The Persian community in Vladikavkaz: preserving ethnic identity in an alien cultural environment

Cover Page

Cite item

Full text / tables, figures


On the basis of archival sources and materials taken from periodical press, the authors investigate the history of the Persian diaspora in Ossetia. The article discusses the causes of Persian migration to Ossetia, which began in the second half of the 19th century; their settlement and adaptation processes; and mechanisms of intra-ethnic consolidation. The authors identify the means Persians used to adapt to the economy of the host society, in particular by fi nding economic niches in industry, craft, trade, and domestic services, and analyze their integration into new economic forms of urban lifestyle. Ethnic entrepreneurship emerges as the foundation of Persian community life. The article investigates the diaspora’s infrastructure, including the Persian Consulate, a Shiite mosque, the Persian school Navruz , the charitable society Himmat , and several other institutions. In general, for most minority communities the place of worship becomes the focus point of intraethnic consolidation and preservation of national identity, especially when the community is not simply ethnic but rather ethno-confessional. In the Persian community, however, the main regulatory and communicative functions were performed by the Consulate. The authors argue that the prominence of the Consulate resulted from the uncertain status of the mosque, from the fact that Shiite worshippers came from various nationalities, and from the confl icts among them. The authors examine the degree of preservation of traditional Persian culture in festive and ceremonial life, community behavior, and relations with the motherland. They identify how the Persian community integrated into the socio-cultural environment of poly-ethnic Vladikavkaz through trade relations, everyday contacts, and other means.

Full text / tables, figures


In the 1860s and 1870s, Vladikavkaz, a city founded as a fortress less than one hundred years before, became a magnet for migrants from diverse parts of Europe and southwes­tern Asia. Persians, Armenians, Greeks, Germans, Poles, Azerbaijanis, Jews, and Georgians were attracted by the favorable climate, cheap food, recently completed railway links, and economic possibilities in the city, the regional center of the Terek region, which was under­going rapid development and had become integrated into the all-Russian market and cultural space as never before. The various diasporas’ success in planting their community in Vla­dikavkaz and in adapting to a different ethnic and cultural environment depended on their numerical strength, on their ability to maintain contact with the historical homeland, and on the specifics of ethnic entrepreneurship. These characteristics to a great extent determined both their ability to preserve their ethnic identity and the degree to which they integrated into the economy, socio-political and cultural life of the Russian host society.

The diaspora phenomenon attracted scholarly attention in the 1990s in the context of the post-Soviet environment, with its political, social and economic transformations and inter-ethnic conflicts, and the mass migrations that accompanied them. Today, active dis­cussions, with the participation of leading scholars, about the term diaspora, its essential characteristics, and the prospects for the development both of diasporas themselves and of research methodologies for studying them, confirm the continuing relevance of this topic.

Within Russian humanities, ethnological, sociological, cultural, political, and legal analysis has mainly focused on present-day diasporas, which are taken as models of ethnic processes and multi-ethnic interaction. However, diaspora studies should include the historical life experience of diaspora groups that have not survived or have survived in a different capa­city. These groups were integrated into a host society while retaining their ethnic identity and building positive interethnic relations with other communities. All of them arranged their lives in a new place, creating a sustainable living environment through their own religious centers, charitable societies, national schools, cultural and educational organization, and businesses.

In the process of studying these groups, we have examined the causes and histo­ry of their formation, the processes of adaptation to the economic, social and cultural environment, the mechanisms of ensuring ethnic identity, preservation of traditional lifestyles, and other issues. As a result of this research, Z.V. Kanukova has proposed the following definition of the term diaspora:

Diaspora is a part of an ethnic group living outside of its historical homeland or the territoiy of the main ethnic group, while retaining its ethnic and cultural identity, and in the course of adapting to a host society, creating a ‘diaspora infrastructure’, i.e. a set of religious, charitable, cultural and educational institutions, economic associations, mononational craft guilds, trading companies, etc.[1] 2

As a rule, a temple or a religious building would gradually become the basis of daily life, with a community eventually emerging around it.

The Persian community has attracted less scholarly attention than others for a number of reasons. While other ethnic groups that experienced a kind of ‘ethnic Renaissance’ in the 1990s initiated the study of their communities’ history and culture through the efforts of civic activists, this was not the case with Persians. Special studies on the Persian community seemed to have little scholarly relevance and were not car­ried out for many years. Moreover, such studies are hindered by the fact that in Rus­sian sources the terms Persians, Shia Persians, Shiites cover not only ethnic Persians, but also Azerbaijanis. The situation is complicated by the fact that Azerbaijanis lived in Tabriz alongside Persians, and some of them moved to the Caucasus together with Persians. Therefore, the history of the Persian community was presented as uniform, al­though it was not. As an example, Persians are included in works devoted to Azerbaijan­is living in Ossetia, often without correctly indicating the affiliation of individuals and ethnic structures with the Azerbaijani or Persian community.[3] This situation was also reflected in archival classification, which makes the study of the Persian community all the more complicated. Our research into applications for the Russian citizenship and vodvoritel’nye svidetel ’stva (placement certificates) filed by Persian nationals enable us to differentiate between ‘Persian nationals’ and ‘Persian citizens of Russia’ for the first time and to demonstrate the fallacy of identifying ethnicity on the basis of surnames. Although Azerbaijanis often adopted Russian surnames ending with ‘ov,’ over time, many Persians acquired Russian citizenship and changed the spelling of their surnames.

