Angel Orbetsov: There is a positive emotion between Bulgarians and Iranians

A book reveals the richness of Bulgarian-Iranian relations from 1878 to the late 1950s

Vladimir Mitev, The Persian Bridge of Frendship, 8 January 2023

Angel Orbetsov is a Bulgarian diplomat and Iranologist who published his doctoral research, Bulgarian-Iranian Relations from the (Bulgarian) Liberation (1878) to the Late 1950s, as a book in late 2022. Orbetsov is a former ambassador to China and longtime director of the Asia, Australia and Oceania Directorate at the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry. He was also a diplomat in Iran in the late 1980s and early 1990s, also serving in consular functions. He is the author of a number of scholarly publications on Bulgarian-Iranian relations and contemporary Iranian politics.

The interview was realised for Radio Bulgaria.

The contribution of the book “Bulgarian-Iranian relations from the Liberation to the late 1950s”

How does the book “Bulgarian-Iranian Relations from the Liberation to the Late 1950s” contribute to relations between Bulgarians and Iranians? What new contributions does it bring to the understanding of these relations?

There is a certain affinity between Bulgarians and Iranians that I have always felt during my long work with Iran and my long-term posting to that country 30 years ago. The reasons for this affinity can be sought in the spiritual and cultural communication between the two peoples over the centuries, in the geopolitical positioning of the two countries as neighbours to the west and east of the Ottoman Empire amid their difficulties with it, and in their relations at the inter-state level with a history that is now 125 years old.

We have already accumulated a considerable number of Iranian studies which give a good insight into the country and its language, culture and spirituality, as well as into various aspects of the contacts between the two peoples – archaeology, literature, linguistics, economics, medicine, etc. The two introductory parts of the book are based on these, as well as on monographs and studies by world-renowned authors. The first provides an overview of the historical development of Iran. The second arranges layers and synthesizes into a single material findings and hypotheses from different fields, creating an idea of the depth of cultural and historical connections.

As far as interstate relations are concerned, however, there has been no comprehensive study of them historically, unless one considers the short sections on Iran in Maria Mateeva’s reference books on diplomatic and consular relations of Bulgaria.

For the writing of this book, a large number of documents from the archives were brought to light and studied, which were transformed into a continuous narrative over time with an attempt at periodization. The narrative has been set in the context of historical processes in both countries and supplemented where possible with material from a variety of sources. This included the reading, translation and presentation in annexes of Iranian documents hitherto unavailable to the Bulgarian scholarly community. In this way, a number of unknown or unexplored events and processes have been illuminated. I will mention some of them, such as the Bulgarian-British agreement of 1897 on the issues of Iranian subjects in the Principality of Bulgaria, the first Iranian diplomatic mission to our country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the preparation of a Trade Agreement in the late 1920s, Bulgarian labour migration to Iran in the 1930s, the internment of Bulgarian subjects residing in Iran during the Second World War, inter-party contacts in the 1950s, etc.

Large parts of the book deal with the diplomatic presence of each side in the other country, as well as the activities of both diplomacies in covering events and developments in the other country and carrying out demarches, initiatives and interactions. At the same time, the book goes beyond diplomatic ties and attempts to present the relationship in depth, touching on the areas of politics, economics, culture, scientific ties, people-to-people contacts, and handicrafts, including Persian carpets. The narrative interweaves many stories whose protagonists are both celebrities and humble workers who have contributed to the enrichment of bilateral ties. Conclusions are drawn at the end of each chapter, allowing the most important points to be highlighted and the trends characterising the development of the relationship to be traced.

