The Battle of Tsikhe
The battle of Tsikhe is a very emotional historical peak experience of Fereydani Georgians. When talking to Iranian Georgians, it is unlikely that no reference to Tsikhe will be made. This is the peak experience by which they claimed and reaffirmed their share in local Fereydani affairs and in Iranian politics in general, despite the fact that, unlike the battle against the Afghans, this conflict did not result in a military victory. Massacres and severe abuses of human rights by rulers, invaders and kings alike have not been rare and exceptional phenomena in Iranian history. Nevertheless, rarely is human suffering represented as a victory, as is the case with the battle of Tsikhe.
The battle of Tsikhe is in a way an unpredicted outcome of the privileges that Fereydani Georgians had acquired during Nader Shah’s reign. After Nader Shah’s death in 1747, many contenders claimed the Iranian throne. Karim Khan Zand—who later happened to be the most successful among the contenders—became part of an alliance that captured the political power in Iran. Its members agreed upon appointing the young Esmail III, a grandson of the last Safavid king, Shah Soltan-Hossein, as king, while Ali-Mardan Khan, an important Bakhtiyari chief, was appointed the regent, because Esmail III was still too young. As part of this agreement, Karim Khan was appointed as the commander-in-chief of the army (Muliani 2001, 232). Karim Khan began to regard Ali-Mardan Khan, whose ascendancy to the Iranian throne was not unimaginable, as a rival. Secure of his military power, Karim Khan decided to attack Ali-Mardan Khan. During a war in the Bakhtiyari mountains around Fereydan, he defeated Ali-Mardan Khan in 1751. As Perry (1979, 30) puts it: “Karim Khan demonstrated that he intended to be the master of the Bakhtiyari mountains. Immediately after his victory, tribute was demanded of all the neighboring settlements.” Disrespecting the privileges gained by Fereydani Georgians during Nader Shah’s reign, Karim Khan demanded tribute and surplus from both the Georgian and non-Georgian villages of
Fereydan. Orojqoli Beyg, the chief of Fereydunshahr, who had supported Ali-Mardan Khan, defied this demand and persuaded, or coerced, the villagers to refuse to pay tribute to Karim Khan. Armenians from the villages around Fereydunshahr wanted to give Karim Khan tribute and gifts, but Orojqoli Beyg told them that he would personally punish them in a severe ways if they did so (Rahimi 2001, 33). Rahimi (2001, 33) tries to give also materialistic reasons for Orojqoli Beyg’s attitude: his rejection of Karim Khan’s demand was due to the fact that villagers were poor and did not have enough food. However, it is more probable that his attitude was informed by Karim Khan’s disrespect for the acquired privileges given to Fereydani Georgians by Nader Shah, the Fereydani Georgian-Bakhtiyari good relationship, and the fact that Karim Khan was regarded a usurper at that time and not a legitimate king.
After his victory over Ali-Mardan Khan, Karim Khan advanced on Fereydunshahr. Anticipating that Karim Khan would take punitive action, the whole population of Fereydunshahr and probably also many people from the neighbouring villages moved to Tsikhe Mountain. Having arrived in Fereydunshahr, Karim Khan ordered unconditional surrender of the evacuees. At first, Orojqoli Beyg intended to recognize Karim Khan’s authority in order to prevent bloodshed. However, his son Rahim accompanied by many young men refused. Similar to the previous battle, the young men would rather fight the arrogant and powerful opponent and die than have to accept humiliation (Rahimi 2001, 36). In addition, a plan was devised to assassinate Karim Khan but was not carried out, because Georgians wanted to play a fair game, even against a superior army (Rahimi 2001, 37-38). This represents heroism, a value of Iranian culture associated with Ali, the first Shi’ite imam. This incident, however, did not leave Karim Khan untouched. As his modern and superior army advanced, the local Georgians were apparently driven to a place on the mountain where there was no water. This is significant because, in the Iranian Shi’ite tradition, cutting off water from the public, fighting while being thirsty and dying of thirst are all associated with the battle of Karbala, when the superior army of Yazid cut off water in order to make Imam Hossein’s camp suffer and surrender.12
A central concept in the Shi’ite belief system, mazlumiyyat—that is, being innocent and oppressed—is also reflected in this narration. A mazlum is an innocent person, in particular, an innocent person oppressed by an unjust superior. In the battle of Tsikhe, similar to the battle of Karbala, innocent children died of thirst, and innocent women, children and elderly who were not directly involved in the fighting were forced to suffer and ultimately to die in order to be free. Orojqoli Beyg is regarded as innocent, too. He had, after all, decided to accept Karim Khan’s authority in order to avoid bloodshed. Reputedly, after Orojqoli Beyg was executed by a cannon shot, his right arm fell down to Karim Khan’s feet. Karim Khan noticed a Qur’an in a small box, tied to Orojqoli Beyg’s arm, and tremblingly repented his deed (Rahimi 2001, 42). This representation also has parallels with the events in the battle of Karbala: the hands of Abulfazl, Imam Hossein’s brother, were cut off in the battle of Karbala. It is possible that Orojqoli Beyg had had a Qur’an in a small box tied to his arm. We do not know exactly. It is not a widespread Shi’ite tradition. However, the mere representation of this event serves as a reminder of the fact that Fereydani Georgians were devout Muslims and Karim Khan who inflicted injustice upon them, repented his deed after he realized that they were true devout Muslims. Rahimi (2001, 42) claims that Karim Khan did not know that Fereydani Georgians were Muslims, assuming instead that they were Christians. He repented his deed after he saw a Qur’an on Orojqoli Beyg’s arm. This Fereydani Georgian narration of the event probably does not accord with the facts, for as Rahimi himself mentions Karim Khan had had many Muslim Georgian commanders in his army—he mentions Lotf- Ali Khan Gorji, Mohammad Beyg Gorji and Sohrab Khan Gorji (Rahimi 2001,41). Therefore, we can assume that the authors and narrators of this event want to emphasise the Shi’ite Muslim religion, and hence also their legitimate privileges in the Iranian political affairs of that time.
The account of the battle of Tsikhe, which touches upon Shi’ite symbolism of the battle of Karbala, suggests that the desire of Fereydani Georgians to be regarded as truly devout Shi’ite Muslims has been instrumental in their very existence as a Shi’ite Muslim, Georgian-speaking ethnos in central Iran. After his repentance, Karim Khan ordered public amnesty for the Fereydani Georgians. Praising their courage, he also appointed many Fereydani Georgians to high positions in his government. Paradoxically, Rahim, Orojqoli Beyg’s son, who had helped escalate the conflict that resulted in a tragedy, was given governmental positions (Rahimi, 43-44). Thus, the Fereydani Georgians’ resistance was not in vain, and the refusal to submit to humiliation and servility was rewarded in this instance as well. Similar to the Shi’ite perception of the battle of Karbala, the moral victory was awarded to those who had resisted arrogance and tyranny. This narrative depicts Fereydani Georgians as the key decision makers in Fereydan and, therefore, affords them a legitimate political space to share with other ethnic groups who could potentially claim deeper roots in the region. While during their battle against the Afghans the Fereydani Georgians acted consistently with their self-identification as loyal Iranian Shi’ite Muslim Georgians, in the battle of Tsikhe they defended their acquired political rights and privileges and secured their “place” in Iranian politics. In fact, in the latter battle they claimed (not in vain) that their self-identification should be recognised by others as an integral part of the reality on the ground.