Howard C. Baskerville;
Princeton University alumni;
Died in Azerbaijan 1909, American hero of the Iranian Constitutional revolution of 1906
Americans have a much abbreviated sense of history and practically know nil about the historic context of any event in the news today. Most of then do not vote and do not know who their representatives are in Congress. It wasn’t always this way. We once had the spirit of 1776 and threw off the yoke of the British Crown. Our revolution served as the inspiration for the French revolution which was an event of huge impact in modern history. We had patriots like John Paul Revere and Thomas Paine. “Give me liberty or give me death.”
Lord Byron, the legendary British poet, made a symbolic sacrifice of his own life to bring attention to the plight of the Greeks fighting for their freedom from the Ottoman Empire. He died not in battle however but from malaria in Missalongi but he could not stand aside and not come to the aid of the heirs of Classic Antiquity to which Western civilization owed so much.
In more recent times the Lincoln brigade were American volunteer freedom fighters in the Spanish Civil War of which Ernest Hemingway was one.
For some time now I have wondered about how the love hate relationship developed between our two nations of America and Iran.
Upon doing research I came to find out that in 1947 after Truman badgered the USSR into leaving Azerbaijan that he started a mini Marshall Plan for Iran called Point Four.
This program did much to improve public health in Iran at that time, eradicating mosquito born diseases like Trachoma. I think that it was as a result of this program that Iranians began to develop a widespread love for America.
The hate part began when the CIA helped General Zahedi to oust Mossadegh and restore the Shah in the 1950’s.
Despite the many decades that there was a large American presence in Iran during the rule of Shah Reza and it was more or less a vassal client state of the USA, the US Army Corps of Engineers did build Mehrabad Airport and several other major public works.
During the revolution of 1979, I remember how they were playing documentaries of George Washington crossing the Delaware during the American revolutionary war and also documentaries of the French revolution.
I am not sure what has become of the spirit of 1776 and exactly when it died but perhaps it disappeared when the Cold War ended for without the USSR there was nothing to counterbalance American imperialism anymore in the world. Afghanistan and Iraq have become client vassal states and the Bush administration has long had its eyes on Iran, hence the whole nuclear weapons scare propaganda.
That said I was amazed to run across last year for the first time the story of Howard C. Baskerville on the internet. Howard Conklin Baskerville (April 10, 1885-April19, 1909) was an American teacher in the Presbyterian mission school in Tabriz, Iran. He is often referred to as the "American Lafayette in Iran". In 1908, during the Constitutional Revolution in Iran, he decided to join the Constitutionalists and fight against the Qajar despot King Mohammad Ali Shah. He was shot while leading a group of student soldiers to break the Seige of Tabriz.
Ironically at just about the same time that I discovered him, a dear friend of mine had returned to Azerbaijan for a visit for the first time in many years and discovered his story also and much to their surprise, people were still talking about him there. Schools are still named after him in Tabriz and his tomb is still there. This young man who had come over as a missionary teacher ended up organizing and training his Azeri students to fight with Sattar against the vigilanti war lord forces of the corrupt Mohammad Ali Shah and his Russian mercenaries during the Constitutional Revolution of 1906. This was rather like the magna carta of modern day Iran in which parliament tried to limit the excessive powers of the despotic monarchy. How many Americans even know about this struggle for democracy and representative government in Iran which is a freedom they hold so dear in America for themselves? And how many Americans know the name Baskerville?
Probably more Americans have read the Sherlock Holmes story: “The Hound of the Baskervilles” or seen that old Hitchcock movie of it than have ever heard of Howard and how much more deserving is he of a great novel and a movie?
Howard Baskerville is an American hero of whom every American should know and be proud of as well as Iranians. I am glad to know that Thomas M. Ricks, a former professor at Georgetown University is writing a definitive book about Howard. Howard is the kind of patriot and freedom fighter that should be the symbol of America and the good will Ambassador to Iran. If he were alive today I think he would be saddened by the animosity between us. Khomeini called the US the Great Satan and Bush called Iran one of the nations comprising the triple axis of evil; lines which have been the endless butt of jokes. Mr. Bush would be a laughing stock if not for the fact that he is so armed and dangerous. How many Iraqis, the heirs of the very cradle of Western Civilization have died so far in his opportunistic oil war?
I, for one, hope we will all live to see the day come when the average citizen in the streets of Iran thinks of Howard C. Baskerville as the epitome of the American spirit rather than the exception; the day that Americans are seen by the “3rd world” as true upholders of freedom and democracy for all rather than the CIA.
In 1950, a memorial tablet was placed on Baskerville’s grave, containing part of a verse by Aref Qazvini, the national poet of Iran, which read: “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! “
Five days after his funeral in 1909, Baskerville’s parents, in Spicer, Minn., received a telegram: “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 “
Sattar Khan later sent along Baskerville’s rifle, which he wrapped in a Persian flag.
Howard Conklin Baskerville was an American teacher in the Presbyterian mission school in Tabriz, Iran "