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COLLECTIONPublished articles
TITLEThe Bahá'í Community of Ashkhabad: Its Social Basis and Importance in Bahá'í History
AUTHOR 1Moojan Momen
VOLUMEed. Shirin Akiner
TITLE_PARENTCultural Change and Continuity in Central Asia
PUB_THISKegan Paul
ABSTRACTOrigin and history of the Bahá'ís in Ishqabad (Ashgabat) in Turkistan, analysis of the social composition of this community, and its importance of in terms of the rest of the Bahá'í world.
NOTES This article was presented at a conference "Cultural Change and Continuity in Central Asia" and the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, in April 1987. The layout is exactly as in the book. This article has been scanned and may contained errors due to the process of scanning and optical character recognition.

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TAGSAshgabat; Bahá'í history by country; Turkmenistan
CONTENT In this chapter I will briefly survey the origin and history of the Bahá'í community in Ashkhabad in Turkistan. An analysis will be presented of the social composition of this community. Finally an attempt will be made to assess the importance of the Ashkhabad Bahá'í community in terms of the rest of the Bahá'í world. The sources for this paper are mainly various Bahá'í histories(1) but other corroborating material is presented where available.(2)

The origins of the Bahá'í community of Iran lie in the Babi movement which began in 1844. The founder of this latter movement, Sayyid `Ali Muhammad Shirazi took the title of Bab and eventually claimed to be the Mahdi, the resumed Twelfth Imam. The Babi movement suffered a bloody suppression in the years 1848 to 1853 which effectively drove the movement underground. The Bab had, however, prophesied the appearance of another figure whom he called 'He whom God shall manifest.' In the 1870s the movement was to reemerge under the leadership of Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri who took the title Bahá'u'lláh and who claimed to be 'He whom God shall manifest'. In addition, Bahá'u'lláh claimed to be the return of the Imam Husayn expected by the Shi'is, the return of Christ anticipated by both Sunnis and Christians, the Messiah or Lord of Hosts prophesied to the Jews and the Shah Bahram Varjavand foretold in Zoroastrian prophecy, and he



succeeded in attracting numbers of Jews and Zoroastrians in Iran to the new religion.

The persecutions of the new religion continued however. Although there was not the same intensity that characterised the events of 1848-53 the daily life of many Bahá'ís was very difficult. Even when specific persecutions which resulted in loss of life were not occurring, the day-to-day harassment and lack of security of property and livelihood made life intolerable. One of the most well-known and well-publicised episodes was the execution in Isfahan of two merchant Sayyid brothers. These two brothers had been among the most wealthy and respected merchants in Isfahan and the Imam-Jum'a owed them a considerable sum. In order to get out of paying his debt, the Imam-Jum'a put himself in league with another prominent religious leader, Aqa Najafi, and denounced the two brothers as adherents of the new religion. They were executed in 1879 and their wealth looted by these two clerics together with the Governor of Isfahan, the Zillu's-Sultan. Such events, catastrophic as they were for the immediate family of the two brothers, were also the cause of pressure upon the other Bahá'ís of the entire country. For when news of such episodes reached other cities, this would be used by other unscrupulous individuals to harass the Bahá'ís and extort money from them. And such episodes were a regular occurrence in the 1880s, 1890s and 1900s. Thus it was not surprising that Bahá'ís should flock in large numbers to anywhere that appeared to promise security for life and property

Prior to the second half of the nineteenth century, the territories to the east of the Caspian Sea were a vast area in which a handful of stockaded towns nominally controlled vaguely defined areas. The Russians gradually advanced into this area throughout the years 1840 to 1880. By 1844, they had reached the Aral Sea; Tashkent was captured in 1865; Samarkand in 1868; and Khiva in 1873. By the end of the 1870s, the Russians were poised to move into the lands immediately to the north of the Iran province of Khurasan. In former times this area had been an integral part of Iran and the Iranian government still regarded the area as being under its suzerainty. Despite the protests of Iran, however, Russia pushed into this area. General Lomakin fought a campaign against the Geok Teppe Turkmen in 1879 but was repulsed. In the following year,



General Skobelev resumed with. a more powerful force, and, after a lengthy campaign, crushed the tribes in 1881. The border with Iran was delineated by agreement in 1881. Thus came into being the Russian province of Transcaspia, which in 1890 was separated from the control of the Government of the Caucasus.

Some six hundred kilometres from the Caspian, they built a new city to be the capital of the new province of Transcaspia. The name of this city was Ashkhabad. According to tradition, the city had been the site of a Turkmen settlement of some 500 tents prior to the Russian invasion. When the Russians decided to make this the site of the capital of Transcaspia, they built a European-style city. In order to bring order to this region and for strategic reasons, the Russians built a railway parallel to the Iranian border from Uzun Ada on the Caspian Sea to Samarkand. Ashkhabad was one of the main stations along this railway, the point at which Iranian trade was able to connect with the railway

An American Bahá'í who visited the city in 1908 describes it thus:

The city itself lies on the plain a short distance from the mountains, which here are quite rugged and rocky. The town is quite modern in its aspect, being laid off with gardens and broad streets, which meet at right angles. Rows of trees along the sidewalks remind one of a western city, while the buildings and the waterways, which flank the streets and are fed with water coming from the nearby mountains, are strikingly oriental. (Remey 1916, p 153)
The population of Ashkhabad was estimated to be some 4,000 in 1884, 8,000 (of which 4,000 were troops) in 1886, 10,000 in 1888, 19,000 in 1897, 44,000 (of which 10,000 were Russians) in 1910, 52,000 in 1926, and 127,000 in 1939 (Curzon 1892, vol 1, p. 86n; Boulangier 1888, p. 136; Allworth 1967, p. 98). At first, the Turkmen did not live in the city itself, the population of which was therefore principally composed of troops and government officials from Russia who lived in the European quarter of the city, and others from Iran and the Caucasus as well as a number of Jews and Armenians who lived in the business quarter. The opportunities provided by



the newly-opened territories as well as the re-orientation of trade-routes caused by the building of the Transcaspian railway gave the town something of a 'frontier' atmosphere.

The Origins of the Bahá'í Community in Ashkhabad

Bahá'í involvement with the new city of Ashkhabad existed from the very start. One of the relatives of the Bab, Hajji Mirza Hasan, known as Afnan-i Kabir, realised the potential of the new city as he was travelling through the area in 1299 (1881-2) on his way to 'Akka.(3) He sent instructions to his son Aqa Sayyid Ahmad Afnan in Yazd that land should be purchased in the new city for him. Aqa Sayyid Ahmad wrote to Hajji Muhammad Kazim Isfahani who was resident in Sabzivar. In 1882, the latter's brother, Hajji 'Abdu'l-Husayn, who lived in Quchan a short distance across the border from Ashkhabad, travelled to that city and purchased land both for the Afnan family(4) and himself.

