This verse is part of the song “O, Aras!” (Ārāz in the pronunciation of the Azerbaijanis), which is attributed to Yahya Sheida, the Azerbaijani poet. Its theme is the longing for the separated land of the northern Aras from Iran that became annexed to Russia after the Turkmenchay treaty. Ever since, this theme has become common in the works of poets like Sheida...
“North? South? Throw away these cruddy words.
Tell the world that they are all the land of Iran”
This verse is part of the song “O, Aras!” (Ārāz in the pronunciation of the Azerbaijanis), which is attributed to Yahya Sheida, the Azerbaijani poet. Its theme is the longing for the separated land of the northern Aras from Iran that became annexed to Russia after the Turkmenchay treaty. Ever since, this theme has become common in the works of poets like Sheida, as well as the folklore and oral culture of the people on both sides of the Aras River. But what is the secret of this deep regret, and why separation from Iran during the last two centuries has become such a theme?
The hidden regret in these songs is rooted in history. Saʻdi, the prominent Iranian poet of the 13th century, says: “Saʻdi! The formation of this love in your heart took ages. Therefore, it cannot be forgotten unless ages pass.” The story of the connection of the north of Aras to its south is not the story of decades, centuries and millennia, but the story of the longest ages. The northern side of the river has permanently been following its southern side.
Diakonoff, the Russian historian who contributed to Median studies, referring to Herodotus, considered the northern borders of the Median lands between the Aras and Kura rivers. This part of the Median land also belonged to the Iranian territory during the Achaemenid era, whose name is mentioned in the inscriptions of Darius and other Achaemenid kings.
After the fall of the Achaemenids, Atropates, the satrap of Media and commander of Darius III in the war with Alexander the Great, returned to Azerbaijan and maintained his position during the reign of Alexander. In the wars of Alexander’s succession, he separated Lesser Media from the Greek rule with an independent identity. This independent and was called Atropatkan. Atropatene (from Atropates), is an Iranian word that means “protected by fire” and the names Adurbadgan/ Aturpatkan and Azerbaijan in the Islamic era are rooted from it. The mainland of Atropaten/ Lesser Media included present-day Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, as well as part of northern lands of the Aras River, even in some sources, Darband in Dagestan is part of it.
Undoubtedly, in the Parthian and Sassanid eras, the northern lands of Aras were annexed to Iran. The wall of Darband and the Persian inscriptions in the Darband of Dagestan and the Caucasus are clear evidence of this claim.
With the arrival of Islam in Iran, the Muslim Arabs, after winning the battle of Nahavand, conquered Azerbaijan in 22 AH. The treaty between Hudhayfah ibn Yamān, the Arab conqueror, and the Marzbān (margrave) of Azerbaijan, clearly proves the dominance of the Sassanids over the northern lands of Aras. In the Islamic conquest sources, it is stated that in return for the commitment of the governor of Azerbaijan to make peace and pay large sums of money, Hudhayfah pledged not to kill or capture any of the Azerbaijani people, destroy fire temples, attack the Kurds of Balāsajān, Sabalān and Sātrudān [lands between Kura and Aras rivers, according to some sources], and not to prevent the people of Shiz from dancing and performing their rituals in ceremonies. According to Dr. Enayatollah Reza in the entry of Balāsagān, Balāsajān was the Arabic form the name of the plain located on both sides of the Aras River and the southern part of Kura River. Balāsagān is mentioned in the inscription of Shapur I, the Sassanid king (243-273 AD) around the Kaʻba-ye Zardosht in Naqsh-e Rostam, as one of the lands under the Sassanid rule.
During the Arab Caliphate (Rashidun, Umayyad, and Abbasid) the tradition of governing northern Aras by the governors of Azerbaijan continued. During this period, the three territories of Azerbaijan, Arrān (Bāb) and Armenia, were governed within a united region called the “Iqlim ar-Rahāb". Ardabil was the largest city and capital of Azerbaijan; Dabil (Dvin) was the capital of Armenia; Varrasān was the border of Azerbaijan with Arran; and Barda was the capital of Arran. Although there are different theories on the Arran boundary, most sources consider Arran as the territory between the Kura and Aras rivers and sometimes between Aras and the Caucasus Darband, which is currently in the Republic of Azerbaijan; a false, anti-historical, and fictitious name for this land, made up by the Musavat party and their famed leader, Mohammad Amin Rasoulzade. Ibn Hawqal, the prominent Arab geographer in the fourth century AH, separated Arran from Azerbaijan and considered the following cities as the territory of Arran: Barda, Bāb (Darband), Tbilisi, Beylagan, Varrasān, Bardij, Shamākhiya (Shamākhi), Shervān, Lāijān, Shābarān, Qabalah, Shakki (present-day Nokhāy), Shamkhur (present-day Shāmkhur) and Janzah (Ganjah). Other medieval geographers have all unanimously considered Arran a separate region from Azerbaijan.
