Geography of Iran

Arran, the real name of the republic of Azerbaijan
An Interview with Dr. Enayatollah Reza


    Dr. Enayatollah Reza is a celebrated researcher in the social sciences, especially of historical subjects. His latest studies are focused on the history of Azarbaijan and Aran. He asserts that, based on historical texts, the real name of Caucasus's Azerbaijan is "Aran" and its former name was changed for political reasons. In the following interview, he talks about the content of his upcoming book titled "Azarbaijan, Aran and Albania".

Q: Dr. Reza, you are practically the first Iranian scholar who has researched on Aran and Caucasus's Albania and you have written a book on this. Please explain your views regarding the name of Azerbaijan. Why do you believe that there is only one Azarbaijan, the Azarbaijan of Iran, and that there is no such land called Azerbaijan to the north of the Aras River?

A: Historically speaking, the territory in the Caucasus that lies to the north of the Aras river, was never called Azerbaijan until the year 1918. Giving it this name created difficulties in the first half of the 20th century and in the succeeding years, and these cannot be ignored. History, as well as the works of ancient geographers and Islamic writers bear witness to the fact that the land to the north of the Aras River, which is now known as Azerbaijan, was known before as Albania (Alban). Classical writers, such as Strabon and others, called this region Albania, Armenian, or Alvanak (Aghvanak), while Iranians called it Aran. Aliyov, a historian in the former Soviet Azerbaijan, in his article "Sources Relating the Ancient History of Caucasus's Albania", wrote that in the Parthian era, the eastern part of the Caucasus was called "Ardan". Greek materials referred to this place as "Albania". Barthold, the famous Soviet scholar, believed that in the Islamic era and, according to Arabic sources, this name has taken the forms of "Al-ran" or "Aran", which probably is a transformation of the ancient Parthian name "Ardan".

There is no reason to doubt that Aran was separate from Azarbaijan and that the Aras River constituted the northern border of Azarbaijan, and Aran had never been called Azerbaijan. The academician Barthold most clearly mentioned the Aras River as lying between Azarbaijan and Aran or the ancient Albania (Collected Works, Volume 7, Moscow, 1971, page 123).

Prior to the invention of the name Azerbaijan to designate Aran and Shirvan, Tzarist Russian sources recognized only one Azarbaijan, the true Azarbaijan. The first volume of the Russian Encyclopedia (pages 212 and 213), which was published in St. Petersburg some 102 years ago (in 1890), stated: "Azarbaijan, which was 'Aturpatekan' in Pahlavi and 'Azarbadekan' in Armenian, is the rich industrial northern province of Iran. It borders Iranian Kurdistan and Iraq of Adjam to the south, Turkish Kurdistan and Armenia to the west, Russian Armenia and the Southern Caucasus to the north. Its border is marked by the Aras River". Had the name Azerbaijan been used for the land to the north of the Aras, undoubtedly, this encyclopedia would have used the name "Russian Azerbaijan" just as it had used the designations "Turkish Kurdistan", "Iranian Kurdistan", "Turkish Armenia", or "Russian Armenia". It can easily be seen that only one Azarbaijan existed and that was the Iranian Azarbaijan.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution and the ensuing turmoil in the Russian empire, Turkish politicians of the time became intent on establishing a puppet state in the Caucasus. In 1911, a party named "Mossavat" (Equality) was founded in Baku, which was supported by the Ottoman Turks. It held a joint congress with Turkey's Party of Federalists in 1917. In this congress, the two parties united and called themselves the "Democratic Party of Turkish Mossavat Federalists". Their goal was to unite Turkish-speaking people under the umbrella of Turkey.

The Mossavatis set up a government on 27 May 1918, and called the area the "Azerbaijan Republic". Their capital initially was Gandjeh, but after the occupation of Baku by the Turkish army under the command of Noori Pasha on 15 September 1918, the capital was transferred to Baku and their government was consolidated through the support of the Turkish army. They ruled Aran and Shirvan, calling these areas collectively as the Azerbaijan Republic for two years. This situation continued until 28 April 1920, at which date the Bolsheviks attacked Baku and declared the area as a Soviet republic. The Soviets persisted in using the invented name, calling this territory the "Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan".

