Presenters and Papers:
Dr Ines Aščerić-Todd
Tutor, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies
University of Edinburgh
‘A Subaltern Hero: the Execution of Sheikh Hamza Bali (1573) against the Backdrop of the Ottoman-Safavid Wars and Ottoman Fears of Shia Insurgence’
In 1573, the Istanbul hippodrome witnessed a dramatic execution of Sheikh Hamza Bali the Bosnian, the leader of a Bosnian home-grown off-shoot of the Melami-Bayrami Sufi order, the Hamzevis: his throat was slit on the way out to the arena, where he was to be executed by stoning, which was followed by one of the Janissaries leading him out cutting his own throat as a sacrifice for his master. In the years preceding his execution, the seemingly minor ‘subaltern’ religious leader from a small Ottoman border province very quickly gained both supporters, in Bosnia, the neighbouring countries, and Istanbul itself, and the attention of the Ottoman authorities and the ulema’. This paper considers the execution of Sheikh Hamza Bali in the context of the Ottoman-Safavid hostilities at the time, and assesses how much of the harsh treatment of him and his followers was due to the general anti-Shia sentiments felt at the time and the Ottoman fears of a Shia-inspired insurgence.
Hamza was accused of heresy, manifested through, among other things, Hurufi, and, therefore, Shia, tendencies, and he had a huge following among the Janissaries, who were traditionally Shia-oriented. Moreover, local Hamzevi branches in Bosnia are known to have formed their own local authorities and courts. The present paper examines the contents of the three known extant anti-Hamzevi treatises in the light of these facts, with the aim of assessing how much they can tell us about the motives behind the Hamzevi persecutions, and to what extent they were symptomatic of the depth of Shia religious and Safavid political influence within the Ottoman society at the time. Although most of the accusations against Hamza are considered to have been imputed or exaggerated, and, therefore, the contents of these documents have to be treated with those caveats in mind, they still reveal the level of Shia propaganda and influence exerted in the Ottoman Empire at that point, and can thus help with ascertaining to what extent the Ottoman authorities’ fears of a Shia-inspired rebellion – led by Hamzevis or otherwise – were justified.
PhD Candidate in the Graduate Program in Religion – Islamic Studies
Graduate Program in Religion
‘‘Alid Magic and the Making of Deccan Fortunes’
After a long siege in 1632, the Mughal army of Zamana Beg “Khān-i Khānān”
Mahābbat Khān (d. 1634) still failed to take the fortress city of Dawlatābād. Arguably the
most important stronghold for rebuffing northern invaders, its control remained key for
the Deccan Sultanates further south. Ultimately, it was not military might but the clever
magical spell of a ḥakīm, Nizām al-Dīn Aḥmad Gīlānī (d. 1650?), which tilted control of
that city over to the Mughals. Jealous of the credit that his courtiers paid to the sage,
Mahābat Khān burned Gīlānī’s library, forcing him to retreat deeper into the Deccan to
serve ʿAbdullāh Quṭbshāh (r.1626-1672), who held greater appreciation for his occult
talents. This episode stands within a longer history of magic used to erect, defend, and
defeat the rulers of the Deccan.
This paper presents manuscript and historical evidence to show how the logic of
magic may be used to explain the endowment and maintenance of political power in the
Deccan more so than discursive modes of more formalized religious order— like Islamic
law. Excavating this ulterior side to Shīʿī history challenges prevailing secondary
literature that situates formal Sufi brotherhoods as the primary conduits of “mysticism”
entering Indian courts. It further complicates master narratives of the rise of Shīʿī
orthodoxy as a “rationalization” of political authority. It also reframes the elite religious
concerns of Safavid Iran from “homeless” manuscripts produced in the widely understudied
Shīʿī Deccan Sultanates. Finally, it suggests that the practice of magic and occult
sciences operated in universally accepted idioms shared within a multi-cultural, multireligious, Deccan landscape.
Longstanding scholarly networks between Iran and the Deccan witnessed the
importation of ʿAlid magic at the hands of Iranian ḥakīms like Muʿīn al-Dīn ʿAbdullāh
Shīrāzī and Mullā Khalqī Shushtarī, who produced divinatory devices for their royal
patrons. Later Safavid incursions into Gīlān and Māzandarān pushed other scholars to the
Deccan, where they assumed positions in Aḥmadnagar and Golkonda—regional capitals
where they could more freely practice the applied branches of ḥikmat. A counter-magic
treatise produced by Mīr Mo’min Astarābādī (d. 1626), illuminates the anxieties
surrounding Quṭbshāhī dynastic protection amidst a highly trans-religious, translinguistic,
and mobile human geography. This work reveals the various animal, vegetal,
and artificial media as well as other religious and linguistic communities recognized by
Persianate magic at the dawn of the 17th century. Other manuscripts from Niẓām al-Dīn
Gīlānī demonstrate how efficacious magic spells transmitted by Safavid notables like
Bahā al-Dīn Amiilī (d. 1621) speak towards the immediate material concerns of the Shīʿī
intelligentsia that are lost in other studies of their legalistic careers.
Concluding this paper, I will highlight the enduring legacy of ʿAlid occultism
presented in Deccan encyclopedic literature. Preserving geomancy, astrology, and other
occult sciences with epistemological sanction within chains of ʿAlid authority,
Muhammad Barārī Qāqshāl’s (fl. 1670) The Ten Intellects, reveals the inter-sectarian
production and reception of occult forms of knowledge beyond the strictly Iranian or
Shīʿī community of Aurangzeb’s newly conquered Deccan.
