Iranian Georgians: Wikis


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Prince Muhammad-Beik of Georgia, 1620. Artist is Reza Abbasi. Painting is located at Berlin's Museum Für Islamische Kunst.

Iranian Georgians are an ethnic group living in Iran. Today's Georgia was a subject to the Safavid empire in 17th century and Shah Abbas I relocated Georgians as part of his programs to develop industrial economy, strengthen the military and populate newly built towns in various places in Iran including the provinces of Isfahan and Mazandaran. Communities of Christians, Muslims, and Jews were relocated to Iran, many of whom assimilated into the larger Iranian society.[1] The Georgian community of Fereydunshahr which has retained its Georgian identity until this day is Twelver Shia Muslim.[2][3][4]



The first compact Georgian settlements appeared in Iran in the 1610s when Shah Abbas I relocated thousands from their historical homeland, eastern Georgian provinces of Kakheti and Kartli. Most of modern-day Iranian Georgians are their descendants though subsequent waves of deportations also occurred throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The Georgian deportees were settled by the Shah’s government into the scarcely populated lands which were quickly made by their new inhabitants into the lively agricultural areas. Many of these new settlements were given Georgian names, reflecting the toponyms found in Georgia. During the Safavid era, Georgia became so politically and somewhat culturally intertwined with Iran that Georgians almost replaced the Qezelbash among the Safavid officials.

During the last days of the Safavid empire, Ottoman Turks and Afghans took advantage of Iranian internal weakness and invaded Iran. The Iranian Georgian contribution in wars against the invading Afghans was crucial. Georgians fought in the battle of Golnabad, and in the battle of Fereydunshahr. In the latter battle they brought a humiliating defeat to the Afghan army.

Despite their isolation from Georgia, many Georgians have preserved their language and some traditions, but embraced Islam. The ethnographer Lado Aghniashvili was first from Georgia to visit this community in 1890.

In the aftermath of World War I, the Georgian minority in Iran was caught in the pressures of the rising Cold War. In 1945, this compact ethnic community, along with other ethnic minorities that populated northern Iran, came to the attention of the Soviet as a possible instrument for fomenting unrest in Iranian domestic politics. While the Soviet Georgian leadership wanted to repatriate them to Georgia, Moscow clearly preferred to keep them in Iran. The Soviet plans were abandoned only after Stalin realized that his plans to obtain influence in northern Iran foiled by both Iranian stubbornness and United States pressure.[5]

In June 2004, the new Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, became the first Georgian politician to have visited the Iranian Georgian community in Fereydunshahr. The locals gave to the delegation a warm welcome, which included waving of the newly adopted Georgian national flag with its five crosses. Saakashvili who stressed that the Georgian Iranians have historically played an important role in defending Iran put flowers on the graves of the Iranian Georgian martyrs of the eight years long Iran–Iraq War.[6]

Notable Georgians of Iran

Many direct and indirect members of Safavid family had some Georgian background.[7] Heydar Ali, third son of Tahmasp I, was the son of a Georgian slave.[8] Mustafa, fourth son of Tahmasp I, was the son of a Georgian princess.[9]

Shah Suleiman I and his courtiers, Isfahan, 1670. Painter is Ali Qoli Jabbador, and is kept at The Saint Petersburg Institute of Oriental Studies in Russia, ever since it was acquired by Tsar Nicholas II. Note the two Georgian figures with their names at the top left.

Allahverdi Khan Undiladze, whom the famous landmark of 33 pol in Isfahan is named after, was among the Georgian elite that were involved in the Safavid government. Also his son Emam-gholi Khan Undiladze, who defeated the Portuguese army in the Persian Gulf was a famous Iranian Georgian serving the Safavid empire. Other famous Georgians of Safavid empire were Daud Khan Undiladze, Gorgin Khan, Rostam Khan the Sepahsalar, Parsadan Gorgijanidze, Siyâvash, and Yusef Khan-e Gorji the Sepahdar, who established modern Arak.

Amin al-Sultan, Prime Minister of Iran, was also a Georgian. He was the son of a Georgian father.[10] Manucheher Khan Motamed-od-Dowleh and General Bahram Aryana were other famous Iranian Georgians.

The names of actors Cyrus Gorjestani and Sima Gorjestani, as well as the late Nematollah Gorji, suggest that they are/were (at least from the paternal side) of Georgian origin. Also the Mazandarani poet Nima Yooshij had Georgian roots. It is believed that Reza Shah Pahlavi's grandmother was a Georgian (from Mazandaran).[11] Mahmoud Karimi (Mahmud Karimi Sibaki), an Iranian football striker who plays for Sepahan F.C. (Esfahan) in the Iranian Premier Football League is the most famous Iranian Georgian football player in Iran. The Iranian-Canadian historian Kaveh Farrokh has Georgian roots. [12] Another contemporary figure of partial Georgian background is the Iranian-American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani.