A recent spur to historical research on the Persian diaspora of the North Cau­casus has been the strengthening of Russian ties with Iran. In the context of the new ‘architecture’ of Russian-Iranian relations, Ossetian-Iranian relations have assumed special strategic importance. Ossetia and Iran are connected by common historical and cultural roots and distantly related languages: Ossetian, like Persian (Farsi), belongs to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. Russian-Iranian scholarly collaboration in the humanities and social sciences has revived the interest of Russian researchers and attracted new attention to historical contacts between the peoples of the North Caucasus and Iran, including the Persian diaspora of the North Caucasus, which played a significant role in the processes of historical and cultural interaction between Iran and Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. New publications treat Persian cultural monuments in the North Caucasus[4] and the Persian community of the Terek re­gion in the context of the demographic processes of the late 19th and early 20th century.[5] An international scientific conference Iran and the North Caucasus: History and Pros­pects for Cooperation, brought together Russian and Iranian researchers and featured a presentation on the joint project program and on promising research areas.[6] Among high priority projects, the study of historical sources merits mention, especially the re­cords of the Persian Consulate, which were sent from Vladikavkaz to Iran via Tiflis, where part of the archival record is now lodged. Some of the protocols and reports of the Persian Consulate, concerning the consequences of the Russian Civil War, its impact on the Persian community, and the living and working conditions of diplomatic missions and citizens of Iran in Vladikavkaz, have recently been introduced to the wider scholar­ly community by Iranian historians A. Kalirad and K. Kazemi.[7]

Along with this collaborative research program, some aspects of the history of the Persian community are treated in studies of the socio-cultural environment of North Caucasian cities. B.V. Tuayeva’s studies of national cultural institutions discuss the activities of charitable societies founded in Vladikavkaz by ‘Persian nationals’ and ‘Persian citizens of Russia.’[8] Further valuable information, though not extensive, can be found in G.I. Kusov’s works on the local history of Vladikavkaz.[9] Still, in general, the Persian community remains under-investigated. Important questions remain con­cerning the migrations that led to its formation in the region; demographic, socio-class, religious and professional characteristics; the processes of its adaptation to the econo­my and culture; the nature and results of interethnic contacts; and the place and role of Persian communities in Russian socio-political processes of the first third of the 20th century. This article utilizes sources from the Central State Archive of the Republic of North Ossetia - Alania (hereinafter CSA RNO-A), the 1897 Russian Census, and the newspapers The Terek Vedomosti, The Azov Region, and The Caucasus to in­vestigate the formation of the Persian community in Vladikavkaz and the distinctive features of its structure and daily life, with particular emphasis on the way Persians adapted to the local environment, the methods and tools they used to preserve their ethnic culture, and the nature of this diaspora community’s relations with the alien cultural environment.

The formation of the Persian community and its economic activities

There were economic, military-political and cultural contacts between the peoples of the North Caucasus and Persia for many centuries, but after the region’s accession to the Russian Empire, and especially after the end of the Caucasian War, these contacts acquired a new quality due to the development of trade and the emergence of labor mi­grants from Persian lands.

In the 1860s-1870s in Iran, the position of foreign capital grew stronger and foreign representatives tried to carry out a reform of the local economic system, forced out traditional handicraft production through factory production, utilizing hired labor through national joint-stock companies and societies. As a rule, their initiatives failed due to the lack of entrepreneurial traditions and capital. This led to labor migration. Along with these problems, migration was caused by drought, neglected condition of irrigation facilities, ill cultivation of large areas of land, collapse of peasant economy, and lost opportunities to earn a living for artisans and seasonal workers.

In the late 1860s, settlers from Tabriz (Persians, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis)[10] 11 began to arrive in the North Caucasus. The strict legal regulations concerning the purchase and acquisition of land, linked to land scarcity in the region, led Persians to settle in towns. They came to Vladikavkaz in groups, connected in part to fluctuations in the exchange rate. Settlers identified the declining value of the Persian monetary unit, qiran (or gran, as it was spelled in the materials of periodical press) in relation to the ruble as a key factor in their decision to migrate. For example, in 1894, three qirans were equal to one ruble, but in 1898 five quirans were equal to a ruble. This monetary rate decrease made migrant la­bor profitable: having earned a hundred rubles, on his return home a Persian worker could exchange this money for 500 qiran, sufficient to buy a small house and a plot of land.11 The number of Persian migrants steadily increased across the late 19th century: 630 migrants were recorded in 1882, rising to 2,000 by 1903, according to official data.[12]

This was the largest community of Persians in the North Caucasus, as evidenced by data provided by I.V. Kryuchkov on the Stavropol and Black Sea provinces and the Kuban region. The largest Persian community in these three regions, that of the Black Sea province, numbered just 300. In the early 20th century, the size of the Persian com­munity in these regions grew, reaching 1,390 in the Black Sea province and 168 in the Stavropol province by 1914.[13] The agrarian character of these provinces and the small number of towns evidently reduced their attractiveness to Persians, so the communities consisted mainly of young and middle-aged men, arriving as migrant workers without families. In Vladikavkaz, too, it was initially only men who came in search of jobs,[14] but in subsequent years the community grew through the arrival of women and children. By the end of the 19th century, Persians were moving to Vladikavkaz with their families, as evidenced by the vodvoritel’nye svidetel’stva issued to all family members, kept in the archives.[15]

In Vladikavkaz, Persians occupied specific economic niches in trade, craft in­dustries, domestic services, and as commercial agents. The 1897 census shows that the Persians included large numbers of construction workers and brickmakers, as well as shoemakers, bakers, and small traders.[16] Among urban services, the quintessentially ‘Persian’ niches were barbers and bath houses, where Persians served as ‘rubbers.’[17] At the other end of the economic spectrum, Vladikavkaz had Persian-owned brick fac­tories and large stores on the best streets of the city.

