Reviews

Within a series of academic monographs at the same publisher’s on the geography, history and social sciences of the Talish and the Talishis, the present book is a Russian translation by Iranian historian Husayn Ahmadi’s work on the historical geography of this region situated at the south-western corner of the Caspian Sea from the Aq-Qoyunlu period (late fifteenth-century) to the Russo-Iranian War of 1826-8, with particular interest in the Safavid (1501-1722) and Afshar (1736-49) periods. The text is preceded by a short geographical and historical introduction in which the author carefully avoids the mention of the Sunni–Shiite inner division of the Talishi population since the sixteenth century, and bases his considerations on a durable opposition between highland and lowland populations ― with romantic valuation of the freedom and ‘healthy life’ of highlanders. The author then embarks on a historical narrative of more than three centuries of history through a selective paraphrase of the main published chronicles, regional geographies and travel accounts of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries (among them: the anonymous ‘Alam-ara-yi Shah Tahmasp; the Ta’rikh-i ‘abbasi ya ruznama-yi Jalal by Mulla Jala al-Din Munajjim; the Jawahir-nama-yi Lankuran by Sayyid ‘Ali b. Kazim Bik; the Nasih al-tawarikh by Muhammad-Taqi Sipihr; the Safar-nama-yi Gilan by Nasir al-Din Shah, etc.). As it is often the case in Iranian local and regional erudition as it has been developing during the thirty years of existence of the Islamic Republic, the documental basis of the work is strictly limited to a selection of these textual sources, none of which is introduced nor criticised at any moment. The small mount of international bibliography provided in the introduction (through Persian translations) has a mere cosmetic function and is not really implemented in the study. The bulk of the demonstration is an illustration of the role played by Talishi khans in the defence of Persia’s north-western limes from the early Safavid period to the early-nineteenth-century wars against Russia. The diffusion of Twelver Shiite Islam among the Talishis from the early sixteenth century onwards is related by the author (after F. Asadov, Khanha-yi Talish [The Khans of Talish], Baku, 1999) to the latter’s struggle against forays from neighbouring Shirvan. In full conformity with the content of a majority of state-sponsored chronicles and official testimonies of the Qajar period (Nasih al-tawarikh, Nama-yi siyasi wa ta’rikhi-yi Qayim Maqam, etc.), the Russian occupation of this part of the Caspian littoral is introduced as exclusively destructive, especially in terms of repression of religious practice, personnel and institutions. In all, this dense narrative, if it provides researchers in regional history of the Talish with a useful perusal of a bunch of Persian textual sources, remains to be enriched by the collation of materials from different origins (including regional archive resources and Russian sources of the most different kinds) before a satisfactory attempt of the reconstruction of the modern history and historical geography of the Talish can be undertaken.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-2.3-77