Armenian Communities of Persia/Iran: History, Trade, Culture
Edited by Richard G. Hovannisian
Armenian-Iranian interactions date back to the depths of antiquity. At times, Armenia and Iran were friends and allies, even sharing common dynasties, and at other times fierce and unrelenting adversaries. Whatever their political relationship may have been, their commonalities in pre-Christian and pre-Islamic social structures and cultural attributes, including linguistic affiliation, are striking. The boundaries between the Iranian and Armenian worlds were porous in many ways.
The Armenian presence in Iran is attested from the Achaemenid centuries to the present. In fact, the northernmost reaches of Persian Azarbayjan were once included in the region known historically as Greater Armenia. During the Arsacid, Sasanian, Arab, Seljuk, Turkmen, Mongol, Safavid, Qajar, and Pahlavi periods of dominance, Armenians were to be found in Persia/Iran as peasants, merchants, and even officials and warriors, and often as forcibly uprooted exiles from their native lands to the north. There were at one time hundreds of villages in Iran populated in whole or in part by Armenians, Now nearly all abandoned, their memory is entrusted to largely derelict churches and chapels from Qaradagh and Maku in the north to Urmia, Salmas, and Rasht, and further south to Peria, near Isfahan, and the Persian Gulf.
Particularly famed is the municipality of Nor Jugha or New Julfa, adjacent to Isfahan, dating to the early seventeenth when Shah Abbas I deported countless thousands of Armenians from the mercantile city of Julfa on the Arax River and from throughout the plain of Ararat to Persia. Within one generation, New Julfa had become a thriving commercial center, with networks of trade extending to India and the East Indies in the east to Russia and Western Europe in the north. The Armenians were known to be skillful integrators of European models and Asiatic motives. In the political sphere, Armenian revolutionaries took an active role in the Iranian Constitutional movement in the early twentieth century. And throughout, Armenian leaders maintained an ongoing dialogue with successive Iranian governments, even when stringent restrictions were placed on their cultural and educational institutions. Although the Armenian Iranian community has decreased significantly since the nineteenth century, it still constitutes the most significant Christian element in Iran, finding means to preserve in large measure its religion, language, and traditions and to navigate between Armenian and Iranian identities.
This volume of twenty-three chapters by specialists in the field spans the centuries from antiquity to the present. It is based on two conferences held at UCLA in the series titled “Historic Armenian Cities and Provinces.” The first of these was dedicated to New Julfa on the 400th anniversary of its founding, and the second focused on other communities from Tabriz to Salmas and Tehran, including the place of Persian Azarbayjan in the Armenian liberation movement, the experiences of Armenian and Assyrian Iranians during the Turkish invasions in World War I, and the current state of the community now concentrated in Tehran.
This fifteenth volume is the only one in the series that concentrates on Armenian communities outside the Ottoman Empire and is dedicated to Dr. Vartiter K. Hovannisian, a constant companion and professional collaborator since the very beginning of the series and long before.
Mazda Publishers (2022)