Another source for studying the economic activities of the Persian community is petitions of Persian nationals for the adoption of Russian citizenship and the issuance of vodvoritel ’nye svidetel ’stva. These petitions, preserved in the archive of North Osse­tia - Alania, included a mandatory indication of the type of economic activity of the peti­tioner. For example, in 1908-1911, there were petitions from the following Persian natio­nals: Mirza Hussein Ali-oglu, Mammad Ismail Haji Abdul Ali-oglu, Asadula Agadzhanov, Jabar Afrasiyab-oglu, Mammad Ibrahim Mammad Hussein-oglu, Haji Agha Haji Mahomed Hussein-oglu, Mukhtar Vali oglu, all of whom were predominantly engaged in grocery trade.[18] Meanwhile, Ali Mammad Taghi-oglu was engaged in the manufacture and sale of children’s toys; Mashhad Ahmed Ali Askar-oglu was a beekeeper; and Hussein Kuli Reset-oglu was a bathhouse attendant.[19] Other sources also confirm that Persians were engaged in the cultivation of orchards and fruit trade at the market, and cooking and selling Persian confectionery.

In 1877 in Vladikavkaz, there were 15 Persian trade establishments.[20] About a third of Persians, who applied for the Russian citizenship in 1908-1915, had a shop or brick factory in Vladikavkaz.[21] Local newspapers wrote more than once about Persian grocery shops, and the Persian monopoly in sugar, sweets, spices and dried fruits, tea houses, and taverns.[22] In Vladikavkaz there was a ‘Persian house,’ which was the local center of women’s crafts, and a shop for the production of the Persian carpet, a prestigious cultur­al object. Carpets and fabrics were also brought from Persia for sale.

The Persian community had a heterogeneous social composition, including peasants, craftsmen, impoverished nobility, big merchants and ‘brick’ tycoons. In diverse ways, they all became adapted to the urban economy and culture of Vladikavkaz as well as the new way of life.

The Shia mosque in Vladikavkaz

The various ethnic diaspora groups followed a common pattern in developing com­munity structures in the new setting. The first step was to erect a religious building - a church, a mosque, a synagogue, a Protestant church, a Catholic church, or a house of prayer. Usually this building would include a national school, a trusteeship or charitable society, a theater group, or other form of intra-ethnic communal organization.

In the Persian community, the adaptation processes were different. They, too, undertook the construction of the religious temple - the Shia mosque - at the start of their adaptation process. Like other ethnic communities of Vladikavkaz, in 1868, they applied to the head of the Terek region, count M.T. Loris-Melikov, and Vladikavkaz mayor E.F. Lebedev, for a plot of land and a permission to build a mosque, so that they could ‘pray to God in their native language.’ According to the Appeal of the Vice-Con­sul of His Imperial Majesty Persian Shah of the Terek and Dagestan regions Yahya Khan to the Head of the Terek region, the appointed hetman of the Terek region Sergei Yevlampievich Tolstoy (dated 8 February, 1900), not earlier than 1870, the head of the Terek region count Loris-Melikov gave his permission to build a mosque.[23] This fact is also confirmed by other archival documents in which mayor A.F. Frolkov specified that permission was given by M.T. Loris-Melikov in 1868-1869.[24]

The Shia mosque was thus built, but it did not become the national center of the community because it was also attended by other Shia, “Persian citizens of Russia,” most often Azerbaijanis. The Muslim clergy of the Shia doctrine reported to the Orenburg Spi­ritual Assembly, which could not exercise control at such a far distance. Therefore, the Russian administration subordinated it to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the re­gional administration considered it appropriate to gather all the Shia population of Vla­dikavkaz, Persians and Azerbaijanis, in one mosque. The parish was subordinated to the Transcaucasian Sheikh-ul-Islam, and the mullah was elected according to the ‘Charter of Spiritual Affairs of Foreign Confessions,’ also subject to approval by the head of the Terek region.

This decision was a political one: as official documents confirm, the Russian administration considered it necessary to keep the activities of the Muslim clergy of the North Caucasus under its control.[25] However, the religious policy of the Russian government did not take into account the ethno-cultural characteristics of the parishioners, and as a result, its intrusive measures led to a split. Azerbaijanis complained about great incon­veniences in performing religious rites, and Persian mullahs, who did not speak their language, could not keep church registers or perform ceremonies. Azerbaijanis asked to establish their parish at a mosque with a mullah who spoke their language and knew their customs. At the meeting of the whole parish, which was attended by 58 Azerbai­janis and 148 Persians, it was agreed to establish a new parish and a mullah - Haji Mul­lah Ismail Hasan-oglu, an Azerbaijanian from the Elizabethpol province, was elected to oversee it. Under the pressure of the city administration, this decision was accepted by all the parishioners present.[26] But a year later, in May 1902, Persians protested and stopped paying money for the maintainance of the Azerbaijani mullah, raising the ques­tion of building another mosque. The Persians defended their rights as the founders and curators of the mosque. In addition, they represented the majority of the parish and vastly outnumbered Azerbaijanis. Persians considered the right to choose a Persian mullah, capable of praying in their native language, to be their legitimate privilege.

As this situation illustrates, diaspora communities conceive of religious buildings not only as the locus of religious functions, but also as a vital space for intra-ethnic communication and an ethnic identity center. The Persians of Vladikavkaz considered it important to spend leisure time in a mosque with their own countrymen and to com­municate in their native language. Because this right was contested, it was the Persian Consulate rather than the mosque that came to function as the center of community life.