For a more lengthy discussion on Georgians and Persia refer to.[13]

Geographic distribution, language and culture

The Georgian language is still used by some people in Iran. The center of Georgians in Iran is Fereydunshahr, a small city, 150 km to the west of Isfahan in the area historically known as Fereydan. In this area there are 10 Georgian towns and villages around Fereydunshahr. In this region the old Georgian identity is retained the best compared to other places in Iran.

There were other compact settlements in Khorasan at Abbas Abad (half-way between Shahrood and Sabzevar where there remained only one old woman who remembered Georgian in 1934), Mazadaran at Behshahr and Farah Abad, Gilan, Isfahan Province at Najafabad, Rahmatabad, Yazdanshahr and Amir Abad. There areas are frequently called Gorji Mahalle ("Georgian neighborhood"). Many Georgians or Iranians of partial Georgian descent are also scattered in major Iranian cities, such as Tehran, Esfahan, Karaj and Shiraz.

Most of these communities no longer speak the Georgian language, but retain aspects of Georgian culture. Some argue that Iranian Georgians retain remnants of Christian traditions, but there is no evidence for this. The Georgian alphabet is also known to some in Fereydunshahr. Iranian Georgians observe the Shia traditions and also non-religious traditions similar to other people in Iran. They observe the traditions of Nowruz.

The number of Georgians in Iran is estimated from 50,000 to over 100,000. According to Encyclopaedia Georgiana (1986) some 12,000-14,000 lived in rural Fereydan c. 1985[14] but these numbers are obvious underestimations.


  1. ^ Matthee, Rudolph P. (1999), The Politics of Trade in Safavid Iran: Silk for Silver, 1600-1730.
  2. ^ Muliani, S. (2001) Jaygah-e Gorjiha dar Tarikh va Farhang va Tammadon-e Iran. Esfahan: Yekta [The Georgians’ position in the Iranian history and civilization]
  3. ^ Rahimi, M.M. (2001) Gorjiha-ye Iran; Fereydunshahr. Esfahan: Yekta [The Georgians of Iran; Fereydunshahr]
  4. ^ Sepiani, M. (1980) Iranian-e Gorji. Esfahan: Arash [Georgian Iranians]
  5. ^ Svetlana Savranskaya and Vladislav Zubok (editors), Cold War International History Project Bulletin, I issue, 14/15 – Conference Reports, Research Notes and Archival Updates, p. 401. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Accessed on September 16, 2007.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Aptin Khanbaghi (2006)The Fire, the Star and the Cross: Minority Religions in Medieval and Early. London & New YorkIB Tauris. ISBN 1845110560, pp. 130-1.
  8. ^ Savory, Roger, Iran Under the Safavids, (Cambridge University Press, 2007), 68.
  9. ^ Juan de Persia, Don Juan of Persia, (Routledge, 2004), 129.
  10. ^ Patrick Clawson. Eternal Iran. Palgrave. 2005. Coauthored with Michael Rubin. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6 p.168
  11. ^ Georgians in Iran by Ali Attār, Jadid Online, 2008, [1] (5 min 31 sec).
  12. ^
  13. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica's reference on Gorjestan: [2]
  14. ^ Encyclopaedia Georgiana (1986), vol. 10, Tbilisi: p. 263.

Further reading

  • Muliani, S. (2001) Jâygâhe Gorjihâ dar Târix va Farhang va Tamaddone Irân (The Georgians’ Position in Iranian History and Civilization). Esfahan: Yekta Publication. (Persian)
  • Rahimi, M. M. (2001) Gorjihâye Irân: Fereydunšahr (The Georgians of Iran; Fereydunshahr). Esfahan: Yekta Publication. (Persian)
  • Sepiani, M. (1980) Irâniyâne Gorji (Georgian Iranians). Esfahan: Arash Publication. (Persian)
  • Rezvani, B. (2008) The Islamization and Ethnogenesis of the Fereydani Georgians. informaworld
  • Oberling, Pierre. "Georgians and Circassians in Iran". Studia Caucasica, No. 1; The Hague, 1963: 127-143
  • Saakashvili visited Fereydunshahr and put flowers on the graves of the Iranian Georgian martyrs' graves, showing respect towards this community [3] (Persian)

See also

External links



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