Returning to the question of mutual attraction between the two peoples, I would like to refer to an internal report of a long-time Iranian consul in Salonika and Adrianople in 1910. The name of this consul is not known. His document was chosen to serve as the background for the book’s cover. In it, for the first time, one encounters a frank justification of the advantage for Iran of maintaining friendly relations with Bulgaria. Referring to “numerous meetings and exchanges with influential (Bulgarian) representatives” and trips to Bulgaria, he speaks enthusiastically of the immense successes achieved by the young Bulgarian state in its civilizational development, which proved to be beyond the reach of its Balkan neighbors, as well as many other countries. It specifically addresses the cultural affinity between Iran and Bulgaria and the similar geopolitical position of the two countries in relation to the Ottoman Empire. He does not fail to mention the rapprochement on political grounds, since Iran has adopted a constitutional system after the Constitutional Revolution, and Bulgaria has made impressive achievements on this path. Starting from the above considerations, he appealed strongly for the establishment of “lasting friendly ties” between the two countries, for which “the Bulgarian Government is a great promoter”. As a concrete proposal, he raised the issue of opening an Iranian embassy in the Bulgarian capital and establishing a Bulgarian diplomatic presence in Tehran.

For its part, Bulgarian diplomatic activity since the beginning of the twentieth century, apart from purely informational activity, has included in a number of cases the assessment and reaction to the processes related to Iran, positions on Iranian demarches and initiatives, proposals for the use in Bulgarian interests of opportunities that have opened up, as well as certain interactions with Iranian diplomats. During the First World War, it is worth mentioning the two actions through Bulgarian territory, undertaken respectively by the managing Bulgarian consulate in Alexandria, Dr. Bachvarov, to transport a team of medics and humanitarian aid for the distressed Iranian population, and by our legation in Constantinople to repatriate Iranian subjects residing in Turkey, which was not realized due to Bulgaria’s entry into the war.

Many Bulgarian diplomats point out the benefits of cooperation with Iran. Nedyalko Polushev in Turkey towards the end of the First World War spoke of the Turkish-Iranian controversy and the opportunities for Bulgaria to take advantage of it. Our Minister Plenipotentiary in Moscow in the second half of the 1930s, Nikola Antonov, made recommendations to Bulgarian workers to take advantage of economic opportunities in Iran. The Bulgarian Legation in Iran (1939-1941), headed by the diplomat Dimitar Dafinov, took real steps to improve trade and economic relations by exporting Bulgarian products: bulb seeds, tobacco, cement, passenger carriages and importing Iranian cotton. It is developing alternative transport routes through the Soviet port of Batumi, thus creating the issue of the Black Sea-Persian Gulf corridor.

The beginning of Bulgarian-Iranian diplomatic relations

One of the ambitions of the book is to establish the exact date of the beginning of Bulgarian-Iranian diplomatic relations. What is established about their beginning?

Indeed, the beginning of diplomatic relations is explored at length in the first chapter of the book. Moreover, after negotiations with Iranian counterparts in the summer of 2021, a bilateral study was launched to shed more light on the initial 25-year period of bilateral relations after the liberation, including contacts between monarchical institutions, mutual high-level visits, Iranian consular presence in the country, and the opening of the first Iranian diplomatic mission in the country.

The date of 15 November 1897, currently accepted as the beginning of diplomatic relations, takes as its starting point the presentation of a note of grant of agreement to the first Iranian diplomatic agent in the Principality of Bulgaria, Mirza Hossein Khan. The only document reflecting this event is a letter from our consular agent in Constantinople, Dimitar Markov, to Prime Minister Konstantin Stoilov, which is shown in Appendix 2 of Chapter One. In the period 1898-1902 the first Iranian diplomatic mission functioned in Sofia, but unfortunately the date of its opening cannot be clarified from the available documents. As there is also no trace of a deliberate act establishing diplomatic relations – an agreement, declaration or exchange of notes, no other date can be identified to take as a starting point. Therefore, for the moment and until the study is completed, we stick to the date of 15 November 1897.

At the same time, account should be taken of the fact that long before that time the two parties had maintained official contacts through their missions in Constantinople. There was official correspondence between the monarchs, and Iranian consuls were active in Ruse and Varna. The first documented correspondence is the exchange of messages between Prince Alexander Battenberg and Nasser ed-Din Shah (1879-1880), which marks the establishment of official contacts at this early stage after the Liberation. Of this, only a transcript survives in the Iranian archives of the Iranian monarch’s congratulatory letter on the occasion of Prince Alexander’s accession to the throne, a unique document which, together with the translation, is set out in the first appendix in the book. Significantly, in it the Shah encourages the independent development of Bulgaria, which, according to Article 1 of the Treaty of Berlin, constitutes “an independent tributary principality under the sovereignty of H.H. the Sultan”. So I suppose that the conclusion of our study will give the date of 15 November 1897 as the date of the establishment of diplomatic relations, but will take into account that official contacts existed long before that date.

