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The Battle Against the Afghans

Another historical peak experience of the Fereydani Georgians is the battle against the Afghans. This clash reveals a lot about the Fereydani Georgian political and cultural orientation, as well as their active participation in regional events in the early eighteenth century. The battle’s narrative is coherent with the Fereydani Georgians having appropriated a Shi’ite identity and indicates a strong affinity with Shi’ite symbolism. During the reign of Shah Soltan-Hossein (1694-1722), the Safavid Empire became weakened internally, and the Afghans attacked Iran. After the battle of Golnabad in 1722 and upon entering Esfahan, the Afghans moved towards other parts of Iran. According to Fereydani Georgian oral history, Fereydan was not spared. Ethnic antagonisms seem to have played a role in the Afghan assault on Fereydunshahr. The Safavid governor in Afghanistan was a Georgian called Gorgin Khan (Giorgi XI), who was regarded by the Afghans as an oppressor and harsh ruler. His assassination by Afghans was a turning point in the Afghan-Safavid relationship, which ultimately resulted in the sack of Esfahan during the invasion of the Safavid Empire by the Afghans. Four hundred Georgian royal guardians fought and defended Esfahan against the Afghans until they were all killed (Muliani 2001, 219).10

According to Fereydani Georgian oral history, Afghans robbed and killed villagers, even when they surrendered voluntarily (Rahimi 2001, 27).11 Fereydani Georgians said: “We do not want not succumb to tyranny and humiliation. We will fight instead. Dying in freedom is better than having to live under subjugation and humiliation” (Rahimi 2001, 27-28). There is a corresponding famous Shi’ite phrase, spoken by Imam Hossein, the Shi’ite “Lord of the Martyrs”: “heyhat min az-zilla” which means “servility and humiliation, never”. Imam Hossein fought against the superior army of Yazid, the Arab Sunni caliph, and died as a free martyr in Karbala, never recognising Yazid’s tyrannical authority. One can only speculate what would have happened if the Fereydani Georgians were not Shi’ites, but the impact of the battle of Karbala (680 AD) and of Imam Hossein’s martyrdom on the modern-day pious Fereydani Shi’ite Muslim psyche is evident.

According to the local narratives a knight dressed in white appeared on a white horse, chanted “Allah-o Akbar” (God is the greatest) and guided Fereydani Georgians in their victory against the Afghans (Rahimi 2001, 31). Although Rahimi tries to give mundane explanations for the appearance of the knight on the white horse, it is clear from the descriptions that the Georgians saw the apparition as a miracle and associated it with the twelfth Shi’ite imam, Mahdi (also spelled as Mehdi in Iran). According to Shi’ite traditions, Mahdi lives in occultation. He will come at the end of times and establish a reign of justice all over the world. He is associated with the Shi’ite belief in heavenly assistance. Many people believe that Mahdi, one of whose titles is Imam Zaman, or Lord of the Times, assists loyal and devout people at critical moments. Christian Georgians have similar myths, which assure them that Tetri Giorgi (The White George) will assist them in times of necessity. The belief in Tetri Giorgi is especially strong among Ossetians and Georgians in central- eastern mountainous areas of northern Georgia, where the ancestors of Fereydani Georgians hypothetically originated (Rezvani 2008). White George, originally a pagan deity of these mountainous areas representing the moon, the supreme god and protector, was later obviously remodelled as a Christian Saint George. The Afghan attack happened at a time when memories of their (not very distant) Christian (or maybe even pagan) past were probably still alive in Fereydani Georgian collective memory.

Thus, the narrative of the knight appears to have (pre-)Christian roots, but it has been consciously adapted, memorised and narrated consistently with Fereydani Georgian Shi’ite beliefs. Today, this event is regarded by the locals as the heavenly assisted victory of Shi’ite believers over a non- Shi’ite enemy. Practicing the local Shi’ite tradition of burning candles in Shi’ite sanctuaries, Fereydani Georgians burn candles in front of the split rock—called Tamziani Tskheni (Tskheni = horse), or Kowa (Standard Georgian kwa = stone)—from where it is believed that the knight on the white horse appeared.

Employing Shi’ite symbolism in this narrative is logical if one takes into account the political setting of that time. Being a Shi’ite empire, Iran was despised not only by Afghans, but also by the Ottoman Turks. The Afghans and Ottoman Turks had signed a treaty and in fact had agreed to divide Iran between themselves (Ghadiani 2005, 94-95; Muliani 2001, 178-179). The battle against the Afghans in Fereydan happened, thus, in a context in which the existence of Iran as an independent Shi’ite state was under serious threat. The Afghans were later totally defeated by the Safavid general, Naderqoli Afshar, who, after having liberated Iran from the Afghans and Ottoman Turks, was crowned as Nader Shah. Pleased with the services of Fereydani Georgians, he exempted them from paying taxes and gave them positions in his army and administration (Rahimi

2001, 32). Therefore, the significance of the battle against the Afghans and its Shi’ite symbolism reconfirm the Fereydani Georgian Shi’ite identity, while the memory of the battle and the acknowledgement and special treatment conferred by the Iranian political establishment and authorities reinforce the awareness that the Fereydani Georgians played a crucial and essential role in Iranian history.

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