The Settlement in Fereydan
Fereydani Georgian historiography does not clearly mention their ancestors’ geographical location in Georgia. However, it narrates their exodus from the Iranian cities of Esfahan and Najaf Abad (Rezvani 2008). Fereydani Georgians trace their ancestral origins back to 19 Georgian clans or extended families who once resided in the prestigious Esfahani neighbourhood of Abbas Abad. That neighbourhood is located on the northern shore of the river Zayande Rood in the Muslim part of the city, whereas the Christian quarter of (new) Julfa is located on its southern shore.
The account, as it has been passed down, states that these families left Esfahan for the newly built town of Najaf Abad, but owing to a fight with local peasants in which four natives of Najaf Abad were killed, they moved farther west to Fereydan (Sepiani 1979, 173). According to
Fereydani Georgian oral history, and in agreement with historical facts, Shah Abbas wanted these families to settle in Fereydan (in an area in and around Fereydunshahr) in order to protect this region from the advances of Bakhtiyari tribes who regarded this area as their summer quarters. This region was important for its fertile soil and the production of food, as well as the lucrative wine and silk. Many Armenians were settled in this region for this aim and as they were Christians, this was used as an excuse by the advancing tribes in order to pillage their villages. According to their own popular belief, Fereydani Georgians served as military personnel in Esfahan, and they were appointed as tax collectors and guardians for providing security in Fereydan, assisted by the central Safavid political establishment. They were also escorted by military gunmen on their journeys to Esfahan (Rahimi 2001, 26).
Fereydani Georgians do not have a clear communal memory of how and when their ancestors converted to Shi’ite Islam. It is remarkable that Fereydani Georgian collective memory does not have any myths of Islamisation, despite attributing the nickname Dar-ol-Momenin [City of the Pious (Shi’ite Muslims)] to Fereydunshahr. Two primary sources mention an Islamisation effort in Fereydan mediated by the Iranian authorities. These are Tarikh-e Alam-Ara-ye Abbasi [The World Adorner’s, Shah Abbas’ History] a primary historical source of the seventeenth century, written by Eskandar Beyg Monshi, the royal Safavid court historian, and Girk’ Patmut’eants’ [Book of History] written by Arakel of Tabriz (known also as Davrizhetsi), an Iranian-Armenian cleric and writer of anti-Persian stature. However, while both explicitly discuss the Islamisation of a number ofArmenians, none of them mention Georgians being Islamised in that event (Davrizhetsi 2010, 46-49; Monshi 1998, 1588-1589). Although when and where the Islamisation of Fereydani Georgians’ ancestors took place is disputed, it is conventionally assumed to have occurred in the early seventeenth century (see Rezvani 2008).
For the Fereydani Georgians, the lack of reference to their town or region of origin in Georgia and their Islamisation functions instrumentally in creating a timeless image of Fereydani Georgians as Shi’ite Muslim Iranians and a natural element of their local ethnic landscape. In fact, it reaffirms their claim that they are no less legitimate inhabitants of Fereydan than their ethnic neighbours Bakhtiyaris, Persian-speakers, Turkic-speakers, Khwansaris and the Armenians, despite the fact that the first four ethnic groups could claim longer antiquity with regard to the inhabitation of Fereydan.