Theodore S. Beers
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
University of Chicago.
‘Speaking for the Subaltern in an Early Safavid Tazkirah’
The problem of subalternity in the pre-modern history—or perhaps we could say pre-colonial
history—of any society is complicated and forbidding. Where to begin? Taking Safavid Iran as an example, which population groups might we consider subaltern? Does there need to be an element of racial or ethnic discrimination, or could other forms of exclusion qualify on their own? If we adopt a more general definition of subalternity as being situated outside of the hegemonic power structure and discourse, then how could we avoid applying this designation to the overwhelming majority of the population, when looking at a past agrarian society with single-digit literacy rates? Regardless of the terms that we set, what do we know of these long-demised subalterns, who can almost never speak to us for themselves (let alone on their own terms) and are seldom mentioned in the textual sources that form the basis of our knowledge of pre-modern history? Again using the example of Safavid Iran, even if we have enough information about that society to postulate the subalternity of some of its constituent groups, how much more could we say with any degree of confidence?
Beyond questions like these, we must contend with the fact that the terminology and methods of subaltern studies were elaborated fairly recently, and most prominently among postcolonial historians and theorists of South Asia. The application of similar frameworks to radically different contexts and to more distant periods of history, while possible and indeed important, is a task that demands care.
One of the general insights of subaltern studies lies in challenging us to be aware of the essentialism and the privileging of élite, hegemonic “ways of knowing” that are likely to creep into our work. Less clear is how those of us in fields like Safavid history are supposed to move forward, given the nature of the source materials that have survived into the present day.
Be all that as it may. There are, at minimum, plenty of narrower interventions to be made, and I hope to offer one at this workshop, on the topic of Persian literary history in the early Safavid-Mughal period. Among the many changes that we can observe during that time is the beginning of serious discussion of members of lower socioeconomic strata who composed Persian poetry. This shift is manifested in biographical dictionaries of poets (taẕkirahs), which were written in greater numbers and with wider diversity of content starting in the late Timurid period. In truth, when we begin to see more frequent mention of poets (or would-be poets) from outside the top echelons of society, it is extremely difficult to determine whether we are witnessing a “real” historical change, or simply
learning for the first time about a phenomenon that existed long before. But the fact remains that sources from the sixteenth century CE show us a seemingly new literary landscape: more urban, more centered on ghazals and the salons at which poets shared their work and competed with one another, and, yes, at least a bit more inclusive on the basis of class.
A particularly vivid portrait of this environment is offered in a taẕkirah written ca. 1550 by the Safavid prince Sām Mīrzā, entitled Tuḥfah-i Sāmī. The author surveys over 700 poets and makes the unusual decision to focus almost entirely on his contemporaries, setting aside canonical figures from past centuries. Most surprising of all is the seventh and final chapter, which Sām Mīrzā devotes to the poetic activities of members of lower social classes. He describes some of them in terms that suggest they were illiterate (using the word ʿāmmī) and in several cases mocks them openly for the inferior quality of their verses. I intend to argue that we find in the Tuḥfah-i Sāmī an exceptionally stark case
of the subaltern problem in pre-modern Persian poetry. We do not have full dīvāns from these humble individuals discussed by Sām Mīrzā, and certainly they were in no position to author taẕkirahs of their own. All that we know about them comes from their brief, often derogatory mention in the Tuḥfah.
Thus they were not truly able to speak, even though we have the good fortune of seeing their names and snippets of their work. The broader question is how much we can ever learn about the subaltern experience in a society like Safavid Iran, when the few vignettes available to us tend to occur in texts written from a decidedly élite perspective.
Fulbright Research Award recipient, Tajikistan, 2015-2016
‘Liberating the “Turkoman Prisoner”: an Assessment of 16th-century Folios of Bound Captives’
This paper provides a critical examination of the “Turkoman Prisoner:” a name given by the Persian art scholar B.W. Robinson in 1958 to the grouping of repeated art subjects painted on single-page folios. Except for a recent article treating one such version in the LACMA collection, the oft-cited albeit cursorily-treated “Turkoman Prisoner” theme has not been examined as a larger group beyond three fettered specimens. A few iterations have been given short references in collection catalogues and surveys over the last century, entries that have perpetuated their typological titles without questioning who is depicted, why they are repeated, and how they provide insight into the historical period and social context of their producers. Scholars have been surprisingly confident in bestowing provenances, titling the figural subjects as Mongol, Uzbek, Tartar, Turkic, and Turkoman princes and prisoners, and tracing them to Timurid, Safavid, or Shaybanid workshops in Herat, Bukhara, Samarkand, or Qazvin depending on the attributed decade of production. However, I posit that these ascriptions have confused the subject matter (assumed to be an individual from Transoxiana, Khorasan, or a member of the Akkoyunlu Turkomans) with the styles used to render him (interpreted as heralding from eastern Shaybanid-controlled Bukhara or from the western artistic Turkoman schools). Scholars have used weaponry and physiognomy to identify the subject as Turko-Mongol and a host of other linguistic, ethnic, regional, cultural, and tribal designations. But these labels reinforce his exoticism and exteriority to an Iranian Safavid center inaptly held to be monolithic and monolingual. My intervention questions the separation between Persian center and Turkic periphery in the context of the Bound Captives (my replacement for “Turkoman Prisoners”). My approach is to shift the characterization of the Central Asian zone and its materials often phrased as being at the margins of the Iranian empire, and to nuance notions of center/periphery inherent in the term “Persianate.”
