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The Confessions of Dolgoruki

The Crisis of Identity and the Creation of a Master Narrative
  • Mina Yazdani

Abstract

In his discussion of the “tenuous” relationship between historiography and literature, Hayden White mentions that, while historiography arises against a background of “literary” discourse, it shares with it the “systems of meaning-production (the modes of emplotment).” It is by virtue of its subject matter (“real” rather than “imaginary” events) that historiography differentiates itself from literature.1 White would perhaps be intrigued to learn that a work of fiction, masquerading as historiography, in time created a long-lasting master narrative. The Confessions of Dolgoruki was a narrative that appeared in 1930s Iran, purporting to be the memoirs or political confessions of Dimitriy Ivanovich Dolgorukov (d. 1867), the Russian minister in Iran from 1845 to 1854.2 According to these Confessions, in the 1830s, Dolgoruki, who had been commissioned as translator to the Russian embassy, came to Iran with a secret mission. He subsequently converted to Islam, studied under a certain Hakim Ahmad Gilani and donned the clerics’ garments. He employed a number of people as spies, among them Mirza Hosayn ’Ali, the future founder of the Baha’i religion. After returning to Russia, he set off for the ’Atabat (the Shi’i shrine cities of Iraq) under the alias Shaykh ‘Isa Lankarani. Upon arriving in the ’Atabat, he persuaded a young seminary student from Shiraz to return to Iran and launch the Babi movement. He subsequently returned to Iran himself as the Russian ambassador and began to bring about the appearance of the Baha’i religion by giving instructions to Mirza Hosayn ’Ali.

