“True heroism”: how a Russian diplomat and playwright Alexander Griboedov died

190 years ago there was a massacre in the Russian embassy in Tehran, during which a diplomat, poet and playwright Alexander Griboedov died. The massacre of employees of the Russian mission in Persia caused a wide resonance, but many details of the tragedy remained unspecified. Today, the circumstances of that crime are the subject of heated debate by historians. In particular, experts note that the testimony of the only surviving witness was highly controversial, and the incident itself was hushed up for political reasons. What caused the massacre of Russian diplomats - in the material RT.


Alexander Griboyedov was born on January 15, 1795 in Moscow to a wealthy noble family. Since childhood, he has a great intellectual abilities. By the age of six he spoke in three foreign languages, and in his teens - in six. At the age of 13, he graduated from the verbal department of Moscow University, and at 15 - legal.

In 1812, Griboedov entered military service: first - in Moscow, and then - in the Irkutsk Hussars. Four years later, in the rank of cornet, he left the army. Shortly thereafter, his diplomatic career began as a provincial secretary of the Foreign Affairs College.

In 1817, he was implicated in a scandalous story connected with other people's heart secrets. Griboedov lived with his friend, Count Alexander Zavadovsky, and once brought a friend to her - ballerina Avdotya Istomin. Zavadovsky was courting for Istomina, and, hitting his house, the ballerina stayed there for two days. Istomina's lover found out about this - the cavalier guard Vasily Sheremetev.

At the insistence of his friend, the lancer officer Alexander Yakubovich, Sheremetev summoned Zavadovsky to a duel. Griboyedov and Yakubovich acted as seconds and decided to also exchange shots. Zavadovsky inflicted a mortal wound to Sheremetev, the duel had to be interrupted. And only in the following, in 1818, already being in the Caucasus, Griboedov and Yakubovich nevertheless exchanged shots. Griboedov was wounded in the palm, from which his finger was twisted. Subsequently, it will be one of the signs by which the poet’s disfigured body is identified after the massacre in Tehran.

  • Russian playwright and diplomat Alexander Griboedov
  • © Wikimedia Commons

In the Caucasus, Griboyedov got on the way to Persia, where he was awaited by the post of secretary of the tsar's charge d'affaires For the sake of service at the southern borders of the empire, he refused to post in the diplomatic representation of Russia in the United States. In 1820, the second mission of Griboyedov to Persia took place, which lasted a year and a half. In 1821, the diplomat who broke his arm was temporarily transferred to the Caucasus, where he could combine work with treatment.

In 1823, Griboyedov left the civil service for two years and returned to Moscow, where he closely engaged in literary works. He again entered the Caucasus only in 1825 through Kiev and the Crimea, and almost immediately was arrested in the fortress of Grozny on suspicion of having connections with the Decembrists, among whom he did have many acquaintances. However, the investigation did not find any evidence of the involvement of the diplomat in the conspiracy against the king, and he was fully acquitted. After the liberation, Griboyedov was in the thick of events related to the Russian-Persian war of 1826–28.

"Big game"

In the 18th century, England moved from commercial expansion to colonial conquest in South Asia. The robbery of the states of Hindustan and Southeast Asia greatly enabled the UK to increase its gross domestic product and to carry out an industrial revolution. Therefore, the British looked at the attempts of other powers to expand the zone of influence in Asia jealously. They were especially annoyed by Russia, which increased its military presence in Central Asia and ousted Turks and Persians from the Caucasus.

At the end of the 18th century, Persia made an invasion of the Caucasus and attempted to seize the Georgian lands that were under Russian protectorate. In response, the official St. Petersburg sent an army to the Caucasus, rejected the Persians and incorporated the Kartli-Kakheti kingdom into the empire. Following this, Megrelia and the Imeretian kingdom joined Russia.

