûts communs les rapprochaient de ces féodaux pour apprécier l’hospitalité de leurs demeures, raffi nées et primitives à la fois [. . .]. Plusieurs siècles de suzeraineté persane et des échanges d’amitié ou d’intrigues avaient passé dans leur sang. Ils aimaient les grandes battues, les longues nuits d’été passées à boire et à disserter, les incursions rapides auxquelles le pillage n’etait pas étranger (Pakravan, pp. 67f.)
Western cultural currents admitted under Erekle were growing stronger, while “Persia’s cultural authority decreased” (Rhinelander, pp. 268f.). At the height of the taste for all things Persian, a change in aesthetics and lifestyle had become perceptible in pockets through the mediation of the Russian-educated Georgian princes. It picked up considerably after 1801. The pro-Russian camp, led by Russianized officers such as Tsitsianoff or Russian-oriented intellectuals like Griboedov’s father-in-law, the poet Alexander Chavchavadze, tended to look down on everything Oriental as moribund and backward.
Contrast what one of the princes Orbeliani was saying then: “En Asie, on n’est pas capable de construire des palais et des jardins aussi admirables [que ceux de Pétersbourg]” (Urjewicz, p. 211, apud Lashkashidze) [Footnote 47] with another Georgian’s ravings about King Vakhtang’s new palace in Tbilisi less than two centuries before: “By Heaven, I have seen none finer, not even in Persia!” (Lang,1957, p. 54).
Nevertheless, Persian aesthetics would continue to dominate the Georgian scene well into the nineteenth century, as evidenced by the large number of paintings in Qajar style in the Shalva Amiranashvili Fine Arts Museum. The ‘progressive’ faction were, thankfully, also unsuccessful in trying to ‘purify’ the Georgian language of all traces of Persian and Arabic—a quasiimpossible task that was never fully implemented.
That change was slow to come is attested by Mrs. Freygang who passed through Tbilisi in 1812.
“Persian is in vogue among the nobles and to be acquainted with it is looked upon as a genteel accomplishment, for they consider it good style to follow the customs of the Persians” (Letter xxii) [Footnote 48]
In another letter she describes her visit to the bath vaults where “reclining on couches, women dye their hair and nails, paint their faces red and white” and “torture themselves to make their eyebrows join”—absolutely essential, she says, as it was in Qajar Iran and in Central Asian cities at the time (Letter xxiv).
Traditional Georgian folk song: “Shenma Survilma Damlia”
The portrait of Queen Darejan at the Fine Arts Museum of Tbilisi corroborates Freygang’s description of cosmetic fashions in Tbilisi. Porter, writing a few years later, also noticed that the face of the women was so covered in enamel that the surface was rendered stiff and unable to show emotion except through the eyes (Porter, pp. 122f.). Freygang also noticed that the bazaars were full of Persian goods: carpets, silks, shawls and turquoises, and Abbassees still remained in use for transactions in the bazaar (Letter xxiv).
More surprising is that Porter saw women wearing the chadre (the Persian chādor) on outings outside the home, a custom that had spread among towndwellers, together with greater seclusion of women, at about the time of Chardin. By contrast, Porter mentions the “immodesty of Georgian women in baths in front of male visitors” (pp. 122f.) Even more surprising is the cadeau de la vue du visage, referred to by Brosset (cf. runemā in Persian), in other words the custom of the bride refusing to show her face to the groom until offered a present in cash or in kind, or even a whole village, if she were a princess [Footnote 49].
In earlier times, this custom had even been imposed on the rare Russian suitor, as when, in the seventeenth century, the Russian envoy Tatichtchef had to pay the runemā before the daughter of Giorgi X could marry the son of Tsar Boris Godounof (Brosset II/3, p. 535). Sanikidze has recently written of bazaars “with broad and high arched passages,” of caravanserais filled with the goods described by Freygang, of city quarters, streets and public parks with Persian names, of which the Mujtahidi Park still survives in name.
