His name was Howard Baskerville, a young American fella who came to teach English, history and geometry in Tabriz and made his own history in Iran. He had a strong bond with his students, both girls and boys, and even directed the famous play “The Merchant of Venice” with them. But how he became a martyr of Iran’s constitutional revolution then?
After graduating from Princeton Theology School, 22-year-old Baskerville came to Tabriz in 1907, the same year that the newly crowned king, Mohammad Ali Shah has attacked the one-year-old parliament house with cannon gun. The war between the government and the revolutionaries broke out in 1908 and Tabriz was one of the major cities opposing the king. During the conflicts Baskerville felt “he could not watch calmly from a classroom window the starving inhabitants of the city who were fighting for their right.”
He already had taken Jurisprudence and Constitutional Governance courses at Princeton and that could be a reason for his involvement in the conflicts. With his experience of military service, he formed a voluntary force, consisting of 100 young men, most of them his students. “Instead of telling dead people’s story” in his own words, he decided to teach military techniques and help people defend themselves. Even after the American consul and his wife tried to discourage him, he said, “The only difference between me and these people is my place of birth, and this is not a big difference.” They later realized that Baskerville has used the Encyclopaedia Britannica at the library of the American Consulate, in order to learn how to make grenades.
Baskerville had two groups of opponents. First, parents of the students he encouraged to fight, and second, the Evangelical Presbyterian Missionary that was furious with him for taking side in a battle and participating in violence, they were worried that his acts jeopardize their mission in Iran, so Baskerville decided to resign. On his last day of working at the American Memorial School, he told stories of the American Revolution to his students and talked to them about their duty to serve their country.
By April 19, 1909 Tabriz was barely tolerating 11 months of siege and Baskerville went on a mission to break the line and bring food to the people. During this mission he was shot by a sniper and died immediately. The event was a shock to everyone. Five days later, at his funeral in the Armenian Cemetery of Tabriz, hundreds of people, colleagues, members of the Memorial school and its students gathered to honor the young hero. A telegram was sent to his mother in Spicer, Minnesota:
Persia much regrets honorable 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.
Sattar Khan and Jamani Ayoleti
A few weeks later, Sattar Khan, head of the opposition groups wrapped Baskerville’s rifle into a Persian flag and sent it to his mother. Also a carpet with his picture was woven by master carpet weavers of Tabriz. His mother did not receive the carpet.
Not only at the re-convention of the Persian parliament, but even later, Howard Baskerville remained in memories of Iranians. A bust of his is placed at the House of Marshruta museum in Tabriz now. His death even inspired the celebrated poet and scholar Malek ol-Shoar’a Bahar andAref Ghazvini.
Let’s finish this story by some verses of Aref Ghazvini and Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani poetries depicted on a memorial tablet which was placed on his grave in 1950:
Aref Ghazvini’s poetry
Oh, thou, the revered defender of the freedom of men,
Brave leader and supporter of justice and equity,
Thou has given thy life for the felicity of Iran,
O, may thy name be eternal, may thy soul be blessed!
300 Red Roses by Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani
300 red roses and one more from christian lands*
Do you frighten us from the beheading?**
If we were afraid of the beheading
We would not dance in the ritual of love
Dancing in the ritual of love is like a blessing
(It is like) the risk of someone’s own life
(It is like) the showing of your beheaded body
In every streets and alleys