The Confessions of Dolgoruki: Story Writing and Identity Scripting

The Confessions of Dolgoruki was a 1930s political-spy fiction that was taken as history. It was the purported memoirs or political confessions of Dimitriy Ivanovich Dolgorukov (d. 1867), the Russian minister in Iran from 1845 to 1854. According to these confessions, Dolgoruki was commissioned as a translator to the Russian embassy Iran in the 1830s with a secret mission. He converted to Islam, and disguised in the garb of a cleric, employed a number of people as spies, not least of whom was the future founder of the Baha’i religion. He then set off for the ‘atabat where he persuaded a young seminary student from Shiraz to launch the Babi movement. Dolgorukov subsequently returned to Iran as the Russian ambassador and brought about the Baha’i religion. The goal of each of these measures was to destroy the national unity that Islam had created among Iranians in order to serve the interests of his own country.

The Confessions of Dolgoruki was a product of its time. An apprehension about the perceived superiority of contemporary Europe, and preoccupation with the threat of imperialism characterized much of the socio-political discourse in the decades that immediately followed the Iranian Constitutional Revolution. These concerns gave rise to two divergent responses among Iranians: one idealized ancient pre-Islamic Iran, while the other advocated a return to pristine Islam as a means of achieving unity in the Islamic world. These responses led to the construction of two in-consonant modes of identity: one race-based and nationalistic, with strong Arianist and anti-Arab overtones, and the other religion-based with Islam at its core.

In such a socio-political milieu three texts, each characterized by a certain mode of thought, provided the context for the creation of The Confessions of Dolgoruki. The first one, consisting of an imaginary conversation, was Siyasat-i Talebi. It reflected an apprehension and preoccupation with imperialist designs for Iran. The other two, both forgeries, were The Testament of Peter the Great, which represented Russophobia, and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which exploited ethno-religious prejudice. The Confessions of Dolgoruki reflected a crisis of identity between the Islamist and Arianist modes of identity. It sought to negotiate the crisis through casting Baha’is as an internal ‘Other’ engaged in a clandestine conspiracy with the external ‘Other.’ By Othering Baha’is, The Confessions fused the two inconsonant modes of national identity.

Mina Yazdani
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