White Russians in Iran

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White Russians in Iran

Postby Barbara » Sat 24 November 2018 4:23 am

I found a page I had Xeroxed years ago from a book written by a Western woman traveler in Iran in the early 1920s. One can tell how fresh the drastic upheaval of 1917 was by the way the author wrote. Unfortunately, I did not note down the author or title. The chapter title "Shah Riza Pahlavi" [ refers to the father of the last Shah ] atop the page does not provide any clue.

Here is how the adventurous visitor - either an Englishwoman or an American - described her visit to a Russian Orthodox Liturgy in Iran's capital, Teheran :

"On Sunday morning we went to the service of the Russian Church of the Royalist refugees in Teheran.

We entered a large room in an ordinary Persian house. It had been converted into a chapel. The walls were simply whitewashed, but the holy ikons and altar accessories which the priests have succeeded in smuggling out of Russia since the Revolution have made the place beautiful.

The robe worn by the officiating priest - a man with long hair, wearing high leather boots - was a rich piece of brocade embroidered in gold.

The Royalist refugees have been exiled from their country since the establishment, in 1918, of the Bolshevik regime in Russia...They were so brave, these members of the Russian aristocracy who had been robbed of their fortunes, worshipping in that small chapel in an alien land. Madame has told us stories [ of their escapes ] as dramatic as the most imaginative novel ; for she herself is a Russian.

They are bitterly homesick for their native land, but they can never return as long as the Red regime maintains itself in Moscow...

We went especially to hear the singing, and it seemed almost divine. The singers were behind a screen. We did not see them, but their voices were superb. One woman's voice, a soprano, was unsurpassed by any voice I have ever heard."


One notes the refreshing respect the author shows for monarchists and the sensitivity she displays to their immense misfortune. This was a world in which monarchies still held sway, though most were swept away in the wake of World War I ; yet good attitudes toward this form of government -- now so out of favor with the mainstream -- endured.
The writer displays a surprising regard for Orthodox services and "ikons", probably quite rare for Western protestants in the early decades of the 20th century who were unfamiliar with or hostile to Eastern Orthodoxy.

As an explanatory note, according to wikipedia :

"... mass-immigration of Russians into Iran occurred in the early 20th century when hundreds of thousands of White émigrés had to flee from the Bolsheviks. Most of them landed in the north Iranian provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran, but also in the northwest and northeast, in Iranian Azerbaijan and Khorasan, where communities of their descendants still live."

That is to say that the White Russians mainly settled along the border of the former Russian Empire and Iran ; perhaps fewer made it all the way south to the capital. This would explain why the parish was a converted home. Sounds like many mission parishes of today in the Western countries !

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