At about this time, there erupted in Iran a general persecution of the Bahá'ís that affected most of the country (and in particular Tehran, Yazd, Isfahan, Sabzivar, Fars and Rasht). According to one account, a plan was conceived among the Bahá'ís of Isfahan and Yazd that a group of Bahá'ís should set out for Russia and there implore the protection of the Czar for the Bahá'ís against the depredations of the State and 'ulama. Permission for this plan was sought from Bahá'u'lláh in Akka but the reply came forbidding this absolutely. However, Bahá'u'lláh did give approval to Bahá'ís settling in Ashkhabad (Haydar-'Ali 1980, pp. 98-9).

In about 1884, the first four Bahá'ís to settle permanently in Ashkhabad arrived there. Two of these arrived from Sabzivar, Aqa 'Abdu'r-Rasul Yazdi and Aqa Muhammad Rida Arbab Isfahani. The story of these two is interesting as it is illustrative of the kind of pressures that caused the Bahá'ís to go into exile. The first had been driven out of Yazd by persecutions in about 1877; the second was the son of the above-mentioned Hajji Muhammad Kazim Isfahani who had been a Babi and later a Bahá'í and had been forced to leave Isfahan in the persecutions that had followed the execution of Mulla Kazim Talkhunchi'i in 1877. Both of these two had come to Sabzivar together with at least a dozen other Bahá'ís fleeing from both



Yazd and Isfahan at about this time. Quite why all of these chose to come to Sabzivar is not clear, but it may have been the fact that the leading mujtahid of the town, Hajji Mirza Ibrahim Shari`atmadar, was sympathetic to the Bahá'ís and willing to use his influence to counter the activities of those who wished to stir up trouble against them. However, the influx of a large number of Bahá'ís must have upset the delicate balance in the town, and a few years later a fierce persecution erupted in Sabzivar as a result of which Aqa `Abdu'r-Rasul and Aqa Muhammad Rida fled to Ashkhabad. These two set up as traders in tea.

On 3 April 1884, two other Bahá'ís arrived, Ustad `Ali Akbar and Ustad Muhammad Rida, both builders from Yazd. They also had fled Yazd as a result of persecutions there - the former had had several attempts made on his life. They came to Ashkhabad, presumably because the construction of the new town gave rise to plenty of work for skilled builders.

Between 1884 and 1889, there was a steady trickle of Bahá'ís arriving in Ashkhabad (Table 1). These mostly came from Isfahan, Yazd and Milan in Azerbaidzhan. They were almost all either builders, who could. obtain employment in the rapidly expanding city, or merchants, who saw the potential of the new railway line that had reached from the coast to Ashkhabad in 1885 and to Samarkand in 1888. At this time the majority of the Bahá'ís lived in the area of the Bazaar and their centre was the caravanserai called Sara-yi Rashti, which was owned by the Afnan family. In December 1887 a start was made on the first Bahá'í communal buildings in Ashkhabad, a public bath and a meeting-room. By 1889 the Bahá'í community in Ashkhabad may have numbered some 400.

Large numbers of Shi'i Iranians had also moved to Ashkhabad and these brought with them their animosity towards the Bahá'ís. Therefore many of the Bahá'ís continued the practice which they had followed in Iran of not openly stating that they were Bahá'ís and also following Islamic practices and rituals in order not to cause offence. To most Bahá'ís at this time it must therefore have appeared that Ashkhabad was not substantially better than Iran from the point of view of religious freedom.(5)



The Episode of the Murder of Hajji Muhammad Rida
Isfahani, 1889

The turning point in the development of the Bahá'í community in Ashkhabad came with the episode of the murder of Hajji Muhammad Rida Isfahani on 8th September 1889. Isfahani, as the agent for the Afnan family in Ashkhabad, had been one of the most prominent Bahá'ís, and he used to openly assert his religious beliefs. The murder took place in the middle of the main bazaar in broad daylight and in full view of a large crowd. In the trial that followed, it emerged that the plan for the murder had been concocted by a number of the leading Iranian merchants, together with 'ulama who had come from Khurasan expressly for this purpose. It had been intended that the murder would be the signal for a general attack on the Bahá'ís and, for 24 hours, bands of lutis (street ruffians) took to the streets looking for Bahá'ís to assault. The body of Isfahani lay in the open for most of the day as no-one dared approach it.

Eventually, however, the Governor intervened and began arresting those responsible. The perpetrators made no effort to conceal their crime. They asserted that it was a purely religious affair between Iranians, and the Russian authorities need not be involved. They assumed that, as in Iran, the mere fact of proving that their victim was a Bahá'í would be sufficient to justify their action. When they saw however that the Governor took no notice of this line of argument, those involved in the plot began to flee to Iran. Some seventy persons fled. Nine were arrested and brought to trial. A military tribunal, sent from St Peters burg, tried the case in November 1890. The judges instructed that the different religious communities sit separately in the court-room. This was the first occasion when many who had secretly been Bahá'ís openly identified themselves by where they sat. It was also the first occasion in Bahá'í history when official recognition was given to the Bahá'í Faith as a religion independent of Islam. The court found against the perpetrators of the crime. The two who had carried out the murder were sentenced to death, four to imprisonment and exile to Siberia, one to imprisonment and one was found not guilty. Later, after the Bahá'ís had intervened on behalf of



those sentenced, Czar commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment.(6)

The Bahá'ís were of course jubilant. It was the first time the forty-five-year history of the Babi-Bahá'í movement that an attack on one of their number had been dealt with justly. Bahá'u'lláh commended the Russian Government for its action. As the news spread throughout Iran it increased the surge of Bahá'í immigrants - particularly since there was a further wave of persecutions in hen in 1889-91 affecting Isfahan, Yazd, Tihran and Khurasan

The Growth of the Bahá'í Community in Ashkhabad

The episode of the murder of Hajji Muhammad Rida Isfahani resulted in profound changes. Whereas previously the Bahá'ís had lived more or less as an integrated part of the Shi'i Iranian social network there was now a separation between the two communities socially.(7) This had two major effects. Firstly, it meant that conversions from among Ashkhabad Iranian Shi'is, of which there had been a few during the initial period, now almost entirely ceased. Contacts with native Turkmen tribesmen were minimal because of linguistic and cultural barriers. There was also no attempt made to convert Russians, since Russian law made it a capital offence for a Russian citizen to convert from Christianity. Therefore the Bahá'í community became rather introverted. The second major consequence was that the Bahá'ís had to set up their own social institutions and networks. At first these were fairy modest but, as the number of Bahá'ís in Ashkhabad grew, they became more sophisticated, eventually achieving a high degree of organisation and development. By 1902, there were approximately 1000 Bahá'ís in Ashkhabad including children (Mazandarani 1975, p. 983).

From the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, there emerges a picture of the physical structure and social functioning of an ideal Bahá'í community. The centrepiece of the community is the House of Worship (Mashriqu'l-Adhkar). This is a building dedicated solely to the worship of God, in which prayers and readings from the Holy Scriptures of any of the world religions may be spoken, chanted or sung a capello. Around this building should be buildings for the major social



organs of the community: a meeting hall, schools and a university, medical clinics and a hospital, a hospice for the elderly and infirm, an orphanage, a traveller's hospice, etc. ('Abdu'l-Bahá 1916, p. 136; Remey 1916, p. 155). The functioning of the community is under the authority of a council, called the Local Spiritual Assembly, elected from among all of the adult Bahá'ís of the locality. This council appoints committees to carry out the various functions associated with the organisation of the community: a committee to organise meetings and Holy Day celebrations, education committee women's committee, youth committee, etc.