Persian-style courtyard houses were built by masons from Iran who were regarded as the best. At least one institution had survived in the form of the amkari, headed by an ustabash, equivalent to the asnāf and its hierarchy, but possibly going back to the Ayyārs or even earlier, as suggested by the expression Karachokheli-Jomardi (jovānmardi). Th e citadel was in ruins in the nineteenth century, but Sanikidze’s sources confi rm that there had always been only one Shi‘ite mosque inside, in addition to a Sunni one destroyed by Āqā Mohammad Khan (Sanikidze, pp. 164-68).
(LEFT) Talysh girls from the Republic of Azarbaijan (ancient Arran or Albania) engaged in the Nowruz celebrations of March 21. The Talysh speak an Iranian language akin to those that were spoken throughout Iranian Azarbaijan before the full onset of linguistic Turkification by the 16-17th century AD (RIGHT) Young girls in Baku celebrating the Nowruz.
According to Chardin, that was in agreement with the stipulations of a little-known treaty concluded by Shah ʿAbbās, once Georgia was secured, in a bid to conciliate the population (I, p. 293).
The Treaty of Turkomanchai of 1828, which ended the Second Russo-Persian War and annexed the rest of the Caucasus (and more) to the Russian Empire, was the decisive turning-point, since it eff ectively eliminated Iran “as a factor in Caucasian politics” (Rhinelander, pp. 341f.). When even “the tribes of Daghestan were cut off ” and “the Muslims of the Caucasus were to look to the Turks alone for support,” there was little chance for Persian customs to survive.
Even though Russian administrative procedure may have been “thoroughly out of tune with the inhabitants’ attitudes and way of life,” there was no escaping Russian administration and its derision of anything that was not derived from the West. Th e relatively enlightened Russian prince-governor, Vorontsov, speaks of the “semi-barbarous sounds of Persian music,” which illustrates “the limits of Vorontsov’s appreciation of a foreign cultural environment”; he “shared with his Russian imperialist predecessors a narrow-minded viewpoint of Persia’s and other Middle Eastern countries’ cultural legacy” (ibid).
-جشن نوروز در باکو-Nowruz Celebration in Baku, Icheri Sheher (Old City).
Rhinelander, who believes that a full portrayal of Georgia is not possible without knowing Persian and Turkish, suggests that “the same lack of knowledge of the Middle Eastern civilization” is what may have made “the Russian imperialists feel culturally superior to the Caucasians” (p. 7), and perhaps why Georgia remained “a foreign land within the Russian empire” (p. 14).
That errors can plague even one so well disposed is illustrated by Rhinelander’s mention of the Persian tamāshā as “a traditional Georgian ceremony, a staged battle fought between two groups of native warriors”—a performance not appreciated by Russian authorities (pp. 263f.). The blending was at times so thorough that the demarcation line was blurred, invisible to the visitor even to the Georgians themselves. The worst damage was the irrecoverable destruction of Persian architecture as whole quarters were razed to make way for ‘civilized’ building styles favored by the new occupiers.
To see beauty instead of backwardness, they did not need any linguistic skills; a different frame of mind, more difficult to come by, would have been enough. But as physical evidence gradually disappeared, so did its conscious memory also fade. Did Russianization inevitably entail “an irreversible break with the past” (Rhinelander, pp. 341f.)? History can never be entirely effaced.
Persian cultural influence waxed and waned—though not always in tune with political trends, but its fl ow was never completely turned off . Of all the foreign currents that went into the making of Georgian culture, the Persian component was the most enduring one, and therefore unlikely to vanish, never to return again.
A century after the Manifesto of 1801, Georgian, Armenian and Iranian dissidents were joining forces to fi ght for political independence and social and economic reforms. That chapter of history has been studied and told [Footnote 50].
And now an independent Georgia, rooted in its strong identity, has the confidence to admit to its long-standing debts to other cultures. The best of Georgian scholars have now put their Iranian colleagues to shame with their remarkable work. They are rediscovering dusty manuscripts on library shelves, translating contemporary Persian literary works and arousing renewed interest
in cultural ties with Iran after a protracted eclipse that has hopefully effaced lingering esentments to better reveal the positive effects (cf. Gvakharia, 2001, p. 484). And they are legion. The next important step is to recognize “the significance of Georgian versions for the study of Persian literature proper” (Gvakharia, 1995, p. 244).
