Common humanity

Despite the debris left behind by history, we have to move forward


Common humanity
by Taymaz Rastin

President Obama’s recent Nowruz overture to Iran has raised the hope for dialogue between the governments of the United States and Iran. After President Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ speech, it became rare for one to wake up to the morning news and not notice a new spate, a fresh exchange of insults and criticisms. Nevertheless, contemporary problems obscure the fact that few international relationships had a more promising beginning. In the early twentieth century, Iranians had come to admire the United States for standing aloof of the great power rivalry between Britain and Russia over Iranian territory.

It is noteworthy that the Iranian parliament in 1911appointed William Morgan Shuster, an American lawyer, to serve as the equivalent of the country’s finance minister. In the pre-1940s period, goodwill between the two nations was particularly impacted by the outstanding service to Iranian society by humanitarians such as Dr. Samuel Martin Jordan, Louis Dreyfus Jr. and his wife Grace. Then there is the case of Howard Baskerville, who died on the battlefield of the Constitutional Revolution on 19 April 1909, a hundred years ago.


Described as the ‘American Lafayette in Iran’, Howard Conklin Baskerville was born on 10 April 1885 into a well-educated Presbyterian family in Nebraska, although by the time of his death a few days after his twenty-fourth birthday, his parents were living in Minnesota. According to records uncovered by Robert Burgener, Baskerville made a hand-written application to the Board of World Wide Missions explaining that he wished to gain experience in foreign language and culture before entering the seminary. Baskerville, who at the time was about to graduate from Princeton University, was finally assigned a ‘short-term teaching’ position in Iran after his request for an assignment to China was rejected.

Some sources also indicate that Baskerville had basic military training in the U.S. Army. It is perhaps this training that later inspired Baskerville to organise a small group of his students from the Memorial Training and Theological School in Tabriz and join the fighting on the side of the revolutionaries at the Siege of Tabriz.

It is difficult to imagine that the young Baskerville, when embarking on his long journey to Iran, had any awareness of the political upheaval that he would encounter in Iran and the mark that he would himself leave behind. While the comparison with the Marquis de Lafayette is apt, one could also compare Baskerville to Alexander Hamilton, the other great American revolutionary. Although Hamilton became a leading figure of the American Revolution, he was not born on the American continent. Like the young Hamilton, Baskerville had barely set foot in his new country before he became enthralled by the revolutionary atmosphere, and putting his books aside, took up arms and drilled college students into revolutionary fighters. In going into battle, like Hamilton, Baskerville defied the advice of the more senior and cautious members of his academic institution.

Apart from youthful inexperience, one may wonder what else could have inspired these two men to display such commitment to people they had barely met. Although this is not a question that can be answered easily, and although Hamilton and Baskerville were two different men from two different eras, it is nonetheless apparent that both were driven by a sense of moral purpose. In 1908 and 1909, Baskerville observed the people of Tabriz subjected to the attacks of the Russian invader whilst simultaneously being put under siege by their own central government. By April 1909 when Baskerville took up arms, the ordinary people of the city were close to starvation. It must have occurred to Baskerville that the citizens of Tabriz had a natural god-given right to rebel.

Tragically, Baskerville was killed by a single bullet to the heart in his opening encounters with combat. His comrades went on to succeed in their campaign to bring representative government to Iran in what is known in Iranian history as the Constitutional Revolution (Enghelab-e Mashruteh). Unlike Hamilton, Baskerville did not live to witness the triumph of his cause, but his courage and devotion left a lasting impression on his comrades. Five days after Baskerville’s funeral and burial in Tabriz, his parents received a telegram dispatched on behalf of the Iranian revolutionaries, which read: ‘Persia much regrets honourable 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’. Later, the legendary Sattar Khan wrapped Baskerville’s rifle in an Iranian flag and sent it to America.

Despite the turbulence of Iranian-American relations in the second half of the twentieth century, Baskerville has consistently remained an Iranian national hero. Even at the height of anti-American sentiments in Iran in the early 1980s, Professor Thomas Ricks has noted that he always found Baskerville’s tomb covered with roses whenever he visited Tabriz and went unannounced to Baskerville’s grave. In the fall of 2004, at a time when the American and European governments were threatening Iran with retribution over the nuclear program, the municipality of Tabriz unveiled a new statue of Baskerville.