Looking predominantly at painted materials spanning the 16th century, I posit that the Bound Captive theme was used by Safavid artists to distance themselves and their patrons from rival powers in the steppelands of Transoxiana at this time. The artists thus render a subaltern category, designating their subjects as politically and geographically outside Safavid hegemony. When one arm is bent and bound in the restraining pālahang device, the subject is rendered without agency and subdued. Although in some copies the prisoner portrait is a source of derision, the pose and gesture nevertheless call to mind another repeated trope of single-page paintings: the “Seated Prince” with one arm bent to hold a wine cup that frequents manuscript arts of rulers and noblemen. Herein lies the ambiguity of the Bound Captive imagery: the prisoners are at once pitiful and elicit pathos, yet at the same time have an unmistakable regality and nobility about them. The paper explores Safavid diplomacy, satire, and self-fashioning vis-a-vis the subaltern Bound Captive subject.
Dr Ferenc Peter Csirkes
Assistant Professor of History
Sabanci University, Turkey
‘Why write in Turkic in Safavid Iran?’
Focusing on a number of literary works by Sadiqi Beg (ca. 1533-1610), a major painter and litterateur of the Safavid era, and placing language and literature at the heart of imperial state formation in the Persianate world in the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries, this paper is a broad-minded treatment of the role of Turkic as a literary language in Safavid cultural representation. As is well known, the Safavids headed a messianic, ghuluww (‘exaggerating’) Shii-Sufi movement and came to power with the military backing of a coalition of largely Turkophone tribes called the Qizilbash. The political and military prominence of these tribes, however, was finally superseded by the centralization policies of Shah ‘Abbas I (r. 1588-1629), just as much as their messianic religiosity gave way in the realm to the Twelver Shiite establishment that had been building up with state support since the early days of Safavid rule. But how were these grand processes reflected in the role of literary languages, particularly Persian and Turkic?
The Safavids and the Qizilbash sponsored Turkic literary endeavors in addition to Persian all through the period. As a matter of fact, Turkic has remained a solid literary tradition in the Turkophone regions of Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan to this day, albeit mainly limited to local, vernacular culture until the rise of modern nationalism in the 20th century. However, the cultural and social role of this grand tradition is difficult to conceptualize and contextualize historically. While Iranian and Western scholarship on Safavid Iran, with a few notable exceptions, hardly mentions Turkic literary practices, Soviet and post-Soviet Azerbaijani scholarship presents them as the most important facet of the Safavid period. My paper is thus part of an undertaking to bridge this cognitive gap.
In its patronage given to Turkic literature, the Safavid era was heir to the previous Chaghatay Turkic traditions of the Timurids and the West Oghuz traditions of the Aqqoyunlu and Qaraqoyunlu Turkmen. One would expect, therefore, the continuity under the Safavids of the language ideologies that supported Turkic literary practices in these aforesaid epochs.
However, this was not the case. While Chaghatay and West Oghuz Turkic literary practices were supported by mytho-genealogy as found in the works of Mir ‘Ali Shir Nava’i (1441-1501) or the so-called Oghuznama tradition, respectively, the new, Shiite or Alid notions of authority under the Safavids were also shared by the Persophone echelons of society at large and thus were not specific to Turkic. As can be illustrated by Sadiqi’s Turkic output, which comprises poetry, epistolography and biography, among Turkophone literati under the Safavids there was a conscious espousal and imitation of the Timurid and Turkmen literary traditions, an attitude that, however, did not mention indigenous Turkic lore and lacked ideological components specific to it. Turkic was part of popular culture but not part of the ideological make-up of the Safavid venture.
This dichotomy could also be detected in how Turkophone Safavid literati positioned themselves and fashioned literary language practices. For example, Sadiqi wrote a biographical dictionary of poets in Chaghatay Turkic entitled Majma‘ al-khavass. ‘Concourse of Nobilities,’ explicitly as a continuation of Nava’i’s biographical dictionary the Majalis al-nafa’is ‘Symposia of the Refined;’ he also imitated Nava’i’s poetry as well as that of Fuzuli (d. 1556), a prominent poet of the West Oguz tradition. At the same time, Sadiqi also wrote poetry in Persian that on several occasions reiterated old cultural stereotypes about Turks as being uncouth and ignorant.
However, the prestige and function of literary languages in Safavid Iran, with Persian and Turkic among them, was specific to Iranian early modernity. It was different from the case of literary prestige languages, Persian and Ottoman Turkish, in the two contemporary Muslim empires, Mughal India and the Ottoman Empire, respectively. In the latter two, Persian and Ottoman Turkish was part of new official political theologies, whereas Persian under the Safavids was conceived of as the vehicle for time-honored notions of Iranian kingship perpetuated by Persophone literati.
Dr Valerie Gonzalez
independent scholar and lecturer in Islamic art history, aesthetics and visual culture.