Nodar Kumaritashvili (1988-2010). the late Georgiam Luge competitor who tragically died during practice runs in Whistler, British Columbia during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. His name “Nodar” is the Georgianized equivalent of the Iranian “Nader”.
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Eskandar Beg Torkamān, Tārikh-e Alamārā-ye ʿAbbāsi, ed. I. Afshār, Tehran, 1955.
Wilhelm von Freygang and Frederika von Freygang, Letters from the Caucasus and Georgia [. . .], tr. from the French edition, London, 1823.
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G. Sanikidze, “A Historical Survey of the Georgian-Iranian Relation in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Persianate Studies 1, 2008, pp. 148-73.
R.M. Savory, “The Safavid Administrative System,” in P. Jackson, ed., Cambridge History of Iran VI, Cambridge, 1986, pp. 351-72.
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1 Āqā Mehdi Tabrizi was the fi rst recipient of the title Malek-al-Tojjār-e Mamālek-e Mahrusa ‘The King of Merchants in the Protected Lands [of Persia]’ under the Qajars (the decree is kept at the Malek Library in Tehran). Th e date of marriage is not known, but since the Georgian princess was renamed Malaka Khānom, it is to be presumed that they were married soon after he became Malek-al-Tojjār. Unfortunately her original name is not preserved.
2 Braund believes that the young boys and girls sent as tribute were not necessarily Colchians; they may have been sent as slaves, just as Colchians were traded with Greece as slaves and eunuchs (Braund, pp. 49f., 67f.).
3 As worn by the Qajars in the nineteenth century and even nowadays, by Central Asian tribes.
4 In the fi rst chapter of his book, Braund gives an excellent account of how those myths evolved over time.
5 It is noteworthy that the contributions to the catalogue of the exhibition downplay the Persian input to emphasize the local and the Greek (Lordkipanidze, in Kacharava and Kvirkvelia, pp. 24, 26).
6 On glass containers of diff erent shapes being fi rst produced in northwestern Iran in the seventh-sixth centuries BCE, see F. Soudavar Farmanfarmaian, p. 301 fn. 62.
7 The rulers of Pontus were of Iranian extraction, as is clear from their names (esp.Mithridates).
8 For more information on Gumbati as well as another recent excavation at Dedepolis Gora, see Florian Knauss and Iulon Gagoshvili, in Inge Nielsen, ed.
9 Professor David Stronach traces back the origin of the ayvān to the Median temple-palace structure at Nush-i-jān (oral communication).
10 Th e name appears as Meherr in the later Armenian national epic, thus indicating its link with the Iranian Mehr.
11 Salia makes the absurd claim that the cult of Mithras was borrowed by the Achaemenids from Western Asia and spread to Georgian lands (Salia, p. 93).
12 It is to be hoped that Albert de Jong’s fourth volume of the late Mary Boyce’s magnum opus on Zoroastrianism, a large chapter of which will be devoted to Georgia and Armenia, will shed more light on the subtle interplay of Iranian religious beliefs with local ones and their later blending with Greek or Romanized cults.
13 Georgian tradition, which, as in many places, may be derived from the popular Alexander Romance of pseudo-Callisthenes or one of its later redactions, holds that Alexander invaded Iberia and left a Macedonian by the name of Azo to rule (Braund, p. 141). Braund shows how the myth of Alexander inspired the Romans to venture into South Caucasus, not least because Alexander was believed to have reached the ‘Caspian Gates’ (idem, p. 225).
14 Braund does not seem to appreciate the impact of ‘Imperial Aramaic’ on the formation of later variations of the scribal script devised in Achaemenid Iran for addressing provinces in their own language with a single uniform script. It survived well beyond the empire and evolved into local variations for Parthian, Middle Persian, Sogdian, Gandhari and even Sanskrit and Brahmi. In describing Georgia’s ‘Armazic’ script, he makes a confused and erroneous reference to “a lost script from which Parsi and Pahlavi also originated” (Braund, p. 213). Rayfi eld, in referring to the Georgian legendary tradition of a script invented in 200 BCE, seems to have an intimation of the mechanism by which Imperial Aramaic functioned, when he says that the prevalent Aramaic script of pre-Christian Georgia may have been read in Georgian translation (Rayfi eld, p. 20). See also Rosenthal.
