Afterwords | Americans, Ottomans and the Iranian Civil War
American obsession with Iran is as old as America.
On August 13th, 1722, the lead story in the two top publications in America, Philadelphia's American Weekly Mercury and the Boston News-Letter, concerned Iran. They ruefully wrote, "the whole kingdom is full of troubles and confusion, and the rebels have taken possession of all the treasures of Persia (Iran) and put everything to fire and sword." The report ended optimistically, saying, "the late Sophi's (Shah) son is still at Tabriz, reinforced by the Auxiliary troops of the prince of Armenia, and some critical strike is expected in a very short time".
So much was happening in Iran at that time (the early 1700s) that both leading American newspapers, it typically took up a third of each week's paper. Even the mere absence of news from Iran was front-page news in America in 1724! A newspaper led with a regretful note, "we do not hear any thing from Persia" this week.
From the new reports, it is clear Americans had a great fondness for the Persian Empire and were devastated to hear it was under threat.
In 1722, Afghan rebels had revolted against the Iranian monarchy, bringing an end to the Safavid dynasty, sacking its legendary capital, Esfahan. American media was convinced that the Ottoman Empire was secretly aiding the rebellion. They declared, "city of Esfahan, the capital of the kingdom, has fallen, which the Turks very much rejoiced at."
Because the Afghans and Ottomans were both Sunni, Americans assumed they must have forged an axis of evil against their beloved Shi’a Iran. Here, a newspaper attempts to explain the difference between Shi’a and Sunni to its Boston audience in 1723.
Of course, they were wrong. But week after week, American newspapers cheered on the Iranians and blasted the wicked rebels and their (alleged) Ottoman backers. Americans were so keen to believe in the narrative of Persians Good - Ottomans Bad that they convinced themselves the Shi’a were somehow *less* Muslim than the Sunni, and thus not as evil. Newspapers often called it a war between Muslims and Persians, as if Persians were not Muslim!
There was so much appetite for news from Iran in 1720s America that the two newspapers began competing against each other for it. The Mercury even published a sensationalistic, 9-part series on Iran in 1727, a first in the history of American journalism.
But why were American newspapers in the 1720s so overtly pro-Iranian? For the answer, check out the new book America and Iran: A History, From 1720 to the Present, published next week in the UK by @OneworldNews and in the US in January by @AAKnopf
(The source of the pictures and texts (edited) is book’s author, John Ghazvinian. You can follow him here: @JohnGhazvinian )