The Persian Consulate in Vladikavkaz

Consular services were obliged to support a wide range of contacts between Russia and Persia, including the protection of the nationals of their state. These functions were initially performed for Persians in Vladikavkaz by the Consulate General of His Maj­esty the Shah of Persia in Tiflis and the Consulate of his Majesty the Shah of Persia in Astrakhan. Yahya Khan was Vice-Consul. But in the late 1890s the growth of the Per­sian population made it necessary to establish a Consulate of His Imperial Majesty the Shah of Persia for the Terek and Dagestan regions in Vladikavkaz itself. This consulate formed the backbone of the Persian community, as opposed to other ethnic groups in Vladikavkaz whose community life centered on the temple.

It was through the efforts of the Persian Vice-Consul for Terek and Dagestan, Mirza Davud Khan, that the only Persian school in the North Caucasus was opened in Vladikavkaz. In July 1902, Khan appealed to the regional administrator of the Terek re­gion and the appointed hetman of the Terek Cossack army and expressed concern about the lack of conditions for teaching Persian children. He asked for permission to open a Russian-Persian school at the Vice-Consulate and he took responsibility for its mainte­nance.[27] The high status of the Consul, his good relations with the authorities of the Terek region, and his responsibility for the school’s financial oversight fostered the success of this initiative. At the end of 1902, a two-year school, called ‘Navruz’ was opened, based on the ‘new method’ of Muslim education popularized in Russian Islamic regions by Ismail Gasprinski’s reform movement. These schools differed from traditional madras- sas and maktabs in the topics of study, combining the basics of the Mohammedan faith with secular academic disciplines such as arithmetic, natural science, Russian and some foreign languages, were taught in the schools. Restricted to boys, Navruz offered cours­es in Russian and Persian. Davud Khan became the honorary caretaker of the school, in charge of its financial support. Haji Mola Ali Haji Mohammed Ali Zadeh, who had received religious education in Tabriz, for many years worked as a teacher of law; Per­sian national Mirza Hussein Khan was a teacher of the native language. In 1906-1912, Navruz was headed by teacher Bahadin-Bahish-Bek Kocharlinsky.[28]

Another initiative of Davud Khan was the welfare society for poor Persian na­tionals in Vladikavkaz and the Terek region, founded in 1907. This organization, Himmat, aimed at ‘delivering funds to improve the material and moral condition of poor Persian nationals without regard to sex, age, rank, status, or religion.’[29] The Society assumed the obligation to assist the poor and orphans in concrete ways, such as the supply of clothing, food, and accommodation, and it was also authorized to issue mon­etary aid and provide ‘assistance in finding employment or service for those in need, in acquiring materials and tools for their work and in the profitable sale of the products of poor workers.’[30] Himmat guaranteed medical aid, ‘payment for treatment in hospi­tals, assistance in the burial of the dead, putting the elderly and the infirm in nursing homes or alms-houses, putting minors in orphanages, shelters, in craft and educational institutions.’[31] Those wishing to return to their homeland could also count on the aid of their compatriots. In addition to charitable contributions, the society budget included the proceeds from hosting literary readings, lectures and concerts.

Ethnic structures of everyday life

The infrastructure created by the community allowed Persians to lead their tradition­al ritual life and preserve ethnic traditions in everyday life. Male Persians wore short coats, wide trousers, felt cloaks, felt hats, sheepskin hats. Many men maintained the tradition of dying their beards in fiery red color using henna.[32]

Persian women also kept their traditional clothes. They wore long voluminous skirts, short coats, velvet jackets embroidered with braid. Home featured carpets, jugs, national dishes. The main ritual Persian dish was the pilaf of several kinds, stuffed with meat, raisins, dried apricots and various spices; and the sweet pilaf with cinnamon and saffron. A popular drink was sherbet, which was made for the holidays. Persians cooked large quantities of halva, Turkish delight, and other sweets, and eventually their national cuisine spread to the public catering system.

The available sources clearly show the national festive culture of Persians, the main event in which was Navruz, the New Year - the main celebration of the times of the Achaemenid dynasty and the Sasanian dynasty. Despite the pre-Islamic, Zoroastrian origins of this holiday, over time it took root in the Muslim holiday calendar. After the establishment of Islam, Persian authorities tried to prohibit it, but failed, due to its deep roots in popular culture. The Persians of Vladikavkaz would celebrate this holiday for three days. On the first day, there were official festive ceremonies. People gathered in the mosque for a festive prayer and then visited the Persian Consulate for a reception. After the public prayer, Persians would organize a procession with national music and flowers, decorated with Persian artisanal crafts.

During the festival, the Vice-Consul, accompanied by officials of the Consulate, went out to meet the festive column, and received congratulations. His duty was to remind the audience of the history of the holiday. For example, in 1903, Vice-Consul Davud Khan told the audience that Persian king Rjamshid decided to bring thanksgi­ving for the victories, and established the annual feast day in the palace, where everyone could come, including the poor, to feast. On that day, the king sat at the same table with ordinary people, gave money and gifts to everyone present, asked them about problems and helped poor people. He demanded that his subjects - high-ranking offi­cials, heads of regions - should arrange festive dinners, and he allocated them certain amounts for money to help the poor, a tradition preserved from antiquity. The meeting with the Consul concluded with the performance of the Persian anthem, after which all the participants were treated to the traditional drink - sherbet. However, as a rule, only honored guests were invited to festive dinners in the apartment of the Vice-Consul in Vladikavkaz.[33] These guests were traditionally treated to national sweets. During the holidays, there were mutual visits, gift exchanges and charity events.

