"Woe from Wit" - How the poet Griboyedov lost his head in the Great Game

"... through long and uniform action, always correct and frank... to triumph over Asiatic suspicion and to turn into conviction on the part of Persia that fateful neccessity which has compelled her to accept our peace conditions" (A.S. Griboyedov)

A 19th century image of Tehran's Dervazeh Gate (and a likeness of Griboyedov in the upper right)

11 February 1829: Today, 184 years ago, the Russian envoy in Tehran, the playwright Aleksander Griboyedov, together with the whole embassy staff, was slaughtered by an angry mob.

What sounds at first like a rather outrageous and fatal breach of diplomatic immunity was not an act of caprice at all. Anti-Russian sentiments in Iran were at peak level in Persia by the end of the 1820s, especially since the humiliating Treaty of Turkmenchay, a massive strengthening of the Tsar's position in Armenia and along the Caspian Sea at the dawn of the "Great Game", the struggle with the British for dominance in Central Asia.

Concluding the Treaty of Turkmenchay - Griboyedov is the one with the white trousers among the Russian ambassadors (contemporary Russian depiction)

Griboyedov's main goal in Tehran was primarily to bully Qajar Persia into opening hostilities on the Ottoman Empire involved in the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29. The playwright negotiated from an obvious position of strength and did everything to ignore local customs in his meetings with Fath-Ali Shah Qajar, e.g. wearing his boots and sitting in a chair during audiences.
Then a tricky part of the Treaty of Turkmenchay, the treatment of Christian Armenians, became a diplomatic incident. Since Christian Armenians were allowed and encouraged to move into Russian territory, Griboyedov decided to grant asylum to the espcaped ex-treasurer of the Shah's harem, one eunuch called Mirza Ya'cub and two Muslim Armenian girls. Diplomatic channels were ignored and since the rumour went around in the bazaar that the girls were to be forcibly baptised and abused by the Russians, an angry mob gathered in front of the embassy and demanded their extradition. The mob was ignored as well and in the morning of February 11th 1829, the Tehrani decided they'd had it with the Russians, stormed the embassy and killed everyone. The body of the author of one of the best known and loved Russian plays "Woe from Wit" was allegedly decapitated by a kebab vendor and dragged through the streets of Tehran while the mob shouted "Here comes the Ruski ambassador to see the Shah!"

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