Daily Archives: August 9, 2015


In Safe Hands

I am in Tbilisi at the moment, where I spent this early morning drinking tea with some of the 2,000 strong Yazidi community. They see their religion as much more closely descended from Zoroastrianism than appears in most accounts I have read.

I very much enjoyed a visit to Tsinandali which was most useful for gaining a Russian perspective of the Great Game. I don’t have my books with me and am suffering a mental block as to whether it was Connoly, Abbott or Malcolm who visited Tsinandali. I had not realised that Griboyedov was married to a daughter of the house, Nina Chavchavadze. The murder of Griboyedov, Russian Ambassador in Tehran, by a mob rates little more than a footnote in British accounts of the Great Game, even though the British had bribed the religious authority to stir up the riots. What revisionist history there has been, has come from the Iranian side and falsely tried to obscure the fact that the refugees Griboyedov was sheltering were runaway slaves from harems.

This is a neglected recurring theme. When Shuja agreed the treaty already negotiated between Macnaghten and Ranjit Singh, the main stipulation he sought to add was that the British would return to him any runaway slave girls. The immediate motive for the ringleader of the attack on Alexander Burnes was that Burnes had refused to intervene to return a runaway slave girl who had sought the protection of another British officer. My fellow anti-imperialist historians have in general been guilty of emphasising rapaciousness by the British in these incidents and overlooking or excusing the slave status of the girls. Both aspects need to be faced squarely to write honestly the full facts of history. Tellingly, it is generally impossible to recover names of the girls involved.

Griboyedov deserves to be remembered for much more than his murder. An accomplished playwright and poet, he was a friend of Pushkin and had links to the dissident groups who attempted revolution in 1825. His murder left Nina a widow at either 17 or 19 by different accounts, and pregnant. She lost the child on hearing of her husband’s death, and never remarried. It is a tragic story which came alive to me in visiting the family home.

Griboyedov had fought Napoleon in the 1812 campaign, but had helped those Napoleonic adventurers Allard and Ventura evade a British blockade and go into service with Ranjit Singh. Griboyedov’s successor as Russian Ambassador to Tehran, Simonicz, had actually fought on the Napoleonic side against Russia, presumably in the Polish Legion. Nina’s sister was to marry a Murad nephew of Napoleon. The political elites of Europe melded quickly after the convulsion.

With which clumsy segue I shall note that the battle against the entrenched political elites of the UK appears to be going extremely well without me. I cannot express without a welling up of real emotion how happy I am that all I have been saying about the stultifying neo-liberal consensus and exclusion of dissent, and appalling burgeoning wealth gap between rich and poor, has found such massive traction between Jeremy Corbyn in England and the SNP in Scotland. I may have gone AWOL for a few days, but the cause of social justice appears in extremely safe hands.

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