Keywords

World Order Conspiracy Theory Master Narrative Handwritten Text Foreign Power 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Hayden White, “The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory,” History and Theory 23, no. 1 (February 1984): 1–33. Quotation is from page 21. This chapter supports White’s arguments on the ideological function of narrative history.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. See Hayden White, The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See the first historiographical study of The Confessions of Dolgoruki in Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, “Baha’isetizi va Islamgara’i dar Iran,” [Anti-Baha’ism and Islamism in Iran] Iran Nameh 19, nos. 1–2 (Winter/Spring 2001): 79–124; idem, “Anti-Baha’ism and Islamism in Iran,” trans. Omid Ghaemmaghami, in The Baha’is of Iran: Socio-historical Studies, ed. Dominic Parviz Brookshaw and Seena B. Fazel (London: Routledge, 2008): 200–31.Google Scholar
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  5. and Houchang E. Chehabi, “The Paranoid Style in Iranian Historiography,” in Iran in the 20th Century: Historigraphy and Political Culture, ed. Touraj Atabaki (London: I. B. Tauris, 2009), 155–76. For a study of The Confessions in relation to the persecution of the Baha’is of Iran, see Moojan Momen, “Conspiracy Theories and Forgeries: The Baha’i Community of Iran and the Construction of an Internal Enemy,” forthcoming. See also, “Dolgorukov Memoirs,” Encyclopedia Iranica.Google Scholar
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    On the errors and internal tensions of The Confessions, see Mojtaba Minouyi, “Enteqad-e ketab: sharh-e zendegani-ye man,” Rahnama-ye ketab 6:1 and 2. (Farvardin va Ordibehesht 1342), 25–26; Lajneh-ye Melli-e Nashr-e Athar-e Amri, Bahthi dar e’terafat-e maj’ul montasab be Kinyaz Dolgoruki (Tehran: Mo’asseseh-ye Melli-e Matbu’at-e Amri, 1352/1973), 23–109;Google Scholar
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    Lajneh-ye Melli-e Nashr-e Athar-e Amri, Bahthi dar e’terafat-e maj’ul montasab be Kinyaz Dolgoruki (Tehran: Mo’asseseh-ye Melli-e Matbu’at-e Amri, 1324/1945). This book was republished in 1352/1973 with an introduction incorporating the words of Eqbal Ashtiyani, Kasravi and Minuvi refuting the authenticity of The Confessions.Google Scholar
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    During the Qajar period, three different Russian ambassadors by the name Dolgorukov came to Iran. The first was Nikolai Andreevich (d. 1847) who was in Iran during the reign of Fath-’Ali Shah; the second was Dimitry Ivanovich (d. 1867) (the one to whom The Confessions is ascribed), a contemporary of Mohammad Shah and Naser Al-Din Shah; and finally, Nikolai Sergeevich (d. 1913) who came to Iran during the last years of the reign of Naser Al-Din Shah. See Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Polovtsov, Russikii Biografischeski Slovar (St. Petersburg: Tipografiia tovarishchestra Obscchestre, 1905), 6:553–54; and P.Kh. Dvor’i ‘anskie rody Rossiiskoi imperii [Noble Families of Imperial Russia] (IPK “Vesti,” 1993), 1:196.Google Scholar
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    “Excerpts from Dispatches Written During 1848–1852 by Prince Dolgorukov, Russian Minister to Persia,” World Order (Fall 1966): 17–24. According to World Order, a person “employed as an Oriental secretary by the Russian Legation” was a Babi. Moojan Momentells us, however, that this person, Mirza Majid-i Ahi was not himself a Babi, and he may have been regarded as such because he was the brother-in-law of Baha’ullah, a prominent Babi who would later found the Baha’i religion. See Moojan Momen, The Babi and Baha’i Religions 1844–1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts (Oxford: George Ronald, 1981), 6.Google Scholar
  12. In 1952, when the latter was imprisoned along with many other Babis in Tehran, Mirza Majid urged Dolgorouki to press the government to release him. See H. M. Balyuzi, Baha’ullah: The King of Glory (Oxford: George Ronald, 1980), 99.Google Scholar
  13. For more on Dolgoruki’s dispatches, see Momen, The Babi and Baha’i Religions 1844–1944, 4, 5, 9–10, 75, 77–78, 92–95, and passim. The dispatches were first published in Mikhail Sergeevich Ivanov, The Babi Uprisings in Iran [Babidskie vosstaniia v Irane (1848–1852)] (Moscow: Izd-vo Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1939). An expanded version of this book was published with some revisions under the title, Antifeodal’nye vosstaniia v Irane v seredine XIX [Anti-feudal Upraising in Iran in Mid-19th Century] (Moscow: Izd-vo “Nauka,” Glav. red. vostochnoi lit-ry, 1982). We do not have data on whether the existence of the real dispatches had been an inspiration for the author of The Confessions. Ivanov’s short biography does not reveal whether he traveled to Iran before 1939 when his book was published or whether he was in touch with Iranians while preparing the dissertation on which the book was based. See http://www.mgimo.ru/content1.asp.Google Scholar
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    For example: [Moojan Momen], “Conspiracies and Forgeries,” which has been submitted by Katherine Bigelow, Director, Office of External Affairs, The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, and Bahman Nikandish, “Mobarezeh’i najavanmardaneh: Kinyaz Dolgoruki ya asrar-e peydayesh-e mazhab-i Bab va Baha’ dar Iran,” Payam Baha’i nos. 309–310 (2005): 43–49; and Adib Masumian, Debunking the Myths: Conspiracy Theories on the Genesis and Mission of the Baha’i Faith (Lulu: 2009).Google Scholar
