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Middle East Jasmine Dispatch

Nader Shah: War Can Make You Lose Your Head
April 5, 2000

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Two generations of Hamlett women, my Mom (back right) and my sisters Elizabeth (back left) and Krystal (in front)
When the Aryans, the first peoples to roam the endless Iranian plateau, came into Iran they harmoniously mixed and settled with the already established natives. This migration, from east of the Caspian Sea, crossing the Oxus river, began over 3000 years ago. These peoples are the mothers and fathers of the Indo-Europeans who make up present day India, Iran and Western Europe. It is thought that they split up into three groups. The first group moved west into Asia Minor, the second group east into India and the third group took the middle route heading south into Iran. From the last group came the people whom we are visiting in Iran today.

Wow! It's amazing to think of all the lives it took to bring us into existence! Amir, one of our hosts here in Iran, can trace his family back many generations. The old black and white picture of his great-great-grandfather sitting Indian-style on the floor wearing a turban and robe looked like it belonged in a National Geographic article about ancient Persian sheiks. Monica's parents explain it best when they say, "We each have two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents and so on. It took all of those people coming together just to make you!" I know my grand-parents and I have seen pictures of my great-grandparents. I've even heard stories about my great-great grandparents but I can only imagine what they were like. It would have been cool to meet them back in their day.

My grandmother's stories paint vivid pictures of life in the South where she grew up, and she even tells a few tales from her mother before her. It's so important to know and appreciate where we come from by keeping those stories alive. I will surely tell my kids those stories and my own. Hopefully they'll pass them on to their kids. That way my life will be a story for my great-great-grandchildren's children. I hope it's a fun adventure-drama-romance-thriller!

All of our Odyssey adventures ensure that it won't be dull for a second. For example, we are in Iran! And this country has ancestors, rulers, and conquerors with unimaginable lives. As a matter of fact, I learned about a very interesting, legendary warrior-ruler, Nader Shah, while visiting a museum in Mashhad dedicated to his memory. Despite his keen military mind and strong leadership abilities Nader Shah is most remembered as a tyrant. He ruled with an iron fist; and though it profited great riches, glory, and success, it cost him his life.


decimated - to be totally destroyed
plummet - something that weighs down or depresses

For centuries Iranians seemed cursed to face constant adversity due to the exploits of a cruel or ruthless leader. Some villages and kingdoms were completely decimated due to blood thirsty rulers seeking to prove themselves, expand their territories, and gain wealth by conquering and oppressing others. After a pride-filled Iranian king refused to apologize for the disrespectful behavior of one of his soldiers, Ghengis Khan, the 12th century menace-to-society, sacked Iran. The blood bath that ensued was more tragic and sad than any before it. Upon Khan's death in 1227 CE, Holaku Khan, his brother, took over as leader. With the help of Khajeh Nassireddin Toosi, his appointed Iranian advisor, Iranians were able to recover and rebuild.

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In the two and a half centuries which followed, the Iranians lived in what historians call the Safavid Period, or the Golden Age of Persia. The relative peace allowed for great social improvement; especially in arts, crafts, and carpet weaving. Despite constant warring with the Ottomans in Turkey, poets, scholars, artists, and Muslim theologians made great strides during these years. Under the greatest Safavid king, Shah Abbas I (1587-1629 AD), Persia once again became known in Europe as a superpower. Persia became such a powerful threat to the Ottoman Empire that the Turks, concerned with Persia's strength, concentrated all efforts on thwarting them and thus were unable to tend to their pursuits in Western Europe.

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Jazz and bust of Nader
Unfortunately what followed the Safavid Golden Age was a spiraling plummet which actually could have been much worse had Nader Shah not saved the day. To the Persians he is a hero. Without his courageous defense against an invading Afghan force, Persia would have surely been lost. At the time of the first invasion, Nader was still a soldier, and in a last minute attempt to save Persia he found a surviving Safavid prince, Tahmasb II, and convinced him to take over as ruler. Nader then became the commander-in-chief, gathered an army, and in a string of lightning-fast attacks he defeated and expelled the Afghans. A hero was born.

Nader quickly found that the king he had appointed was incapable, so he replaced him with Abbas III. Upon Abbas' death, Nader, having been the real leader all along, proclaimed himself Shah of Persia and founded the Afshar dynasty in 1736 CE. He was a merciless ruler and though he was respected for holding the country together at a critical time in Iranian history, he was equally hated. Therefore his assassination in 1747 CE was somewhat of a relief to the nation. But, his memory is forever etched into the minds of Iranians. Cannons and fences made in the shapes of battle axes adorn the main courtyard of the Nader Shah museum. Inside, the war exhibit display ornate saddles, double-edged swords and axes, steel chain-linked shirts, head gear, and all types of 17th century weaponry.

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Nader Shah, battleaxe in hand - fierce ruler, extraordinary leader, ruthless warrior
We sat outside the museum listening to war stories. Our friend, Hadi, told us of Nadar's brutal battles and legendary triumphs. He spoke proudly of Nader's pursuits as if he was speaking of a great uncle. It reminded me of my grandmother's tales of our family's past (minus the looting and pillaging of foreign countries). He smiled at the thought of such a fearless ruler but was saddened by the reality of the trail of destruction that Nader Shah left behind. Family is an integral part of Iranian culture so Iranians have great pride in their ancestry. I realized how enduring a memory or legacy can be. Nader Shah will be a symbol of courage, intelligence and outstanding leadership but his poor ethical stance and cruelty discredits the good he did.

So often history seems disconnected from our modern reality. It's hard to picture the world hundreds of years ago. But just imagine, the story of their lives is being told to their grand-children and great-grandchildren. In the same way, our stories will be passed down to future generations. How do you think Nader Shah's great-great-grandchildren look back on his legacy? He is a national hero and they should be able to be proud of his contributions. But at some point Iranians hang their heads in shame and sorrow for the lives lost during his reign.

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Cannons rang and triumphant soldiers returned home from battle. Iranians will forever remember this ruler. How do you want to be remembered?
How do you want to be remembered? What legacy do you want to pass down? I am reminded of the admiration and respect that I have for my grandmother's parents who, despite the racism of the South, raised my grandmother to be loving and kind to everyone despite race or color. She raised my sisters and me the same way and through us my great-grandparents memory lives on.

You too will touch lives that are not even born yet. Will you be a positive influence or a glaring example of what not to do? The choice is yours. Your life is history in the making. What story will it tell?


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Monica - The Holiest of Shrines: The Astan Quds Razavi of Mashhad
Abeja - Sweet Home Iran
Kavitha - Superman? Wonder Woman? Ha! This Guy Saves Languages! Why Iranians Fall for Ferdowsi
Brian - Three's Company

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