15 Braund (chapters 5-9) gives a detailed account of Roman and Byzantine involvement in the Caucasus, from the Mithridatic Wars to the war in Lazica.
16 See Chkeidze for an extensive, though not exhaustive, list of Iranian names.
17 One must therefore insist on ‘Iranian’ rather than Persian, since some names are derived from Parthian, Scythian or Alano-Ossetic.
18 Braund only mentions the Georgian association of the stag with the sun, going back to Pharnavaz. He fails to attribute it to its well-known Scytho-Sarmatian origins as known from many Eurasian burial mounds (kurgans). Th e Georgian name Sagdokht refers not to the dog,but to the stag in the Iranian language of the Scytho-Sarmatians.
19 The unfortunate misperception of Zoroastrianism as fi re worship or fi re-cult continues among Georgians as well as European scholars. It seems to have originated in the martyrologies and hagiographies of early Christian times.
20 Before the recent revision, a Russian-based Georgian scholar confided in private conversation to this author, at the ASPS conference in April 2004, that her peers were reluctant to admit that Mirian was a Sasanian prince.
21 Kartli will be used hereafter instead of the ‘Iberia’ coined fancifully by the Greeks. Eastern Georgia essentially consisted of Kartli and Kakheti, but the core was Kartli where both Mtskheta and Tbilisi were located and which was the seat of the throne of Eastern Georgia.
22 This long-ignored text, in its surviving version, is in Georgian letters. The mutilated transcription of the original Persian was fi nally deciphered by using a Georgian translation. For the corrupted version, see Gvakharia.
23 The correct name in Middle Persian is Gurg(a)sar (Rayfi eld, p. 6). Gorgaslan ‘wolf-lion’ is a later Turkicized form. That this king should be considered ‘semi-legendary’ is probably due to the fact that he is only mentioned in the Georgian chronicles which, like Persian historiography, confuse facts with myth.
24 This is the earliest depiction of a Sasanian royal portrait on a silver dish.
25 Lang fails to mention that in Mazdean eschatology, the molten metal ordeal is meted out only to sinners in hell.
26 Lang also mentions non-codifi ed punishments that were commonly practised, such as burning alive, mutilation, amputation and blinding.
27 Chkeidze gives an extensive list of such names, and points out that Eskandar Beg did not recognize Luarsab as the Georgian equivalent of Ferdowsi’s Lohrasp (Chkeidze, pp. 487f.) In the early Qajar period, however, Donboli (pp. 90f.) clearly recognized Teimuraz as the Georgian version of Tahmurath.
28 The dynasty of Commagene claimed dual descent from the Iranian Orontids as well as the Seleucids. See Weiskopf. For illustrations of the monumental statues of the dual-identity deities of Commagene, see Ghirshman, pp. 57-67.
29 Bevarasp (cf. Av. baevar-, MPers. bēwar ‘ten thousand’, which gave rise to Georgian bevri ‘many’) is the epithet of Avestan Azhi Dahāka (‘master of snakes’ in the Georgian version). See Gvakharia, p. 481.
30 It is interesting to note that Shushanik wore a veil and refused to share meals with men.
31 Rayfi eld, having no acquaintance with Persian historiography, sees in that pattern the more remote model of the Scriptures. Th e Persian model as inspiration is all the more likely that Movreli is said to have been conversant with Persian as well as Armenian and Greek.