‘The Subaltern versus the King: The Dual Semantic of Portraiture in Early Modern Persian-Mughal Painting’
In the context of this workshop on the role and depiction of Persianate subalterns between 1501 and 1747, early Modern portraiture in the neighboring empires of Safavid Iran and Mughal India may bring some interesting elements of reflection in the domain of art. Indeed, the pictorial technicalities enabling the mimetic rendition of the human appearances and facial expression were available and applied in both Iran and India in this period, yet, strikingly, the Safavid portrait distinguishes itself from its Mughal counterpart inasmuch as it applied the visual concept of physiognomic likeness only to the subalterns, not to the king himself. There exists no imitative portrait of the first four Safavid shahs, while by contrast the Mughals generalized the practice of mimetic human representation without distinction of social status once their pictorial art’s own aesthetic principles were firmly established, precisely after Humayun’s re-conquest of Northern India in 1555 and during Akbar’s reign (1556-1605). As well known, Akbar is the first monarch in the Persianate world to have been pictured as true to nature as possible. For reasons to be determined and explained, in Iran experimenting in the complex art of naturalistic portraiture exclusively focused on a rich range of non-regal subjects, subalterns, people from the commonplace and archetypal protagonists of illustrated stories or thematic imagery.
In the visual culture of this part of the Persianate world, this puzzling double logic of the selective Safavid portrait versus the inclusive Mughal portrait was firmly maintained until things changed under the patronage of the fifth Safavid ruler, Shah Abbas I (r. 1588-1629). Again for reasons to be determined and explained, an image of this ruler marks the first time in which a Muslim Persian king appears physiognomically identifiable in painting. Yet, this image is not a direct portrait as Shah Abbas I appears under the disguise of the hero Rustam in a 1605 illustrated copy of the Shahnama; it took much longer for Persian painting to produce direct dynastic representations, without any intermediary.
This paper will show how it is thanks to the representation of the more or less anonymous bodies of the commonplace society or of individuals of lesser social status that Safavid artists explored and developed the art of imitating human physiognomy and expressivity. Will be discussed in particular this Iranian art’s double system of meaning production whereby the kingly and non-kingly figures are differently represented in the aesthetic space, in contrasting it with the non-segregating strategy of portraiture in India. The fact that Safavid painters flocked at the Mughal court after the 1555 Mughal restoration thereby introducing their painting philosophy to India will be bring to the fore the very distinctive qualities of the Safavid and Mughal portrait, dually present in the subcontinent in the early Modern period.
These analyses will rely on some key paintings, among them the double portrait of a dynast and an officer in “The Arrest of Shah Abu’l Ma’ali by the Dependable Tolaq Khan Qushi” by Abu’l Samad, 1556-60”, and a single representation of the infamous Humayun’s courtier Akbar condemned to execution by Dust Muhammad, both Iranian artists who worked at the Mughal court. While in both images the Central Asian dynast displays an archetypal Persian physiognomy following a representational model I call “signaletic”, the dependable, the subaltern in this picture, receives a detailed realistic rendition of his facial characteristics in a clearly conscious act of dichotomic semantization. A hermeneutics of this puzzling aesthetic-pictorial phenomenon will be proposed.
Dr Selim Güngörürler
Boğaziçi Üniversitesi, Istanbul
‘The Double Alienation of the Qizilbash after the Peace of Zuhab’
The Anatolian Ottoman-subject Qizilbash were a determining factor in the
founding and consolidation of the Safavid state in Iran. The historiography
has duly covered their role in Ottoman-Safavid wars, pro-Safavid rebellions
in the Ottoman Empire, and a Safavid network of allegiance from 1500 until
1640. The same goes for the persecution of the genuine Qizilbash creed in an
Iran undergoing Shiitization, unfolding concurrently with the ongoing Safavid
support to the Anatolian Qizilbash.
This paper dwells on the phenomenon of the double-alienation of the
Anatolian Qizilbash after the Peace of Zuhab (1639). This pacification that
proved durable in Ottoman-Safavid relations brought about the Ottoman-Sunni
establishment’s gradual recognition, at least at state level if not as an ex
officio initiative by the clergy, of the Safavids’ conversion from
Qizilbashism to Shiism. This manifested itself on various platforms: direct
and explicit references in diplomatic correspondence to Islamic fraternity
between the parties, regulation of the interstate hierarchical relationship
according to the concept of caliphate as well as monarchy, and joint
organization of Iranian pilgrim caravans traveling on Ottoman territory to
Iraq and Hejaz as well as intensive political cooperation.1
As a consequence of this rapprochement, the Ottomans’ persecution of
the Anatolian Qizilbash apparently came to a halt. This was due to the fact
that the empire’s anti-Qizilbash policies had been originating from
political, not purely sectarian, motives. Once the Sublime Porte no longer
deemed possible the outbreak of a war with the Safavids, the related internal
measures ceased. As a result, the word Qizilbash almost disappeared from
Ottoman official documents, because the target group, then politically
insignificant, was no longer a matter of state. This finalized the process of
the Anatolian Qizilbash’s political marginalization. Having then lost their
instrumentality for the Safavids and thus their potential for threat as a
fifth column in the eyes of the Ottomans, they were removed from the stage to
the back curtain of the state-centric politics on both sides. While this
transformation might have decreased the sense of alarm and increased the
sense of security felt by the population in question, in the last analysis it
was the yield of a silent denial by the authorities of a population segment
that remained formally unrecognized.
After establishing these, I argue in conclusion that the origins of the
word Qizilbash ’s transformation from a self-designation of pride to a merely
derogatory term used by the hardliner Sunnis, and more essentially, the
figurative going-underground of the Qizilbash as a political and religious
community in Anatolia – a process through which they ended up being
subalterns – shall be looked for not in the confrontation and conflict but in
the rapprochement and reconciliation between the houses of Osman and Safi.
