Saturday, December 25, 2010

Church of Saint Stephanos

The Church of Saint Stephanos ((کلیسای سن استپانوس located in East Azerbaijan was built in the 9th century and is among a handful of magnificent churches in Iran. The Church's architectural style is a mixture of Urartan, Parthian, Greek, and Roman styles. With respect to the history of the construction of this building, which is considered one of the architectural masterpieces of north-western Iran, there are a number of differing views. However, historic evidence, the type of construction, the building materials, the ornamentation, the philosophy behind the ornamentation, and the circumstances that allowed for the creation of this Church all attest to the fact that it was constructed during the tenth to twelfth centuries AD. The Church is located in the abandoned village of Dare Sham. Prior to 1971 it was accessible only by a dirt path, however, a road was constructed providing access by automobile. 

Passing through an increasingly hilly terrain approaching a mountain, the dome of the entranceway to the Church of Saint Stephanos becomes visible. The dome of the entrance building has a width of four meters at its base, while the grounds are covered by a variety of trees. A large pool exists on the site with a clear, clean spring flowing to it. The fortifications for the monastery and Church are located to the east of the site and consist of a tall rampart with seven watchtowers and five cylindrical buttresses. The watchtower on the south-western corner has crumbled, but the other portions of the fortification have remained relatively sound. The gateway to this rampart is situated in the center of the western wall. It has a width of approximately one and a half meters, and a height of roughly two and a half meters. The door itself is made of wood, with wrought iron details, much in the style of fortress gates in the Safavid and Qajar eras. The pillars, and the dome above the gate are all constructed of red limestone and bear extensive masonry, and sculpting. A stone relief of the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus is sculpted in the dome's vault. This gateway opens on to a dark passageway that leads on the south to the monastery, on the north to the Church.


Once inside, one must pass through a narrow corridor, climb a few steps, and enter the Church's courtyard. The Church is constructed entirely of stone, and consists of three distinct parts: the belfry, the Church proper, and Daniel's furnace. The Church proper has a height of an average three story building with remarkable samples of masonry, sculpting and decorative work both in the interior and exterior of the building. Remarkable stone relief of the disciples, saints, and angels have been sculpted on the faces of the sixteen-sided prismatic structure, which is considered the impost for the tower of the Church.  

The interior of the shrine is laid out as a basilica and consists of three components: arcade, apse and altar. The balcony to the arcade is situated upon two stone demi-columns. The altar is located on the eastern side of the shrine with its base and surface made of marble. 

There are a number of interesting objects within the shrine of which two inlaid chairs, three images of Mary and Jesus, a brass reliquary, and four bibles stand out. The chairs are from the Safavid period, the paintings resemble those from the 17th and 18th centuries, the bones within the gilded reliquary are said to be those of Saint Gregory, and the oldest bibles date, according to Sarkis Misaghian, from the 17th century.  

Daniel's furnace is a hall connected to the Church's northern wall. It is divided into three parts: the furnace, a congregation space, and a baptismal fountain. The furnace is separated by a wall from the congregation hall which is located in the center of the space. The baptismal urn is situated in the eastern extremity of the hall and stands in the middle of a high platform. The furnace is named after Saint Daniel, who was born in Syria in the year 410. The bell tower is located on a two storied balcony that is connected to the Church's southern wall. This tower is octagonal in shape, and stands on eight cylindrical columns, all of which are of the same red stone as the Church.  

In 2005, a team of Iran's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) who were studying documents from Iranian churches for international registration, discovered some bones in a box in the Church. It is believed that the box consists of remains of John, the Baptist. Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a French traveler, recalls he saw the box when he was passing Saint Stephanos Church in 16th-early 17th century where he was told that the box belonged to one of the 12 Apostles of Christ. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Reza Shah

Reza Shah Pahlavi (رضا شاه) (March 15, 1878 – July 26, 1944), was the Shah of Iran from December 15, 1925 until he was forced to abdicate by the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran in September 16, 1941. Reza Shah overthrew Ahmad Shah Qajar, the last Shah of the Qajar dynasty, and founded the Pahlavi Dynasty. He was later designated by parliament as "Reza Shah the Great". He established an authoritarian government that valued nationalism, militarism, secularism and anti-communism combined with strict censorship and state propaganda. He was known as being highly intelligent, without any formal education. Reza Shah introduced many socio-economic reforms, reorganizing the army, government administration, and finances. His reign brought law and order, discipline, central authority, and modern amenities - schools, trains, buses, radios, cinemas, and telephones. 