It may seem unusual that in a country ruled by Shiite clerics, an American Christian missionary who came to Muslim lands would be honoured by of all things, a statue, which is a form of bodily representation that Islam traditionally considered idolatrous. Yet, the fact that Baskerville was an American, or a Christian, or a missionary, is not as important as the fact that he was a courageous and selfless individual who battled for the betterment of his fellow human beings. In his own words, Baskerville explained that ‘the only difference between me and these people is my birth place which is not a significant issue’.

In remembering Baskerville, one may reflect on Iran’s tumultuous progress since the Constitutional Revolution. Amongst other setbacks, Iranians in 1953 witnessed the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh by a coup d’état which was orchestrated by the American government. The flame of Iran’s fledgling democracy, which had been set alight by heroes such as Baskerville in their fight for representative government, was extinguished by a cabal of conspirators. This event marked a turning point in how Iranians would come to view the foreign policy objectives of the U.S. government.

However, in honouring Baskerville, we must remember that despite the debris left behind by history, we have to move forward by emphasising our common humanity. While his tragic story hurts the heart, it summons the spirit. This gallant son of America, became a selfless hero of Iran, and is as such a very unique Iranian-American symbol.


cyrous moradi

More bright points in Iran- US historical relations

by cyrous moradi on

Nowadays most of the people, especially young generation always are thinking about the dark side of Iran-US relations, but there are bright moments as well.12th December 1946 is a crucial day in Iran- US relations. In this day, Mr. Ahmad Ghavam competent and almost old prime minister of Iran just by President Truman's support defeated the puppet and soviet backed government in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan and once again gained Persia's Sovereignty. Without Washington's support Iran integrity doomed to fail. United States then ambassador in Moscow George Kennan's report about Stalin's bad wills toward Iran and Ghavam's trip to Moscow and in the end collaboration of two country cause a very big and historical success for both.  



"selfless individual who battled for the betterment

by secular on

of his fellow human beings", says it all! Thank you, what an awesome story!  I wonder what he'd do if he was sent to Iran today?!

Mohammad Ala

Good job.

by Mohammad Ala on

Good job and good story of an American.  Thank you for taking time to write this article and remind us to look into better future.

anonymous fish


by anonymous fish on

what a beautiful and eloquent article.  i'm sure i'm no different than any other american, and iranians as well, but my hopes for peaceful relationships between the US and Iran are more than just wishful thinking.  being married to iranian and having virtually all of my in-laws in iran, i desperately want to be able to visit his vatan and family.  i'm to the point of being so tired of hearing "you do this before i do that" and "it was your fault to begin with"... i just want something to happen!  i have no problem with obama making the first gesture or even the second... but damn... it has to be a two-way street.  i hope we'll see some positive movement soon.

again, thank you for this wonderful article.


There is really no fight or

by AnonymousClear (not verified) on

There is really no fight or animosity between the two nations. It is a sort of misunderstanding that has come between us. The fights and issues, if we look closely, were created by a very small few who had ulterior motives, or who were quite ignorant or got caught up in a moment of intense emotional reaction, etc and sometimes these were inflated out of proportion by other forces who again, had their own ulterior motives. Otherwise there is no real fight or animosity between the two nations. There may be a slight issue of Western culture coming in contact with what could be called the Islamic culture which if happened at a fast pace could cause some upset. US must try to make sure the contact does not occur at such a fast speed that upset results. This is in a way what happened in Iraq. People of Iraq also cannot assimilate into a Western way of life so fast, if at all. The discrepancies must be noticed and intelligent solutions must be provided in order to avoid a conflict and upset. There is no real fight or problem. Some oil companies and some corrupt elements keep this fake fight alive - not the average Iranian or American.

Darius Kadivar

FYI/Film Set During the Constitutional Revolution in Persia

by Darius Kadivar on

Thought this should interest you:

MON CINEMA: The Guns and the Fury (1981)


Second nature to Iranians

by Alborzi (not verified) on

When I arrived in the USA, I lived in very nice apartment and it had a doorman. Anyway I like most Americans am light color. One of my neighbors was this Indian Dr and every once in a while he would bring some nurses. I did too, but the doorman had more trouble with the Indian guy doing it than I. I never thought of it that way, essentially because there are so many different dialects that live in Iran, we only pay attention to fairness not his origin and in the melting pot they do, they try hard to push Iranians there too, but we are a proud bunch.


Beautifully written and cogently conveying our common humanity.

by alborz on

Thank you for reminding us of our Oneness.

I believe that the future of World is inextricably tied to the relationship and evolution of the Iranian and American people.