Fereydani Georgians’ Religion and Language
Although the Fereydani Georgians’ ancestors must have been Orthodox Christians at some point in time, there is no solid proof and tangible traces of their Christianity traceable in modern-day Fereydan. Nevertheless, we can assume that they have retained aspects of their original culture, which might have contained (latent) Christian elements, for some time. As will become clear in the following sections of this chapter, there is evidence of Pre-Christian religious elements transformed into Shi’ite religious elements traceable in Fereydani Georgians’ narration of history. Today there are no significant, if any at all, visible differences between the Georgian Fereydani Shi’ite practice and those of their non-Georgian Shi’ite neighbours in Iran. However, it is fair to say that the tribal (semi-) nomadic Bakhtiari people may be more liberal in their Shi’ite practices than the city and village dwellers in Fereydan.
Fereydani Georgian oral history and collective memory do not capture the specific geographical origins of their ancestors, apart from the fact that they came from Georgia. They do not refer to the exact region from which they originated in Georgia. Although it is commonly assumed that the largest influx of Georgians into central Iran originated mainly from Kakheti and less so from Kartli, a Kakhetian or Kartlian origin of Fereydani Georgians’ ancestors is not certain. The available evidence and indications suggest that the Fereydani Georgians’ ancestors must have come from the mountainous parts of north-eastern or central northern Georgia. The seventeenth century historical book Tarikh-e Alam-Ara-ye Abbasi (Monshi 1998, 1433-1446), written by the court chronicler Eskandar Beyg Monshi, tells the story of how 30,000 people from Ertso-Tianeti including many Aznauri (petty nobility) and people from the upper classes were converted to Islam during one of the Safavid campaigns (1614 AD).4 Judging by the linguistic and other evidence, these people could be the ancestors of modern day Fereydani Georgians (see Rezvani 2008).
Today, the Fereydani Georgians speak a Georgian dialect, which, despite its heavy influence by Persian, is still largely intelligible to speakers of standard Georgian. Fereydani Georgian dialect has a number of peculiarities which are only partially related to vocabulary. There exists a phoneme in Fereydani Georgian which resembles the uvular consonant q, but differs from both the Persian q, which in fact has evolved into a voiced uvular fricative g (gh), and the Georgian q’ with a glottal stop. This phoneme, along with a similar phoneme k’x (k’kh), still exists in the conservative dialects of mountainous north-eastern Georgia. For example, these dialects and Fereydani Georgian rather use peqi and qeli for pexi (pekhi) and xeli (kheli), which respectively mean foot and hand. Similar to the conservative dialects of mountainous north-eastern Georgia, Fereydani Georgian omits the initial m before a consonant in many words; for example, geli instead of mgeli (wolf) or ta instead of mta (mountain) (see also Rezvani 2008, 606-608). However, there exist a few other features that do not necessarily relate Fereydani dialect to any existing Georgian dialects in the Caucasus and may be an authentic feature or autonomous development of Fereydani Georgian. Logically Fereydani Georgian has adopted many Persian words. Georgian dialects in the Caucasus have also many Persian and other Iranic borrowings, which in addition to new Persian also include words from Middle Persian and Parthian languages. However, the lion share of the Persian borrowings in Fereydani Georgian is from new Persian. All in all, based on linguistic and other evidence and indications a geographic origin of Fereydani Georgians’ ancestor from Ertso-Tianeti and in general from the mountainous parts of central northern and northeastern Georgia is very probable.5 Similar to every other ethnic group, Fereydani Georgians have a number of experiences which are essential to their self-awareness and are repeated in their narration of local history. Below these experiences are reviewed and discussed.