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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee



in Post-Arab Iran

Conditions & Treatment 1500s-1800s

Migrations to Yazd & Kerman

Under the Safavids

Under the Afghans

Under Nader Shah

Under the Generals & Karim Khan Zand

Under the Qajars

Further Descriptions of the Plight of Zoroastrians in Yazd and Iran

Maintaining the Faith Against All Odds

Page 2: Conditions & Treatment of Zoroastrians. 1500s to Late 1800s CE

Prior reading:

» Page 1: Conditions & Treatment of Zoroastrians c 650-1500 CE

Related reading:

» Zoroastrianism in Yazd

» Early Parsi History

» Irani Zoroastrian Renaissance. The Benefactors. Parsi Assistance

Migrations to Yazd & Kerman

After the Arab invasion of Iran, many Zoroastrians from different parts of Iran sought refugee in Yazd and Kerman, with Yazd having the largest population. Of those who chose to remain in Iran, many Zoroastrians from Parsa (Pars) and the northwest migrated to Yazd, while many from eastern Iran migrated to Kerman. For instance, during Nader Shah's time (1736 -1747 CE), it is estimated that of the Zoroastrians in Kerman, 8,000 were from Khorasan and 2,000 from Siestan. Yazd and Kerman continued to be home to the majority of Iranian Zoroastrians until many of the migrated to the capital of Iran, Tehran.

In the very first of the letters the Yazdi Zoroastrian sent to the Indian Zoroastrians with Nariman in 1478 CE (see Rivayats), they noted with sadness that at no time since Gayomard at the dawn of Aryan history had times been more distressing and dangerous for behdins than during the present "millennium of the demon of wrath" (Mary Boyce in Zoroastrians p. 175 quoting Dhabhar p. 598).

Under the Safavids (1501 - 1722)

Some residents of Yazd were fugitives from the Safavid kings (1501 - 1722) who made Shia Islam the official religion of Iran. Abbas II (1642-67 CE) expropriated Zoroastrian land around Isfahan and the last of the Safavids, the butcher Sultan Husain or Hosain (1694-1722 CE), issued a decree for the forced conversions of Zoroastrians to Shia Islam at the point of the sword. A Christian archbishop witnessed the destruction of a Zoroastrian temple and the massacre of those Zoroastrians who refused to convert. The slaughter of Zoroastrians turned the river red with blood. Husain also tried to force the Afghans to convert from the Sunni to the Shia sect of Islam, and in doing so laid the seeds of an Afghan revolt.

Under the Afghans (1722 - 1729)

In 1719 CE, the Afghans revolted against the Safavids and in 1722 CE defeated the Safavids taking Kerman and Isfahan. A revolt had turned into an occupation of parts of Iran - parts such as Kerman where Zoroastrians and congregated looking for some small measure of safety and stability. In Kerman, the Afghans fell upon the unprotected Zoroastrian quarter, the Gabr Mahale, which was outside the city walls, and slaughtered all it inhabitants including its women and children. After the fighting ceased, a few surviving senior Zoroastrians who had been permitted to remain within the city walls, gathered the bodies and made a make-shift dakhma by surrounding the bodies with an earthen wall, the ruins of which can still be seen together with the ruins of the Gabr Mahale.

Soon after the Afghans began a siege of Isfahan in March 1722, the besieged Safavid Husain gave in to internal pressure and agreed to share command with his son Tahmasp. In June 1722, while the city was still under siege, Tahmasp escaped to the provinces and attempted to raise a relief force. While Tahmasp was engaged in trying to raise an army, in October 1722 Isfahan fell to the Afghans. Husain ceded power to the Afghan leader Mahmud who proclaimed himself Shah of Iran. At first the Afghans spared Husain his life. However, when in 1726 CE, the Ottoman governor of Baghdad, Ahmad Pasha, refused to recognize the Afghan claim to the throne and demanded the restoration of Husain to the throne, the Afghan ruler, now a certain Ashraf, beheaded Husain sending the latter's head to Ahmad Pasha as a response. While this drama was unfolding in Isfahan, Tahmasp had succeeded in reaching an agreement with the Khorasani warlord Nader Kuli (also spelt Qoli), to assist in regaining the Iranian throne.

Under Nader Shah (1729 - 1747)

Nader launched an offensive against the Afghans who he defeated in 1729 CE. After the victory, Nader who now held the true reigns of power, nevertheless installed Tahmasp as the nominal shah of Iran while remaining in effective control of the court and the nation's administration. After the installation of Tahmasp, Nader proceeded to launch a series of campaigns to regain Iranian lands and after achieving some measure of success, proclaimed himself shah of Iran in 1736 deposed the hapless Tahmasp and assumed the title Nader Shah Afshar (1736 -1747 CE).