In addition to the official part of the festival, there was also a ‘home celebration,’ which Persians prepared in advance. Along with traditional festive dishes, families would traditionally cook sprouted wheat grains on a beautiful plate decorated with rib­bons and braid. This tradition symbolized the coming of the New Year. The feast would begin with a prayer; people remembered and announced the names of the loved ones who had gone to a better world. Peacekeeping and mutual forgiveness of insults were also important holiday features.

Persians also celebrated another important holiday, Kurban Bayram or Eid al-Kur- ban, which was the main yearly celebration of all local Sunni and Shia Muslims, celebrat­ed in the month of Dhu’l-Hijjah (the 12th month by the Muslim lunar calendar). The feast of sacrifice, established in the first year of the Hegira, was associated with the well-known Muslim tradition surrounding God’s test of prophet Ibrahim through the death of his son Ismail, accompanied by a ritual of sacrifice and prayer. The Persians of Vladikavkaz fol­lowed the custom of giving a treat, first of all, the meat of the sacrificial animal, to their relatives, acquaintances and those in need. The traditions of mutual exchange of gifts and visiting friends and relatives and graves of the deceased were preserved.

Of particular importance in the culture of Persians was the day devoted to mourning the death of Ali and his sons Hassan and Hussein. This day was celebrated during the first month of the year by the Muslim lunar calendar. The official events were supervised by the Persian Consulate, a public prayer was held in the Shiite mosque. At night Persians would pray and recall the story of Ali, Hassan and Hussein, and the details of their tragic death.[34]

The retention and manifestation of the ethnic identity and ties with the historical homeland can be traced not only in the religious life, but also in secular national holidays related to the history of the state. Persians commemorated the anniversary of the Persian Constitution, the coronation of Persian rulers, and other state holidays, in order testify to the existence of close contacts between Persians and their homeland, all of which were classic habits of a diaspora. In July 1914, they celebrated the day of accession to the throne of Sultan Ahmed Shah, the ruler of Persia. In the mosque, decorated with national flags, they held a solemn prayer, after which the participants of the ceremony were invited to the Consulate for lunch. For Persian workers, the celebration of the Coronation Day was also arranged.[35]

The Persians of Vladikavkaz also celebrated the ‘Day of Granted Freedoms.’ Mass protests and opposition, which included almost all segments of the Iranian population, combined with the fear of the possible influence of revolutionary events in Russia in the early 20th century, left Shah Mozaffar-ed-din no choice but to expand the rights of his Persian subjects. He was forced to assemble the Mejlis and adopt the Constitution that spelled out the fundamental rights and freedoms of Iranian citizen. The Persian mosque celebrated the ‘Day of Granted Freedoms’ by hosting an official reception, which was attended not only by Persians, including patriotic Persian students, but also by represen­tatives of the multinational intelligentsia of Vladikavkaz, such as representatives of the Vladikavkaz public administration and the Vladikavkaz student society.[36]

Persians also retained the traditional ritualism of the family and life cycle. After giving birth to a child, a woman would go to her parental home for up to 40 days, during which period the child was not shown to strangers; after that, a ritual of sacrifice was performed and guests were invited. The traditional wedding ceremonies were also pre­served. A groom’s relatives would come for the bride and bring wedding gifts, which included sugar and the outfit for the bride. The groom’s brother would perform the ce­remony of tying of a red belt on the bride’s waist. In the mosque, the mullah would read a blessing prayer, after which the wedding would continue in the groom’s house. At the entrance to the groom’s house, another ritual of sacrifice was performed, and the bride was to step over the sacrificial lamb. The bride would traditionally sit at the women’s table, the groom would sit with his friends. In the morning after the wedding, the bride’s relatives would bring traditional sweets to the groom’s house. At the end of life, there was also the Muslim funeral rite. The deceased was buried before sunset, laid on the right side. The memorial day was Thursday, no alcohol was allowed at the memorial and the feast always ended with a ritual tea party and prayers.

Persian interactions with the alien cultural environment

Despite the preservation of many elements of the traditional culture and pronounced eth­nic identity in different cultural and religious environment, the Persian community was not a closed one. Persians’ active participation in commerce led to wide contacts with the local population. Persians were integrated into the atmosphere of religious tolerance es­tablished in Vladikavkaz; they not only established economic contacts but also concluded marriages with the local population. It is noteworthy that the Vice-Consul, Davud Khan, was married to a member of Ossetian Muslim nobility, Aza Tuganova.[37]

Persians were actively involved in charitable activities beyond their own welfare society, Himmat. The financial reports of the Vladikavkaz Charitable Society indicated the names of donors, which included groups of Persian nationals.[38]

Persians were open to interethnic communication; they were not isolated in their community; neither were they fanatics of the Shia faith. There were cases of their con­version to Orthodoxy. An archive has preserved the correspondence between the Vla­dikavkaz city police chief and the rural dean of the Vladikavkaz Transfiguration (Cathedral) Church, dated November and December 1865, at the request of Persian na­tional Kadr Rasul oglu Soukhbalashsky, residing in Vladikavkaz, which demonstrates the adoption of Orthodoxy by local Persians. According to the resolution of Archpriest Fyodor Antoniev, the rite of baptism performed on a Persian named Constantine ‘by Archpriest Akso Koliev, the rural dean of the Ossetian Church of Nativity of the Bles­sed Virgin Mary of Vladikavkaz who spoke Oriental languages.’[39] In the petition of a Persian national Alikper-Kurban Ali oglu for a placement certificate, issued on 27 June 1913, he indiciated his Orthodox faith ad his baptismal name, Alexis.[40] Similar cases were recorded in other districts of the Terek region. For example, in the Report of the chief of the Kumyk District to the head of the Terek region dated 2 February, 1868, it was stated that Persian national Agadzhama-Haji-Erase Oglu, who lived in Khasavyurt, expressed a desire to adopt Orthodoxy.[41] Perhaps such episodes, as well as the cases of adoption of Russian names by Persians,[42] should be explained as an instrument of adap­tation to a new life, a rational solution to individual issues.