The role of Balkan countries’ capitals for diplomatic relations with Persia in the first half of the 20th century

The book presents cases in which Bulgarian-Iranian relations took place through relations between diplomats in neighbouring countries – Romania, Serbia, the Ottoman Empire. What was the significance of the Balkan capitals in international relations with Persia in the first half of the twentieth century, and what was Sofia’s place in these relations?

From the very first years after the Liberation, the two countries maintained constant contacts in Constantinople, where their diplomatic missions were crucial for the conduct of their foreign policy. Some of the most capable diplomats and politicians from both missions met and developed friendly relations there. Geshov.

Then it was the turn of Sofia, where in 1898-1902 an Iranian diplomatic mission functioned. This fact was not well known until now, as Maria Mateeva’s book claims that no Iranian agency was opened in Sofia, and the first Iranian diplomats Mirza Hossein Khan, Montazem os-Saltaneh and Sadiq ol-Molk were accredited by Belgrade. On the basis of the examined documents it is proved that the facts are different and as it is seen in Iranian documents the mission is opened in Sofia. Iranian diplomatic agents in Sofia were in contact with the Bulgarian administration, including the head of the Secret Cabinet, Strasimir Dobrovich. In 1899 the Iranian envoy Ohanes Khan visited Sofia and met with the Prime Minister Dimitar Grekov. In 1900, the transit visit of the Iranian monarch Mozafar ed-Din to Bulgaria was realized, which provided an opportunity for a meeting between the highest statesmen of the two countries.

The Iranian diplomatic representative in Sofia at that time was Moadel os-Saltaneh, who presented his credentials to Prince Ferdinand in May 1900. His mission is reflected in the draft of the Iranian report of the general survey, of which I have just spoken. So there is documentation on both sides that there were Iranian diplomatic agents in Sofia at that time.

In the early years of the twentieth century, Iranian diplomacy tried to map out a strategy for representation in the Balkans, in the process relieving its overburdened embassy in Constantinople of these duties and establishing a beachhead in its newly opened legation in Bucharest. In the choice of Balkan representation, Bucharest was preferred to Sofia, probably because of the earlier achievement of full independence from Romania and the greater activity of Romanian diplomacy towards Iran. At the same time, the ministers plenipotentiary, Ebrahim Khan de Ghaffari and Mirza Ali Mohammad Khan, then Moadel os-Saltane, and after them the interim Count Anton Monteforte, were by no means oblivious of the diplomatic office in Sofia, which they sought to staff with suitable officials. In Bucharest, our Minister Plenipotentiary, Simeon Radev, maintained warm friendly relations with Count Monteforte, whom he described as a sincere friend of Bulgaria, until his recall in 1916 because of the severance of diplomatic relations with Romania.

At the end of the First World War, Monteforte, who later received the honorific nickname of Montezem ol-Molk, moved his headquarters to Sofia, beginning the second period of the Iranian legation in the country (1918-1928, with interruptions). Monteforte remains the longest-serving Iranian diplomat in the entire history of interstate relations. He was duly appreciated by the Bulgarian government, which then advocated the continuation of his mission and awarded him the Order of St. John of God. He was awarded the Grand Cross of St. Alexander (a large officer’s cross). At the time of the presentation of his credentials in September 1921, he had a meaningful conversation with Tsar Boris III, at which the mutual desire to maintain friendly relations was confirmed.

Following Monteforte’s recall, the Iranian legation in Sofia was closed. Bulgaria came under the responsibility of the Iranian embassy in Ankara, which announced in December 1928 that the Belgian legation in Sofia would again be entrusted with the protection of Iranian interests in Bulgaria for a second time. This development was also linked to the Iranian government’s decision in 1929 to close its legation in Bucharest, most likely due to financial difficulties caused by the world economic crisis. In 1935 the accreditation for Bulgaria was again transferred to the Iranian legation in Bucharest, which resumed its activities. The Minister Plenipotentiary, Mohammad Ali Moqaddam, was also accredited to Bulgaria, and in October-November 1938 he was replaced by Mohsen Rais, who remained in Bucharest until the severing of diplomatic relations between Iran and Romania in September 1941.