Then as shah, Nader began to heavily tax Iranians under the excuse of a need to pay for his campaigns to liberate Iran. In 1738, the enriched and emboldened Nader Shah invaded India - then under Mughal rule. After capturing the capital Delhi, he ordered the massacre of 30,000 of its inhabitants and looted the city of its incredible wealth. He returned triumphantly to Iran carrying his loot with him, loot that included the legendary Peacock Throne as well as the Koh-i-Noor and Darya-e Noor diamonds.

On his return from India, Nader Shah became increasing despotic and insecure. Fearing his son's ambitions, Nader had him blinded and then executed all the nobles who had witnessed the act. His insecurity turned to paranoia and the despot began executing large sections of the population.

For Zoroastrians, this turn of events proved particularly disastrous. 12,000 Zoroastrians who had served in his army perished and the Zoroastrian populations of Khorasan and Siestan were decimated. The surviving Zoroastrians became a convenient source of funds and had to pay the Jizya tax that left an already impoverished community destitute. The Dasturan Dastur of Yazd was compelled to move from Turkabad to Yazd city where his activities could be better scrutinized (at this time there were still two Atash Bahrams in Sharifabad).

Eventually, individuals around Nadir Shah sought relief of the shah's cruelty. In 1747 CE, eleven tumultuous and bloody years after assuming the crown of Iran, Nadir Shah was assassinated by his guards and their captain. His son assumed the throne but anarchy soon followed with most provincial governors declaring themselves independent.

Under the Generals & Karim Khan Zand (1747 - 1794)

Out of this chaos, three generals of Nader Shah's army, Karim Khan, Abdolfath Khan and Ali Mardan (Morad) Khan asserted control, dividing the administration of the country between them. Abdolfath Khan became Prime Minister, Karim Khan became the army's Commander-in-Chief, and Ali Mardan Khan became the regent. To gain legitimacy, they restored a Safavid, Ismail III, to the throne of Iran. Eventually Karim Khan, who had made Shiraz his headquarters, assumed ascendancy over the other generals and in 1760 CE, felt strong enough to bring an end to the Safavids as a dynasty. In doing so, Karim Khan did not assume the crown for himself. Instead he preferred the title Vakil-e Ra'aya meaning advocate of the people, a president of sorts.

For a brief period - from 1750 to 1779 CE - when Iran was effectively ruled by General Karim Khan Zand, the Zoroastrians felt some respite. But the respite would be short lived. During this brief period of relief for Zoroastrians, a Zoroastrian emissary from India, Mulla Kaus visited the Zoroastrians of Iran resuming a tradition, started three hundred years ago (in the mid 1400s CE) by Nariman Hoshang - a tradition of obtaining answers to the many religious questions the Parsees of India could not answer for themselves. The answers the Parsees brought back from Iran were later assembled as the Rivayats. It should be remembered that through all the misery that had been heaped upon them, the Zoroastrians of Iran - and in particular the Zoroastrians in Yazd - had somehow preserved their orthodoxy, knowledge of religious customs and precious manuscripts that had survived destruction. Yazd was still the religious capital of the Zoroastrians. To facilitate Mulla Kaus' search for answers, the Yazdis assembled an anjuman. When Mulla Kaus met with the anjuman, he asked them seventy-eight questions.

While in Iran, Mulla Kaus took the opportunity to petition Karim Khan - on behalf of the Zoroastrians of Iran - to relieve the Zoroastrians of Iran from the debilitating Jizya tax, a request that Karim Khan granted. In doing so Mulla Kaus would start another tradition - that of Parsi intervention to relieve the burdens under which the Iranian Zoroastrians were existing. This tradition would be continued by Maneckji Hataria in 1854. Mulla Kaus' visit would be the last visit to collect answers to religious questions. For the next hundred years after the end of Karim Khan's rule, travel conditions for Zoroastrians would become extremely hazardous, a transformation that would witnessed and experienced by Mulla Kaus while he was visiting Kerman.

Under the Qajars (1794 - 1925)

While Mulla Kaus was still in Iran, Karim Khan passed away in 1779 CE and was succeeded by an ineffective member of his family. The leadership of Iran now once again again fell into disarray. The chiefs of the Qajars, a Turkic group from the northwest of Iran under the leadership of Agha Mohammad Khan, took advantage of the situation and made a move a gain the throne of Iran. In 1794 they deposed Lotf Ali Khan, the the ruling member of Karim Khan's Zand family.