In the first decades of Soviet power, the policy towards national minorities was quite favorable. During the New Economic Policy, Persians revived their entrepreneurial activity; they adapted to the new political regime through such institutions as the national party section and ‘national minority clubs.’ In the years that followed, the policy changed, and many diasporas became the object of reprisals. The Persian Consulate was closed. Most Persians left Russia, the rest consolidated with Azerbaijanis. The Shia mosque was closed by the Council of People’s Commissars of the North Ossetian ASSR on the basis of the resolution ‘On religious associations’ passed by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR on April 8, 1929. The City Council supported this resolution, referring to the split of the Shia community on an ethnic basis.[43] However, other diaspora structures were still preserved for some time. Until 1935, in Vladikavkaz, there was a school where children were taught in the native language; in 1935-1936 there were some Azerbaijani ‘national minority clubs’ and the Azerbaijani Communist Party section, which also involved Persians.


The activity of religious, educational, charitable and economic organizations and in­stitutions created by the Vladikavkaz community of Persians were closely connected with each other. Common tasks such as the integration into the different cultural envi­ronment, the consolidation of the community retention of ethnic identity, the promotion of positive interethnic interaction, ensuring material and social well-being of the com­munity members, and the transfer of ethno-cultural values to the younger generation, united the community.

All major national communities of Vladikavkaz formed diaspora structures un­der the scheme of religious, charitable, cultural and educational societies. Persians had another important institution, the Consulate, which, in addition to its immediate tasks, performed regulatory and communicative functions.

Despite the fact that Persians represented both an ethnic and ethno-confessional community, the main component of the community infrastructure was the Consulate, rather than the mosque. The confessional community of the Persian Shia (Persians and Azerbaijanis), which was perceived by the surrounding world as a single entity, was in fact split and its members did not want to attend the same mosque. They demanded that a second parish be organized, or a second mosque be constructed; they simultaneously created two different charitable societies. For Persians and Azerbaijanis, the national principle was more important than the religious one; as a result, each community created its own institutions of ethnic consolidation. This case confirms that in the conditions of an alien ethnic environment, if a national church cannot function as a center of commu­nication, that role may pass to other institutions of the diaspora.

In the history of Ossetia, the Persian community has left its mark: even today, Vladikavkaz is decorated with a beautiful building of Oriental architecture, used as a planetarium during the Soviet period, as well as the old Persian bath house, and the Persian Consulate, where national holidays were celebrated.

The study of the history, historical experience of daily life, social and cultural practices and behavioral strategies of the Persian population of Vladikavkaz proves the successful adaptation of Persians to their host society and the formation of synergetic mechanisms of daily life. Moreover, Persians were able to accomplish this goal while retaining their ethnic and cultural identity.


1 V.A. Tishkov, Yedinstvo v mnogoobrazii (Orenburg: OGAU Publ., 2008); S.A. Arutyunov, “Dias­pora - eto protsess,” Etnograficheskoye obozreniye, no. 2 (2000): 74-78; V Dyatlov, “Diaspora: popytka opredelit’sya v ponyatiyakh,” Diaspory. Nezavisimyy nauchnyy zhurnal, no. 1 (1999): 8-23.

2 Z.V! Kanukova, Diaspory v Osetii: istoricheskiy opytzhizneustroystva i sovremennoye sostoyaniye (Vla­dikavkaz: SOIGSI VNTS RAN Publ., 2009); Z.V! Kanukova, “Diaspora: funktsional’nyy analiz termina v rossiys- kom istoriograficheskom kontekste,” Vestnik Vladikavkazskogo nauchnogo tsentra 11, no. 4 (2011): 23-28.

3 A.E. Aylarov, “Azerbaydzhantsy v Respublike Severnaya Osetiya-Alaniya,” Izvestiya SOIGSI. Shkola molodykh uchenykh 11 (2014): 216-220.

4 A.A. Tuallagov, “Dar’yal - ‘Vorota alan’,” Izvestiya SOIGSI, no. 27 (66) (2018): 15-29.

5 S.A. Khubulova, L.Ch. Khabliyeva, Z.Ye. Dzottsoyeva, and S.S. Magomadov, “Persian nation­als living in the Terek region in the socio-economic and cultural processes of the second half of XIX century through the early XX century,” Bylye gody 49, no. 3 (2018): 1224-1236.

6 Z.V Kanukova, “Prezentatsiya Programmy nauchnykh issledovaniy ‘Iran i Rossiyskiy Kavkaz: is- toricheskiye paralleli i sovremennyye tendentsii’,” in Iran i Severnyy Kavkaz: istoriya i perspektivy sotrud­nichestva. Materialy Mezhdunarodnoy nauchno-prakticheskoy konferentsii (Vladikavkaz: SOGU Publ., 2018), 72-75; I.V Kryuchkov, “Ekonomicheskiye i migratsionnyye svyazi Tsentral’nogo Predkavkaz’ya i Severo-Zapadnogo Kavkaza s Persiyey v kontse XIX - nachale XX vv. (na primere Stavropol’skoy gu- bernii, Chernomorskoy gubernii i Kubanskoy oblasti),” in Iran i Severnyy Kavkaz: istoriya i perspektivy sotrudnichestva. Materialy Mezhdunarodnoy nauchno-prakticheskoy konferentsii (Vladikavkaz: SOGU Publ., 2018): 62-65.