On the Bulgarian side there were active diplomats, both in Bucharest and Ankara, who dealt with the cases arising from the presence of Bulgarian labour migration in Iran.

Bulgarian labour migration in Iran before and during World War II

Bulgaria had a colony of migrant workers in Iran in the period before and during World War II. What was the fate of these Bulgarians after the termination of diplomatic relations in 1941, provoked by the entry of the Allies (USSR and Britain) into Iran and the overthrow of Reza Shah?

The mid and second half of the 1930s were marked by a completely new phenomenon in bilateral relations – the formation of Bulgarian labour emigration to Iran. This issue has not been studied in the Bulgarian scientific literature. This migration became the reason for opening in April 1939 the first Bulgarian legation in Iran headed by the experienced diplomat Dimitar Dafinov. Bulgarian workers found themselves at the forefront of the cohort of European labourers for whom Iran became a centre of attraction during the intensive economic activities undertaken by Reza Shah Pahlavi, especially the large-scale infrastructure construction. Prominent among the sites creating jobs for foreigners, including Bulgarians, was the Trans-Iranian Railway. The main profiles of Bulgarians in Iran are masons, builders and general workers, although there is also no shortage of painters, carpenters, mechanics and even engineers, decorators and contractors. The largest contingent comes from the central pre-Balkan region, known for its construction traditions. The number of Bulgarian subjects working in Iran at peak times probably reached 1,500-2,000. Behind this significant figure for our size are people with difficult destinies, who with their selfless work are leaving a lasting mark on the efforts for the economic uplift and modernisation of the Iranian state. They often put their survival skills and the resilience of their families to a severe test, and sometimes their courageous missions ended tragically. A number of cases are described by name in the book, and an appendix lists the Bulgarians who lost their lives in Iran with brief annotations.

In September 1941, the Iranians were killed in Iran. Iran was forced by the Allies (USSR and Britain) to break diplomatic relations with the countries of the Tripartite Pact. The closure and evacuation of the Bulgarian legation in Tehran was fraught with tension. As a country that had joined the pact but had not yet entered the war, Bulgaria was not initially included in the ultimatum to Iran. Its inclusion at the last minute means that Bulgarian diplomats are given an extremely short three-day deadline to leave the country and, consequently, the Bulgarian legation is unable to arrange the evacuation of even a limited segment of the Bulgarian colony.

The war period gave rise to repressive actions against Bulgarian subjects in Iran. To the adversity caused by their treatment as enemy elements, the loss of employment and the difficulty of their repatriation was added the acute problem of deportation undertaken by the British occupation forces. Nearly 100 were interned in the Dehra Dun camp in British India, and a smaller group in the Iranian city of Soltanabad, present-day Arak.

During the war, the Swedish Legation in Tehran, which had taken over the protection of Bulgarian interests, undertook actions for the repatriation of Bulgarian subjects, which included coordinating with local authorities, the occupation forces, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry and transit countries, as well as organizing the Bulgarian colony. A small group of women and children was successfully repatriated, but the two main convoys prepared in 1942 were stopped by the Soviet occupation authorities, although prior consent was obtained thanks to the diplomatic ties maintained in Moscow. Most likely this was done out of solidarity with the British allies given Bulgaria’s declaration of war on Britain.

Conditions for the repatriation of the main groups of Bulgarian subjects were created only after the end of the war and the signing of the Armistice Agreement by the new Fatherland Front government, when the Armistice Implementation Commission headed by Foreign Minister Petko Stainov entered into dialogue with the Allied Control Commission and the political representations of the USSR and Great Britain. Two groups of 87 and 56 Bulgarians, respectively, withdrew through Soviet territory in December 1945-March 1946 and by the spring of 1947, assisted by the Yugoslav Legation, which had taken over Bulgarian protection since 1946. 75 people from the Dehra Dun camp sailed on a British ship from Karachi to Basra together with Hungarians, Yugoslavs and Romanians in November 1946, then reached Bulgarian territory by rail. A few extra people made their way to the homeland on other British ships.