The Ashkhabad Bahá'í community attempted to achieve this ideal pattern. Even before the episode of the murder of Hajji Muhammad Rida Isfahani, they had begun to build a number of communal buildings. A public baths and then a meeting house were built on a piece of land that had been purchased from a man named A'zam. This piece of land, which continued to be called Zamin-i A'zam (meaning both A'zam's land, and 'most great land'), was located fairly centrally in the town and became the focus of further Bahá'í building. A travellers' hospice was erected on this site as well as a dispensary and hospital. In 1312 (1894-5), a boys' school was founded and a building for it was completed in 1897. A cemetery had also been acquired at an early stage on a separate site. But the plan from the beginning had been to build at the centre of this land a House of Worship, the central institutional building of a Bahá'í community. Eventually, in mid-September 1902, Hajji Muhammad Taqi Afnan, Vakilu'd-Dawlih, whose brother Hajji Mirza Muhammad 'Ali Afnan had purchased much of A'zam's land in the first instance, was instructed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá to proceed from Yazd (where he had been the Russian Consular Agent) in order to supervise the construction of this building. He spent much of his wealth on the project, and money also came from all over Iran and the rest of the Bahá'í world. Construction was begun on 31 October 1902, and in November 1904 there was a ceremony in which the Russian Governor of Ashkhabad, General Subotich laid the foundation stone. The construction was supervised by Ustad 'Ali Akbar Yazdi and Volkov a Russian engineer (Mazandarani 1975, pp. 995-1002; Whitmore 1975, p. 8; Momen 1981, pp. 442-3).

By 1907 the structure of the building was substantially com-



plete and Hajji Muhammad Taqi left for 'Akka leaving behind his son, Mirza Mahmud, to complete the work. However it was not until 1919 that the building was finally completed, including the external decorative work. An American Bahá'í who visited Ashkhabad in 1908 describes it thus:

The Mashrak-al-Azkar stands in the middle of the city, surrounded by a large garden, which is bounded by four streets. It rises high above the surrounding buildings and trees, its dome being visible for miles, as the traveller approaches the city over the plain. The building in plan is a regular polygon of nine sides. One large doorway and portico, flanked by turrets, facing the direction of the Holy City [Akka], forms the principal motive of the facade, while the dome dominates the whole composition... In plan the building is composed of three sections: the central rotunda, the aisle or ambulatory which surrounds it, and the loggia which surrounds the whole building (Remey 1916, p. 153).

It was the most imposing building in Ashkhabad, larger in size than any of the churches or mosques in the city. Over the next few years a number of other buildings were added: a girls' school was founded in 1907, two kindergartens in 1917-18, and a Bahá'í Library and Public Reading Room.

The social structure of the Bahá'í community proceeded apace with the growth of the physical buildings. Initially, the leadership of the community was vested in those who were its leading members intellectually or in terms of wealth. Among the leading group of merchants were Mirza `Abdu'l-Karim Ardibili, Mashhadi Yusif Milani, Hajji 'Abdu'r-Rasul Yazdi (Aliov), Aqa Muhammad Rida Arbab Isfahani (Kazemov), Aqa Husayn 'Ali Ahmadov and Mirza Ja'far Rahmani (Hadiov); this group were called by the Russian term 'Khozyain'.(8) Intellectual leadership was provided by some of the leading Iranian Bahá'ís of the time who came to Ashkhabad. In July 1889, there arrived in Ashkhabad Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani and in the following year Shaykh Muhammad Qa'ini. Both had been prominent 'ulama before becoming Bahá'ís.

Mirza Abu'l-Fadl arrived just two months before the episode of the murder of Hajji Muhammad Rida Isfahani. He took a



leading role in the representations that the Bahá'í community made to the Russian authorities during this episode. He remained in Ashkhabad for only nine months before going on to Samarkand and Bukhara where he was to discover the only extant copy of the Hudud al-'Alam in the library of the Amir. He later returned and spent some time in Ashkhabad. Here Captain Alexander Tumanski met him and obtained much information and many manuscripts which he forwarded to Russia.(9) Mirza Abu'l-Fad1 left in 1311 (1893- 4) and was replaced by Sayyid Mahdi Gulpaygani, his nephew. Sayyid Mahdi taught the Bahá'í children for a time and was editor of a Russian Government magazine in Persian. He remained in Ashkhabad for the rest of his life(10) and will be referred to again.

Shaykh Muhammad Qa'ini arrived in Ashkhabad in about 1890 and only stayed a short time before journeying to Bukhara where he died in 1892. Accompanying him was his nephew, Shaykh Muhammad 'Ali Qa'ini, who remained a short time in Ashkhabad before returning to Iran. On 'Abdu'l-Bahá's instructions, he returned to Ashkhabad in about 1905. He was in charge of the school there until his death in 1924.

These four persons, Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani and his nephew Sayyid Mahdi and Shaykh Muhammad Qa'ini and his nephew, Shaykh Muhammad 'Ali were perhaps the leading Bahá'í intellectuals of their generation. With their presence in Ashkhabad, this city became a major centre of learning and intellectual life in the Bahá'í world. Mirza Abu'l-Fadl urged the Ashkhabad Bahá'ís to undertake the publication of a Bahá'í magazine. But he did not receive sufficient support and this was a project that was to wait a further twenty years to come to fruition under Sayyid Mahdi.

Despite the presence in Ashkhabad of such eminent Bahá'ís, authority over the Bahá'ís of the city did not lie in their hands. Ashkhabad was one of the first places (possibly the first) in which 'Abdu'l-Bahá gave instructions for the setting up of an elected Bahá'í council. This was set up in 1313 (1895-6) and was called at first the Spiritual Board of Counsel (Mahfil-i Shawra Rawhani) and later the Spiritual Assembly (Mahfil-i Rawhani).(11) Although prominent Bahá'í intellectuals, such as Sayyid Mahdi Gulpaygani and Shaykh Muhammad 'Ali Qa'ini, and leading Bahá'í merchants, such as Mashhadi Yusif Milani,



were elected to membership of the Assembly, less wealthy individuals such as Ustad 'Ali-Akbar Banna Yazdi were also elected onto this body. 'Abdu'l-Bahá always encouraged the Bahá'ís to regard the Assembly as a whole as the source of authority in the community and not the individual members of it.

The Spiritual Assembly in Ashkhabad appointed a number of committees to which it delegated some of its functions. One of the most active of these committees was the Youth Committee which organised activities for the youth and ran a large youth library; gymnastics, drama and social service were all catered for. There were also a women's committee and various committees responsible for the running of the schools and other social institutions All of these were under the authority of the Spiritual Assembly.

