Iran Denies Whitewashing Russian History in High School Textbooks

By Azadeh Karimi

Reports by several online news outlets on the deliberate removal of historical accounts of Russian military operations during the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813) from a revised version of a high school Persian literature textbook are inaccurate, according to Hassan Maleki, the deputy director of the Organization for Educational Research and Planning (OERP), which operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Education.

Mr. Maleki made the comments during a meeting of the OERP board to review the Persian literature textbook for the primary elementary school (first, second, and third grades) held earlier this month in Tehran.

“Several news outlets have recently published stories with the headline ‘Whitewashing Russia in a Textbook,’” Maleki was quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency as saying. “Our investigation has shown that education experts have revised several bulky textbooks on different subjects by omitting some content to reduce their size.”

“The information that was taken out of the textbooks had nothing to do with sanitizing Russia-Iran history,” Maleki noted. “Such news headline are demoralizing and cause psychological distress to all those involved.”

“The OERP began its review of textbooks at the primary-school level because it is the foundation of the education program,” Maleki explained. “We have focused on Persian literature textbooks because there are many education experts in this field who can offer valuable and constructive criticisms.”

In an interview with the Young Journalists Club (YJU), Maleki described those who had accused the OERP’s review board of removing significant material regarding Russia from a Persian literature textbook as “a good-hearted and well-meaning group who lacked the expertise to make such judgments.”

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“A teacher of language and Persian literature has claimed that we have sanitized Russian [history] in a textbook,” Maleki said. “The person seems to suggest that by revising the bulky textbook, we had tried to rewrite our history with Russia, which, frequently, has behaved against Iran and our national interest.”

“As the deputy director of the OERP, I looked into the matter and discovered that it concerned a section in the Persian textbook for the 11th graders, better known as Persian Literature-3,” Maleki explained. “The text was about the courage of Abbas Mirza [1789-1833], a son of Fath-Ali Shah [Qajar, 1772-1834], and his role in the Russo-Persian War.”

“The education experts removed a few sentences in this section only to make the textbook thinner. They had no ulterior motives,” Maleki pointed out. “They deleted parts helped to reduce the size of the textbook without compromising the integrity of the content. My review of the material showed that editors had removed no vital information or made any changes to sanitize Russia’s conduct.”

On February 2, Adel Barkam, a teacher and education expert, posted a message on his Instagram feed which listed several discrepancies he had spotted in the revised version of the 11th grade Persian Literature-2 secondary high school textbook. In his view, the edited content lessened the extent and severity of acts committed by the Russian military in Iran during the war.

According to Mr. Barkam, many sentences, describing violent acts committed by Russia during the Russo-Persian War, were removed from the original text. They included “Tabriz, this ancient city was the first line of defense against the aggressive actions of Iran’s neighbor to the north, meaning Russia,” or “Russia had plans for Azerbaijan,” or “it did not take that long before Russia planted its flag in the soil that was soaked in the blood of the innocents.”

Abbas Mirza was an accomplished and well-respected military commander who fought bravely and distinguished himself during the Russo-Persian War and the Ottoman-Persian War (1821-1823).

Despite the military genius of Abbas Mirza and his fearless and cunning approach to battles, Persian forces were defeated, and Iran lost all its territories in the Caucasus to Russia following the signing of the 1813 Treaty of Golestan and 1828 Treat of Turkmenchay.

Many historians have argued that the lack of support from a weak central government in Iran contributed to the defeat of the Persian army.

[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]