* Intended sources: Ottoman imperial epistles, Ottoman and French
travelogues, Ottoman court-, state-, provincial-, and private chronicles,
diplomatic mission reports, poets’ biographies, reconnaissance reports,
decrees registered as rulings of the Imperial Council, letters, Anatolian-
Qizilbash’s buyruq -genre of catechisms.
Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations
University of Chicago
‘A Revolt at the Court of Ahmad Shāh: Reading Eunuchs in the Mughal World’
This talk explores the role of eunuch slaves in the context of the Mughal Empire (1526-1857). Eunuchs (called khwājasarā) are ubiquitous in the sources of the period, appearing in a wide variety of roles serving the Mughal elite both in relation to the harem as well as outside the household as trusted agents in a range of military and administrative positions. Although some eunuchs held positions of power and prestige, such as military commander or governor, most occupied more subsidiary roles as guards, messengers or personal servants. In this paper, I will explore the evidence in the Persian-language sources of the period regarding the latter category of eunuchs—who are more rarely attested to, but whose role is crucial to understanding the social role of eunuchs and other slaves in the Mughal world
At the center of the paper will be a discussion of the revolt, in 1751, of palace eunuchs during the reign of Ahmad Shāh (1748-1754). This episode, which saw eunuchs protesting non-payment of wages, led to a violent confrontation followed by successful negotiations. Even as it reflects the broader historical trend towards decentralization and the resultant lack of funds at the Mughal court in Delhi as less revenue flowed in from the provinces, this event is unique in that it foregrounds the subaltern eunuchs who normally go unremarked and unnamed in Mughal histories. A close study of this event thus not only provides an opportunity to examine the role of eunuchs in the imperial household and court, but also to perceive them in a moment of self-advocacy. Furthermore, through describing a conflict that drew in both adjacent figures such as non-castrated male harem guards as well as the elite eunuchs of the court, this episode reveals how eunuchs were integrated within a larger social structure.
In this paper I will contextualize the story of this revolt within the larger history of the Mughal period and the various roles taken on by eunuch and other slaves within it. I will first lay out the problem of eunuchs within the Mughal world more broadly, with a special attention to the distinctions between eunuchs of different status. I will then discuss this revolt, drawing particularly upon the Tārīkh-i Ahmad Shāhī, in order to examine questions of agency and alliance-making within the royal palace. In doing so, I hope to contribute to a larger effort to historicize the harem and the elite household, which have only begun to be studied as historical institutions in the Mughal case (Faruqui 2012, Lal 2005), as well as the role of eunuch slavery within it, which can be fruitfully compared to similar practices in the larger Persianate world (Babaie et. al., 2003, Babayan 1985). By examining a revolt caused in part by the declining power of the Mughal state itself, this paper will contribute towards a more complex social history of the institution of eunuch slavery across time.
Hirotake Maeda, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences,
Tokyo Metropolitan University
‘Voices of Caucasians at the Safavid court: life and activities of Parsadan Gorgijanidze’
Shah ‘Abbas conducted a series of forced migration policies in the northern-western frontier area of the Safavid empire which bordered on the Ottomans. Armenians, Georgians, Jews, Circassians, and Muslims in Azarbaijan province and north beyond (today’s south Caucasus in a broad sense) became the target of these policies. These were acts of punishment, devastation and depopulation, protection (from outer threat), rehabilitation (of local economy), fragmentation and so on. Whatever the excuse and pretext, the (estimated) effects, it was an act of royal and those forced migrated peoples became royal subjects under strong influence of the central couirt. It was a part of khassa policy (enlargement of royal household institution) and symbolized the transformation of state structure under the reign of Shah ‘Abbas. It inevitably led the people of the Caucasus, especially Georgians, Armenians and Circassians, spend their lives at the heartland and suburbs of the central authority in actual and psychological sense (Isfahan, Mazandaran and other places in the “royal” spaces).
It is misunderstanding to conceptualize those forced migrated and integrated Caucasians (or “Caucasian elements” in a broad sense, a wording of V. Minorsky) as merely subaltern or oppressed minority for they were representing the “royal” in various social levels and connotations. Yet as ‘Abbas tried to incorporate the “Caucasian society” with their social hierarchy in part, or to reorganize the two realms (geographical and structural) of the Safavid state, we recognize different social tensions and their contradicted activities.
Parsadan Gorgijanidze, a “Safavid courtier” of “Georgian” origin, represents these complex domains resulted from that forced “integration”. He was originally from Gori in Georgia and was probably born in around 1626. He seemed to have no aristocratic lineage. M-F. Brossett suggested that he was hailing from Armenians (and possibly Catholic). However King Rostom of Kartli Kingdom, a Bagratid (illegitimate) prince who was a Muslim and returned from the Safavid central court, raised him at the Georgian court in a Perso-philly atmosphere.
In 1656 reigning Shah ‘Abbas II (1642-66) requested King Rostom, who possessed the post of darughe of imperial capital from around 1619 to his death in 1658, to send a new na’ib to the capital. Rostom chose Parsadan Gorgijanidze who converted to Islam at this occasion since “infidel never ruled the Muslims” and was officially recognized as acting mayor of the city. A Safavid chronicler Valiquli Shamlu describes Gorgijanidze’s name as parsimadan (possessing little Persian knowledge) which clearly displays Irano-Turkic perspectives towards those imperial subjects from the Caucasus.