Reza Pahlavi was born in the village of Alasht in Savad Kooh county, Mazandaran in 1878. His father, Abbas Ali, and his mother Zahra were ethnic Mazanderani. Abbas Ali was a member of the regional army. When Reza was sixteen years old, he joined the Persian Cossack Brigade, in which, years later, he would rise to the rank of Brigadier. He also served in the Iranian Army, where he gained the rank of gunnery sergeant under Qajar Prince Abdol Hossein Mirza Farmanfarma's command. He rose through the ranks, eventually holding a commission as a Brigadier General in the Persian Cossack Brigade. He was the last and only Iranian commander of the Persian Cossack Brigade. 

In late 1920 the Soviet Socialist Republic in Rasht was preparing to march on Tehran with a guerrilla force of 1500 Jangalis, Kurds, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis, reinforced by the Soviet Red Army. This fact, along with various other disorders, mutinies and unrest in the country created an acute political crisis in the capital. On February 21, 1921, Reza Khan staged a coup d'état together with Seyyed Zia'eddin Tabatabaee, to get control over a country which had practically no functioning central government at the time. Commanding a Russian-trained Cossack Brigade, Reza Khan marched his troops from Qazvin, 150 kilometers to the west of Tehran, and seized key parts of the capital city almost without opposition and forced the government to resign. With the success of the coup, Tabatabaee became the Prime Minister of Iran. Reza Khan's first role in the new government was as commander of the army, which, in April 1921, he combined with the post of Minister of War. At the same time, he took the title Reza Khan Sardar Sepah. The coup d'etat and the emergence of Reza Khan were assisted by the British in order to halt the Bolsheviks penetration of Iran and the threat they posed on their colonial possession in India. It is thought that British provided ammunition, supplies and paid for Reza's troops. On October 26, 1923, Reza had seized control of Iran and forced the young Ahmad Shah Qajar to exile in Europe. He maneuvered against Qajar dynasty and in October forced the parliament to depose the young King. He assured the landlords and the conservative clergy that he would defend Islamic law and would not undertake any radical reform. The Majles, convening as a constituent assembly on December 12, 1925, declared him the Shah. Three days later, on December 15, 1925, he took his imperial oath and thus became the first Shah of the Pahlavi dynasty although it was not until April 25, 1926 that Reza Shah would receive his coronation and first place the Imperial Crown on his head. 


In his national policies two main features stood out: nationalism and modernization. During Reza Shah's sixteen years of rule, major developments, such as large road construction projects and the Trans-Iranian Railway were built, modern education was introduced and the University of Tehran was established. The government sponsored European education for many Iranian students. The number of modern industrial plants, increased 17 fold under Reza Shah, (excluding oil installations) while the number of miles of highway increased from 2000 to 14,000. Along with the modernization of the nation, Reza Shah was the ruler during the time of the Women's Awakening (1936-1941). This movement sought the elimination of the Islamic veil from Iranian society. Supporters held that the veil impeded physical exercise and the ability of women to enter society and contribute to the progress of the nation. Women were allowed to study in the colleges of law and medicine, and in 1934 a law set heavy fines for cinemas, restaurants, and hotels that did not open doors to both sexes This move met opposition from the religious establishment. The unveiling issue and the Women's Awakening are linked to the Marriage Law of 1931 and the Second Congress of Eastern Women in Tehran in 1932.

Reza Shah was the first Iranian Monarch after 1400 years who paid respect to the Jews by praying in the synagogue when visiting the Jewish community of Isfahan; an act that boosted the self-esteem of the Iranian Jews and made Reza Shah their second most respected Iranian leader after Cyrus the Great. Reza Shah's reforms opened new occupations to Jews and allowed them to leave the ghetto. He forbade photographing aspects of Iran he considered backwards such as camels. As his reign became more secure, Reza Shah clashed with Iran's clergy, as he did with all other political constituencies in the country, and he banned Islamic dress and chadors in favor of Western dress. Women who resisted this compulsory unveiling had their veils forcibly removed. 