32 What Rayfi eld sees as modern Iranian loanwords, namely pasukhi and dasturi, are derived from Middle Persian, as attested by the use of dastur for a Zoroastrian priest. Lang (1956, p. 46 fn 70) clearly says that dastur-i had been used long before, in Old Georgian for ‘trustworthy person’ or ‘minister’, and in new Georgian for ‘agreement, consent’ (from MPers. dastwar ‘judge, priest’). Rayfi eld obviously did not seek advice from an authoritative source, as also demonstrated by his alternating ‘Persian’ and ‘Farsi’ for no obvious reason, and calling Mir Ali Shir Navā’i an ‘Uzbek’, and more gravely, referring to Nezāmi without the suffi x i which he probably assumes to be the Georgian pronunciation in need of correction. Also puzzling is his assertion, allegedly based on elements of narrative and phraseology, that the full Georgian version of Balahvariani, found in Jerusalem, was translated from a non-Christian Arabic text which must have been translated from the Persian versions. He thus contradicts the conclusion to which his own arguments lead (Rayfi eld, pp. 64-66).
33 This was confi rmed by Professor Dick Davis at a talk entitled “Who’s Afraid of Vis or Rāmin and Why” delivered at SOAS in London on November 19, 2008.
34 Vivian mentions a Georgian by the name of Ioane Petritzi who, at the time of David the Builder, studied in Athens and in Constantinople, where he translated Neo-Platonist works that shocked the Georgian Church. His greatest influence in his own country came later, in the eighteenth century.
35 Khāqāni does not seem to have enjoyed the same popularity as Nezāmi, possibly due to the diffi culty of his verse and to the absence of adventure and romance so loved by the Georgians (Gvakharia).
36 Th e Arthurian cycle has been said to have a Sarmatian connection (see Littleton and Malcor) and Eschenbach is also believed to have been infl uenced by Eastern sources. Vivian attributes the tradition of fotowwa to early Islam, without mentioning its earlier antecedents in Partho-Sasanian chivalry and the Ayyārs of Iran. Th e Arabs adopted it and may have passed it on to medieval Europe.
37 Th e Arabized term is derived from the Greek graphidion, but the mere fact that the former, rather than the Greek word, was adopted by Georgians is indicative of the source material used.
38 Interestingly, the earliest Shahnama fragments in ‘New Georgian’ have turned up in mural inscriptions in Vani (Gvakharia 1995, p. 242).
39 The term ‘hostile’ has become such a cliché that some Georgian scholars copy it blindly even when their arguments run counter to its use. See Gabashvili, pp. 36f.
40 For more on this subject, see Rezvani, 593-623.
41 Concerning the career of Siyavush Beg and Jobba-dār, from captive to court painter, see Babaei et al., pp. 118f.
42 Erekle did not trust the Russians, since the family of Vakhtang VI, his rival, were living under the protection of the Tsar in Russia (Lang, 1957, pp. 171, 175).
43 Lang adds that his army was allowed to “ravage the land at will” and the mountaineers of Tusheti, sent, according to their custom, “several hundred noses of slain Lezghis, neatly threaded on string, as a trophy to Erekle.”
44 After an unsuccessful appeal to the French, Vakhtang reluctantly accepted to become a Muslim, while appealing to the Russian ambassador, Volynskii, to invade Iran.
45 These included a General Bagration who fought at the Battle of Borodino, and Prince Vakhusht, who ferociously criticized Rostam Khan, and who later became a Russian senator (Lang, 1957, pp. 118f.)
46 Tsitsianoff was also given to insulting the rulers of Daghestan: “Shameless sultan with the soul of a Persian,” “Yours is the soul of a dog and the understanding of an ass,” “I shall only long to wash my boots in your blood” (apud Lang, 1966, p. 48).
47 It translates as follows: “In Asia, they cannot build such admirable palaces and gardens” (Urjewicz, p. 211).
48 The author wrote fully thirty years after the Treaty of Georgievsk. On the whole she viewed the Turks as ‘savage’, and believed that if “the Persians had had the same communication with Europe, they would have made greater progress in civlization,” because “Turks despise all other nations: Persians respect scholars and esteem Europeans.” But the Persians, though less fanatical and more aff able, had degenerated.
49 “Quant à ‘la vue du visage’, on sait que, le soir des noces, une mariée géorgienne reste couverte de son voile jusqu’ ce que son époux, en lui off rant un cadeau proportionné à sa fortune, l’ait engagé à se montrer à lui” (Brosset II/3, p. 535).
50 See, e.g., Cosroe Chaqueri, The Russo-Caucasian Origins of the Iranian Left, London, 2001.