He was soon dismissed from the post, thus we could not trace his career from Persian chronicles. However as Gorgijanidze was enthusiastic writer, we can follow his career and some of personal life by his own statement. He was granted the post of ishik-aqasi (royal chamberlain) and five villages near Gulpayigan as a fief by ‘Abbas II. In consequence, he chose to remain there, spending the rest of his life in the shah’s service.
Interestingly he boasted his active engagement in Georgian politics with Safavid authority behind. But he never synchronized with imperial “identity” easily. He stick to his Georgian-ness. He edited a Georgian-Arabic-Persian vocabulary notebook and translated Jāmi‘-i ‘Abbāsī into Georgian. Gorgijanidze also played an active role in making a Georgian prose version of Shāh-nāma called Rostomiani (Stories of Rostom). His History of Georgia (yet no obvious original title), written around the beginning of the 1690s in Isfahan, renewed Georgian historical writings which had been interrupted for centuries.
We recognize his “inbetween-ness” at the beginning of his Georgian translation of Jāmi‘-i ‘Abbāsī. Gorgijanidze argued he was commissioned to translate this work by the order of Shah ‘Abbas II while the introduction contains such phrase: “Muslims are ruled by these knowledges and it does not defeat Christians. Moreover it is better for everyman to know every religion to some extent and so that could understand the good and evil”. With his identity full of complexities certainly Gorgijanidze would navigate the world between various religions and nations.
The revival of Georgian historical writing during the last quarter of 17th century and first quarter of 18th century also would be discussed with Parsadan Gorgijanidze’s activity from Safavid perspectives and from the view of changing climate of international surroundings as well. I will also refer to several newly published Persian sources: Risale-ye Shenakht with Georgina script, Nasabname of Georgians in Khuzestan (descendants of Vakhushti Khan originated Baratashvili-Orbelishvli) to discuss the place of newly integrated Georgian migrants.
Dr. Colin Mitchell
Director of Middle East Studies Minor
Department of History
Defining and Locating Sufi Politics in the 16th-century Persianate World
The close of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century marks arguably one of the most significant transition periods in the premodern history of the Islamic world. It signalled the termination of two sizeable semi-nomadic dynastic states – the Timurids and the Aq Qoyunlus – while concurrently witnessing the launch of two new Turco-Persianate states which came to dominate Iran and Central Asia, namely the Safavids and the Uzbeks. In the space of 10-15 years, most of the Persianate sphere – eastern Anatolia, Khurasan, Azarbaijan, Fars, Iraq-e Ajam, Khwarazm, Mawaannahr, and the Ferghana Valley – was plunged into a socio-political turmoil which profoundly affected ongoing conceptions of community and identity. The resulting adoption of Shi`ism by the Safavids has been broadly interpreted as the beginning of a confessionalized landscape whereby Muslim identities were increasingly brassbound by the ‘official’ doctrines being adopted and promoted by ‘state’ agencies associated with the Ottomans, Safavids, Mughals, and Uzbeks.
However, such Manichean thinking obfuscates the historical reality of Sufi constituencies and their critical role for such a key transitional period, as well as their continued importance during the height of such ‘gunpowder empires’ in the 16th and 17th centuries. Scholars in recent years have argued that such groups – like the Ni`matullahis, the Naqshbandis, the Haidaris, the Hurufis, the Zaynis, the Nuqtavis, the Yasavis, and the Khalvatis – shaped in profound ways how contemporary Muslims understood the Islamic faith. In this re-interpretation, Sufi cosmologies and philosophies were widespread, and came to dominate language and literary expression with an impressive arsenal of tropes, motifs, metaphors. Thus, Sufism cannot be categorized as ‘antinomian’ or marginal; rather, it conceivably defined Islam for contemporaries of the post-Mongol world. The scale of Sufi thought and practice, it is argued, was actively minimized from the 18th century onwards by religious scholars (ulama) who were increasingly concerned with ‘reform’ and ‘renewal’ as nation-states like England, France, and Russia began to flex their imperial and colonial muscles.
This paper is dedicated to examining a particular Sufi hagiography which was compiled during the aforementioned cluster of years (1490-1510), and as such provides an intriguing opportunity to recover a ‘lost voice’ during a crucial juncture: the collapse of the Timurids and the advent of the Safavids and the Uzbeks. This tazkira, entitled the Maqamat-e Khwaja Ahrar, was written in the early 1500s by a Naqshbandi shaikh (Maulana Shaikh) who would have been an eye witness to the dramatic events which redefined cities like Herat, Bukhara, Samarqand, and Tashkent. On the precipice of a period of monumental change, Maulana Shaikh chose to assemble a biography of one of the Naqshbandi Order’s most respected and revered leaders, Ubaid Allah Ahrar (1403-90). The Naqshbandi shaikhs of the 15th century, popularly associated with their poet-interlocutor Abd al-Rahman Jami, represented a ‘mainstream’ Sufism which sat comfortably in urban settings among traders, merchants, as well as poets, princes, and sultans. Interestingly, the Maqamat was produced during the same period as the much more popular and well-acknowledged hagiography of Ubaid Allah Ahrar by Ali Kashifi Safi, the Rashahat-i ayn al-hayat. Acknowledging the large number of recorded narratives in the Maqamat which profile the Naqshbandi shaikh’s relationship with political rulers and their agents – and the degree to which their decisions and strategies were testimonies to the charismatic power of the Naqshbandi Order – this paper contends that such narratives of an uncharacteristically political Sufi shaikh in the early 1500s were no accident. In an era of intense competition and rivalry among Sufi groups, the Maqamat and its promotion of Ubaid Allah as both dynastic legitimizer and dispenser of spiritual power would have been instrumental. Is it possible that the Maqamat was not an act of piety and reverence, but rather a defense, and possible promotion, of Naqshbandi interests as their traditional patron-sponsors, the Timurids, were being replaced by the Safavids in the south (Khurasan) and the Uzbeks in the north (Mawaannahr)?