This did not please either Tehran, who claims to the Caucasus, or London, who fears Russian hegemony in Asia. On June 10, 1804, the Persian Shah Feth-Ali, relying on the support of Great Britain, declared war on Russia. On the same day, a detachment of Russian troops under the command of Sergei Tuchkov forced the Persian cavalry to withdraw in the Gyumri region. The fighting continued until 1813.

  • F. Roubaud. Live bridge. 1897
  • © Franz Rubo

Although St. Petersburg, due to the difficult international situation, could not concentrate on the war with Persia, the small Russian corps in Transcaucasia won one victory after another. Even the anti-Russian treaty concluded in 1808 with Great Britain did not help the Persians. In the battle of Aslanduz, a two-thousand detachment under the command of Peter Kotlyarevsky put the thirty-thousand-strong Persian army to flight, which according to some sources lost up to 10 thousand soldiers killed. On October 24, 1813, Persia on the Gulistan Peace Treaty recognized the entry of Eastern Georgia and a number of other territories into the Transcaucasus into Russia. The War of 1804–1813 historians consider the beginning of the “Big Game” - a military-diplomatic conflict between Russia and Britain for domination in Asia.

Already in 1814, Persia actually violated its obligations to Russia by signing a new treaty with Great Britain, according to which London promised to help Tehran achieve a revision of the Gulistan peace, and also provide Persia with money and weapons.

In July 1826, the British-trained Persian army, without declaring war, invaded the territory of the Russian Empire. At first, the Persians forced a few Russian border detachments to retreat, but Russian troops under the command of Alexei Yermolov first, and then Ivan Paskevich inflicted several devastating defeats on the Persian army. As a result, in 1828, Tehran had to sign the Turkmanchaysky peace treaty with St. Petersburg, under which Russia withdrew part of the Caspian coast and Eastern Armenia. In addition, Persia was obliged to pay Russia a contribution of 20 million rubles. This was a painful defeat for both Tehran and its London allies.

Massacre at the embassy

Paskevich, reporting on the conclusion of a peace treaty with Persia, praised the role of Alexander Griboyedov, who contributed to Tehran's commitment to pay the indemnity. It was Griboyedov who delivered to St. Petersburg a report on the conclusion of peace, after which he was appointed minister-resident (ambassador) of Russia in Persia.

  • Signing a treaty between Russia and Persia in 1828
  • © Wikimedia Commons

Returning to Tehran, he stayed in Georgia, where he married Princess Nina Chavchavadze, but enjoyed family happiness for only a few weeks: Griboedov had a difficult mission ahead of him - to convince the shah to fulfill his obligations under the contract.

“Negotiations were hard. Tehran had to make strong concessions. And this caused irritation in Persian society, ”said Irina Fedorova, senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in an interview with RT.

According to the expert, problems arose not only with the payment of indemnities, but with the return to the territory of Russia of prisoners who had previously been captured by Persian troops in the Caucasus, among whom were Armenians and Georgians.

One of those who wished to leave Persia was an eunuch of the Shah's harem, an Armenian, Mirza Yakub, who was also a court treasurer. His departure could have unpleasant consequences for Tehran - Mirza Yakub had strategically important information about the treasury of Persia, and also knew a great deal about the personal life of the Shah and his family. The Persian authorities tried to pressure Griboyedov so that he would betray the treasurer to the shah, but the ambassador refused. Then Mirza Yakub was accused of not returning the money taken by him in the treasury. However, Griboyedov achieved an impartial consideration of the case, on the basis of which it became clear that Mirza Yakub took funds exclusively for state needs and could confirm this. For the Shah, this was a “slap in the face”.

The situation became even more aggravated after when a Georgian woman from the harem of Shah's relative Allahjar Khan Qajar turned to Griboyedov for help.

“The flight of the Shah's eunuch and the departure of a woman from the harem of an influential Persian provoked outrage among local radicals, who diligently fueled England’s main rival in Persia, England,” explained Fedorova.

February 11, 1829 a crowd of fanatics moved to the Russian mission.