Barthold disclosed the reason for choosing to apply such a name. In page 782 of the second volume of his Collected Works, he noted: "The name 'Azerbaijan' was adopted because it was presumed that through the establishment of the Azerbaijan Republic, the Iranian Azarbaijan and the Azerbaijan Republic will eventually become one." As can be seen, the name 'Azerbaijan' was used with a specific goal that became manifest at a later period. Somewhere else in this same volume, Barthold wrote: "Wherever and whenever a name should be required with which one can refer to the whole region of the Azerbaijan Republic, one can use Aran" (page 703).

From the very beginning, the use of the name "Azerbaijan" for Aran met with the protests of Iranian patriots, including Sheik Mohammad Khiabani and his comrades. But since this naming had been carried out, the Democrats siding with Khiabani decided to change the name of Iran's Azarbaijan to "Azadistan" (land of freedom). This fact was clearly stated in Kasravi's book titled "The Unknown Kings", where he expressed surprise at the use of the name Azerbaijan to refer to Aran, writing: "Why are our Arani brothers destroying their national history and their past at the onset of their national life? This itself is an enormous loss and there is no other example of such a strange deed in history" (second printing, page 265).

After foreign forces entered Iran in Shahrivar 1320 (August 1941), under the tutelage of the Red Army, a party was established in Tabriz called "The Party of Azerbaijan". It was mostly run by immigrants from the Caucasus and the executors of Soviet policy, especially the cronies of Mir-Dja'far Bagherov, the secretary of the central committee of the Communist Party of the Caucasus. At first, the leaders of this party clandestinely advocated the separation of Azarbaijan (from Iran). The excuse they used to carry out their aims was the prevalent use of the Turkish language in this area, which was actually forced upon the people of this region centuries ago, again through the immigration of Turks.

Kasravi wrote: "Their secret aim was separation from Iran" (Nameh-e Parcham, 2 June 1943). Three and a half years later, on 4 September 1945, Caucasian agents created another party named the "Democratic Party of Azerbaijan", which ostensibly advocated adherence to the Constitution and the establishment of provincial and state councils. Its real goal, however, was unification with the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. The instigators of this idea for unification invented the names of "South and North Azerbaijan", whereas the land to the north of the Aras River had another name as mentioned earlier.

The leaders of the Democratic Party, who purportedly advocated the establishment of provincial and state councils, openly spoke about their secret aims following their escape from Iran and after finding refuge on the other side of the Aras. A message printed in the 'Azerbaijan' newspaper, which was the official organ of the Democratic Party, explicitly stated: "The people of South Azerbaijan, which is an indivisible part of North Azerbaijan, like all the peoples of the world, have their hopes fixed on the great people and the state of the Soviet Union" ('Azerbaijan' newspaper, no. 213, Baku, 23 December 1950). In another telegram to Mir-Dja'far Bagherov, the chairman of the Communist Party of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, these officials wrote: "Three whole years have passed since the establishment of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party that leads the struggle toward national liberation and the emancipation of the southern part of our motherland Azerbaijan, which has been suffering in the black hands of Persian chauvinists" ('Azerbaijan' newspaper, no. 81, Baku, 8 September 1948).

Following these actions, the terms "North Azerbaijan" and "South Azerbaijan" were skillfully manipulated into books and into translations from Turkish and Russian in order to inculcate this idea into the minds of readers. Some, knowingly or unknowingly, aided in propagating this idea. For instance, these unreasonable terms were included in history and geography textbooks and some of our translators repeated them. This practice has progressed to such an extent that a number of our local newspapers, without paying the least attention and consideration, have used these wrong and damaging terms, even in their recent issues, despite the fact that it is very easy to refute this be aware of the reality.

The author of the book "Corners of Iranian History" wrote: "The unification of North Azerbaijan with Russia played a progressive role and the only government that helped the people of the Caucasus against Iran and the Ottomans was Russia" (see pages 44, 192, 224). Did this reflect the real situation? How then can one explain the resistance of the people of that land in the past and the uprisings of Muslims, including the one led by Sheik Shamel in Daghestan, as well as the present reaction of the Caucasian and Central Asian people, and the Islamic movements in these republics? In many pages of this book, we find the terms North and South Azerbaijan.