After the Revolution, 1918-28

The Russian Revolution brought a great deal of turmoil to the region of Turkmenistan. For a time, from 1918 to 1920, there was an autonomous Turkmen democratic government. But in 1920, the Bolsheviks conquered the area Although a certain amount of political upheaval persisted after this, things gradually began to settle again.

Initially the Revolution was a great boon to the Bahá'í community in Ashkhabad. A Bahá'í magazine Khurshid-i Khavar was initiated in 1917 with Sayyid Mahdi Gulpaygani as editor. Youth and educational activities were expanded considerably with the institution of literacy classes, evening adult education classes, and courses for the study of Russian and Esperanto. Acting in concert with other Bahá'í communities in the Caucasus, Turkistan and Moscow, publications were brought out in Russian. A Russian Bahá'í, Izabella Grinevskaya, had written a play called The Bab. This was put on the stage in Ashkhabad by a Russian company in 1922.(12)

Freed from the previous legal restriction of trying to convert Russians, meetings aimed specifically at Russian Christians were established. At first, these meetings were held in the home of an individual Bahá'í, Mirza Diya'u'llah Asgharzadih, and some fifty persons attended. Later there were as many as five hundred attending and the meetings had to be held in



the main meeting rooms. Sayyid Mahdi Gulpaygani was the principal Bahá'í speaker at these meetings.

The Bahá'ís were vigorous also in defence against the antireligious propaganda of the state. Government-sponsored speakers toured the provinces attacking all religions. At Ashkhabad, the first such meeting appears to have been held each evening between 8 and 11 June 1921 with some five thousand present in a park.(13) The Government speakers on this occasion were Govsev, Barisov and Sinitsin. On this occasion only Sayyid Mahdi Gulpaygani came forward to defend religion in general and the Bahá'ís in particular. On 25 and 26 April 1925, Kalinovsky spoke for the Govemment attacking religion which on this occasion was defended by Yevgeny Kabranov, a Christian priest, as well as Sayyid Mahdi Gulpaygani. At another similar meeting on 19 and 20 October 1925, Arkhangelsky, a former Christian priest, spoke for the Government with the same two defending religion (Sulaymani 1966 pp. 33-36; Mazandarani 1975 pp. 994, 1012).

News of these meetings was reported in the newspapers and increased the attendance. Also through this means news of the Bahá'í Faith spread to other Russian cities and small groups of Bahá'í converts from Christianity began to be formed several Russian towns, for example in Oriyol, near Moscow.

The first decade of the Russian Revolution thus marks the apex of the Ashkhabad Bahá'í community. The Revolution had given them the opportunity to break out of the social isolation which had characterised the pre-Revolution days. The Bahá'í community of Ashkhabad at the time of the Revolution numbered some 4,000, of whom 1,000 were children. The community was, by this time, composed largely of merchants, especially in the tea trade, and shopkeepers, especially of glass products from Russia. A few were craftsmen, such as shoemakers and builders. An increasing number of the younger generation were, however, going on to universities in Russia and were being trained in the professions.

Persecution and Dispersal, 1928-38

Eventually, however, the persecutions that were affecting other religious communities in the Soviet Union began to affect the Bahá'ís. Indeed the Bahá'ís were in a particularly vulner-



able position. The fact that they had failed to make any great number of converts from among the native Turkmen population and consisted mostly of Iranian nationals made it comparatively easy for the authorities to suppress them. In addition, by this time, a large proportion of them earned their living through wholesale and retail trade, and some were among the wealthiest citizens of Ashkhabad. Thus they were regarded by the communist authorities as archetypal class enemies (see for example comments in the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia, vol. 3, p. 10). However, a more compelling reason for the Soviet authorities to try to suppress the Bahá'í community appears from the following assessment by Walter Kolarz:

Islam, both in its Shiite and Sunnite form, is attacked by the communists because it is reactionary encourages nationalist narrowmindedness and obstructs the education and emancipation of women. Bahá'íism [sic] has incurred communist displeasure for exactly the opposite reasons. It is dangerous to Communism because of its broadmindedness, its tolerance, its international outlook, the attention it pays to women's education and its insistence on the equality of the sexes. All this contradicts the communist thesis about the backwardness of all religions. In the political sphere social reformers appear to the communists more harmful than 'reactionaries', and in the religious field an outlook which is mindful of modern social problems is thought more obnoxious than out-of-date obscurantism. This is perhaps why Bahá'íism has attracted the attention of the Soviet communists to a much greater degree than might be warranted by the numerical strength of its supporters (Kolarz 1961, p. 470).
As early as 1922, an article appeared in the official Government press attacking the Bahá'ís for turning the thoughts of young people away from Bolshevism. But initially, the increased activities of the Bahá'í community were not openly opposed. Evidently the authorities were confident that people could be won away from religion through debate and polemic. From about 1926 onwards, the pressure intensified. At first it was merely a question of a close watch being kept on all Bahá'í activities. Then in 1928, as part of a general anti-religious campaign launched under Stalin, the secret police began raid-



ing meetings in Ashkhabad, arresting the leading Bahá'ís, and confiscating books and papers. The Bahá'í printing press was confiscated, the Bahá'í Assembly was put under severe restrictions and the youth activities disbanded. It was apparently the activities of the Bahá'í youth committee that were considered the greatest threat by the communist authorities: 'A Bahá'í youth organisation which the communists nicknamed "Bekhamol" was set up in Ashkhabad. On account of its extensive cultural activities and supra-national tendencies it was a serious competitor of the Komsomol.'(14) Not long after the government issued an order that all religious buildings were to become the property of the state. Therefore, the House of Worship, the centre of the Bahá'í community in Ashkhabad was expropriated and had to be rented back from the State by the Bahá'ís on a five-year lease. Later in 1929, the Bahá'í schools and kindergartens, which had about 1,000 children in all, were closed.

The Bahá'í leadership of all the communities in the Soviet Union tried to make representations to the government, pointing out that the Bahá'ís did not interfere in political matters and were obedient to their government, but to no avail. The persecutions intensified in 1929 with numerous Bahá'ís being arrested, some of whom were imprisoned, some exiled to Siberia, some deported to Iran and some died under mysterious circumstances. Bahá'í companies were taken over and their employees dismissed. Other Bahá'ís were turned out of their employment and Bahá'í students were expelled from colleges and universities.

From 1930 to 1938, the severe restrictions on the religious activities of the community continued. Individual restrictions were also severe, especially for leading members of the community. Since many of the Bahá'ís were involved in trade, the general recession following the Revolution had had a severe financial effect on the community as well. By April 1933, it was reported that 40 families were receiving financial assistance from the spiritual Assembly.

