Research Notes in Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Studies, No. 8 (September, 1997)

Oral History of the Imbrie Affair.

Anthony A. Lee

Date: Mon, 1 Sep 1997 13:09:49 -0600
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From: Negar Mottahedeh
Subject: The Imbrie Affair
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From: Member1700@aol.com
Date: Mon, 1 Sep 1997 02:15:25 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: The Imbrie Affair

A couple of weeks ago, there were some postings on the Imbrie Affair in
Iran (1924) when an American consul was killed by a mob that accused him of
being a Babi (or Baha'i). Now, I realize that in cyberspace that is an
ETERNITY ago, but it happens that my father-in-law was a witness to the
Imbrie attack in Tehran, and I thought that it might be useful to interview
him about it.

The preliminary results are posted below.

My wife's father is Ruhollah Geula. He was born in Tehran in 1910, and he
is now 87 years old. He was born in a Jewish family, though after
twenty-eight years of marriage to his Baha'i wife, he became a Baha'i. I
interviewed him informally at a couple of family gatherings that were held
shortly after his wife's passing in July of this year.
When I mentioned the Imbrie affair to him on 7/30/97, he said that he was
thirteen years old at the time of the attack and that he had been an
eyewitness to it. But, unfortunately, too many relatives were around and I
could not pursue the matter.

On 8/2/97, we were in Palm Springs in a condo with other relatives and,
with a lot of interruptions, I was able to get more information. The
interview was conducted with several other people present. Zafar Moghbel,
the husband of my wife's cousin, acted as interpreter.
Since my father-in-law is quite old, his memory may be fuzzy about some
things. Generally, he is in very good health, has not memory
problems--either long-term or short term. But, naturally, he often gets
dates wrong in the distant past. Anyway, on this occasion, he insisted that
the Imbrie murder was not connected to the disturbances in Tehran
concerning the "miracle" at the well when a Babi was supposed to have lost
his sight.

Now, if I recall correctly (and I may be wrong here), he had previously
connected to two events. (I should interview him again to get the story

Anyway, here is the story:

When asked about the incident at the well, he said that this was known at
the time as the "Miracle of Abu'l-Fadl"--that a Babi had drunk from a
certain well and had gone blind, while a Muslim had drunk from the same
well and had regained his sight. Because of this, there were demonstrations
every day in Tehran. The religious processions were chanting:

Zi mu'jizih Abu'l-Fadl
Kur shudih chasm-i Babi
Bina shudih chasm-i Musulman

The miracles of Abu'l-Fadl
The eyes of a Babi were blinded
The eyes of a Muslim restored

I asked him who Abu'l-Fadl was, and he said that he didn't know, but
supposed that it was some Muslim Imam or holy man.

He was aware that the distrubances had a political background. He said that
some Europeans had come to the country to negotiate an oil concession.
Therefore, the ulema had roused the people to protest. He said that the
demonstrations were taking place every day, with religious processions
roaming through the city, beating their breasts and chanting. One day, he
left school to go home and the street was full of people. He came across a
band of demonstrators, breast beating and flaggelating themselves.

He indicated that religious demonstrations of this kind were common. He
related a story that, on another occasion, at the school where he
attended--the Alliance Israelite School (a Jewish school run by French
missionary Jews)--the principal, M. Laredo, called all of the student body
of 1,600 Jewish students together. He addressed the students and instructed
them to go home and to tell their families not to leave their homes until
instructed to do so through the synogoues. When they left the school, the
street was full of soldiers who escorted them to their homes.
Anti-Jewish riots had begun in the city and lasted for seven days. No Jews
could leave their houses safely. Those who had food at home were lucky.
Others had to sneak out to the market at great risk to their lives. During
this pogrom, one Jew was killed and one blinded.
The cause of all this was that the Ayatollah Bahbihani had been riding on
the street outside of the school and had been ordered by the authorities to
move out of the way so that the school children could pass. He was insulted
and furious, and so he ordered an attack on the Jewish community.
This took place after the Imbrie incident, around 1925 or so.

Another attack on the Jews was ordered by Ayatollah Falsafi in 1926-27.
This was a campaign against Jews and Baha'is which was ordered at the time
that some foreigners had arrived to negotiate a mineral concession. He said
that the Muslim public was always eager to respond to these calls by the
clergy for campaigns against minorities.

In another incident, Ayatollah Kashani had issued an order of jihad against
all Jews. This was some time before the accession of Reza Shah to the
throne. The order was that all Jews should be killed. The Jews wanted to
approach the ayatollah to bribe him to rescind his order. One of them owned
a diamond ring that was worth 45,000 tumans. Mr. Geula's cousin (along with
some others) took the ring to the home of Ayatollah Kashani. He presented
the ring, and he begged the cleric to accept the gift. He wanted to place
the ring on the ayatollah's finger. But, the mulla refused to accept
anything in his hand. He lifted his foot and instructed them to put the
ring on his toe. That way he could claim that never received anything in
his hand from them.

The next day he preached a sermon in which he said that the Jews living in
Iran, since they live under the house of Islam are in safety, but the Jews
of Israel are to be destroyed.

Anyway, when he was the Abu'l-Fadl demonstrations, he was terrified and ran
away and hid himself.

The well that was at the center of the affair was a ganot that the people
depended on for water. No Jew or Baha'i was allowed to go near public
watering places. People trekked through the city from the south to the
north in processions, chanting their chant. The city became excited, but
after a few days it passed. He was ten or eleven years old at this time.
He was processions going through the streets of the Jewish quarter to join
the main march. They started in Maydan-i Bug-i Firdaws and passed through
the Jewish section of the city on their way to the main march.

Now, as to the Imbrie affair, which he claimed was quite separate from the
above, he said that the city was quiet before the incident. He was thirteen
years old, and working as an apprentice at a drug store. He had gone to the
bazaar to buy fruit. He noticed that the people were aggitated.
Imbrie had gotten out of his carriage to take a picture of a well--a Sagha
Khanih, actually a shrine over a well. Such places were off-limits to all
non-Muslims. This was a large and ornate structure which was near the
bazaar. Suddenly, while Imbrie was taking the picture, the mob moved
against him and beat him to death on the spot. When he came out of the
fruit shop, he saw the body, which was left for dead.
When the mob left, Mr. Geula fled. He said that the sight of the mob was a
fearsome thing. He knew that anyone killed by the mob would have no
recourse. Everyone feared the mob. In mob actions, fifty or one-hundred
people would fall on a victim and kill him. No one could be legally charged
for the murder. So, at his first chance he escaped.
The charge was that Imbrie had poisoned the well, but there was no evidence
of this. Mr. Geula was unaware that Imbrie had been accused of being a Babi.

Tony Lee
Cypress College

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