Modern Self-Representation of Fereydani Georgian Identity
There have been many Iranian Georgians who have played an important role in Iranian political history (see Muliani 2001; Savory 1970). Among the most famous are members of the Undiladze family—particularly Allahverdi Khan and his son Emamqoli Khan Undiladze—who assumed positions of imperial chancellorship and commander in chief of armed forces. Emamqoli Khan is a clear example of the prominence that Georgians could achieve. Iranians take pride in him as the victor and liberator of the Persian Gulf from the mighty Portuguese navy in the seventeenth century. Despite the fact that most, if not all, of the famous Georgian Iranian statesmen were of non-Fereydani origin, Fereydani Georgians take pride in them as fellow Iranian Georgians.6 One succinct representation of Iranian Georgian identity was offered by the Iranian Georgian Association of Tourism at the Esfahan Tourism Exhibition of 2005 and published by the Esfahan Organization of Cultural Heritage in a special edition of Aqvam (Ethnic Groups):
We Georgians of Iran, or better said the Georgian Iranians, are the descendants of Allahverdi Khan and Emamqoli Khan Undiladze. We have ... planted the seeds of friendship and solidarity for more than 400 years all over Iran, from Farah Abad in Mazandaran, to Fars and Esfahan and to the dearest Fereydunshahr—the roof of Iran. We are immensely proud that we are Shi’ite Muslims, that we are Iranians and that we speak the sweet Georgian language. Georgians have offered great services to Iran, from the military wisdom of Allahverdi Khan to the braveries of Emamqoli Khan, who put an end to the Portuguese occupation in southern Iran ... up to the martyrdom of young Georgian men during the eight years of sacred defense [i.e. the Iran-Iraq War] (.)7
Today, the most frequently reproduced and visualized Georgian symbols in Iran are the Allahverdi Khan’s Si-o-se-Pol Bridge in Esfahan and the Tsikhe Mountain in the Iranian Georgian heartland of Fereydan to the west of Fereydunshahr.8 Although the Georgian alphabet is not widely used by Iranian Georgians, there were many handicrafts and rugs on which Georgian texts in the Georgian alphabet were written. In addition, 33 Georgian letters were written on wooden artefacts and put under each arch of Si-o-se-Pol. In fact, Georgian letters are used symbolically by Fereydani Georgians as their cultural heritage, stressing their Georgian identity.
Three events are remembered, memorised and reproduced frequently and largely by Fereydani Georgians and, therefore, deserve the status of historical peak experiences: (1) the history of the first Georgian settlement in Fereydan, (2) the battle against the Afghans and (3) the battle of Tsikhe. Below are presented the ways that Fereydani Georgians narrate these events and how they relate to their self-identification.
Consulting the available sources and facts on ground, we can almost be certain that these events have actually taken place and there exists a large degree of consensus among Fereydani Georgians regarding their representation. However, the Fereydani Georgian popular narrations add some elements to the historical events and interpret them in a specific way. Below the Fereydani Georgian peak experiences are briefly reviewed and discussed.9