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    See Christopher Partridge and Ron Geaves, “Antisemitism, Conspiracy Culture, Christianity, and Islam: the History and Contemporary Religious Significance of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” in The Invention of Sacred Tradition, ed. James R. Lewis & Olav Hammer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 75–95, quote from page 84. Partridge and Geaves explain the reason for this phenomenon as such: “One of the problems with conspiracies is that they are difficult to disprove to those committed to them. Cognitive dissonance is quickly and almost instinctively assuaged by incorporating contrary evidence in the theory itself.” This mechanism, they believe, is why in case of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion the conspiracy element contributed most significantly to its longevity. Ibid.Google Scholar
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    See Sayyed Mohammad Baqer Najafi, Baha’iyan (Tehran:Tahuri, AH 1357/1978), 619–22.Google Scholar
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  24. 57.
    Kinyaz Dolgoruki ya asrar-e peydayesh, 19. The history of the notion that Shi’ism constitutes the fifth legal school of Islam sheds light on understanding the context of the author’s Weltanschauung. This idea was already proposed for the first time during the reign of Nader Shah who suppressed Shi’ism, but he did allow the Shi’is to practice their tradition by granting them status as the fifth legal school. See Said Amir Arjomand, The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam: Religion, Political Order, and Societal Change in Shi’ite Iran from the Beginning to 1890 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 216. However, the issue was soon forgotten with the downfall of Nader Shah. Following late nineteenth and early twentieth century attempts at rapprochement, in 1911, six of the Shi’i ulama residing in Iraq signed a fatwa urging unity among Muslims. In the text of this decree, Shi’ism was referred to as “one of the five Islamic legal schools” whose conflicts had led to “the decline [enhetat] of Islamic states” and “the dominance of foreigners [ajaneb].” See al-’Erfan 3, no. 4 (Feb. 1911): 160–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  26. 67.
    Shahrokh Meskub, “Melli gara’i, tamarkoz, va Farhang dar ghorub-e Qajariyeh va tolu’ ’asr-e Pahlavi,” in Dastan-e adabiyat va sar gozasht-e ejtema’ (Tehran: Farzan Rooz, 1373/1994), 5–38, quotes from page 8. Meskub avers that in many places in the world, nationalism looks for a scapegoat among ethnic, racial, cultural, or religious minorities to blame for all national disappointments, to invoke or direct the anger and hatred of the masses to in order to convince them of its own ideals. He then goes on to state that in Iran, the Arabs and the Imperialist powers have been the “scapegoat”(s). Meskub, “Melli gara’i,” 9.Google Scholar
  27. 68.
    See Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, “Narrative Identity in the Works of Hedayat and his Contemporaries,” in Sadeq Hedayat, His Works and His Wondrous World, ed. Homa Katouzian (London: Routledge, 2008), 107–28, quote from pages 107–8. This nationalist memory project, Tavakoli-Targhi tells us, was configured in the nineteenth century based on “a late sixteenth-and early seventeenth-century neo-Zoroastrian identity narrative that sought to dissociate Iran from Islam.” This Iran-centered historical memory, “constituted the pre-Islamic age as an archaetopia— an idealized and memorialized historical period.” Tavakoli-Targhi, “Narrative Identity,” 108–9.Google Scholar
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  30. The most prominent of these theologians were Sayyed Asa Allah Kharqani and Shari’at Sanglaji. On Salafiyya see, Rainer Brunner, Islamic Ecumenism in the 20th Century: The Azhar and Shiism between Rapprochement and Restraint, trans. Joseph Greenman (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 18, 39, 72, and passim; Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., under “Salafiyya.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., under “Wahhabiyya.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., under “Islah.”Google Scholar
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    See Ahmad Ashraf, “The Appeal of Conspiracy Theories to Persians,” Princeton Papers (Winter 1997), 57–88, quote from page 18. In a book published around the same time as The Confessions, Hosayn Kuhi Kermani the editor of the newspaper Saba, despite indicating in a footnote that The Testament of Peter the Great was “created in the name of Peter after him,” in the main text refers to The Testament as drawing the main guidelines of Russian politics and foreign policy and then quotes an item from that document: “Do your best to get close to Istanbul as much as you can … Facilitate the demise of Iran, and penetrate up to the Persian Gulf.” He then adds, “Almost all the successors of Peter, the Imperialists of Russia, have followed the guidelines set in this document.” Hosayn Kuhi Kermani, Az Shahrivar 1320 ta faje’eh-ye Azarbaiyjan va Zanjan: tarikh-i ravabet-e Rus va Iran (Tehran: Entesharat-i Ruznameh Nasim-e Saba, 1942), 20–21.Google Scholar
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© Abbas Amanat and Farzin Vejdani 2012

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  • Mina Yazdani

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