Iranian Georgians

Iranian Georgians

Iranian Georgians are an ethnic group living in Iran. Today's Georgia was a subject to the Safavid empire in 17th century and Shah Abbas I relocated Georgians as part of his programs to develop industrial economy, strengthen the military and populate newly built towns in various places in Iran including Behshahr and Farahabad in Mazandaran Province. Regardless of their ethnicity the relocated communities were predominantly Christian and in lesser extent Muslims but there were also Jews among them. [Matthee, Rudolph P. (1999), The Politics of Trade in Safavid Iran: Silk for Silver, 1600-1730.] The contemporary living Iranian Georgian community is exlusively Twelver Shia Muslim. [ Muliani, S. (2001) Jaygah-e Gorjiha dar Tarikh va Farhang va Tammadon-e Iran. Esfahan: Yekta [The Georgians’ position in the Iranian history and civilization] ] [ Rahimi, M.M. (2001) Gorjiha-ye Iran; Fereydunshahr. Esfahan: Yekta [The Georgians of Iran; Fereydunshahr] ] [ Sepiani, M. (1980) Iranian-e Gorji. Esfahan: Arash [Georgian Iranians] ]


The first compact Georgian settlements appeared in Iran in the 1610s when Shah Abbas I relocated thousands from their historical homeland, eastern Georgian provinces of Kakheti and Kartli. Most of modern-day Iranian Georgians are their descendants though subsequent waves of deportations also occurred throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The Georgian deportees were settled by the Shah’s government into the scarcely populated lands which were quickly made by their new inhabitants into the lively agricultural areas. Many of these new settlements were given Georgian names, reflecting the toponyms found in Georgia. During the Safavid era, Georgia became so politically and somewhat culturally intertwined with Iran that Georgians almost replaced the Qezelbash among the Safavid officials.

During the last days of the Safavid empire, Ottoman Turks and Afghans took advantage of Iranian internal weakness and invaded Iran.The Iranian Georgian contribution in wars against the invading Afghans was crucial. Georgians fought in the battle of Golnabad, and in the battle of Fereydunshahr. In the latter battle they brought a humiliating defeat to the Afghan army.

Despite their isolation from Georgia, many Georgians have preserved their language and some traditions, but embraced Islam. The ethnographer Lado Aghniashvili was first from Georgia to visit this community in 1890.

In the aftermath of World War I, the Georgian minority in Iran was caught in the pressures of the rising Cold War. In 1945, this compact ethnic community, along with other ethnic minorities that populated northern Iran, came to the attention of the Soviet as a possible instrument for fomenting unrest in Iranian domestic politics. While the Soviet Georgian leadership wanted to repatriate them to Georgia, Moscow clearly preferred to keep them in Iran. The Soviet plans were abandoned only after Stalin realized that his plans to obtain influence in northern Iran foiled by both Iranian stubbornness and United States pressure. [ Svetlana Savranskaya and Vladislav Zubok (editors), [ Cold War International History Project Bulletin, I issue, 14/15 – Conference Reports, Research Notes and Archival Updates] , p. 401. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Accessed on September 16, 2007.]

In June 2004, the new Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, became the first Georgian politician to have visited the Iranian Georgian community in Fereydunshahr. The locals gave to the delegation a warm welcome, which included waving of the newly adopted Georgian national flag with its five crosses. Saakashvili who stressed that the Georgian Iranians have historically played an important role in defending Iran put flowers on the graves of the Iranian Georgian martyrs of the eight years long Iran–Iraq War. []

Notable Georgians of Iran

Many direct and indirect members of Safavid family had some Georgian background. [Aptin Khanbaghi (2006)The Fire, the Star and the Cross: Minority Religions in Medieval and Early. London & New YorkIB Tauris. ISBN 1845110560, pp. 130-1.] Notably Shah Abbas I himself was at least half Georgian, [ Eskandar Beg, p. 133; tr. Savory I, pp. 215-17, ] and spoke the Georgian language very well. [Sepiani, M. (1980) Iranian-e Gorji. Esfahan: Arash [Georgian Iranians] ]
Allahverdi Khan Undiladze, whom the famous landmark of 33 pol in Isfahan is named after, was among the Georgian elite that were involved in the Safavid government. Also his son Emam-gholi Khan Undiladze, who defeated the Portuguese army in the Persian Gulf was a famous Iranian Georgian serving the Safavid empire. Other famous Georgians of Safavid empire were Daud Khan Undiladze, Gorgin Khan, Rostam Khan the Sepahsalar, Parsadan Gorgijanidze and Yusef Khan-e Gorji the Sepahdar, who established modern Arak.