In 1933, the five-year lease on the House of Worship was renewed. Over the next few years there was a degree of relaxation of the strictness of the anti-Bahá'í measures. In 1935, under new regulations, the House of Worship was restored to full Bahá'í ownership and public meetings were once again



held there. Harassment of individual Bahá'ís also lessened a little but the suspicion of foreigners (most Bahá'ís in Ashkhabad had retained Iranian citizenship) together with the bleak economic situation of many families, caused an increasing trend of return to Iran.(15)

Shoghi Effendi, the world leader of the Bahá'í Faith at this time, discouraged the Bahá'ís from returning to Iran voluntarily. He even encouraged them, if it would be conducive to their remaining in Ashkhabad, to adopt Russian citizenship. He encouraged them to appeal to the authorities in Ashkhabad and Moscow against these measures taken against them but advised them that, ultimately, if the State's decision went against them, they must submit to this. The following quotation demonstrates his attitude to the measures adopted by e Soviet authorities:

Faithful to their [the Soviet] policy of expropriating in the interests of the State all edifices and monuments of a religious character, they have a few months ago approached the Bahá'í representatives in Turkistan, and after protracted negotiations with them, decided to claim and enforce their right of ownership and con trol of that most cherished and universally prized Bahá'í possession, the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar of 'Ishqabad...

To these measures which the State in the free exercise of its legitimate rights, has chosen to enforce, and with which the Bahá'ís, as befits their position as loyal and law-abiding citizens, have complied, others have followed which though of a different character are none the less grievously affecting our beloved Cause. . .

. . . our sorely-tried brethren in Caucasus and Turkistan have nonetheless, as befits law-abiding citizens resolved, after having exhausted every legitimate means for the alleviation of the restrictions imposed upon them, to definitely uphold and conscientiously carry out the considered judgement of their recognised government (Bahá'í World 1930, pp. 41-3).

Shoghi Effendi appears to have drawn a distinction between the persecutions of the Bahá'ís in Iran where the Bahá'ís were persecuted specifically because they were Bahá'ís, and the situation in the Soviet Union where the Bahá'ís were subjected to



these measures as a result of a general policy against all religious communities (Rabbani 1969, pp. 313-6).

In 1938 the final blow came. In February of that year, the authorities suddenly arrested every male adult Bahá'í in Ashkhabad and even some of the women also. According to one report, 'except for a few former members of the Iranian consulate in 'Ishqabad not a single male Bahá'í is out of prison (Bahá'í World 1942, p. 184)'. The women and children were then put across the border into Iran. Some five hundred men were imprisoned and six hundred women and children were deported to Iran. By the end of the year, it was reported that: 'At present only a few Bahá'ís are left, women, children and old men'. (Bahá'í World 1942, p. 89).

Of the imprisoned men, most spent at least a year or more in prison. Some were then sentenced to longer terms of imprisonment or exile to Siberia. Many of those who were of Iranian citizenship were expelled across the border to Iran. The House of Worship was then expropriated again and made into an art galley.(16) Thus ended the Bahá'í community of Ashkhabad.

The Social Structure of the Bahá'í Community in Ashkhabad
in 1900

Ustad 'Ali Akbar Banna Yazdi, who was one of the first Bahá'ís in Ashkhabad, wrote a history in which he gives an account of the various Bahá'ís who came to Ashkhabad. The history was begun in 1319 (1901-2) and must have been completed before 1321 (1903) since in that year the author travelled back to his native Yazd and was murdered there in the general anti-Bahá'í upheaval of 1903.

Ustad 'Ali Akbar's history is not in fact comprehensive in listing all of the Bahá'ís that came to Ashkhabad and the matter is further confused by the fact that several of those who are listed had only stayed in Ashkhabad a short time before moving on to somewhere else. Ustad 'Ali Akbar is also not very good at giving details of all of the members of a family that came, but rather concentrates on the male head of the family. Nevertheless, despite these limitations, Ustad 'Ali Akbar gives a good representative sample of the heads of family of the Bahá'ís who came to Ashkhabad up to about 1900, and the information he gives is corroborated by other



sources. Therefore an attempt has been made to analyse in some greater detail the 139 heads of family that have been identified in Ustad 'Ali Akbar history, together with a further 13 names found in other sources,(17) making a total of 151.


Table 1 Year of arrival of Bahá'í heads of family in Ashkhabad

1301 (1883-4) 4
1302 (1884-5) 3
1303 (1885-6) 0
1304 (1886-7)  2
1305 (1887-8) - 1308 (1890-1) 42
1309 (1891-2)- 1312 (1894-5) 20
1313 (1895-6) - 1316 (1898-9) 32
1317 (1899-1900) - 1320 (1902-3) 12
                                             Total 115


Table 1 gives the year of arrival in Ashkhabad of those listed by Ustad 'Ali Akbar. This therefore represents the year of arrival of the heads of family. Not uncommonly, the heads of family would come to Ashkhabad first, and then, once established, would return and bring their families anything up to five years later.


Table 2 Occupations of Bahá'í heads of family arriving in Ashkhabad

  Number Per cent
1 'Ulama, a. major 2 1.7
             b. minor 10  8.3
2 Notables & government officials 0 0
3 Wholesale merchants (tujjar) 18 14.9
              b. agents for tujjar 2.5
              c. bankers (sarraf) 4 3.3
4 Shopkeepers (kasib) 22 18.2
5 Skilled workers (asnaf) 10 8.3
              a. master builder (ustad, banna) 21 17.4
              b. other mastercraftsmen (ustad) 3.3
              c. builder (banna 3.3
              d. other skilled workers  24 19.8
6 Unskilled workers  1 0.8
7 Farmers & agricultural workers  2 1.7
                                                        Total 121 99.8




Table 2 gives an analysis of the occupations of these heads of family before their arrival in Ashkhabad. The occupations of 121 were identified. Many of these followed the same occupation when they reached Ashkhabad, although a few did change - in particular, in later years, a number who followed different occupations initially became traders and merchants.

By far the largest group was that of the skilled guilded workers (asnaf), and of these, the majority are specified as builders or masons (banna). Also several of the six who are named Ustad but whose exact occupation is not specified and who are therefore listed under 5b, may well have been master-builders. The other asnaf listed include a wide variety of workers such as: chit-saz (chintz-maker), zargar (goldsmith), fakhkhar (lime-burner or kilnsman), kashf-duz (shoe-maker) kulah-duz (cap-maker), dabbagh (dyer), khayyat (tailor), etc.

The next largest group was that of tradesmen, shopkeepers and petty commodity producers (kasib, plur. kasaba). Here there was no particular pattern at this time and every type of trade was engaged in by the Bahá'ís.

The third largest grouping is that of the wholesale merchants (tujjar). These were merchants that often specialised in the import or export of one particular commodity. In the case of Ashkhabad, many of the Bahá'í tujjar were involved in the tea trade, importing from India and China and exporting to Russia. In particular, they imported from Shanghai the green tea drunk by the Turkmen. When the First World War closed the Strait of the Dardenelles to shipping that brought the tea via the Suez Canal, the price of tea increased dramatically and several of these merchants became rich.

The last notable group of those who came to Ashkhabad were persons who had been trained as 'ulama. The two major 'ulama listed in Table 2 were:

1. Shaykh Muhammad Qa'ini, known as Nabil-i Akbar. He was one of the few people who had obtained an ijaza (permission to practise ijtihad) from Shaykh Murtada Ansari, the foremost mujtahid and marj'a at-taqlid of the mid-nineteenth century.(18)

2. Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani, who had studied at Najaf and Karbala, and been head of a religious college, the Madrasa-yi Hakim Hashim (Madrassa-yi Madar-i Shah), in Tihran prior to his becoming a Bahá'í.



