ZARATHUSHTIES OF IRAN
IN THE 18 AND 1900’s
(First Published in the newsletter of ZCC –Vancouver)
Today we should not sit back and allow our fellow Zarathushties to be treated as
It is TIME FOR ACTION
We have received a letter and some references from one of our readers in Farsi, which has drawn our attention to the plight of the Zarathushties in Iran during the early 1900’s. He sights an example how Zarathushti children born in Tehran in the 1930's and after were prevented from learning Dari language. The reason was that leaders like Arbab Kaikhosrow Sharokh thought that children who spoke Dari language had a distinct accent when they spoke the Persian language. This accent caused the recognition of Zarathushti children in schools who then got beaten up by the Muslims, for being a Zarathushti.
He quotes from a recently published biography of Mirza Soroush Lorasb, in Farsi, of how Soroush Lorasb, Rostam Ardeshiri Ghostasbi and Burzoo Shahpour were force to quit the government technical school because they were Zarathushties and as such without a religion. Luckily for them, by then in Tehran, there was a school by the name of Alborz, run by the Americans and they got admitted to that school.
Another reference is made to a book written by Ardeshir Zaareh, which sites an incident where some Zarathushties of Yazd had written a letter complaining to the King - Nasser-0-Din Shah. When the Governor of Yazd comes to know of it, he calls the Mobeds and this is what he says. " You bastards have broken the rule. How has this person learned to write and dared to complain to the Shah? Is it not our rule that only the children of you Mobeds can learn to read and write and that too only in Zand and Avesta not Farsi."
Another book referred to has reproduced a letter from Arbab Jamshid Soroushian. Which we summarize here below.
" May his soul rest in peace, Manecjee Limjee Hoshang a Parse who during the reign of Sultan Nasser -O -Din Shah Ghajar came to Iran to negotiate the exemption of the Zarathushties from paying Jaziyeh. A tax levied on non Muslims which was so high that could never be paid in full and the Zarathushties were always at the mercy of the rulers and tax collectors."
Manecjee Limjee in his report in 1854 to the Zarathushties of India, whom he represented, writes that in Iran there were only 7711 Zarathushties left. Of whom 6657 lived in Yazd, 932 in Kerman, 100 in Tehran and 21 in Shiraz.
Mr. Carporter an English traveler who had visited Iran in 1818 writes about the Zarathushties as people who in spite of all the harassment and difficulties are steadfast in their religious belief. They have nowhere to look for help and know no place to go where they would be free. They have made the desert their home and live with all the hardship that comes with it, just to preserve their religion in their ancient country. During the onslaught of conversion to Islam some had taken to the mountain and others had fled to the bordering lands of India but these that made the desert their home believed in both their country and their religion. There are about four to five thousand of these people in the deserts of Yazd they are very capable farmers who have made the desert green behind circular walls they call "Baug" (gardens). They are also very good artesian and are self sufficient in their needs. They do not depend on any outside help to survive.
Another Iranist from France, a lady named Manan, who published her work in 1897 writes about the Zarathushties that, - in 1720 when Mahmood the Afghan king attacked Kerman, the city was well fortified but there was a place called Ghabr Abad outside the fortification, where the Zarathushties lived because they were forbidden from living within the fortification. The Afghan King Mahmood wiped out the whole Zarathusti population except for a handful who managed to hide in the flat desert. She further writes that in 1722 the Persian Safavi king Sultan Hossein had signed a proclamation that all Zarathushties in Esfahan should either be converted or killed. Some of those Zarathushties fled to Yazd and others managed, by way of sea, to go to India.
Mary Boyce writes "the Zarathushties still lived in millions in Iran in the 10th century. During the ninth century they had been able to bring about a renaissance in literature and science in Islamic Iran. Many Zarathushti religious books were also written during this century, which form a great part of religious studies today. In Khorasan and Northern Iran Zarathushties stilled lived upto the sixteenth century but with the attack of the Moguls - Taimur Lang and Changis Khan we loose trace of them. "
Taimur Lang is known to have built towers with human skulls in every city of Northern Iran that he conquered. There is also a story of how Taimur destroys a whole population of some brave people in the mountains of Shiraz, who were feared by the rulers and the people of Shiraz. They had dared to attach even his caravan. Taimur’s initial attack on them fails. Historians write that it looked like every branch of the tree was alive and showered arrows on the Mogul army. Taimur lost nearly all his men and so vowed to avenge this defeat. He shortly returned with gunpowder from china and so was able to blasts his way thru the narrow pass in the mountain. He finds among the solders fighting against the Mogul army, were ladies with something tied on their back. One of whom manages to fight her way close enough to attack Taimur himself but Taimur was quick and beheads the lady. He then out of curiosity inspects the sack on her back and finds a baby in it. In the mountain he finds a fire temple and some mobeds and then learns that these people were Zarathusties. May their souls rest in peace. It is appropriate here for us to say an "Ashem Vohu and Yatha Ahu " in the memory of these brave souls.
Yazd and Kerman are situated on the borders of the desert and were comparatively safe places to take refuge, although a difficult place to survive. The difficulties of the desert made the Zarathusties that settled here industries, hard working and determined. In spite of the difficulties they preserved their religion and never thought of exchanging it for the luxury of being a Muslim. The seclusion of these people from the outside world helped in the perseverance of their customs and beliefs in its original form. The Dari language helped them a lot in that it was not understood by other than Zarathushties and it was never written, making it difficult for an outsider to try and learn it.
These Zarathushties had learned to be self-sufficient and were in a way independent from the Muslim people and the rulers. So in order to harass the Zarathushties other means were envisaged. We learn about these tactics from "Napier Malcolm" who lived in Yazd for five years and has recorded them in his book "Five years in an Iranian city - Yazd". He says in 1895 when he lived in Yazd the Zarathushties were not allowed to wear eyeglasses or to use an umbrella or wear a ring on their fingers. They were not allowed to wear a belt unless it was made out of brown or khaki coloured cloth. They were not allowed to wear socks and their shoes had to be torn. Their trousers had to be short little lower then their knees. They were not allowed to wear a hat or cap and if they ever did wear, it had to be a torn one. They were not allowed to ride on the back of a donkey in front of a Muslim and the height of their houses had to be lower than that of the Muslim’s. The door of their house had to be a single hinged small door. They were not allowed to trade or do business in any form. The Zarathushti children were not allowed to go to school till 1870.
He further writes that the Jazieh tax collectors had the full power to use all and any means they thought fit to collect the full amount of the Jazieh. He reports an incident where a Zarathushti and a dog were tied to two ends of the same rope and beaten in turns. In Islam dog is considered an untouchable animal. At times the male members of the Zarathushti households were beaten to death for not being able to pay the Jaziyeh in full.
The people that once ruled over the ancient civilized world and ruled so benevolently that they were considered saviours, had been reduced to such a stage of annulment is not a matter to pity and lament about but something to study and learn a lesson from.
Today we should not sit back and allow our fellow Zarathushties to be treated as second-class citizens. It is TIME FOR ACTION.