7 K.Sh. Kazemi, “Issledovaniye roli Iranskogo konsul’stva vo Vladikavkaze v sozdanii obstanov- ki mirnogo sosushchestvovaniya i razvitii irano-rossiyskogo sotrudnichestva: kul’tumo-tsivilizatsionny- ye ramki,” in Iran i Severnyy Kavkaz: istoriya i perspektivy sotrudnichestva. Materialy Mezhdunarodnoy nauchno-prakticheskoy konferentsii (Vladikavkaz: SOGU Publ., 2018), 68-69; A. Kalirad, “Podnyatiye krasnykh flagov: grazhdanskaya voyna v Rossii v dokladakh Konsul’stva Irana vo Vladikavkaze,” in Iran i Severnyy Kavkaz: istoriya i perspektivy sotrudnichestva. Materialy Mezhdunarodnoy nauchno-praktich­eskoy konferentsii (Vladikavkaz: SOGU Publ., 2018), 66-67.

8 B.V Tuayeva, Goroda Severnogo Kavkaza: obshchestvenno-kul’turnaya sreda vo vtoroy polovine XIX-nachale XXvv. Seriya "Pervaya monografiya” (Vladikavkaz: SOIGSI Publ., 2008); B.V. Tuayeva, Lokal’naya istoriya: osobennosti kul turnoy i obshchestvennoy zhizni gorodov Severnogo Kavkaza vo vtoroy polovineXIX-pervoy tretiXXvekov (Vladikavkaz: SOIGSI Publ., 2010).

9 G.I. Kusov, Vstrechi so starym Vladikavkazom (Vladikavkaz: Alaniya Publ., 1998).

10 A. Mamedli, and L.T. Solov’yeva, Azerbaydzhantsy (Moscow: Nauka Publ., 2017), 644.

11 Priazovskiy kray, no. 45 (1898).

12 Z.V Kanukova, Diaspory v Osetii... (Vladikavkaz: SOIGSI VNTS RAN Publ., 2009), 114.

[13] I.V Kryuchkov, Ekonomicheskiye i migratsionnyye svyazi Tsentral’nogo Predkavkaz’ya i Severo- Zapadnogo Kavkaza s Persiyey v kontse XIX - nachale XX vv., 62

14 TSGA RSO-A, f. 11, op. 17, d. 98, l. 11.

15 TSGA RSO-A, f. 11, op. 15, d. 887, l. 43.

16 N.A. Troynitskiy, Pervaya Vseobshchayaperepis’naseleniya Rossiyskoy imperii 1897g. Terskaya oblast’ (Saint Petersburg: Center for Statistical Commission Publ., 1905).

17 Terskiye vedomosti, no. 5 (1896).

18 TSGA RSO-A, f. 11, op. 15, d. 919, l. 1; Ibid., d. 920, l. 1; Ibid., d. 887, l. 1; Ibid., d. 888, l. 1; Ibid., d. 1416, l. 1; Ibid., d. 1417, l. 1; Ibid., d. 1191, l. 1.

19 Ibid., d. 1119, l. 2; Ibid., d. 1252, l. 1; Ibid., d. 1189, l. 2.

20 G.I. Kusov, Vstrechi so starym Vladikavkazom, 75.

21 TSGA RSO-A, f. 11, op. 15, d. 1209, l. 2; Ibid., d. 1419, l. 1-2; Ibid., d. 141. l. 2; d. 1424, l. 2-3.

22 Terskiye vedomosti, no. 5 (1909).

23 TSGA RSO-A, f. 11, op. 17, d. 98, l. 8.

24 Ibid., l. 11.

25 Ibid., l. 6.

26 Ibid., l. 2.

27 TSGA RSO-A, f. 147, op. 1, d. 41, l. 3.

28 Ibid., f. 123, op. 2, d. 538.

29 TSGA RSO-A, f. 199, op. 1, d. 3, l. 8.

30 Ibid., f. 199, op. 1, d. 3, l. 8.

31 Ibid., d. 27, l. 1-4.

32 M.D. Betoyeva, and L.D. Biryukova, Istoriya Vladikavkaza (1781-1990 gg.). Sbornikdokumen- tov i materialov (Vladikavkaz: Adygeya Publ., 1991), 98.

33 Kavkaz, no. 76 (1903); Terskiye vedomosti, no. 31 (1898).

34 Terskiye vedomosti, no. 18 (1885).

35 Ibid., no. 30 (1885).

36 Terskiye vedomosti, no. 59 (1899); TSGA RSO-A, f. 212, op. 1, d. 3, l. 11-12.

37 TSGA RSO-A, f. 574, op. 1, d. 314.

38 Ibid., f. 212, op. 1, d. 3, l. 12.

39 TSGA RSO-A, f. 12, op. 1, d. 201, l. 1-1 ob., 3-3 ob.

40 Ibid., f. 11, op. 15, d. 911, l. 2.

41 Ibid., f. 12, op. 1, d. 12, l. 25-29.

42 Ibid., f. 11, op. 15, d. 1418.

43 Ibid., f. 629, op. 2, d. 32, l. 45.


About the authors

Zalina V. Kanukova

I. Abayev North-Ossetian Institute of Humanitarian and Social Studies of the the Russian Academy of Sciences

Author for correspondence.