Despite this geographical division, the administration of Arran during the caliphate was always carried out by the governor of Azerbaijan. However, at times both Arran and Azerbaijan were ruled by the governor of the Jazirah, and the capital of the region was Harran. According to historical sources, one of the constant troubles of Arran and Azerbaijan in this period was the invasion of Turks and Khazars. For instance, between the years 108-112 AH, invaders repeatedly attacked the territory of Arran and Azerbaijan. In one of the battles, Mardānshah, an Iranian-Azerbaijani commander, in the foothills of the Sabalān Mountains near the village of Shahrāzād, fought the Turks with the help of local forces, but he failed and was slain.
In the third century AH, following the Iranian movement for independence from the Abbasid Caliphate, which began with the rise of Tahirid, Saffarid, and Samanid dynasties in the east, Azerbaijan was the first land in western Iran to become officially independent and its Iranian ruler named Mohammad ibn Abi as-sāj, who struck his own coins. During the Sājid period, the capital of Azerbaijan was Marāgheh and then Ardabil, and Arran was governed from there. The situation was the same during the next Iranian dynasties of the fourth and fifth centuries AH, namely the Daylamite Salārids and the Kurdish Ravādis. It was the flourishing period of Persian language and poetry in Azerbaijan and Arran, and significant poets such as Qatrān Tabrizi and Asadi Tusi were in the courts of the Iranian dynasties. In the mid-fifth century AH, the Seljuqs entered Azerbaijan and Arran and took control over it, which was followed by the Mongols and the Timurids dynasties. But part of Arran was still in the hands of the Iranian Shirvān-shahs, and poets such as Khaqani and Nezami Ganjavi were supported by them. The power of Iranian culture and the dominance of Persian language and literature over the northern and southern parts of Aras continued in this period, and books such as Safine-ye Tabriz and some miscellanies of poems (jongs) by Persian poets of the Caucasus demonstrate that the main language of poetry and writing in this region, even during the rule of the Turkish dynasties, was Persian. The South Caucasus and Arran, despite the rule of the Turk, Tatar, and Mongol dynasties, culturally and demographically, remained Iranian until became part of Iran’s political geography during the Safavid period again. According to Mirza Rafiʻa, author of Shah Sultan Hussein reign, Mamālek-e Mahruse-ye Iran (Guarded domains of Iran), during the Safavid period included four governing regions (vāli-neshin) of Arabistan [Khuzestan], Lorestan-e Fili, Gurjestan, and Kurdistan and thirteen Biglar-beigis of Qandahār, Shirvān, Herāt, Tabriz, Chakhur Saʻd, Qarābāgh and Ganjah, Astarābād, Kuh-Giluyeh, Kerman, Marvshāhijān, ʻAlishkar (Hamedan), Mashhad, Qazvin, as well as and several governing districts, including Bakhtiari. In this period, Qarabāgh and Ganjah are two Biglar-beigis of Iran.
From the Safavid period, the Ottomans and the Russians became more alert about the Caucasus and initiated their activities there; thus, the territory of Iran confronted two serious threats, which were competing with each other. The gradual decline of the Safavids after Shah Abbas and its eventual collapse provided for the two new rivals more opportunity to occupy parts of the Caucasus. Although in Nader shah period Iran’s previous power was restored, after his assassination the Caucasus became a hotbed of Russian and Ottoman rule and local powers like the Georgians. Nevertheless, in a letter to the ruler of Georgia in 1209 AH, Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar wrote: “From the reign of Shah Ismail Safavid to the beginning of our royal government, according to the old rules and treaties, Georgia has belonged to the kings of Iran” and inquired him to “return that region to its original country [Iran]”. Agha Mohammad Khan’s letter is one of the significant documents to show the historical mentality of Iranians towards their rule over the Caucasus.
This historical rule, which had officially begun since the time of the Medes in the first millennium BC, was finally abolished by the treaties of Gulistan and Turkmenchay and ceded to the Russians. The poems or folklore of that region on regret and separation, which exist in the culture of both sides of Aras, are a lament for this long history of continuity, when the North Aras and Arran were the northern parts in the geographical map of Iran.
The Musavat party, led by Mohammad Amin Rasulzadeh, attempted to establish political and artificial alliance by forging the name of Azerbaijan for the Arran territory with the aim of annexing the southern part of Aras to the north, but the attempt was too fake to be acknowledged.
Assuredly, in political and national affairs there is no place for changing borders according to people’s nostalgia, and the official policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is to adhere to this rule of international law. But if nostalgia and the desire to change borders are to be discussed in politics, Iranians are according to the historical and literary evidence are more likely to be nostalgic, not only on the northern Aras and the southern Caucasus, but also on Diyarbakir and northern Mesopotamia. Therefore, it is better for our western neighbor not to seek to combine politics with poetry and nostalgia, and to observe neighborliness and respect for international law and official borders, otherwise his country will be the main harmed.
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