The returning Bulgarian citizens, whose stay in Iran was primarily linked to the hope of gaining means to improve their material situation, generally failed to achieve their goals. This was hampered by the suspension of the large-scale construction works undertaken in the 1930s during the Second World War, as well as by the internment of a large number of Bulgarians. On their arrival in Bulgaria, our compatriots, who had been absent from the country for many years, faced difficulties in adjusting to the new reality and finding suitable employment, as well as personal and family problems. There have also been isolated cases of people detained for some time by the security authorities.

Relatively few Bulgarian citizens choose to stay in Iran, although the situation there is becoming extremely unfavourable and has nothing to do with the construction boom of the 1930s. According to the Czechoslovak Legation in Tehran, which protected Bulgarian interests in the 1950s, by mid-1954 there were about 50-60 Bulgarian citizens residing in Iran, who visited the Legation for various services. Most of them were workers and poor artisans who took an interest in events in our country. By order of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in July 1954, the BTA began regularly supplying the Czechoslovak Legation with Bulgarian periodicals and later with Bulgarian books.

I also have a personal memory of my long-term posting to Iran in 1989-1992, when I was performing consular functions. I had relations with a Bulgarian citizen of that generation with whom I had numerous conversations. I had no idea then that there was such emigration. He was elderly. From him I learned that there were Bulgarians who participated in large numbers in infrastructure construction. He had family in Sofia, but he was married to an Iranian woman of Armenian origin. I intend to extract the documents from our conversation and include them in future research.

The relations between the Bulgarian Communist Party and the Iranian party Tudeh in the 40s and the 50s

What are the book’s findings regarding the collaboration between the Bulgarian Communist Party and the People’s Republic of Bulgaria with leftist forces in Iran in the period from the end of World War II to the late 1950s?

Contacts between political parties and youth organizations that shared similar ideological platforms brought a new element to bilateral relations after the end of World War II, when Bulgaria and Iran found themselves in opposing bloc structures. The first links were established between youth organisations united by the World Federation of Democratic Youth. With the going underground of the Iranian People’s Party “Tudeh” after General Zahedi’s 1953 coup, the emigration of its activists to socialist countries and the search for help and assistance from the world communist movement, conditions were created for wider contacts with related parties, including the Iranian People’s Party “Tudeh”. From the mid-1950s, cooperation developed between the BCP and the Iranian People’s Party (“Tudeh”), which, given the quasi-one-party nature of power in Bulgaria, engaged the senior state leadership. The illegal status and repression-stricken membership of the Tudeh Party placed it in the position of junior partner, relying on help to accommodate its overseas activists, support for declarations and political demands, and sharing in the experience of the BCP. A number of protests have been organized in Bulgaria over the repression of leftist activists in Iran. The Bulgarian press published numerous pieces on Iran’s foreign policy course towards strengthening its alliance with the US in the late 1950s.

The documents studied to illustrate the relationship between the BPC and the Tudeh Party in the 1950s, many of which were classified, reveal important information about the organizational development and ideological views of Iranian Marxists. The description of the Fifth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Tudeh Party, held in Sofia in 1958, about which very little is known, is of high exegetical value. Attached to the Iranian guests is Vera Nacheva, First Deputy Head of the Foreign Policy and International Relations Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, who attended the plenum and in a report to the Secretary of the Central Committee, Dimitar Ganev, shares her impressions. After the plenum a communiqué was prepared for the press in French, and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union arranged through the Foreign Ministry and our embassy in Paris for its publication in the organ of the French Communist Party in. “Jumanite”. Shortly afterwards, the Central Committee of the Tudeh Party published a pamphlet in Persian giving an overview of the history of the BPC, based on a lecture given to the Iranian delegates during their stay in Bulgaria.