The rest are listed under the category of minor 'ulama. Also in this category is listed Mirza Ibrahim Urumi, a Nestorian Christian priest who had become a Bahá'í. Obviously, none of these could continue their former occupation in Ashkhabad, especially after the murder of Hajji Muhammad Rida Isfahani when the Iranian Shi'i and Bahá'í communities separated. Several became teachers of the Bahá'í children in Ashkhabad. Others used their literacy to work for merchants or as bankers/money-changers (sarraf).

Table 3 shows the geographical origin of the list of persons analysed. It can be seen from this that the largest contingent came from Yazd. Indeed the figures analysed here from Ustad 'Ali Akbar agrees closely with the estimate made by another author, 'Azizu'llah Sulaymani, himself an Ashkhabad Bahá'í, that one-third of the Ashkhabad Bahá'ís originated from Yazd (Sulaymani 1966, p. 585). The other large contingents came from Azerbaidzhan and Khurasan.


Table 3 Places of origin of Bahá'í heads of family arriving in Ashkhabad

Number Per cent
Khurasan  26 17.2
Mazandaran 1 0.7
Gilan 4 2.6
Azerbaidzhan Iranian 32 21.2
Qazvin and Khamsih 4 2.6
Tihran 0 0
Central Provinces (Kashan, Arak, etc) 2 1.3
Isfahan 9 6.0
Fars 3 2.0
Yazd 49 32.5
Kirman 6 4.0
Hamadan and Kirmanshah 7 4.6
Kurdistan 1 0.7
Caucasus and Russian Azerbaidzhan 6 4.0
Unknown 1 0.7
                                               Total 151 100.1


Table 3 sheds some light on the motives of the Bahá'ís emigrating to Ashkhabad. If the motivation for emigration had been purely the economic opportunities provided by the 'frontier' territory, then one would have expected that Bahá'ís would have emigrated there from all zones, with perhaps some preponderance of those from regions geographically close to



Ashkhabad. And yet this is not the pattern that is found. Some geographically close areas such as Mazandaran are poorly represented, while more distant areas have large representations.

The two large contingents from Yazd and Khurasan are understandable in that both are areas in which there were frequent persecutions of the Bahá'ís, and Khurasan is also geographically adjacent to Ashkhabad. The large proportion from Azerbaidzhan (21%) is a little more difficult to explain, in that there were fewer persecutions of the Bahá'ís in that province, and also, if the Bahá'ís from that area had wished to emigrate, then it would seem that the Caucasian provinces of Russia would have been closer both ethnically and geographically. And yet far fewer Bahá'ís emigrated from Iranian Azerbaidzhan to Baku than to Ashkhabad. Perhaps the reason for this was the greater opportunities presented by the new town of Ashkhabad and the re-alignment of trade routes caused by the Transcaspian Railway.

It is also perhaps rather surprising that more Bahá'ís did not come to Ashkhabad from Isfahan which was, like Yazd, a focus of persistent persecutions of the Bahá'ís throughout the whole of this period. Bahá'ís from Isfahan tended to flee to Tihran. The relative lack of Bahá'ís from Tihran, Fars and Mazandaran is no surprise, as the Bahá'ís of these areas were subjected to relatively less persecution. Indeed Tihran was itself a point to which Bahá'ís from other parts of Iran would flee.

Overall then the pattern of emigration most closely fits the pattern of persecutions in Iran (although Azerbaidzhan remains as an inconsistency in this picture).

A few other facts can be derived from the accounts presented by Ustad 'Ali Akbar. From among Iran's religious minorities, the following were represented among Ashkhabad Bahá'ís: 7 Jews, 4 Ahl-i Haqq ('Aliyu'llahis), 3 Christians and 3 Zoroastrians. The vast majority of the wives of the heads of family are described as being already Bahá'ís at the time of marriage, thus indicating that 'familialisation' of the Bahá'í community had proceeded a long way (Smith and Momen 1986, p. 77).



The Achievements of the Ashkhabad Bahá'í Community

It would perhaps be appropriate to consider briefly the social and economic achievements of the Ashkhabad Bahá'í community. The importance to the Bahá'í world of the Bahá'í community created in Ashkhabad will be discussed in the next section. Here we will only consider the social and economic achievements of the community.

As has been described, many of those who came to Ashkhabad came as a result of persecutions. Often they had lost everything they possessed as a result of the persecutions, and arrived in Ashkhabad destitute. After their arrival in Ashkhabad, many had to take on occupations that were socially lower than what they had been used to in Iran.(19) However, many of those who came appear to have brought with them skills and experience together with the support engendered by a strong community spirit enabled many to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the 'frontier' town and to acquire an increasing prosperity through trade and business. The Bahá'í merchants acquired a reputation for honesty and fair-dealing. One of them, for example, Mulla `Ali Khurasani, became the banker (sarraf) for the Kurdish tribes around Quchan (Mazandarani, undated, p. 232). By the time of the Russian Revolution the Bahá'ís were possibly the wealthiest community in Ashkhabad. The emphasis on education in the community allowed the second generation Bahá'ís to enter university and produced modern professionals (doctors, teachers, lawyers, etc.).

In the field of education, the Bahá'ís of Ashkhabad also had significant achievements. The setting up of the boys' and girls' schools in 1312 (1894-5) and 1907 respectively enabled them to provide education for the entire community. These were among the first schools in an Iranian community to be run on modern pedagogic principles. At a time when male literacy in the region must have been less than 15 per cent and female literacy negligible, the Bahá'ís were able to report full male and female literacy among their youth (Bahá'í World 1936, p. 37).

Progress in the field of women's advancement came more slowly. The Bahá'í women in Ashkhabad were eager to press forward socially and proposed to discard the veil and chadur,



but 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the Bahá'í leader, advised against this, stating that it would incite the Muslims and give them an excuse to attack the Bahá'ís. Therefore the Bahá'í women remained veiled in public. Other 'Islamic' practices prevailed also, such as the separation of the sexes in the House of Worship, with the men on the ground floor and the women and children on a balcony. Before the Russian Revolution, women did not have a vote and were also not eligible for election to the Spiritual Assembly, but this changed after the Revolution. In private, in each others' houses, however, the Bahá'í women put aside the veil anti enjoyed considerable freedom. They benefited greatly also from the education provided at the girls' school.

The Significance of the Ashkhabad Bahá'í Community to the
Bahá'í World

Chronologically, Ashkhabad first became important to the Bahá'í world as a place of refuge for Bahá'ís fleeing persecution in Iran. This aspect had already been fully discussed above. It probably played this role most prominently up to about 1910. After this, the role of sanctuary was of less importance, as the persecutions in Iran lessened.