“Friends warned Griboyedov that the embassy would be attacked by a mob, but he said that local residents would not dare to encroach on a diplomatic mission, and refused to flee,” said Fedorova.

The embassy was stormed twice. Having broken into the mission for the first time, the mobsters stabbed Mirza Yakub and captured the fleeing woman. After that, the crowd swallowed for a while to attack the Russian diplomats. According to eyewitnesses, Griboyedov personally, along with the Cossacks, defended the embassy with arms. According to one version, he died right at the entrance to the mission, according to another - the ambassador was shot from his office, and the mob were able to kill him, having only smashed the roof.

After the attack, only the secretary of the embassy, ​​Ivan Maltsov, survived. He later said that he had hidden, wrapped in a carpet. However, this version of the secretary’s rescue looks extremely improbable, since the mission was totally plundered, as a result, everything that was of any value, including carpets, was taken out of the building.

The “alternative” version of what happened in Tehran, by the way, is connected with the name of Maltsov. After the massacre, he confirmed the words of some Persian grandees that Griboedov himself allegedly provoked the attack. According to him, the ambassador behaved defiantly at the talks, while Armenians and Georgians from the mission staff constantly insulted the Persians, mocked their customs and literally forced them to return to Russia the captives hijacked from the Caucasus who became wives and concubines of the local rich.

However, this version was refuted by the relatives of one of the victims - collegiate assessor Solomon Melikov, who was the nephew of the chief eunuch of the shah, Manuchehr-khan. They argued that the discrediting rumors about Russian diplomats dismissed Persian dignitaries, and the Shah himself told Allahar Khan that he would like to teach Griboyedov a lesson, and this was presented to the crowd as an approval of the massacre.

"Served with joy"

As for Ivan Maltsov, he, according to researcher Berge, fled from the embassy, ​​taking advantage of the friendly disposition of a nobleman who lived nearby, and hid in his house, not even trying to save compatriots. For this reason, Maltsov needed to divert attention from himself and as much as possible place the blame on those who could no longer justify themselves — that is, the dead.

In addition, the Persian elite warmly reacted to the only surviving diplomat. At the same time, the Russian authorities in the Caucasus were interested in hushing up the Tehran history, since Russia, which was in a state of another war with Turkey, did not need a conflict with Persia. Therefore, the version Maltsova eventually suited everyone.

Persian grandees discussed the possibility of hiding the bodies of Griboyedov and his entourage, and then transferring to Russia that the diplomats had fled and went missing. But then they thought it was unreasonable. To settle the conflict, the shah sent his grandson, Khozrev-Mirzu, to Russia, who was also instructed to negotiate with Nikolay I on reducing the amount of indemnities. To soften the emperor, the Persians gave him rich gifts, among which was the legendary diamond "Shah". The king granted both requests to the Persian authorities — he reduced the amount of indemnities and agreed to “consign to oblivion” the Tehran incident. Griboyedov's wife and mother were assigned life imprisonment.

  • Diamond "Shah"
  • RIA News
  • © Vladimir Vdovin

According to the writer and literary critic Pavel Basinsky, in the person of Alexander Griboedov, Russia has lost a multi-faceted personality. The expert noted that the diplomat could have done for Russia "still a lot."

"To appreciate the talent of Griboyedov, just look at his" Woe from Wit. " Such a quantity of aphorisms did not produce, probably, no other work. It is enough to open it, poke a finger at random and make sure that almost every phrase has become winged. The work is written with the finest psychologism, and therefore to this day it is perceived by us as living and relevant. We see ourselves in it, ”said Bassinsky.

From the point of view of a literary critic, writing "would be glad to serve, to be serviced sickeningly," Griboedov proclaimed his life credo.

"He really served his country with joy, while showing true heroism and not bending down under the pressure of circumstances," concluded Basinsky.

REF: https://russian.rt.com/science/article/601507-reznya-posolstvo-tegeran-griboedov