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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


August 31, 2000

American missionaries in Iran

Comments on Blood & Oil: Memoirs of a Persian prince by Manucher and Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Dear Ms. Farmanfarmaian, I just finished reading the book Blood & Oil and I found it fascinating! I had been giving credit to your father for the bulk of the writing, but in the Web heading with your name I see that you should get the credit for most of the writing. Congratulations!

There was one glaring error I noticed on page 400 where your father says that his brother Ghaffar won the Nobel Prize -- he says that Alfred Nobel was American -- NOT TRUE ! I tried this morning on the net to find Ghaffar's name on a Nobel Prize list, but was unable to do so. I did, however, only scan the Economics list -- and was surprised to learn that in this field it had only been instituted in 1969 -- still I did not see any Farmanfarmanian. (I think I may be getting an extra "na" in you last name ?) Could you clarify this?

The other point that made me stop and think back & forth was his statement on page 427 that his father had been married to eight wives. I think I read that at his death he had seven, but have not yet scanned back to that page. But I believe that under Islam a man is allowed only four wives. Did some of them die, did he divorce or were some of them really only concubines? I know that in the latter case the children would still have full rights if the father acknowledged them -- I don't believe that the mother had much to say about it at any time.

Then on page 373 he talks of the Capitulation Agreement, the only part I disagree with is the statement "-- that no other country in the world had ever granted to any foreigner." But there have been many times when folks here in the USA have been upset because some foreigner (diplomat -- or vaguely associated with one -- or UN -- not necessarily delegate) has even killed someone in traffic or otherwise and been granted immunity. The latest was the hullabaloo over the au Pare whose baby charge died and all England was up in arms, etc. So Iran was not the only country to grant such benefits. Maybe they are the only ones to have made a political agreement about it.

Part of the reason I found the book so fascinating is that I grew up in Persia/Iran. About the time your father was sent to England for school, I was born to Presbyterian missionary parents in Rezaiyeh (Urumia) in Azerbaijan. Except for furlough years (basically 1928 and school year 1937-1938) I lived in Iran. I can picture many of the places that are mentioned, though I saw them from quite a different perspective than your father. My parents were stationed first in Rezaiyeh, second in Tehran 1934-37 and finally in Resht (Rasht) where my father died and is buried in the Armenian cemetery. One sister died and is buried at Seir just outside Rezaiyeh. My mother retired in 1957 and died in 1974. But there are many memories. I left in 1944 after D-Day opened up a way to get back to the USA via the Atlantic.

Of course, anything to do with Iran caught my eye during the ensuing years, but it was really hard to believe that it had changed so much since 1944. What opened my eyes was reading Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoudi. That started me on a binge of reading. As the co-author of Blood and Oil, you might look up an read Shuster's The Strangling of Persia. Historically it is still a valid exposition of some of what went on in Persia. I also read your aunt Satareh's book Daughter of Persia. Her description of being arrested in the early days of the 1979 revolution is one of the most graphic so far. She, at least, was aware of the Presbyterian Mission on Gavam-e-Sultaneh street, just a few blocks north of Supeh, though she refers to Dr. Elder's "daughter" and in reading the book I knew she was referring to his wife.

I am amazed, always, that so little mention is made of the American Missionary work in Iran. It started there in 1834 and continued through to 1975 +/-. Mostly it was closed out in bits and pieces by the Iranian government. Rezaiyeh closed in 1934, all foreign schools closed out and/or taken over by the Iranian government by 1939-1940, and gradually hospitals too were closed etc.

The other books I would recommend are the three by Najmeh Najafi. especially her second book, Reveille for a Persian Village. It gave me such a good feeling reading it, and while it is true that it was in the late 1950's, I think that had there been more like her and more assistance given at that time, again things could have been different. But we cannot go back, none of us, and still this old world continues on.

It must be that all the pictures in the book are somewhat old as your father looks so vibrant in them, but apparently he is beginning to get set in his ways. I'm glad for you that you did not get trapped in Iran and in the turmoil it has become. I wonder when the attitudes will change to allow women to be effective in the workings of govenment again. Now I am beginning to reamble and will bring this to a close. Give my salaams to your father, but you have managed to make Blood and Oil a really good, great book, and more than just a what-a-great-family-I-came-from diatribe.

Myrtle (Browning) Fulton


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