These propagandists have been trying to pretend that Azerbaijan is a divided land and that it should be united someday. During the previous years, unification was to be realized with Soviet power. Today, the propaganda has taken another form, with American propagandists having involved Turkey and introduced it as a model. They use the wrong term "Azeri" in referring to the people and the land of Aran. The people of Aran should be called "Arani" as "Azeri" is a term that should be used only for the people of Azarbaijan. There is no link between the title "Azeri" and the people of Aran. And neither is "Azeri" the language of the people of Azarbaijan nor that of Aran. "Azeri" is one of the Iranian dialects, such as Kurdish, Lurish, Gillish, Mazandarani, Balouchi, Bakhtiari, and others. There is no relation between the old Azeri language and Turkish. There still exist in Azarbaijan groups of people living in the mountains speaking the Azeri dialect. The language spoken by the people of Aran is not Azeri nor is it ancient Arani. Rather, it is one of the Turkish dialects that has been mixed with local languages.

In the case of Azarbaijan and Aran, there are some who try to call Aran "Azerbaijan". This is a gross mistake. While the rulers of Azarbaijan ruled over Aran during certain epochs, Azarbaijan is a separate entity from Aran. At times, the rulers of Tabaristan ruled over Gilan and those of Gilan, such as the Buyids, ruled over Tabaristan; yet, Tabaristan and Gilan were separate and are considered separate lands now, even though they are adjacent. No one has ever denied the fact that Aran was under the rule of Iran and belonged to it, but taking the two as the same and using the damaging and wrong term of "North Azerbaijan" is a wrong approach.

I do not understand why some refer only to what they are interested in and ignore most of the well-known writings. Bal'ami's work has long been revered as a Persian work, but, he was a translator of the Tarikh-e Tabari. The point that was noted in the Tarikh-e Bal'ami does not exist in the Tarikh-e Tabari (see Tarikh-e Tabari, Volume 5, page 1979, translated by Abolghassem Payandeh). But one should know that on geographical matters, the views of geographers are preferred. I do not wish to mention all such sources, but to clarify the situation of Azarbaijan and Aran, in the 10th and 11th century, which happens to be the time of Bal'ami, one can see the works of Ibn-e Khordad-beh who was the head of the 'Barid' (postal service) of Djebal (Media), and of Ibn-e Rosteh and many others, provided one is really seeking the truth and is not trying to verify one's own wishes and illusions.

Fanaticism is a sign of stupidity. Some accuse me of viewing the Mossavatis through the eyes of the Bolsheviks. The future will make everything clear and those who seek to deceive will be exposed to the nation. The final judgment will be made by men of reason, not by some ignorant fanatics.

I have not written anything regarding my beloved native land, Gilan; yet, I have dedicated a large part of my life to the study of Azarbaijan. This shows how much affection I feel for the people of Azarbaijan. When during my diaspora I was living in the mouth of the dragon, I did not ignore this sacred duty. My affection for the people of Azarbaijan cost me dearly during my migration. I had to suffer many deprivations. The separatists made my life and that of my family very difficult. I endured all these hardships for the sake of my country, of which Azarbaijan is a part.

Now that an independent republic has been established in the land of Aran, it would have been appropriate if it would stop abusing the name of Azarbaijan and would use its true historical name. Currently, Iran's enemies are unfortunately exploiting the existence of this misnomer by propagating false and misleading information. One example is Radio Liberty, which is run from Munich. It carries out its activities from a budget it receives from the US Congress and its broadcasts show the sinister goals that it seeks against the integrity of our country. You can also find similar things in the propaganda of some other countries. It is bizarre that a number of neighboring republics deviate from being sincere and honest, imagining the Iranian people as being ignorant of the facts. This is not so, as we do see and consider everything.