By this time, Mulla Kaus was visiting the city of Kerman which had decided to resist Qajar rule. For their troubles Mohammad Khan laid siege to the city of Kerman in 1796 CE, trapping Mulla Kaus in the process. The city eventually succumbed to the siege and the victorious Muhammad Khan punished the city's inhabitants by blinding 20,000 of them. Mohammad Khan soon established his place in history of one of the cruellest monarchs to ever rule Iran - and for Zoroastrians the coming of the murderous Qajars heralded one of the darkest periods in their history - plunging them to the depths of destitution.

According to Dr. Daryoush Jahanian, the massacre of Zoroastrians that had been occurring since the Arab conquest "did not cease during the Qajar rule. The last two (massacres) are recorded at the villages surrounding the city of Borazjan and Turkabad near Yazd. Today, the village of Maul Seyyed Aul near Borazjan, among the local people is known as the 'killing site' (Ghatl - Gauh), and Zoroastrian surnames of Turk, Turki, Turkian and Turkabad reflect lineage to the survivors of Turkabad."

Conditions only began to be alleviated, when sixty years after Mulla Kaus' visit, Maneckji Hataria ventured to visit Yazd in 1854 CE. Hataria went about his mission to assist in finding relief of the Zoroastrians of Iran despite threats to his life. Undeterred, Maneckji armed himself and went about his task. In the tradition of Mulla Kaus, one of Hataria's initiatives was - with the assistance of British influence and pressure - to petition the court of the last Qajar king (the last Qajars was a decadent ruler over whom the British and the Russians exercised considerably influence) to relieve the Iranian Zoroastrians from paying the Jizya tax (which Maneckji had begun to pay with funds denoted by the Zoroastrians of India).

Further Descriptions of the Plight of Zoroastrians in Yazd and Iran

From Early 1700 to Late 1800 CE

As we have seen above, conditions for Zoroastrians in Iran began to deteriorate immediately after the Arab invasion of their country. These conditions grew worse as the numbers of Zoroastrians decreased due to the pressures brought upon them and reached the depths of despair in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the Zoroastrian population in Iran had decreased to miniscule levels and the surviving Zoroastrian became east prey for those who wished to victimize them.

Regarding these two hundred years, an article The Zoroastrian Houses of Yazd by Ryszard J. Antolak (an article review from Vladimir Fedorovich Minorsky memorial volume) - and available for reading at Vohuman.org - states "...whereupon two hundred years of political and religious turmoil ensued which decimated the population. Yazd suffered attacks from Afghans, Zands and Afshars, to name but a few. The Zoroastrian population was subjected to additional hardships. As a religious minority subject to discriminatory laws, it found it had as much to fear from its Muslim neighbours as from the foreign forces armed against it.

"In 1963 when Mary Boyce arrived in the region to study them, she discovered gloomy, fortress-like buildings virtually devoid of any furniture or greenery. They were low and airless. No badgirs adorned their roofs. The primary consideration of the builders had been defence. The ideal solution would have been to build upwards, erecting high, tower-like houses as are found (for example) all over Scotland. But in Iran, Zoroastrians were not allowed to build their homes any higher than a man could reach (or any taller than the houses of Moslems). They could only build downwards, creating dark honey-combs of subterranean rooms with adobe walls several feet thick to withstand attack. The Zoroastrians were physically greater in stature than their Moslem neighbours ("mighty men", as Mrs. Boyce calls them) and they could have put up a fight if they had to. But it seldom happened. The penalty for killing a Moslem was certain death: to kill a Zoroastrian meant incurring only a modest fine, usually waived by the authorities. Better, therefore, to prevent attacks in the first place.

"Entry to the houses was via a single door from a narrow lane just wide enough to allow a fully-laden donkey to pass. The Law stated that the door of a Zoroastrian dwelling could be secured by only a single hinge, so a series of doors had to be built (one after the other) to prevent forced entry. Finally, at the end of a gloomy corridor, a narrow door - the smallest of them all - led into a bare, central courtyard or rikda.

"There were no windows. Sometimes glass bottles could be seen protruding from the walls of the entrance lane. But these served as spy-holes rather than windows, defence being uppermost in the minds of these persecuted inhabitants. The only light to enter the house was through the tiny courtyard or via irregular gaps in the doors or ceilings. In some of the buildings the courtyard had been covered over completely to prevent intruders gaining access from the roof. The result was total darkness and oppressive claustrophobia. It is ironic that Zoroastrians, with their sophisticated theologies of light, should have been forced to live in such shadowy, enclosed buildings."