Secondly, Ashkhabad became a staging post for those Bahá'ís travelling from Khurasan, and as far south as Yazd, to see the Bahá'í leaders in the Akka-Haifa area. The greater ease of this route after the opening of the railway line as well as its greater security, offset the disadvantage of the longer journey. Bahá'ís would travel to Ashkhabad overland and thence to the Caspian by rail, to Baku by steamship, thence to Batum by rail, and finally to Istanbul and Haifa by steamship. Thus Ashkhabad became part of the network of Bahá'í communications that enabled the Bahá'í leadership exiled in the Akka-Haifa area to maintain contact with the bulk of their followers in Iran. This aspect of the role of Ashkhabad diminished after the First World War with the opening up of better communications directly across Iraq and Syria, and ceased entirely after the Russian Revolution.

Ashkhabad was also of great importance as a centre of Bahá'í thought and scholarship. The presence of such persons as Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani for a short time and Sayyid Mihdi Gulpaygani and Shaykh Muhammad 'Ali Qa'ini for



longer periods of time meant that Ashkhabad became the equal of Tihran, Haifa-Akka, and later Cairo and Chicago as an intellectual centre for the Bahá'í world. The debate with Communists and Christians that developed after the Revolution was also of great importance from the point of view of the development of Bahá'í thought. However, it is difficult to assess the true intellectual contribution of the Ashkhabad Bahá'í community because its dispersal in the third decade of the twentieth century resulted in its effects being felt over a wide area. A number of important administrators, educationists and other leading Bahá'ís in the Middle East, Europe and North America up to the present time were products of the Ashkhabad Bahá'í community. Ashkhabad was also of importance for the publication of books and periodicals in Persian and Russian.

But the main historical significance of the Ashkhabad Bahá'í community for the Bahá'í world as a whole must remain the fact that it was the first place where there was a conscious attempt to build up a Bahá'í community along the pattern laid down in the Bahá'í writings. Here was built the first House of Worship of the Bahá'í world as well as the first schools and other welfare institutions. Here also the social institutions of the Bahá'í Faith, the Spiritual Assembly and its committees, were first developed. Nowhere else was there both the numbers of Bahá'ís and the freedom sufficient to do this. In Iran, the numbers existed but not the freedom. Elsewhere in the Middle East, the numbers were not sufficient. Although, there had grown a substantial Bahá'í community in Chicago and although these Bahá'ís did in 1903 decide to build a House of Worship in emulation of the Ashkhabad House of Worship, there was not the same unity and community spirit nor the resources to equal the Ashkhabad achievements.

Paradoxically however, the Ashkhabad Bahá'í experience marks both a peak of achievement and a dead end. It was a peak of achievement in that as described it marked the furthest that any community reached in realising the ideal of a Bahá'í community. But it was also a dead end in that the manner of expansion that it represented, the concentration of Bahá'ís one place and building up numbers and social institutions there, was not to become the manner for the further propagation of the Bahá'í Faith. Under the leadership of Shoghi



Effendi, the Bahá'ís were to adopt an alternative strategy. Rather than concentrating on the building up of large communities in a small number of locations and then spreading out slowly from these locations to neighbouring areas, Shoghi Effendi adopted the strategy of diffusing the Bahá'í thinly to all parts of the world and then seeking to build up communities in each of these thousands of locations. This was to be the pattern of Bahá'í expansion from the 1930s to the present day.

Consequently, it is only comparatively recently, in the last thirty years, that Bahá'í communities in other parts of the world have managed to achieve the same degree of development as the Ashkhabad community achieved sixty or seventy years ago. And in some ways, this has still not been achieved even yet, for there is still not any single individual town or city in the world where all of the elements achieved by the Ashkhabad Bahá'í community (House of Worship, schools, publications and intellectual life, social institutions community life) can be said to exist to the same degree of development.

The main importance of the Ashkhabad Bahá'í community for the Bahá'í world as a whole rests with the fact that it achieved its high degree of social development during the period of Bahá'í history when the leadership of the Bahá'í community was also the source of authoritative interpretation of the Bahá'í scriptures. Authoritative texts in the Bahá'í Faith are the writings of the founder Bahá'u'lláh (1817-93) and the authorised interpretations of his two successors, 'Abdu'l-Bahá (1844-1921) and Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957). The writings of these three successive leaders of the Bahá'í community are regarded as being authoritative for all Bahá'ís indefinitely into the future.(20) The Ashkhabad Bahá'ís were the only Bahá'í community to have reached such an advanced stage of development under the guidance of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi. Therefore, the statements of instructions and guidance from these two leaders resolving the problems that arose in the course of the evolution of the Ashkhabad Bahá'í community to its high degree of social and institutional development will remain for all time as part of the pattern upon which all future Bahá'í communities will grow and develop. In this sense, therefore, the Ashkhabad Bahá'í experience lives on and will continue to be reflected in the future development of the world Bahá'í community.




1. Unfortunately, due to a lack of knowledge of Turkish and Russian, I have only been able to present the Bahá'í view and have not been able to balance this with material from other local sources. Indeed the availability of such material from other sources appears to be severely limited. The sources for the historical survey are: Anthony Lee, manuscript notes of interviews with Mr 'Ali-Akbar Furutan, Mr 'Abbas Parvini, Mr Kazem Kazemzadeh, and Mr Tarazollah Namdar. I am extremely grateful to Mr Lee for communicating these papers to me; 'Ali Akbar, undated; Lee 1977; Mazandarani undated, pp. 993-1002; Mazandarani 1975 pp. 981-1049; Remey 1916; Sulaymani 1966; Bahá'í World 1928 pp. 30-31, 121-2; Bahá'í World 1930 pp. 34, 160, 165, Bahá'í World 1936 pp. 33-43; Bahá'í World 1937 p. 73; Bahá'í World 1939 pp. 100-102; Bahá'í World 1942 pp. 87-90

2. There are brief references to the Bahá'ís in some European sources but these tend not to be very informative: Christie 1925 p. 26; Kalmykow 1971 pp. 151-3; see also Kolarz 1961 pp. 470-3, who refers to a number of Russian sources; and accounts given in Momen 1981 pp. 296-300, 442-3, 473

3. Bahá'u'lláh was imprisoned in 'Akka and there was a regular stream of Bahá'í pilgrims to that city.

4. The relatives of the Bab are known as the Afnan.

5. Mulla 'Ali Khurasani is quoted (in 'Ali Akbar, undated p. 232) as saying; 'I became a Bahá'í in 1303 (1885-6). For three years I remained in Mashhad. The entire time I was subject to many taunts and reproaches from my friends and others. Eventually I could not stand it any longer and I came to Ashkhabad. I entered Ashkhabad towards the end of 1306 (1888-9). I found that Ashkhabad to be similar to Mashhad in that the Muslims (aghyar) were harassing the Bahá'ís (ahibba). I began to wish that I had never come to Ashkhabad.'

6. Details of the murder and trial may be found in several sources: Captain Tumanski, a Russian military officer, wrote details of the episode to Victor Rosen who published these in Rosen 1891 vol 6, pp. 247-8 (trans. Browne 1891 vol 2, pp. 411-12); for a detailed Bahá'í account, see Mihrabkhani 1974, pp. 159-198, quoting a lengthy letter from Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani who was in Ashkhabad at the time. For the reaction in Iran, see M. Momen 1981, pp. 298-9, quoting a dispatch from British Legation in Tihran.

