National Geographic : 1959 Jan
Station Wagon Odyssey: Baghdad to Istanbul we noticed railroad construction. When I had visited the Shah of Iran, he had told me of his plans to extend the railroad to Tabriz and from there west to Turkey. Another project would carry the line eastward to West Pakistan. In a few years, the Shah had said, one could board an air-conditioned train in Istan bul and step off at Karachi, avoiding all the heat, the dust-and the adventure-of our thousands of miles by road. Tabriz lies 55 miles from the Soviet border in a lovely setting of orange- and red-colored hills. It is probably the largest commercial center in Iran after Teheran; its bazaar, the Ghaza, is known as one of the best in Asia. The three of us hailed one of the colorful two-horse droshkies that crowd the cobble stone streets. In these the driver sits up front in a higher seat than the passengers. Old fashioned lanterns hang on each side of the carriage. The seats are lined with leather, usually red and green; though the ride is bumpy, this is the way to sightsee. The business streets of Tabriz are lined with small shops filled with the products of Tabriz factories-leather goods, cotton products, per fumes, silverware, wines, and rugs. Many of the shops carry American and European prod ucts. The Germans fill the camera shops with their film. Household appliance shops dis play U. S.-made refrigerators, toasters, and electric mixers. Marco Polo wrote that the Moslems of Tabriz were "treacherous and unprincipled." The Tabrizi is different from a Teherani or Shirazi-more rough and ready, less polished. His life in a troublesome border region has made him more severe perhaps, more sus picious of foreigners. But he is a stout indi vidual, one whose pledge of friendship is worth gold. There is a strong Turkish influ ence in his culture. Most of the merchants in the bazaars of Tabriz speak Turkish. The Bab Faces a Firing Squad One day in Tabriz as Mercedes, Mary, and I were window-shopping, a tall, heavy-set man about forty years of age came out of a shop and called me by name. How he knew me, I do not know. He was a Bahai. Inviting us in for soft drinks and huge pistachio nuts, he soon brought us up to date on the Bahais. Tabriz was the scene of the execution of the Bab, founder of the Bahai religion. On July 9, 1850, he was suspended by a rope under his arms and shot by a firing squad. The shots rang out, but the Bab was not touched. The bullets merely cut the rope, and he fell to the ground unharmed. The firing squad refused to shoot again, and it seemed in that instant that the miracle of the Bab might sweep Iran from its Moslem foundations. But a quick-witted officer sum moned another firing squad that soon did kill the Bab, putting an end to any mysticism about his powers. A public school now stands where the Bab was executed. Village Reforms Change Azerbaijan Iran's Azerbaijan region, in which Tabriz is located, has been notorious for the exploi tation of tenant farmers by landlords. Yet today Azerbaijan is way out front in land re form and village development work. No small credit is due to the then governor, Ibrahim Zand, whom I had first met in Isfahan in 1949. I called on him in Tabriz to pay my respects. Over a cup of tea he told me proudly that projects were under way in 4,000 of the 7,000 villages in Azerbaijan. Under a new law, five percent of the land lord's share of each crop is set aside for vil lage improvements. This has made landlords more village conscious; some have even volun teered new school buildings or water systems. No great revolution is sweeping the Azer baijan villages. But progress is being made, bit by bit, particularly in introduction of primary schools. For the first time a child born in a mud hut may not be doomed to illiteracy. Before we left Tabriz for Turkey, Sgt. Anthony S. Bifora of the U. S. military mis sion looked over our car and diagnosed several broken spring leaves, worn-out spark plugs and distributor points, and broken casings in three tires. Obviously we had been headed for some resounding blowouts. We had the necessary repair work done and bought new American tires in the bazaar. We left the main road to Maku at a village called Sufin for a side trip to Lake Urmia. It took us more than two hours to make little more than fifty miles. We had to creep across innumerable ditches and creeks, usually angling the car so as not to scrape bottom. At midmorning we reached the northeastern shore of Lake Urmia. Across the lake Zoro aster is supposed to have lived. In that vicinity are found mounds of ash that mark the fire shrines of the sect he founded.