Saturday, March 17, 2012

Christopher de Bellaigue and his Ahmaghieh Supporter in the Frontline Club Audience

I went along to a Frontline Club meeting at the Royal Institute last night. The panelists were Ran Gidor, the Minister-Counsellor for Political Affairs at the Embassy of Israel in London, Azadeh Moaveni from the Time Magazin, Roberto Toscano, the Italian Ambassador to Iran for five years (2003-2008) and not previously announced Christopher de Bellaigue. The topic of discussion was Iran - Diplomatic Tensions and Power Struggles. The Israeli Minister-Counsellor was heavily outnumbered not just on the panel but also in the audience largely made up of BBC Persian and BBC Arabic staff.

It was when Christopher de Bellaigue started ranting on that my blood started to boil. Christopher de Bellaigue started reading a statement by the British Prime Minister addressed to Mossadegh in 1951 and recent statements by David Cameron and William Hague, drawing parallels between Mossadegh and the present rulers in Iran in standing up to the condescending bullies in Britain.

When my turn for questions came, I said this to de Bellaigue:
"Many people in the West think you are an Iran expert and you cater for a special niche in the market and make your money from it. I havent read your book about Mossadegh the Patriot yet but I hope you have written in the book that the British coup that you keep referring to failed and it was in fact the clerics and Ayatollahs who turned their thugs against Mossadegh and toppled him, but I think it is disgraceful that you compare Mossadegh with the likes of Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollahs ruling Iran today and use Mossadegh to justify the very people who overthrew him, but I want to refer to an earlier article you wrote about the people in a district in Tabriz where you refer repeatedly to the district as the district of Ahmaghieh, to those who understand Persian, this means district of stupid people, did you ever go to Tabriz or was some one having a laugh with you?"

See de Bellaigue's article and book where he mentions repeatedly the district of Ahmaghieh in Tabriz and claims huge support for Ahmadinejad in the district of stupid people!

de Bellaigue answered he meant a district called Aahmaghieh but because the sound of Aa in English is often written as A, the district was written as Ahmaghieh in his accounts. He then asked if there is anyone in the audience from Tabriz and knows this district? A girl in front of me whom I could not see her face from the back raised her arm enthusiastically and said "Yes, there is!" and the audience made up of mainly BBC staff sighed with relief applauded enthusiastically for her and their hero Christopher de Bellaigue.

After the discussion was closed, I went over to see who the "girl from Tabriz" was, it was in fact none other than Golriz Kolahi, an ubiquitous supporter of regime apologists. I asked her in Azeri, "Do you come from Tabriz?" but she said she didn't understand Azeri. "But you just told everyone you were from Tabriz?" and Golriz Kolahi just smiled as if to say well I fooled them all. "and you told this audience that there is a district in Tabriz called Ahmaghieh". Golriz said "No I said Ahamdieh". She was going for safety, Ahmadieh is a common name for districts but there is not a district called Ahmadieh either, Ahmad Abad in Tabriz is the nearest and in any case that is not what de Bellaigue said. He did not dispute whether there was a 'gh' in the district's name or a 'd', he said the name started with the sound of Aa as in Aardvark and not in Apple. I felt utter contempt for Golriz Kolahi, this daughter of a wealthy factory owner in Iran who likes to live in England and enjoy the privileges this country offers.

Then I approached de Bellaigue and asked him what part of Tabriz is this Ahmaghieh or Aahmaghieh that he has been writing about? Was it North, South, East or West of Tabriz? He couldn't answer. How can someone who has done anecdotal interviews with the people of a district not know which direction the district was in? "Who is the current MP for Ahmaghieh? This Ahmadinejad supporting district in Tabriz?" I asked de Bellaigue again and once again he couldn't answer. How can you do research into a district and claim they staunchly support Ahmadinejad and not know whether the district have gone for a pro-Ahmadinejad MP or not?

Here is a list of districts in Tabriz according to wikipedia:
None of which sound like Ahmaghieh. The only possible candidate is Akhmaqaya, pronounced like two words AkhmA qAyA from the Azeri words AkhmA meaning flowing and qAyA meaning rock.

