Images from the Endgame: Persia through a Russian Lens 1901–1914

By John Tchalenko

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On 11 August 1913, the Tsar’s consul in Persia, Alexander Iyas, photographed the head of the Kurdish Piran tribe in front of a group of fierce-looking warriors from Baiz-Pasha’s Mangur tribe. He was thus marking a reconciliation he had successfully negotiated between the two. Fifteen months later, Iyas was beheaded by some of these same men and, by an extraordinary series of coincidences, the negatives of these images were recovered on a Turkish officer killed by the Russians during a World War battle near Tabriz in January 1915.

 

Alexander Iyas, officer in the Tsar’s Lithuanian Regiment, had arrived in Persia in 1901 in the small town of Turbat-i Haydari near the Afghan border. He was armed with several cameras, including the remarkable No4 Panoram Kodak. As Head of the Sanitary Cordon his mission was to ensure that Bubonic Plague would not be carried to Russia by trading caravans coming from British India, but the British were convinced he was simply there to gather intelligence.

 

In 1912 he was transferred to Soujbulak, a Kurdish town south of Lake Urmiyeh near Persia’s western border with Turkey. Throughout his years in Persia he documented the places, people and events he encountered with some remarkable photographs, providing us today with a rare Russian point of view of the Great Game – the rivalry between Britain and Russia for the domination of Central Asia. A unique and hitherto unknown group of images has been uncovered for a region and a time for which no other comprehensive collection exists.