Amir Bajehkian: The American who fought against attacking the Parliament

    1 of 5 2 of 5

      By Amir Bajehkian

      January 6 was a surreal day. Mobs of MAGA Nation attacked the institution of democracy, the house of the people, in D.C.

      Why? Because something was happening that their head of state was not quite fond of. If you can't stop it the legal way, you bring the "big guns" (literally).

      As a democracy-loving human being, I'm shocked. As an Iranian, I shake my head. Because of our history.

      In 1906, Iranians who were tired of the tyranny of Qajars (the ruling monarchy in Iran) and finally stood up demanding a "House of Justice" and a ''National Assembly" (a.k.a. Parliament). The ill Qajar king, Mozafareddin Shah, finally agreed and signed the declaration of the Constitution...and died nine days later.

      His successor, Mohammadali Shah, was not a huge fan of this. Nor were his Russian supporters. Those were the days when Brits and Russians were trying to find their minions in the corrupt court of Qajars. A nation was stuck between the superpowers of the day. 

      Those were also the days that a newer country was emerging: the United States of America. The new "liberated" nation was eager to make friends here and there, presenting itself as a noncolonial ally. Decades earlier, Iran and the U.S. had begun diplomatic relations, and quite a few American missionaries were in Iran.

      Back to the newly crowned king: he pretended to be okay with the new "Constitutional" government, limiting his power as an absolute monarch. There were also newspapers criticizing the Shah. So his patience was not for long. 

      On June 23, 1908, the Cossack Brigade (founded in Iran by the Russian Empire as a pseudo-army), under the command of colonel Vladimir Liakhov started attacking the Parliament and arresting Constitutionalist leaders. The Constitutionalists tried to defend the parliamentary grounds.

      Still, Cossacks obtained permission to shoot, from the Shah appointed chancellor Zel-ol-Sultan, and started bombing the building. It has been said that one bomb hit the telephone centre of the Parliament while the Speaker was on the phone with Shah, protesting the attack. The Speaker fled, Parliament was shut, and the period known as the "Minor Tyranny" began.

      But this wasn't it.

      Outside of Tehran, most notably in Tabriz  in northwestern Iran and Esfahan in central Iran, the Constitutionalists were not done. They were gathering forces to protect their Constitutional revolution.

      Constitutional revolutionaries in Tabriz.

      Which takes us to the uprising in Tabriz. The Constitutionalists of Tabriz, under the leadership of Sattar Khan and Bagher Khan, were not going to give up.

      A year before the Minor Tyranny, a young Presbyterian missionary from North Platte, Nebraska, arrived in Iran. Howard Baskerville was only 22 at the time. He was supposed to teach at the American Memorial School. Yet, he got caught up in the middle of things.

      Howard Baskerville was a young American teacher who sided with Iranian democrats in the early 20th century.

      As a result of the uprising in Tabriz, the city was under a crushing siege by the state. Constitutionalists were attacked, and the famine was unbearable. So Baskerville decided instead of "teaching about the dead" (a.k.a. history...ironically, what I'm doing now), to provide military training for the youth.

      The U.S. consul's wife warned him to part ways with the Constitutionalists. In response, he surrendered his American passport and joined the Constitutional forces.

      Baskerville was killed by a sniper while leading a paramilitary group named Fowje Nejat (the Liberation Force) to support the Constitutional forces. He was 24 at the time of his death. He was buried in the Armenian Cemetary of Tabriz.

      According to witnesses (such as the British Consul in Tabriz), his funeral was attended by thousands of people. In his honour, a hand-made carpet was crafted as a gift to his mother.

      That same year (1909), Constitutionalists were finally able to reach Tehran, kick out the Shah, and reopen the Parliament. They never forgot the sacrifices of their young American friend, as they informed her mother in their telegram:

      "Persia much regrets the honourable loss of your dear son in the cause of liberty, and we give our parole that future Persia will always revere his name in her history like Lafayette and will respect his venerable tomb."

      Howard Baskerville's grave.

      There are a few things that all Iranians do support. Constitutional revolution is one of them! Hence, even today, Baskerville is respected as a hero, and his statue is in the Constitutional Museum of Tabriz.

      And 112 years after the tragic death of that young hero of freedom (this was long before Americans were known as imperialists. Nobody told Baskerville to do this), a MAGA mob attacked the legislature because the Shah...I mean, the president, doesn't like the checks and balances. Therefore, his brigade...I mean 'boys'...organized an armed attack on the Parliament, a.k.a. the Congress.

      Iranian carpet weavers created this carpet with a woven image of Howard Baskerville.

      Meanwhile, my homeland is still fighting for the same goals as the 1900s Constitutionalists: justice and democracy.

      Even worse, the ways and means of the state in Iran is now becoming the ultimate dream of the former U.S. president.

      Perhaps this is, as Ayatollah Khomeini (the founder of the Islamic republic) called it: the export of the [Islamic] revolution?

      When Howard Baskerville was asked not to put himself at risk by helping the Constitutionalists, he responded:

      "The only difference between these people and me is my place of birth, and this is not a big difference."

      If only the Cossack Brigade and the Liakhovs to the outgoing president could see it too—as well as those who are "surprised" at something like this in a western democracy.

      Amir Bajehkian is a community activist In Vancouver and member of the Multicultural Advisory Council of B.C. He is also a flight data analyst and Outreach Consultant with Green Cedar Consulting Ltd. The above piece is his personal opinion.