Just to be double sure, I checked with a scholar friend of mine from Tabriz, in case the pronunciations have changed since I left Tabriz and anyone pronounced this place as Ahmaghieh. This was his response :
"There are two slightly different pronunciations, based on whether the person uttering the name is rural or urban. Urban Azeris go for Ākhmā - Gara, while rurals go for Ākhmā - Qayah. None of which are anywhere close to what De Bellaigue claims."

As I have not read de Bellaigue's book on Mossadegh, I cannot comment on it myself, but again I asked a couple of my Iranian historian friends. Their responses below:

First response:
"The book seems like a journalist account on the scene of what happened in Tehran those days. It doesn't really have a broad historical perspective. He keeps being convinced that the British were behind the events of 19 August and discounts the role of domestic actors quite heavily. There is very little mention of the clerical involvement, something he probably was advised to avoid in order to spend half the year in Tehran, as he claims to be doing. This really weakens the book. He also does not delve deep enough on the intrinsic weaknesses of the Mossadegh front, particularly the lack of a solid political organisation, and the National Front's aloofness and lack of discipline. Its all good to claim that Mossadegh's intentions are good and valid, but the problem as always in Iran is political agency. In this Mossadegh has severe flaws. De Bellaigue picks on one (the dissolution of the Majles) validly, but does not mention many others.

On a more detailed level, he completely misreads the actions of the Tudeh party in the days leading to August 19, by failing to account for the effect of the "Black Tudeh" crowds put into motion by the CIA, which effectively - and genuinely - turned the people against the Tudeh and to some extent against Mossadegh, because they were fearful of a reign of terror should the Tudeh gain power. He also gets it wrong on the famous rumours on the attempt to set up a republic after the Shah's flight to Rome - had he read the last issue of Bakhtar-e Emrouz, which is widely distributed, he would have seen denials all over the place of such an attempt. Mossadegh was against it and would never had supported it. This thesis is accurately described in some of the books De Bellaigue claims to have used, but he chose not to look upon it.

Another thing is that this book is billed as the cradle to grave account of Mossadegh's life, and such is said in the Introduction. But we have little or nothing of his exile in Ahmadabad and his effectively negative actions against the NF after 1953 (he singlehandedly disbanded the Second NF in the Sixties), nor do we have a real description of the single, major commemoration event after 1979, the 14 Esfand of Ahmadabad with a million people, which also marked the breaking up of his legacy amongst many organisations. No real mention of his legacy and his tortured memory today in IRI.

Second response:
"I have never had the emotional energy to read more than half a paragraph of CdB's writings. According to a friend of mine who is in the book business CdB contributes to the second hand book market in the UK, because a lot of people don't even want to keep his stuff after trying to  read them"

What annoyed me most about Christopher de Bellaigue was no matter what the panelist thought about the correct diplomatic strategy, they all confirmed that the Iranian regime is an evil dictatorship, but not once did de Bellaigue criticise the Islamic Republic for its despotism and human rights abuse track record.


Delta Pavonis said...

The Economist describes Ahmaghieh as "a new suburb of the north-western city of Tabriz, some 60,000 people, many of them rural migrants, eke out a precarious existence market-gardening, carpet-weaving and (the lucky few) working in local factories. Residents wryly observe that, as citizens of OPEC's second biggest oil exporter, they must do without electricity for two hours a day. A local doctor says that sanitary diseases “of the kind you don't see in rich areas” are rife in Ahmaghieh."

Azarmehr said...

Show me where there is a place called Ahmaghieh:,Tabr%C4%ABz,+Iran&gl=uk&ei=IbRkT_eRPMzu8QOp3LyRCA&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=image&resnum=2&ved=0CEYQ8gEwAQ

Azarmehr said...

Also Delton, do you realise that article was by CdB?

Winston said...

These leftist apologists of the regime are disgraceful, shameless idiots.

Delta Pavonis said...

I'm not saying there is or there isn't, I'm just saying there is a reference to this place in the Economist. I can't see de Bellaigue's name on this article - I believe the Economist does not give by-lines.

Azarmehr said...

That article is by CdB. He is a correspondent for the Economist. I put that link myself. You won't find any other links referring to Ahmaghieh other than CdB or what I have written. I have also listed all the Tabriz districts from Wiki. Even AxmA qAyA's name was changed many years ago to shahrak shahid chamran

Simon Forbes said...

I weary of these pseudo "Iran experts" that act as shills for the regime in Iran. Why are they always given such prominence by the media while Iranians and people with genuine expertise who are critical of the regime are marginalised?

