Ahmad Eqtedari (b. 1925) whose name is intertwined with the Persian Gulf was born in Lar (Fars). Having a BA degree in Law, he has received his Ph.D. from Tehran University because of doing much research on history and culture. He has written numerous books and articles about the historical geography of the Persian Gulf including Asar-e Shahrha-ye Bastani: Savahel va Jazayer-e Khalij-e Fars va Darya-ye Oman, (Monuments of Ancient Cities and Islands of Oman and the Persian Gulf) (1970), Az Darya-ye Pars ta Darya-ye Chin (From Persian Seas to China Sea) (1985), and Larestan-e Kohan va Farhang-e Larestani (The History and Culture of Larestan) (1994). He has also translated my books like Die Sudpersische Provinz Arragan by Heinz Gaube and corrected remarkable manuscripts including Sarzaminha-ye Shomali Piramun-e Khalij-e Fars (Northern Regions about the Persian Gulf) by Muhammad Ali Sadid al-Saltana.
Professor Eqtedari it is a great pleasure for me to have an interview with you regarding medieval history and its geographical history. When is the Iranian medieval time and to which phases do you divide the history of Iran?
I disagree with dividing Iranian history to separate periods; I believe that Iranian history must be studied on the basis of an interrupted continuous flow of events. The history of Iran is constructed by interlinking rings of dynasties starting with Elamite, Assyrian, Sumer, and Akkad and followed by the Achaemenid, Parthian and, the Sassanian empires. The Islamic era started with the Taherids, Saffarids, and the Samanids and then linked to the Qajar and the Pahlavi dynasties. Many social, military, economic, and cultural events occurred whose effects are now tangible. To give an example, ISIS emerges out of the Wahhabi movement resulting from Salafism which has a long history in the Islamic world. The other example is the establishment of the Safavid empire whose bases were founded in the Mongol and Timurid empires. In the continuation to pre-Safavid incidents, Dutch and British merchants were expelled from Iran in Shah Abbas's reign. To conclude, we have no medieval period as a separate era from its past and future.
You have done much research on the geography of Iran. Which regions do you regard parts of the Iranian historical geography?
The geography of Iran during the Elamites centered in Susa was outstretched from the foothills of the Pamir mountain to the coasts of Bulgaria. To found the Mongol empire, Chinqiz Khan conquered the vast territories from the east coast of China to the Mediterranean Sea. The geography of Iran was varied because of historical events, but the Iranian culture was dominant in all regions of Iran. I think the Iranian historical geography must be taken into account in accordance with its cultural arena. To give an example, Persian words about different subjects like foods like Kebabs are used in Iran and many neighboring countries.
Nowadays Iran is considered a part of the Middle East and some researchers regard Iran and Afghanistan as a part of Central Asia. To which division do you believe?
Iran and Arab countries are considered parts of the Middle East. I believe Afghanistan and Iran are two countries of the same division and they are so connected that they cannot be classified in two separate parts as the Middle East and South Asia. Afghans invaded Isfahan in the Safavid era, but Afghans regretted this action. Mahmoud Afshar has written many articles to show that Afghanistan is culturally a part of Iran and vice versa. The division is in continuation to the colonial proceedings of British and East India Company which separated Iran from Afghanistan during the Qajar era and then the following incidents distinguished the history of Afghanistan from Iran.
Which powers ruled the Persian Gulf from the Islamic era to the end of the Safavid reign and what role did the Persian Gulf and the Silk Road have in the international business?
Before the Safavid rule, the Persian Gulf was ruled by Sheikhdoms in Iran and Arab countries in the southern shores of the Persian Gulf. Later, the development of the Indian spice trade and the closure of land trade routes by Ottoman empires turned attention to maritime routes like the Persian Gulf. These events changed the balance of international powers and so led to colonialism. The Discovery of oil in the Persian Gulf is one of the main factors attracting attention to the Persian Gulf.
It is necessary for me to indicate to the name “Persian Gulf” which was common in the maps of the ancient time. Unfortunately, Arabs have always changed the conditions to their favors like their attempts to change the name of the Persian Gulf. On a journey to England with Iraj Afshar and Mojtaba Minovi, I visited one of the English researchers he had changed the name of Persian Gulf in his book. In response to my critiques, he mentioned that Arabs had paid him a lot of money and if we (the Iranians) want to have the name “Persian Gulf” maintained, we must have paid him much more money. Therefore, we must strongly defend the name of the Persian Gulf which is an inescapable part of our historical geography in international arenas.
Actually, I don’t agree with the expression “Silk Road”. It is true that silk was one of the main trade items, but there were many other items including gold and other metals, spices and various textiles exchanged from China to Europe.
To my idea, the expression “Silk Road” was not common in the Saljuq and the Mongol era. There were many disputes among world powers like Iran and Russia to dominate on this 8000 kilometers route. Silk Road was not just a direct way from China to Europe but many minor ways like roads leading to Khurasan and Isfahan to Siraf port on the coast of the Persian Gulf. Siraf was one of the main trade ports of the world in the Byuid reign.
You have written many papers about the geographical history of Lar. What was the role of this city in the Iranian geographical history in general and in economic affairs in particular?
Lar had a long history of commerce with Venetians, Dutch, Portuguese, and British merchants in the Safavid era, because the time ships destined to the Persian Gulf (Hormoz and Bandar Abbas) were not exactly determined. Therefore, the Iranian and foreign merchants stayed in Lar to protect themselves from the hot weather of Bandar Abbas. After unloading goods, the courier informed merchants staying in Lar. Merchants went to Isfahan and other cities to exchange goods. Being on the way from Bandar Abbas to Shiraz and Isfahan changed Lar into the main trade center. There is a market in Lar called Qeisariya which was constructed in the pre-Islamic era. Jews were the inductors between foreign merchants including Venetians and local people of Lar. Various commodities such as handicrafts, textiles, shoes, and hats were exchanged mostly by Jews merchants. Armenians had crucial roles in business affairs, particularly in the Safavid era. They lived in trade cities including Lar.
Do you have any books to be published in the near future?
For the time being, I have some books which are going to be published in the near future. “The Events of Constitution in the Shores of Oman and Persian Gulf” to be published at Donyaya ketab addresses the interventions of the British government in the Persian Gulf. Iran-e Javid ba Zaban-e Farsi va Ayin-e Shi’i (Immortal Iran with Persian Language and the Shiite Religion) and Iran-e Javid ba Tarikh va Farhang-e Melli (Immortal Iran with National Religion) are two other books that will be published by Moqufat-e Afshar.
Thank you so much for your attention and time.
Interviewed by Maryam Kamali