The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has proudly carried out its religious and neighborly duties toward the newly independent states bordering it. Even in the initial moments when its neighbors regained their sovereignty, Iran ignored the issue of name and some of their unjust behaviors, hoping that with the passage of time, its brothers and neighbors will pay due consideration and take notice of the facts. The Islamic Republic of Iran could make its recognition of the newly independent republics subject to certain conditions; however, in observing its religious and neighborly obligations, it did not choose to do so in order to enable the emerging states to achieve stability. The steps taken by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to promote economic cooperation proves this fact. Now it is appropriate for our Aranian brothers to take these factors into consideration and choose a path that will lead to strengthening the ties of friendship.

Q: Recently, in a book published under the title "Speaking with History", Nooreddin Kianoory accused you of repenting from the socialist ideas you had held for many years, that you returned to Iran and joined the regime of the Shah; in general, that you have publicly recanted your ideas and opinions in order to have gain important positions. What can you say about these?

A: Regarding the shift in scientific views, I should say that one is not born a scientist and from the beginning to the end of one's life, the scientific outlook of a person undergoes many changes. This is required for the growth and development of a human being. The distinction between man and animals is that man studies and thinks and through thinking, his perceptions evolve. This is the law of life. Hence, censuring people for changing their minds is inane and unreasonable. Whose intelligence ever remained on the same level as it was during one's youth? Only lunatics and retarded people could be so. Have the scientists who have made great discoveries in the social sciences, remained on their initial level of thought? Man studies every problem and arrives at new concepts and his knowledge develops. The most foolish people are those who think their own ideas constitute the pinnacle of human thought.

As to repentance, I came to Iran under the condition that no one demand repentance from me. I never repented publicly in any media. Those who accuse me of public repentance are liars and I should confess that truly, no one ever asked me to repent.

Equating development with repentance is in itself an indication of the lack of wisdom. In my life, and especially during my migration, I have learned many precious lessons that were not acquired cheaply. But these same experiences taught me not to keep my way of thinking on the same level as it was during my youth. It is surprising that while many of my writings contain many criticisms of Bolshevism and what I had predicted has been realized, still, you find people making such statements. Does this not indicate a lack of originality in their way of thinking and in the way their mind works?

I have been attacked from two sides, but I will bear these attacks for the sake of the integrity of Iran and for the sake of the existence and unity of my homeland. We die and what remains for our children and descendants is the homeland that both the old and the young should be proud of.

When I think about some of the false accusations, I cannot help from being reminded of what the famous Russian writer, Turgenyev, said: "One day a slick, old professional character told me while giving me advice that, 'Whenever you decide to hurt your enemy, accuse him of your own flaws and be ruthless in making such accusations. This is of dual importance. First, with this accusation, you pretend that you yourself are free of such flaws. Second, your accusations appear sincere and honest ... Here you can utilize the reproaches of your own conscience to your benefit. If you yourself are treacherous and devoid of conscience and honesty, accuse your enemy of treachery and dishonesty. If you are servile and subordinate, call your enemy an odious mercenary.'"

Would those who have characterized my book as arising from my feelings of spitefulness and enmity towards the people of Azarbaijan, characterize their own works as the result of their own enmity and personal vendetta against the non-Azeris who are wrongly called Persians? Are they not accusing others of having their own flaws?

I have written a book about Azarbaijan and others have also written articles about it. The right to judge these belongs to the community of (those who engage in) research and (those who follow) reason, not to fanatics and blind ignorants. The issue has been raised, and undoubtedly, it will be studied by researchers, then the facts will become clear. I did not write the book "Iran's Azarbaijan" in order to obtain a post. This favor I will leave to those who seek favors.

In the end I say: If returning to one's own homeland and working in a library as a researcher in the service of culture is the same thing as obtaining posts and affluence, this post and affluence I will gladly offer to Mr. Kianoory. In the 28 years following my return to my beloved homeland, I have only served in literary, cultural and research capacities and I am proud that the result of these efforts has been tens of books, authored and translated, as well as a role in putting together one of the most valuable encyclopedias of the Persian language. Now, we should see whether such services are valuable or whether the lies and the gibberish that some put together in order to sell the results of 50 years of treason, spying, betrayal of one's own country that make people hate everything associated with socialism, as service to their compatriots.