Behrang Nabavi Nejad
Art History and Visual Studies
University of Victoria
‘Sādiqī bek-i Afshār and his Reception of the Simurgh Imagery’
An exceptionally well-documented artist of the sixteenth-century Safavid court is Sadiqi bek-i Kitabdar, a Qizilbash warrior from the Afshar tribe (1533-1610). Diverging from his career as a military officer, he took up the arts of painting and poetry rather late in his life but gained remarkable mastery in both as his surviving works attest. In addition to praising his artistic prowess, Sadiqi’s contemporary court historians, including Iskandar Bek-i Munshi (d. 1628) and Qazi Ahmad Qumi (b. 1546), make references to his temperament and unpleasant personality. His strong sense of self-identity and disapproval of his contemporaries are revealed through his written accounts including the Majmaʿ al-Khawāṣ (Assembly of Worthies), Qānūn al-Suwar (Canons of Art), as well as the introduction to his Kullīyāt (the collection of his works). The commission of an illustrated copy of Anwār-i Suhaylī, the first commission of such caliber by an artist and for himself, also points to the high position Sadiqi knew himself worthy of.
As an artist at the Safavid royal atelier, Sadiqi contributed to many illustrated manuscript productions including the two copies of Shāhnāma made for the kings Ismaʿil II (r.1576-77) and Abbas I (r. 1588-1629). While Sadiqi acted as the head of the library during the first decade of Shah Abbas’s rule, directing the first Shāhnāma produced for this ruler, he possibly had the same position during the short reign of Ismaʿil II and the production of his copy of Shāhnāma. By examining the illustrative program of these two manuscripts in general, and focusing on a shared illustration in these two copies, the Upbringing of Zal by the Simurgh, both rendered by Sadiqi, I argue that the agency of the artist/director—the subaltern subject—replaces the agency of the patron/ruler in selecting the illustrated episodes. Traditionally, the royal patrons of Persia were involved in production of their manuscripts. Yet the preoccupation of these two rulers with the matters of state prevented them from such active participation and provided the opportunity for an ambitious character such as Sadiqi to substitute their roles.
An intertextual analysis of the Shāhnāma and its possible sources, the Avestan and Pahlavi literature, delineates that Firdausi (c. 940-1020) amalgamated the characteristics of two mythical birds in shaping the Simurgh in Shāhnāma. Thus the representations of the Simurgh in the illustrations of Shāhnāma manuscripts are tightly associated with the notion of divine glory¬¬¬¬—farr-i Īzadī. This correlation between the Simurgh and the divine glory, as I claim, shapes the inclusion of the representations of the Simurgh in these two royal manuscripts, both programmed by Sadiqi. These images not only address the notion of kingship desired by the rulers but also signify the divine glory yearned for by the artist. In Persian system of though, the royal, divine, and/or Iranian glory could be achieved by the seekers and the learned men. Sadiqi clearly sought such an achievement for himself. The study of the representations of the Simurgh created by him in the light of his own writings would allow discovering the voice
Professor Babak Rahimi
Director of Third World Studies,
Associate Professor of Communication, Culture and Religious Studies
Program for the Study of Religion,
Department of Literature, UC San Diego.
‘Writing Muharram’s Subaltern: the Early Modern European Representation of the Subaltern in the Safavid Muharram Rituals’
The 16th and 17th centuries marked an era of intense European travel to Persia. The establishment of the Safavid Empire in the early 16th century had given rise to a new European curiosity in the Shi’i Muslim dynasty, the Safavids, and its imperial inhabitants. The rise of global economy and European competition with the Ottoman Empire had also opened up the Safavid imperial realms to Europeans, who sought alternative commercial route and potential political alliance with Persia. The European curiosity was partly reflected in the production of travel accounts with rich depictions of courtly, civic and everyday life in the Safavid kingdom. As a distinct genre and a cultural practice, travel accounts shaped a new source of knowledge that combined subjective, historical, geographical, and ethnographic insights for the early modern Europeans. At a time of expanding maritime explorations, travelogues, written and later published in major European capitals such as Amsterdam, Florence, and Paris, provided a blend of autobiographical, historical, geographical and ethnographic accounts of public and private lives in numerous Safavid cities such as Isfahan, Tabriz, Qazvin, Shiraz and port-cities in the Persian Gulf. Missionaries, merchants diplomats and adventures such as Antonio de Gouvea, Don Garcia de Silva y Figueroa, Vincento d’Alessandri, António Tenreiro, Anthony Sherley, Mechele Membré, Raphael du Mans, John Fryer, Jean-Baptiste Taverneir, Engelbert Kaempfer, Pietro della Valle, Cornelis de Bruyn and Jean Chardin, to name a few, defined an age of travel writing that provided a changing knowledge about Safavid society. In this study, I adopt a historical-theoretical approach in the study of the early modern European representations of Safavid society with a focus on the subaltern participation in the religious sphere of the empire, in particular the mourning ceremonies of Muharram, commemorative rites for the martyrdom of the grandson of the Prophet, Hussain, at the battle of Karbala, Iraq, 680 C.E. The paper examines several key travelogues and their use of various narrative strategies in cultural translation, visual representation, and textual representation of the subaltern agency in the Safavid ritual culture in both urban and rural settings. Three historical phases are identified. First period, between 1501 and 1598, mark an era when European travel reports depicted Muharram from primarily a humanist perspective, and doing so in relation with pre-Isfahani phase of Safavid urban landscape, where Shi’i rituals were mostly performed as cultural strategies to convert Sunni population to Shi’i Imami Islam. The second phase begins with building of the new Isfahan and ends with the Shah Abbas’ reign in 1629, when the ceremonies served toward the construction of an imperial Shi’i identity. During this intense phase of urbanization, European depictions begin to show detail account of the ceremonies with a privileged monotone of “objective” representation, evoking multiple accounts of various segments of Safavid society in the ceremonies. It is at this stage when the Safavid subaltern in Muharram becomes most visible in the travel account. The third phase, in what I call the post-Abbas period (between 1629 to 1714), ending with J.T. Krusinski’s Isfahan account of the rituals (1714), identify a period of imperial consolidation when the rituals served to integrate an imperial culture in response to urbanization and socio-economic changes. The study here looks at the works of Chardin, Kaempfer, and De Bruin, among others, to argue that the subaltern increasingly became depicted within a panoramic-encyclopedic perspective. Finally, the paper brings together its historical analysis for a theoretical interpretation of the early modern conception of subaltern within the European-Islamicate context.