Despite the support initially given to him by the British, the Shah worked to balance British influence with other foreigners and generally to diminish foreign influence in Iran. In 1931, he refused to allow Imperial Airways to fly in Persian airspace, instead giving the concession to German-owned Lufthansa Airlines. The next year he surprised the British by unilaterally canceling the oil concession awarded William Knox D’Arcy (then called Anglo-Persian Oil Company), which was slated to expire in 1961. The concession granted Persia 16% of the net profits from APOC oil operations. The Shah wanted 21%. Following a brief challenge by the British before the League of Nations, the British acquiesced. He previously hired American consultants to develop and implement Western-styled financial and administrative systems. Included among them was US Economist, Dr. Arthur Millspaugh who acted as the nation's Finance Minister. Reza Shah also purchased ships from Italy and hired Italians to teach his troops the intricacies of naval warfare. And began bringing in hundreds of German technicians and advisors for various projects. Mindful of the Persian’s long period of subservience to British and Russian authority, Reza Shah was careful to avoid giving any one foreign nation too much control. He also insisted that foreign advisors be employed by the Persian government so that they would not be answerable to foreign powers. In his campaign against foreign influence he annulled the 19th century capitulation to Europeans, granting them extraterritorial jurisdiction. The right to print money was moved from the British Imperial Bank to his National Bank of Iran. The administration of the telegraph system from the Indo-European Telegraph Company to the Iranian government as was the collection of customs by Belgian officials. He eventually fired the American Millspaugh, and prohibited foreigners from administering schools, owning land or traveling in the provinces without police permission. 

On 21 March 1935, he issued a decree asking foreign delegates to use the term Iran in formal correspondence in accordance with the fact that "Persia" was a term used for a country called "Iran" in Persian. To counterbalance British and Soviet influence, Reza Shah encouraged German commercial enterprise in Iran. On the eve of World War II, Germany was Iran's largest trading partner. During World War II, the Iranian consular office in France was instrumental in saving Iranian and non-Iranian Jews from persecution by Nazi Germany. In the context of Iran's good diplomatic relations with Germany, Iran saved some lives of Iranian Jews and non-Iranians stating they were citizens, this shows that Iran, who had a strong relationship, did not fully agree with the "Third Reich". His foreign policy, which had consisted essentially of playing the Soviet Union off against Great Britain, failed when those two powers joined in 1941 to fight the Germans. To supply the Soviet forces with war material through Iran, the two allies jointly occupied the country in August 1941.

In August 1941, the Allied powers United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, occupied Iran by a massive air, land, and naval assault subsequently forcing Reza Shah to abdicate in favor of his son. The Shah received with disbelief, as a personal humiliation and defeat, news that fifteen Iranian divisions had surrendered without much resistance. Some of his troops dispersed and went home, while others were locked up in their barracks by the Allies. The Shah's son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, officially replaced his father on the throne on September 16, 1941. Reza Shah was soon forced into exile in British territories, first to Mauritius, then to Durban thence Johannesburg, South Africa, where he died on July 26, 1944, of heart ailment from which he had been complaining for many years. His personal doctor had boosted the King's morale in exile by telling him that he was suffering from chronic indigestion and not heart ailment. He lived on a diet of plain rice and boiled chicken in the last years of his life. He was sixty-six years old at the time of his death. After his passing, his body was carried to Egypt, where his body was embalmed and kept at the royal Al Rifa'i Mosque in Cairo. Many years later, the remains were flown back to Iran, where the embalming were removed, and buried in a beautifully designed and decorated mausoleum built in his honor at the Shia shrine town of Ray/Shah Abdol Azim, in the southern suburbs of the capital, Tehran. It had been alleged that on January 14, 1979, shortly before the Iranian Revolution, his remains were moved back to Egypt and reburied in the Al Rifa'i Mosque in Cairo. Following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Reza Shah's mausoleum was destroyed. In 2018 a mummified body believed to be Reza Shah's was found in the vicinity of his former mausoleum site in Tehran.