An article in tenets.zoroastrianism.com titled Zarathustri Pilgrimage Sites In Iran quotes Prof. Edward G. Browne in his A Year Amongst The Persians (the year being 1887-88):

"Upto 1895, no Parsi was allowed to carry an umbrella. Up to 1895, there was a strong prohibition upon eye-glasses and spectacles; up to 1885 they were prevented from wearing rings; their girdles had to be made of rough canvas, but after 1885, any white material was permitted. Up to 1896, the Parsis were obliged to twist their turbans instead of folding them. Up to 1898, only brown, grey and yellow were allowed for body garments but after that, all colours were permitted, except blue, black, bright red or green. There was also a prohibition against white stockings and up to about 1880, the Parsis had to wear a special kind of peculiarly hideous shoe with a broad, turned-up toe. Up to 1885, they had to wear a torn cap, up to about 1880, they had to wear tight knickers, self-coloured, instead of trousers. Up to 1891, all Zoroastrians had to walk in town and even in the desert, they had to dismount if they met a Mussalman of any rank whatever."

The article goes on to say, "Browne writes about an incident in 1860 where a Zoroastrian man of 70 years went to the bazaar in white trousers of rough canvas. According to Browne's account, 'they (the Mussalmans) hit him about a good deal, took off his trousers and sent him home with them under his arms.' "

A excerpt from Maneckji Limji Hataria's (see next page for a section on Maneckji Hataria) report to Society for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Zoroastrians in Persia - the society that had employed him to survey the plight of Iranian Zoroastrians, assess their needs and provide whatever assistance as was possible - reads as follows:

"Dear Sir; This noble group has suffered in the hands of cruel and evil people so much that they are totally alien to knowledge and science. For them even black and white , and good and evil are equal. Their men have been forcefully doing menial works in the construction and as slaves receive no payment. As some evil and immoral men have been looking after their women and daughters, this sector of Zoroastrian community even during daytime stays indoor. Despite all the poverty, heavy taxes under the pretexts of land, space, pasture land; inheritance and religious tax (Jizya) are imposed on them. The local rulers have been cruel to them and have plundered their possessions. They have forced the men to do the menial construction work for them. Vagrants have kidnapped their women and daughters. Worse than all, community is disunited. Their only hope is the advent of future saviour (Shah Bahram Varjavand). Because of extreme misery, belief in the saviour is so strong that 35 years earlier when an astrologer forecasted the birth of the saviour, many men in his search left the town and were lost in the desert and never returned. ...I found the Zoroastrians to be exhausted and trampled, so much that even no one in this world can be more miserable than them."

Maintaining the Faith Against All Odds

As we have noted above, for hundreds of years, despite great humiliation and even wanton murder, the brave Yazdi and Kermani Zoroastrians had continued to maintain their faith and traditions - so much so that when the Zoroastrians of India forgot the ingredients used in the haoma ceremony or the type of twigs that were required for making a barsom bundle (the Parsees had taken to using bundles of metal wire as a substitute), or for that matter many other rites of religion - it was towards the Zoroastrians of Yazd and Kerman that the Parsees turned for answers.

If conditions were not difficult enough for Zoroastrians under the various Islamic regimes, H. Petermann informs us in his book Reisen im Orient, Vol. II, p. 204, Leipzig 1865 (as quoted by Mary Boyce in Zoroastrians), that regime changes were times of particular danger for Zoroastrians, for its was during these times that fanatics and ruffians alike "fell upon the poor Zoroastrians, mishandled them, even killed some of them, robbed them, and especially took from them... their books, to burn them."

If there was ever a time for the Parsees of India to come to the aid of their Iranian co-religionists, this was the time, and they rallyed to the call well. They did so in a manner that would not just provide temporary relief but a solid foundation on which a build a prosperous, self-sustaining community. The next page relates this story.

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Prior reading:

» Page 1: Conditions & Treatment of Zoroastrians c 650-1500 CE

Related reading:

» Zoroastrianism in Yazd

» Early Parsi History

» Irani Zoroastrian Renaissance. The Benefactors. Parsi Assistance

» Site Contents

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in Post-Arab Iran

Conditions & Treatment 650 CE-1400s

Arab Attitudes Towards the Persians During Their Conquests

Islamic Rulers of Iran - Timelines

Conditions Under the Arab Caliphate

Dhimmi Status and Jizya Tax

Destruction of Fire Temples & Libraries. Murder of Priests

Humiliation as Untouchables

Under the Umayyads (661-750 CE)

Under the Abbasids (752 - 833 CE)