Dr. Alberto Tiburcio,
‘An Armenian Convert’s Autobiographical Confession:
‘Alī Akbar Armanī’s I‘tirāf-nāmah’
Throughout this paper I will focus on the figure of the Armenian Orthodox scholar Khalifah Avanos, through which I seek to explore some aspects of the complex relation between the Christian Armenian community of Julfa and the wider Muslim society of late Safavid Iran. This enigmatic and little known character is mentioned in Shaykh Hazīn Lāhījī’s Safarnāmah and in the autobiographical I‘tirāfnāmah of the Armenian Muslim convert ‘Alī Akbar Armanī. From what we know from these sources, Khalifah Avanos was involved in interreligious debates with Muslim scholars and was active as a passionate defender of Orthodox Christianity in his community. I will focus both on the way in which this character is portrayed in the aforementioned sources, on the context that gave rise to his work, and on a recently unearthed risālah attributed to him. I will situate his work within a larger context of interreligious intellectual exchanges in the Safavid period, which mostly engaged Muslims and Catholic missionaries, but I will seek to understand the social specificity of the Armenian case.
I argue that this case fits into the category of subaltern voices, not only because of the obvious fact of it belonging to a religious minority, but more importantly because the minority in question faced a double pressure: Catholic missionary sources reveal that at different times the shahs granted them protection and permission to establish their convents and to proselytize, with a certain degree of success in some cases, among the Orthodox Armenian community. Thus, Armenians in the late Safavid period were often at a double disadvantage, given their waning status as protected trading partners of the shahs (which they had been in earlier periods) and as the main target of European missionaries.
The focus of my paper will thus combine a close textual reading of Khalifah Avanos’s risālah and a wider contextual analysis in order to make better sense of the work in question.
Dr Barry Wood
‘The Safavid Foundation Myth in the Subaltern Imagination’
The so-called “Anonymous Histories of Shah Esma’il” (sometimes referred to by their Persian titles, ‘Âlamârâ-ye Shah Esmâ‘il or ‘Âlamârâ-ye Safavi) are a group of stories existing in about a dozen manuscripts scattered across Europe and Iran, ranging in date from the 1680s to the 1820s. These stories purport to be a detailed history of the Safavid movement, and particularly the life and deeds of Shah Esma’il I, from the beginnings of the Safavid Order to the death of Shah Esma’il in 1524. The “Anonymous Histories” cannot be taken seriously as a record of true events, but this does not mean they are not of value to historians of the Safavid period. In fact, the very distance of the “Anonymous Histories” from the rarefied sphere of official historiography—as evident in the informal, even popular idiom in which they are written, to say nothing of the myriad factual inaccuracies or outright impossibilities they contain—makes them an invaluable window into the subaltern imagination, i.e. how the popular classes of seventeenth-century Iran wanted to understand and “remember” the origins of the Safavid state under whose rule they lived and labored. For these tales bear the clear stamp of coffeehouse storytellers (naqqâlân), whose anonymous creativity moved in a dialectical relationship with the tastes of the crowds they sought to entertain and impress; details crept into or dropped out of the narrative based on the reaction they evoked from the populace. The details that survived that process are a gold mine for students of the Persian lower strata and their mentalité—including, I have argued elsewhere, the collective family lore of the “waning” Qizilbash. Such details include ethnic and religious attitudes (e.g. regarding Uzbeks, Kurds, Arabs, Lurs, and others), notions of the luxurious life of the upper classes (including the fabulous objects they own and wield), metaphysical expectations (such as interventions from Beyond in favor of Shah Esma’il), and an overall sense of the attitude of the common people toward their rulers.
In this presentation, which grows out of my ongoing (and nearly complete) translation of one of the late manuscripts of this corpus, I will survey these aspects of the “Anonymous Histories of Shah Esma’il” with a view to increasing the profile of these tales as a valuable source for an underappreciated aspect of late- and post-Safavid cultural production.