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Howard Baskerville: An American Martyr in Iran

The Inspiring Story of Howard Baskerville in Iran

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 Encyclopedia Britannica at the library of the American Consulate, in order to learn how to make grenades.

Fowje Nejat Howard Baskerville An American Hiro In Iran
Some members of the “Fowj Nejat” group led by Baskerville, Mashq Square

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.

Howard Baskerville
 Howard Baskerville’s portrait, in Tabriz Constitutional Museum. Painted in 1956 (1335)

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 and Aref 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!

In Persian

ای محترم مدافعِ حریّتِ عباد
وی قائدِ شجاع و هوادار عدل و داد
کردی پی سعادتِ ایران فدای جان
پاینده باد نام تو، روحت همیشه شاد

– عارف قزوینی

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

In Persian

سیصد گل سرخ، یک گل نصرانی
ما را ز سر بریده می‌ترسانی
ما گر ز سر بریده می‌ترسیدیم
در محفل عاشقان نمی‌رقصیدیم

در محفل عاشقان خوشا رقصیدن
دامن ز بساط عافیت برچیدن
در دست سر بریدهٔ خود بردن
در یک یک کوچه کوچه‌ها گردیدن

– میرزا آقا خان کرمانی


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Fereshteh Sabetian

Fereshteh Sabetian is a World Heritage Studies graduate, a solo traveler, a coffee enthusiast and a cat lover :)

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One Comment

  1. It is, always, a great pleasure to see that the Iranians honor those who contribute to their welfare. However, it is imperative, when writing a historical note to make sure that no mistakes are being made. In the first photograph, it is stated that “the picture was taken on the occasion of the ” 42d academic in 1923, Baskerville is the third person standing on the right.” This picture, most probably, has nothing to do with Baskerville. He was killed in 1909.
    The correct history, by Dr. Reza Zadeh Shafagh: one of the Baskerville’s student, stated that they were in the war theater and that Baskerville was warned not to stand up or to commence firing until such order was issued, which unfortunately he did and was shot by a government soldier.
    For a more complete account of this great American, please check the book of “Fire Beneath the Ashes- Relation between US and Iran, 2011, by Dr. Guilak and also, Ali Pasha Saleh, “Cultural Ties Between Iran and the United States.

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