7. This phenomenon had also occurred in a few places in Iran in small towns and villages where there was a large Bahá'í presence (e.g., Nayriz in Fars) but in most places in Iran there had been no social separation

8. A term which is difficult to translate but is approximately equivalent to arbab in Persian, 'sahib' in colonial India and 'boss' in the English vernacular

9. Tumanski studied Bahá'u'lláh's foremost work, the Kitab al-Aqdas,



with Mirza Abu'l-Fadl and later produced an edited text with translation in the series Zapiski Imperatorskoi Academii Nauk S. Petersburg, 8th series, Vol 3, no 6, 1899.

10. Except for a short sojourn in Merv.

11. The question of where the first Spiritual Assembly in the Bahá'í world was established is not yet fully clear. It would appear that following the statement from Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitab al-Aqdas that a House of Justice should be established in every city, a number of eminent Bahá'ís in Tihran set up an assembly in 1294 (1877) which was established on a more formal basis in 1297 (1880). However this was an ad hoc body and additional members were co- opted onto it (Mihrabkhani 1982). Later 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in 1315 (1897-8), instructed a number of prominent Bahá'ís who had been given the title 'Hand of the Cause' by Bahá'u'lláh to set up the Central Spiritual Assembly in Tihran. The first Board of Counsel of American Bahá'ís was established in either Kenosha, Wisconsin or New York City in 1897 or 1898 (Collins 1982, p. 228-9). Therefore it would appear that the Ashkhabad Assembly of 1313 (1895-6) was indeed the first elected Spiritual Assembly in the Bahá'í world.

12. For an account of life in Ashkhabad at this time, see Furutan 1984 pp. 8-20

13. Sulaymani 1966, pp. 29, 33, gives both June and July in different places.

14. L. Klimovich, Sotsialisticheskoe Stroitelstvo na Vostoke i Reliqiya quoted in Kolarz 1961, p. 471.

15. Events during these years can be followed in successive volumes of Bahá'í World - See References.

16. It was severely damaged in the devastating earthquake of 1948 that completely flattened most of the rest of the city. Following this, poor maintenance of the building allowed further damage from the rain and the whole building had to be demolished in 1963 for safety.

17. Since a number of prominent names, such as Ustad 'Abdu'r-Rasul Banna Yazdi and Aqa Muhammad Rida Arbab Isfahani, were not in 'Ali-Akbar's list, the present author made a search of a number of other sources, in particular Mazandarani 1975, pp. 993-1002.

18. Shaykh Murtada Ansari was famed for his extreme caution in his actions lest he err and displease God. One example of this was the fact that he is said to have issued no more than two or three ijazas during his entire life.

19. Mazandarani 1974, p. 114 reports, for example, that five of the Bahá'ís, including one who is designated as 'Ustad', became gatherers and hewers of firewood for the kilnsmen.

20. According to Bahá'í teaching, these writings cannot be abrogated and will remain in force until the coming of a future 'Manifestation of God', i.e., a further Divine prophet. Authority in the Bahá'í Faith at present rests with the Universal House of Justice. However this elected body can only give pronouncements in areas not already covered by the writings of the three successive leaders.



Furthermore a pronouncement of the Universal House of Justice can be abrogated by a further pronouncement by the same body at a later date.


'Abdu'l-Bahá (1916), `Utterances of Abdul-Baha upon the Mashrak-el-Azkar', Star of the West Vol 6 No. 17, pp 133 139

'Ali Akbar Banna Yazdi, Ustad (undated), Tarikh-i 'Ishqabad, manuscript

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Bahá'í World (1936), vol. 5 (1932-34), Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois

Bahá'í World (1937), vol. 6 (1934-6), Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette Illinois

Bahá'í World (1939), vol. 7 (1936-8), Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois

Bahá'í World (1942), vol. 8 (1938-40), Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois

Boulangier, Edgar (1888), Voyage a Merv; les Russes dans l'Asie centrale, Librarie Hachette, Paris

Browne (ed. and trans), Edward G. (1891), A Traveller's Narrative written to illustrate the episode of the Bab, vol. 2, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Christie, Ella R. (1925), Through Khiva to Golden Samarkand, Seeley, Service & Co, London

Collins, William (1982), 'Kenosha, 1893-1912: History of an early Bahá'í Community in the United States,' in Momen, M., Studies in Babi and Bahá'í History, Vol. 1, Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, pp 224-253

Curzon, George N. (1892), Persia and the Persian Question, vol. 1, Longmans, London, repr. Frank Cass, London, 1966

Furutan, Ali Akbar (1984), The Story of my Heart, George Ronald, Oxford

Haydar-'Ali [Isfahani], Hajji Mirza (1980), Stories from the Delight of Hearts (trans. A. Q. Faizi), Kalimat Press, Los Angeles

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Lee, Anthony A. (1977), 'The Rise of the Bahá'í community in 'Ishqabad', Bahá'í Studies, Vol 5 pp 1-13



Mazandarani, Fadil-i (undated), Tarikh-i Zuhur al-Haqq, vol. 6, manuscript

-- 1974), Tarikh Zuhur al-Haqq, vol. 8, pt 1, Mu'assisih Matbu'at Amri, Tehran, 131 badi'/1974

-- (1975), Tarikh Zuhur al-Haqq, vol. 8, pt 2, Mu'assisih Matbu'at Amri, Tehran, 132 badi'/1975, pp. 981-1049

Mihrabkhani, Ruhu'llah (1974), Sharh-i Ahwal-i Mirza Abu'l-Fada'il Gulpaygani, Mu'assisih Matbu'at Amri, Tehran, 131 badi'/1974

-- (1982), 'Mahfil-i Shawr afar ahd-i Jamal-i Aqdas Abha', Payam-i Bahá'í, No 28. Feb. 1982, pp 9-11; No 29, Mar. 1982, pp 8-9

Momen (ed), Moojan (1981), The Babi and Bahá'í Religions 1844 1944; some contemporary western accounts, George Ronald, Oxford

Rabbani, Ruhiyyih (1969), The Priceless Pearl, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, London

Ramsey, Charles M. (1916), 'The Mashrak-el-Azkar of Ishkhabad', Starof the West, Vol 6 No 18, pp 153-155

Rosen.. Victor (1891), Collections Scientifiques de l'Institut des Langues orientales, Vol 6: Les Manuscrits Arabes. St Petersburg

Smith Peter and Momen M (1986), 'The Babi Movement: a resource mobilisation perspective', in Smith P. In Iran; Studies in Babi and Bahá'í History, vol. 3, Kalimat Press, Los Angeles) pp 33-93

Sulaymani, 'Azizu'llah (1966), Masabih-i Hidayat, vol. 3, Mu'assisih Matbu'at Amri, Tehran, 123 badi'/1966, pp. 9-62, 549-615

Whitmore, Bruce W. (1975), 'The City of Love,' Bahá'í News, July 1975, pp. 6-12


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