Amin al-Sultan, Prime Minister of Iran, was also a Georgian. He was the son of a Georgian father. [Patrick Clawson. Eternal Iran. Palgrave. 2005. Coauthored with Michael Rubin. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6 p.168]
Manucheher Khan Motamed-od-Dowleh and General Bahram Aryana were other famous Iranian Georgians.

The names of actors Cyrus Gorjestani and Sima Gorjestani, as well as the late Nematollah Gorji, suggest that they are/were (at least from the paternal side) of Georgian origin.Also the Mazandarani poet Nima Yooshij had Georgian roots.
Mahmoud Karimi (Mahmud Karimi Sibaki), an Iranian football striker who plays for Sepahan F.C. (Esfahan) in the Iranian Premier Football League is the most famous Iranian Georgian football player in Iran. Another contemporary figure of partial Georgian background is the Iranian-American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani.

For a more lengthy discussion on Georgians and Persia refer to. [Encyclopedia Iranica's reference on Gorjestan: [] ]

Geographic distribution and language

The Georgian language is still used by some people in Iran. The center of Georgians in Iran is Fereydunshahr, a small city, 150 km to the west of Isfahan. The western part of Isfahan province is historically called Fereydan. In this area there are 10 Georgian towns and villages around Fereydunshahr. In this region the old Georgian identity is retained the best compared to other places in Iran. In many major Iranian cities, such as Tehran, Esfahan, Karaj and Shiraz live Georgians too.

Many other people in Iran have partial Georgian admixture, these people living mainly in the northern Iranian region of Mazandaran also the Sangesari people in northern Iran are believed to be mixed with Georgians, which is visible from their physical appearance.In many other places such as Najafabad, Rahmatabad, Yazdanshahr and Amir Abad (near Esfahan). In Mazandaran Province in northern Iran, there are ethnic Georgians too. They live in the town of Behshahr, and also in Behshahr county, in Farah Abad, and many other places, which are usually called Gorji Mahalle. Most of them no longer speak the Georgian language, but retain aspects of Georgian culture. Some argue that Iranian Georgians retain remnants of Christian traditions, but there is no evidence for this.

The number of Georgians in Iran is estimated from 50,000 to over 100,000. According to Encyclopaedia Georgiana (1986) some 12,000-14,000 lived in rural Fereydan prior to 1985 ["Encyclopaedia Georgiana" (1986), vol. 10, Tbilisi: p. 263.] but these numbers are obvious underestimations.The Georgian alphabet is also known to some in Fereydunshahr.


Further reading

* Muliani, S. (2001) Jaygah-e Gorjiha dar Tarikh va Farhang va Tammadon-e Iran. Esfahan: Yekta [ The Georgians’ position in the Iranian history and civilization]
* Rahimi, M.M. (2001) Gorjiha-ye Iran; Fereydunshahr. Esfahan: Yekta [The Georgians of Iran; Fereydunshahr]
* Sepiani, M. (1980) Iranian-e Gorji. Esfahan: Arash [Georgian Iranians] More readingMuliani, S. (2001) Jaygah-e Gorjiha dar Tarikh va Farhang va Tammadon-e Iran. Esfahan: Yekta [ The Georgians’ position in the Iranian history and civilization]

Esfahan's tourist exhibition, mentions the Georgians from Fereydunshahr and Fereydan. The report of this exhibition is available in the web site of the Iranian Cultural Heritage News agency at:

Saakashvili visited Fereydunshahr and put flowers on the graves of the Iranian Georgian martyrs' graves, showing respect towards this community []

ee also

*Iran-Georgia relations

External links

*Pierre Oberling, [ Georgian communities in Persia] . "Encyclopaedia Iranica"
*ge icon [ Fereydan - "Little Georgia"]
*ge icon [ Georgian Radio of Iran]
* Ali Attār, "Georgians in Iran", in Persian, Jadid Online, 2008, [] .
"A Slide Show of Georgians in Iran" by Ali Attār, Jadid Online, 2008, [] (5 min 31 sec).

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