The interaction between the two parties continued with the participation of Iranian representatives, including the secretary of the Central Committee of the Tudeh Party and one of the most important activists of the party, Abdus-Samad Kambakhsh, as guests of the Seventh Congress of the BPC in June 1958 at the invitation of the first secretary of the Central Committee, Todor Zhivkov. From 1958 onwards, the Tudeh Party began accepting two activists a year for holidays in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria, like the other countries of the socialist camp, hosted activists of the Tudeh Party who settled in the country as political emigrants. A curious piece of material from our party archives relates to one of them named Mohsen Golestan, also known as Bahrampour. He was a former textile worker, secretary of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Committee and member of the Isfahan District Committee of the INP, had been in prison for a long time, and had participated as a guest at the Fourth Congress of Trade Unions in Bulgaria. In November 1957, he wrote an extensive submission to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in which he analysed in a highly critical spirit the processes taking place in the Tudeh Party. Bahrampour’s submission was made known to our party and state leaders. On the instructions of Nacho Papazov (then head of the Dossier Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party), it was transmitted through party channels to the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

The Bulgarian-Iranian friendship and cooperation

What image did the Bulgarians in Persia and the Iranians in Bulgaria have during the period you are researching? To what extent were the two peoples able to establish friendly ties and cooperation?

The history of Bulgarian-Iranian relations is traced in the book not only on a national level but also on an interpersonal basis. In the diplomatic field, I have already mentioned the good contacts between Bulgarian and Iranian representatives in Constantinople and Bucharest. These were also established by the Iranian legations in Sofia and the first Bulgarian mission in Tehran. Among other specific cases, I would like to mention the trusting friendship between our consul in Smyrna, Ivan Hamamdjiev, and his Iranian counterpart, Mirza Esmail Khan, during the First World War. The bond between the two was so strong that on his recall the Iranian consul offered Hamamdjiev to take over the defence of Iranian interests. The Bulgarian side accepted and the venture was not carried out solely because of the break in Bulgarian-Turkish relations in 1918.

Among the personal contacts established in Turkey, the friendship between Nedyalko Kolushev and Mirza Mahmud Khan in Constantinople, the productive relations in Constantinople and Ankara of our representatives Todor Pavlov and Georgi Balamezov with the Iranian ambassador and later foreign minister Mohammad Ali Foroughi should be highlighted. In 1929-1930, the signing of a trade agreement and a treaty of friendship was almost negotiated with Foroughi, who was also in personal contact with the foreign minister in the second government of the Democratic Alliance, Atanas Burov, but in the end the initiative failed due to a divergence of interests between the two countries.

Another memorable friendship emerged between the representatives of the two countries in Bern and then in Moscow, Nikola Antonov and Anushirvan Sepahbodi, former Permanent Representative of Iran to the UN in Geneva. In a report from Moscow in August 1937, Nikola Antonov noted that he was happy to carry out the task of conveying the request for support of the Iranian candidacy for the UN Council, citing two motives – first, his “excellent relations with the Ambassador”, who in another of his correspondences was called “an educated and intelligent Persian”, and second, “the sensitive benefit we can derive from Persia”, but which, unfortunately, “is not yet realized by Bulgaria”. Antonov goes perhaps the deepest of Bulgarian diplomats into the depths of Iranian politics and sees the benefit for Bulgaria of cooperation with Iran, going so far as to recommend that Bulgarian workers take advantage of the economic opportunities in that country.

Friendly ties, of course, go far beyond diplomacy. Among the disseminators of the art of the Persian carpet in Bulgaria, which reaches deep socio-cultural layers, the entrepreneur of Iranian origin Boris Persiyski, who also has a solid position on the foreign market, plays a notable role. His real name is Ismail Hassan. He was born in the Iranian city of Tabriz around 1880 and comes from the Alevi community. After moving to Bulgaria around 1900, he became exclusively involved in the carpet business, first in Panagyurishte and then in Shumen, where he settled. In 1904-1907 he was a travelling teacher of carpet making, and in 1907-1909 he was master-manager of the Shumen State Model Workshop of Persian Carpet Making (the first in the town). He then moved to Sofia, where he became one of the first Persian carpet manufacturers, producing mainly for the American market. Later he returned to Panagyurishte, where in 1937 he was among the founders of TPC Persian Carpet. It continued its activities after 9 September 1944 and was one of the leading enterprises in the industry. Boris Persiyski’s business exposition shows his in-depth knowledge of Persian carpets as “one of the most delicate artistic arts” and his enviable competence in the various types of Persian carpets, which he brought to Bulgarian soil. He is the epitome of the deep layers of cooperation between the two countries as he brings one of the most famous artistic crafts to Bulgarian soil.

