An Officer and an Academic:
Alexander Grigorevich Tumanskii and His Contribution to Russian Historiography on and Policy towards the Bábí-Bahá'í Religion

By Soli Shahvar

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #111
Centre for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
June 30 – July 3, 2012
(see list of papers from #111)

    Official Russian attitude towards the Bábí-Bahá'í religion seems to have changed dramatically between the mid to the end of the nineteenth century. At first, in the formative years of the Bábí movement in Iran in the 1840s, Tsarist Russia saw in it what British India saw later in Bolshevism, namely something that could not only destabilize Iran, but could even spill-over into their own territory. Thus, Russian diplomats in Iran requested from the Iranian authorities to keep the Báb away from the Russian borders. This attitude changed almost dramatically some four decades later, when from the mid-1880s and onwards Iranian Bahá'ís were not only permitted to immigrate into Russian territory, but even to create their own communities under the protection of the Russian government.

    One of the main reasons for this volte-face with regards to Russian policy towards the Bábí-Bahá'í religion seems to have been the relatively poor knowledge of that religion in its formative, or Bábí years; while gradually, especially following the declaration of Bahá'u'lláh and with the vast majority of Bábís adopting the Bahá'í faith, fears of the negative implications of the Bábí-Bahá'í religion made way for a more positive attitude of it. This trend stood in direct relation to the growing flow of information on the Bábí-Bahá'í religion, which came not only from Russian academic circles, but growingly from a new breed of Russian officers and officials, who also had academic training in "oriental studies". One of these "orientalist" officers and officials, who were tasked to collect material on the Bábí-Bahá'í religion and communities, was Alexander Tumanskii, who stands out in both the volume and depth of his research and findings about the Bábí-Bahá'í religion. His official reports were quite important for the direction of Russian policy towards the Bábí-Bahá'í religion, and his academic publications (and primarily the translation of Kitáb-i-Aqdas and several tablets into Russian) are still used by scholars today. It is the purpose of this paper to try and evaluate the contribution of Tumanskii on Russian historiography, and on policy towards the Bábí-Bahá'í religion.

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