Doktor Istoricheskikh Nauk [Dr. habil. hist.], Director of North Ossetian Institute of Humanitarian and Social Studies, Abaev Vladikavkaz Scientifi c Center of Russian Academy of Science.

10 Prospect Mira, Vladikavkaz, 362040, Russian

Berta V. Tuaeva

North Ossetian State University named after K.L. Khetagurov


Doktor Istoricheskikh Nauk [Dr. habil. hist.], Professor at the Department of Modern National History, Vice Rector at North Ossetian State University named after K.L. Khetagurov.

46 Vatutina St., Vladikavkaz, 362025, Russia


  1. Aylarov, A.E. “Azerbaydzhantsy v Respublike Severnaya Osetiya – Alaniya.” Izvestiya SOIGSI. Shkola molodykh uchenykh, no. 11 (2014): 216–220 (in Russian).
  2. Arutyunov, S.A. “Diaspora – eto protsess.” Etnografi cheskoye obozreniye, no. 2 (2000): 74–78 (in Russian).
  3. Betoyeva, M.D., and Biryukova, L.D. Istoriya Vladikavkaza (1781–1990 gg.). Sbornik dokumentov i materialov. Vladikavkaz: Adygeya Publ., 1991 (in Russian).
  4. Dyatlov, V. “Diaspora: popytka opredelit’sya v ponyatiyakh.” Diaspory, no. 1 (1999): 8–23 (in Russian).
  5. Kanukova, Z.V. “Diaspora: funktsional’nyy analiz termina v rossiyskom istoriografi cheskom kontekste.” Vestnik Vladikavkaz Scientifi c Center, no. 4 (2011): 23–28 (in Russian).
  6. Kanukova, Z.V. “Prezentatsiya Programmy nauchnykh issledovaniy ‘Iran i Rossiyskiy Kavkaz: istoricheskiye paralleli i sovremennyye tendentsii’.” In Iran i Severnyy Kavkaz: istoriya i perspektivy sotrudnichestva. Materialy Mezhdunarodnoy nauchno-prakticheskoy konferentsii. Vladikavkaz: SOGU Publ., 2018 (in Russian).
  7. Kazemi, K.Sh. “Issledovaniye roli Iranskogo konsul’stva vo Vladikavkaze v sozdanii obstanovki mirnogo sosushchestvovaniya i razvitii irano-rossiyskogo sotrudnichestva: kul’turno-tsivilizatsionnyye ramki.” In Iran i Severnyy Kavkaz: istoriya i perspektivy sotrudnichestva. Materialy Mezhdunarodnoy nauchno-prakticheskoy konferentsii. Vladikavkaz: SOGU Publ., 2018 (in Russian).
  8. Kalirad, A. “Podnyatiye krasnykh fl agov: grazhdanskaya voyna v Rossii v dokladakh Konsul’stva Irana vo Vladikavkaze.” In Iran i Severnyy Kavkaz: istoriya i perspektivy sotrudnichestva. Materialy Mezhdunarodnoy nauchno-prakticheskoy konferentsii. Vladikavkaz: SOGU Publ., 2018 (in Russian).
  9. Khubulova, S.A., Khabliyeva, L.Ch., Dzottsoyeva, Z.Ye., and Magomadov, S.S. “Persian-citizen population of the Terek region in the socio-economic and cultural processes of the second half of XIX – early XX centuries.” Bylye Gody, no. 3 (2018): 1224–1236 (in Russian).
  10. Kusov, G.I. Vstrechi so starym Vladikavkazom. Vladikavkaz: Alaniya Publ., 1998 (in Russian).
  11. Kryuchkov, I.V. “Ekonomicheskiye i migratsionnyye svyazi Tsentral’nogo Predkavkaz’ya i SeveroZapadnogo Kavkaza s Persiyey v kontse XIX – nachale XX v. (na primere Stavropol’skoy gubernii, Chernomorskoy gubernii i Kubanskoy oblasti).” In Iran i Severnyy Kavkaz: istoriya i perspektivy sotrudnichestva. Materialy Mezhdunarodnoy nauchno-prakticheskoy konferentsii. Vladikavkaz: SOGU Publ., 2018 (in Russian).
  12. Mamedli, A., and Solov’yeva, L.T. Azerbaydzhantsy. Moscow: Nauka Publ., 2017 (in Russian).
  13. Tishkov, V.A. Yedinstvo v mnogoobrazii. Orenburg: Tsentr OGAU Publ., 2008 (in Russian).
  14. Tuayeva, B.V. Goroda Severnogo Kavkaza: obshchestvenno-kul’turnaya sreda vo vtoroy polovine XIX – nachale XX v. Vladikavkaz: SOIGSI Publ., 2008 (in Russian).
  15. Tuayeva, B.V. Lokal’naya istoriya: osobennosti kul’turnoy i obshchestvennoy zhizni gorodov Severnogo Kavkaza vo vtoroy polovine XIX – pervoy treti XX vekov. Vladikavkaz: SOIGSI Publ., 2010 (in Russian).
  16. Tuallagov, A.A. “Dar’yal – ‘Vorota alan’.” Izvestiya SOIGSI, no. 27 (66) (2018): 15–29 (in Russian).
  17. Troynitskiy, N.A. Pervaya Vseobshchaya perepis’ naseleniya Rossiyskoy imperii 1897 g. Terskaya oblast’. Saint Petersburg: Center for Statistical Commission Publ., 1905 (in Russian).

Copyright (c) 2019 Kanukova Z.V., Tuaeva B.V.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

This website uses cookies

You consent to our cookies if you continue to use our website.

About Cookies