Dr. Mehrborzin Soroushian
Review of his book
issue published in French appeared in 1859 in Paris
First Farsi translation was published in 1988 in Tehran
Joseph De Gobineau
France’s Charge d’affaires at the court of
Nassur ul'Din shah Qajar of Iran
Gobineau, born on June 14, 1816 in a Parisian suburb, came from an aristocratic
background. His father was in
command of Louis 18th’s Imperial guards, and the young Gobineau was
attending military school, when the second French revolution unfolded in July
1830. With his family fortune turning overnight, Joseph was forced
to leave the military school and depart for sanctuary in Germany and
With revolutionary fervor
subsiding in France, the young Gobineau returned to Paris and took a few odd
journalistic assignments as a way of making a living, while at the same time he
pursued studying his favorite subject of ancient Western and Eastern
civilizations. Following the February 1848
French revolution resulting in the abolishment of the monarchy, Gobineau
became associated with Alexis de Tocqueville, the French foreign minister. This move was the launch of De Gobineau’s career as a
French diplomat at a time of great political upheavals in France and elsewhere.
His numerous foreign
diplomatic assignments took him to Bern, Hanover, Frankfurt, and on a tour of
duty to Tehran, Iran, from 1855 to 1858, as a first secretary of the French
mission for half that period, and as Charge d’affaires for the rest of his
assignment in Iran. In 1859 after his return to France, De Gobineau published
his memoirs under the heading of “Trois Ans En Asie” (Three years in Asia).
In October 1861, Emperor
Napoleon III dispatched Comte De Gobineau on his second diplomatic mission to
Iran, where he stayed for another two years.
Following his last assignment in Iran, he served as the French diplomat
in Greece, Brazil, and Sweden before his retirement in 1877, after which he
moved to Italy to live the remaining years of his life.
his tour of duty in Iran, this French diplomat took an interest in the remaining
Zartoshties still surviving in their ancestral land under very trying
conditions. His account of the plight of the Zartoshties has proved a valuable
source of information. In addition, De Gobineau used his diplomatic influence
with the court of Nassir ul'Dinshah Qajar in support of
Maneckji Limji Hataria who had arrived from India on a mission to
ameliorate the conditions of his co-religionists in Iran. The starting focal
point of Hataria’s effort was the rescission of the Jazziya head tax imposed
on the Zartoshties and attempts to gain them more civil rights and protection.
De Gobineau’s support proved valuable.
The help that this relatively obscure French diplomat rendered to the
Zartoshty community of Iran, which was caught in a desperate struggle for
survival, must be acknowledged.
of his book:
fascination with ancient civilizations, his own life experience as a privileged
Frenchman whose family fortunes suddenly overturned, his literary and
journalistic skills and attention to details was a unique combination of factors
that shaped the character of this French diplomat and gave him a unique
sensitivity to the experience of the Zartoshties in Iran.
His book, reflecting his observations of his excursion in Asia, mainly in
Iran, and his assessment of the characteristics of the Arabs, the Turks and the
other neo-Iranians in shaping the plights of the countries in Western Asia is
very revealing. One of his concluding chapters, entitled “The possible outcome
of interactions between Europe and Asia” is very revealing as to De
Gobineau’s outlook on the drastic changes Asia was subjected to as a result of
the imposition of Arab rule.
De Gobineau’s book
contains informative observations on Iran in the second half of the 19th
century. He dedicates an entire
chapter to a review of the three religious minorities, the Sufis, the Nassiries
(branch of Eastern Christian church), and the Gabers (a degrading
term applied to Zartoshties by the Moslems).
A few of his narrations
relative to the Zartoshties of Iran are included here to display the agony of
the battered community.
Gobineau reports that one of the rules imposed by the Muslim clerics that
impacted Kafirs (non-Muslims), which played havoc with the Zartoshty community,
was the rule of inheritance. If any
member of a Zartoshty household would convert to Islam, he would
automatically inherit all the family’s belongings, to the exclusion of the
remaining Zartoshty family members. This
law was meant to attack the fabric of the minority community, and continued to
take a heavy toll on the Zartoshties of his
Gobineau’s close observation, and intimacy with, the Zartoshty
community of Yazd is revealed by his recounting that one of the big debates
going on in that community was on consumption of meat in their daily diet, with
some expressing strong views against it, while others favoring it.
Reporting on the great work of Maneckji Limji Hataria, Gobineau observes
that only a miracle can save the Zartoshties of Iran, given their diminished
state. Because of their lack of knowledge of their own religion, they faced not
only external but also internal threat.
4. He continues his observation of the Zartoshties by stating the praise to
be paid to these people is not solely for their intelligence but even more for
their positive outlook on life given their circumstances. He goes on to say, “the Zartoshties believe very soon a
Syoshant will arrive and lift them out of their misery and will help restore
Zoroastrianism to its greatness.” As
to where the savior will come from, there is difference of opinion, with some
believing he will come from the direction of Afghanistan, others believing the
liberating syoshant and his army will come from the West.
One Zartoshty man from Yazd was so consumed with his belief that the
arrival of the Syoshant and his liberation army was imminent, that, fearing they
would not have a sufficient supply of Sudreh and Kushti (the religious underwear
and cord worn by Zartoshties), he sold all his belongings, buying all the
Sudrehs and Kushtis he could. He loaded the Sudrehs and Kushties on a couple of
camels and left Yazd in the direction of Afghanistan, and was never heard from
again (a likely casualty of highway robbers).
Gobineau goes on to commend the Zartoshties for possessing free spirits
and aspiring to great and high ideals.
5. He reports that on the death of a family member, Zartoshties in some
locations found it necessary to completely cover and block the doors and other
openings to their home before lighting up a fire for the performance of
religious observances, out of fear of attack from the Muslim fanatics and
ruffians roaming the neighborhoods and terrorizing the minorities.
6. Gobineau also reports his tally of the Zartoshties of Yazd, enumerated
village by village, to consist of total of 1837 women, 1300 men, 1377 girls, and 1796 boys.
Gobineau’s recording of population of the battered Zartoshty community
of Kerman indicates 239 women, 178 men, 219 girls and 189 boys in total. No
significant population of Zartoshties could be found elsewhere in their
Gobineau relates: One of his Zartoshty friends (wearing the yellow
colored outfit the Zartoshties were forced to wear for easy identification) was
passing through a shabby and desolate alley in the city of Isfahan, when he
heard a strange noise directed at him. The
Zartoshty man stopped and looked around, and noticed an old and strange looking
woman motioning him to get close to her. The
man hesitated, but seeing that the woman insisted, walked towards her.
Standing at the doorway of her house, she insisted on his entering. The
Zartoshty man was hesitant but entered. She led the way, and asked him to sit
down on a stool in the middle of her front yard.
She rushed to bring him tea and a plate full of fruits, and invited him
to eat. As the Zartoshty man
reached for the fruit plate, the woman sitting a short distance from him and
staring at him, suddenly burst into tears. The Zartoshty man, shaken at this
experience, froze in puzzlement, and asked the reason for her crying.
The woman, holding back her tears stated: alas, I wanted you to come to
my house even for a short while, as I know you are the follower of a great
religion that my ancestors also followed at one time.
She continues, maybe you are not well versed in the tenets of your faith,
but my father would from time to time make reference to this great religion and
get very emotional about it. She
went on to say, “I concur with my father’s view that what you have is much
better than what I have been left with.”