About a Slice of History

Catherine Yesayan

BY CATHERINE YESAYAN

Learning a slice of history from the city of Tabriz, where Armenians have thrived for centuries, is one of the attractions of a special March 10 banquet planned by “Jan Tavriz.” The group strives to preserve Armenian heritage in Tabriz and in the northwestern region of Iran known as the province of Azerbaijan.

Tabriz stands along important crossroads of ancient cultures.  Since its first mention in history – back in the 7th century BC –  Tabriz has experienced many cycles of decay and rebirth. At times it has been the capital of Persia, and at other times a major city in the landscape of history.     

David Rohl, in his book Legend: The Genesis of Civilisation, indicates that Tabriz stands where the Garden of Eden was situated. He also mentions that during the 3rd century, Tabriz, then called Tauris, was the capital of Armenia.  

My mother and her family were from Tabriz. In 1930s, during the years my mother was growing up, there were around 30,000 Armenians living there.  Most of these Armenians were descendants of skilled artisans and their families uprooted in the early 1600s from their homes in Armenia and relocated to Isfahan, a city in the South of Iran, by King Shah-Abbas. 

From the early 19th century to the early 20th Century, Tabriz was a destination city to experience Western lifestyle, avant-garde trends, and the latest in arts from music to literature. My mother tells me that Tabriz had retail stores stocked with imported luxury items from fine fabrics to china and toys.

The wealthy Armenians of Tabriz managed their community. They underwrote the costs for operating the schools and churches.  No child was left behind for lack of money.  I have heard stories about poor kids who could not afford school supplies and had holes in their shoes, but still attended an Armenian school. 

According to Webster, microcosm means “universe in miniature.”  In the early 20th Century, the Tabriz my mother knew and where she was growing up was truly a “universe in miniature.”  The many ethnic and religious minorities in the city created a rich and diverse culture. In 1934, Germans built the imposing City Hall with a middle turret, very similar to American city halls built in that same era.  American missionaries had built the Memorial school and a hospital.  French-Catholics had their own church and school, where students were exposed to the French language.

Armenians have been a big part of Tabriz’s modernization effort.  The reason is obvious.  Armenians were Christians, thus their lifestyle was closer to Europeans and especially to Russians.  Well-to-do families sent their kids to Europe or Russia to learn a trade or just get educated.  In Iran, Armenians were esteemed highly by Persians. 

Tabriz had two Armenian neighborhoods — Ghaala and Leelava.  Each neighborhood had its own Armenian elementary school. There was only one Armenian high school for both neighborhoods: Temakan High School. Some Armenian students also attended the American Memorial school.

Ghaala, which was a more prestigious (wealthy) neighborhood, boasted an old Armenian school built in 1836.  The name of the school was Aramyan.  In 1936, when my grandfather was its headmaster, the school celebrated its centennial. To me, the fact that 70 years ago, an Armenian school in Iran celebrated its centennial is very intriguing. It shows how Armenians made huge strides both socially and culturally in Iran. The Aramyan school was famous for two more reasons: one, it had a woman teacher, even before my grandparents’ time, and two, its concert hall, with stalls very similar to a mini opera house.

I have learned most of these facts about Tabriz from stories my mother has told me.  In 1963, we took a family trip to Tabriz and had the opportunity to visit many places mom had mentioned.  We went to Glolestan gardens, and to the historic Ark which is an impressive remainder of a huge citadel built in the early 14th century. We also visited Shah-Goli, which features a promenade around a huge man-made lake and a restaurant in the middle of the lake.

This is the seventh annual banquet of “Jan Tavriz.”  For the last several years the group has successfully collected and digitized 3000 pictures from private collections.  All the pictures and the captions will be displayed on March 10 at the banquet, held at RITZ CELEBRATION BANQUET HALL (Kalaydjian Hall) 3325 N. Glenoaks Blvd, Burbank, CA 91504.

Proceeds from the banquet will go to preservation of the history connected to Armenians in Azerbaijan province in the form of books and other albums, and to rebuilding a cultural and sports center in the town of Sisian in Armenia.  For more information, contact the office of Jan Tavriz at (818) 502-1858.

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