Delta Pavonis said...

Do you think it was someone trying to make him look ridiculous or making a racist insult against Azeris? I remember the cartoon that featured a cockroach talking in Azeri.

Azarmehr said...

Who knows? Someone was having a laugh at his expens, but the girl in the audience, Golriz Kolahi, saved him from being laughed at again. The point is I dont think he ever went there and made up the story or was fed the story.

F.Diba said...

You say that you have not read CdB's "Patriot of Persia".
If you do, you will see the following:
1 - On the jacket, it is falsely claimed that this is the FIRST biography of Dr.M. in English, whereas I wrote such a biography which was published in English in 1986.
When asked to remove the word FIRST, the request was refused.
2 - He has copied heavily from secondary works, from the already published memoirs of Dr.M, as well as from an unpublished work by the grandson of Dr.M., which was lent to him for information only. The book is replete with irrelevant padding and lacks substance.
3 - On several occasions, if you check the source which he quotes, it turns out that the source says exactly the opposite to what CdB is quoting.
4 - He contradicts himself in several places.
5 - He leaves the (Iranian) reader with the impression that he lacks an understanding of the nature of Mossadegh.
I will be interested in your opinion, once you have read it.
Farhad Diba
(Author: Dr.Mohammad Mossadegh, London 1986).
(I am a nephew of Dr.Mossadegh)

Anonymous said...

One Man's Journey From Riches to the Torture Chamber to Freedom

Delta Pavonis said...

You said you spoke to someone in "Azeri". I've got completely confused about whether to use Azerbaijani or Azeri or Azeri Turk - it seems some get upset when I use one or the other. Could you clear this up for me please?

Azarmehr said...

I call it Azeri. I believe this is the correct saying for the dialect that was common in the region before the Turkish tribes moved in and more Turkish words entered the language

romillyh said...

Aakhmaaqiyeh ( آخماقیه ) does appear to exist, and is an “old district” ( محله‌های قدیمی ) of Tabriz.

Wikipedia Farsi


It’s WSW of Tabriz, on the road to Lake Urumieh, and from the map appears to be outside the main city.

Potted history here:

Quote from potted history:
آخماقیه گوشه ای از کلانشهر تبریز ...
امروزه آخماقیه یکی از محلات کلانشهر تبریز می باشد که در محدوده شهرداری منطقه 7 قرار دارد ولی هنوز چهره روستائی دارد و با داشتن جمعیت زیاد از امکانات ابتدایی محروم می باشد.

No, I am not CdB or a friend of his! I have just been curious about this “Ahmaqieh” story for some time. For some reason I re-read your blog today and decided to check out his long aa versus short a story. It seems he was correct, at least about Tabriz having an area of that name. Wikimapia refers to it as “mantaqeh” and “nahie”, not “mahalle”, the term Wikipedia and the blog use, so it’s not clear whether it’s a formal urban district of Tabriz, a ward of some kind or just a semi-rural area that’s hung on to its traditional name.

romillyh said...

Addendum to previous: Clearly this is the "Aakhma (or -maa) Qaya" your friend gave you the pronunciations of. Personally I would have thought that carelessness by CdB and then the confusion over the initial "a" — whether long or short — could easily result in the name of the place getting printed in London as "Ahmaghieh", giving rise to all the hilarious possibilities you suggest!

Incidentally, deB is careless, as shown in his incorrect transliteration of Mosaddegh as Mossadegh in his book.

romillyh said...

Finally (and sorry for this 3-part comment!), it's quite clear from the Economist article that this area with its Azeri/Torki name is the district he is referring to, if with unfortunate carelessness:

"Nowhere are such inequalities more apparent than on the insalubrious peripheries of big towns. In Ahmaghieh, for instance, a new suburb of the north-western city of Tabriz, some 60,000 people, many of them rural migrants, eke out a precarious existence market-gardening, carpet-weaving and (the lucky few) working in local factories."

The description matches descriptions of employment in the the area given elsewhere. The "new suburb" is forgivable if it has been recently attached to the municipality of Tabriz. And Ahmaqieh is exactly the kind of mnemonic a Farsi-knowing English-speaker would use to remember the name Akhma Qaya. He just should have been more careful when he came to write the piece!! :-)