Among the Bulgarian subjects discovered and included in the exhibition, who contributed their share to the establishment of bilateral ties and rapprochement between the two peoples, are the economogeographer Anastas Beshkov (one of the founders of this science in Bulgaria, who co-authored with Lyuben Melnishki In 1959 a monograph on the economic geography of Iran), the civil engineer Lyuben Tranka (who participated in the construction of the Traniran railway), the doctor Alexander Atabekyan (who opened a doctor’s office in the town of Rasht in the province of Gilan) and the investor Marko Danchev (who participated with a loan in the construction of the Tehran-Rasht railway before the First World War). Iran is present as an important part of the tours of the famous travellers, lecturers and ambassadors of Bulgarian culture Anka Lambreva and Lyuba Kutincheva. In 1959. 

In the 1950s, when the collection of valuable Iranian manuscripts left in Bulgarian lands was being completed in the Oriental Department of the National Library, the head of the department, prof. Boris Nedkov established international scientific relations, including with the Iranian scholar prof. He visited the Oriental Department for an extended period of time. Nafisi was one of the most productive scholars of Iran in the 20th century – a historian and a man of letters. In the literary field, the prominent Iranian writer-humorist Mohammad Ali Afrashti, who migrated to our country, is known for his appearances in the pages of the newspaper “Shtarshel”, which infuse fresh blood into bilateral cultural communication. Mohammad Ali Afrashte is one of the most revered humorists of his time and a favorite of Bulgarian readers.

The above examples are a vivid illustration of the contribution of individuals to the friendly relations between the two nations.

Future research topics

In what directions are you going to explore Bulgarian-Iranian relations now that you have this book behind you? What white spots remain in Bulgarian knowledge of Iran?

Cultural and economic relations, considered in their entirety with political contacts and consular issues, shape the view of the period from World War II to the late 1950s as a preparatory stage to a new period in bilateral relations when cooperation was in full swing. What is important about this period is that the interest of the two countries in each other did not fade and the tradition was kept alive so that it could bear rich fruit later.

Negotiations to restore diplomatic relations began in 1952 during the National Front government in Iran. After that they stopped for a long time. The Bulgarian side insisted on reciprocity. For the Iranian side this issue does not seem to be important. They then continued in Moscow, Belgrade and Ankara and ended with a joint communiqué of 26 December 1961. In the following summer, the Ministers Plenipotentiary of Bulgaria in Ankara and of Iran in Belgrade were accredited in the two countries respectively, thus materializing the proposal formulated in the Bulgarian note of April 1957.

Further on, during the period of the 1960s and 1970s, legations were opened, which subsequently developed into embassies, and a gradual upward development of bilateral relations in their entire range – visits at various, including the highest levels, full-blooded trade and economic cooperation, meaningful cultural, scientific and sporting exchanges – began, with a solid treaty-legal basis being established for this purpose.

The period of development of bilateral relations since the early 1960s, which I would like to deal with, is certainly no less interesting. Many documents are to be studied. The work will be no less laborious. It can be divided into several stages, in which the main stings are the cardinal changes that took place in the two countries, respectively the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the democratic changes in Bulgaria in 1989, as well as the Iranian nuclear issue. On the one hand, the task will be easier given the abundance of documents and analyses. Both countries in this new period pursued consistent policies towards each other depending on the dominant ideology and political line of the respective periods. On the other hand, objective research will be put to the test as there are a number of points sensitive to both sides. I have already done some research on this period, and since the mid-1980s I can be said to have been a participant in the process of developing bilateral cooperation as a Foreign Office official. I have been a desk officer for Iran, head of department, director, including on a long-term assignment in Iran. Filling in the ‘white spots’ is likely to involve declassified documents and files that have not been examined or given publicity to date.

Work in this regard is forthcoming.

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