December 4, 2012

The Great Howard Baskerville: "American Lafayette in Iran"

Howard Baskerville: Iran's American Hero.

Excerpts from Howard Baskerville's Wikipedia:
Howard Conklin Baskerville (10 April 1885 – 19 April 1909) was an American teacher in the Presbyterian mission school in Tabriz, Iran, who died fighting for Iranian democracy. He has been called the "American Lafayette in Iran."

Baskerville was born in North Platte, Nebraska, and was raised in the Black Hills. Both his father and grandfather were Presbyterian ministers. He graduated in 1907 from Princeton University, where in addition to studying religion and boxing, he took two courses with Woodrow Wilson (Jurisprudence and Constitutional Government).

In the fall of 1907 Baskerville came to Iran as a missionary. He took a position in the American Memorial School, a missionary school, in Tabriz. There he taught English, history, and geometry to mixed classes of boys and girls, and also served as tennis coach and riding instructor. He directed a student production of The Merchant of Venice.

In the spring of 1909, during the Constitutional Revolution of Iran, he decided to raise a volunteer force to defend constitutional democracy. Despite attempts to discourage him by the American consul in Tabriz, Edward Doty, he led about a hundred volunteers attempting to help defend the besieged city against Qajar royalist troops fighting for Mohammad Ali Shah. Baskerville was shot and killed by a sniper while leading a group of student soldiers to break the siege. He was 24 years old.

He has been quoted as saying, "The only difference between me and these people is my place of birth, and this is not a big difference." Baskerville's funeral was attended by thousands, where he was eulogized by Iranian patriots. He was buried in the Christian Armenian cemetery in Tabriz. Tabriz fell to the besiegers five days after Baskerville's death.

Many Iranian nationalists revere Baskerville. Schools and streets in Iran have been named for him. Tourists and ordinary people can visit his grave freely. A "mysterious admirer" is reported "regularly" to place "yellow roses" on his grave.

There is a bust of him in Tabriz's Constitution House bearing the legend "Howard C. Baskerville—Patriot and Maker of History."
Excerpts from "Iran’s Yankee Hero" (New York Times, April 18, 2009):
FEW Americans have heard of Howard Conklin Baskerville, but most Iranians know his name. A native of Nebraska, Baskerville graduated from the Princeton Theological Seminary and moved to Iran as a Presbyterian missionary. He was 23. The year was 1907. Baskerville was an idealist at a time of idealism in Iran.
Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of his death and, despite the Iranian government’s estranged relationship with the United States, Baskerville is still revered and honored as a symbol of American ideals and principles. In 2005, President Mohammad Khatami unveiled a bust of Baskerville in Tabriz’s Constitution House. Someone still leaves fresh yellow roses on his gravestone in Tabriz. To Iranians, Howard Baskerville is their American martyr.
Excerpts from "Iran's American martyr" by Robert D. Burgener (August 31, 1998):
Iranians are great storytellers. As an American storyteller trying to stay focused on collecting anecdotes about the Allied involvement in Iran during the World War II, the other stories about this ancient land were a fascinating temptation. When I would ask Iranians about what contacts their country had with Americans before 1940, two names always came up: Morgan Shuster, an advisor to the palace in the 1910's, and Howard Baskerville, a missionary killed in Tabriz in 1909.

Based on the stories both older and younger Iranians told me about "the American missionary" -- most couldn't remember his name -- this guy was going to be much more interesting. First, because as with most stories coming out of Iran, there is an element of conspiracy. The American had been shot by a sniper - but which side was the sniper on? Was he a "Royalist" supporting the despot Shah in Tehran who had abolished the Iranian constitution or was this sniper on the side of Sattar Khan and the "Constitutionalists" who were trying to gain advantage through intervention of European powers by creating a martyr?

The second aspect to this Baskerville character was the legend which had grown up around the events of his death in 1909 and now spanned several generations in Iran. Over tea at a Washington, DC cafe on DuPont Circle, Iran's former ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Javad Mahallati, told me of several schools in Tabriz and other cites which had been named after Baskerville. Long before the "hostage crisis" or the CIA escapades, Ambassador Mahallati said Iranians remembered this American in much the same way Americans honor Lafayette, Von Steuben, Kostushko and the other foreign military officers who helped win our independence.
Howard Baskerville described in his own words the decision to join his students in the Nationalist movement as a matter of conscience. In telling his story, albeit from only the American perspective, I hope to encourage Iranian film makers to create a companion piece that will place this story in the context of your history. April 19, 1999 will mark the 90th anniversary of Baskerville's death. Perhaps we can honor this American idealist and his Iranian comrades by telling their story to a new generation.
Excerpts from "An American Hero in Iran" by Mark F. Bernstein (May 2, 2007):
One hundred years ago, Howard Baskerville 1907 left Princeton and fought for liberty in Persia

On a windswept plateau near the foothills of the Sahand Mountains in northern Iran stands the grave of a martyr.

Set in a small walled courtyard amid apricot and almond trees, the grave is a plain stone sarcophagus carved with the martyr's name - Howard Baskerville, a member of Princeton's Class of 1907 - and the dates of his birth (April 13, 1885) and death (April 20, 1909). A hundred years ago, the site, in the city of Tabriz, was a cemetery and hospital grounds for Presbyterian missionaries. Whoever once carefully tended to Howard Baskerville's grave, and his alone, with fresh flowers, no longer does so. The Armenian man who lives in the adjoining house built the wall in part to discourage pilgrims, but Tabrizis still can direct a visitor to the site.

That it is the grave of an American and a Princetonian makes the place remarkable. That it is the grave of a martyr to constitutional liberty, and that it is still honored in the heart of a nation whose government is hostile to the United States and many of its values, makes it more remarkable still.

Baskerville has been likened to Lafayette, a foreigner who helped another people defend their freedom, but the comparison is inapt. He was neither a professional soldier like Lafayette; nor a romantic like Lord Byron, who took up the cause of Greek independence; nor even a mercenary like another Princetonian, Johnny Poe 1895, who shipped himself off to far corners of the globe in search of glory. Baskerville, a teacher who planned to become a minister, found his way to what was then called Persia as a teacher, and ended up dying for a cause that he, as an American, felt morally bound to support.

By March 1909, Baskerville asked to organize 150 students to help Sattar Khan in the defense of Tabriz. At his class's last meeting, Baskerville spoke to his students about their duty to serve their country and told stories of the American revolution. "He repeatedly said," Shafagh recalled in 1959, that "he could not watch calmly from a classroom window the starving inhabitants of the city who were fighting for their right." Baskerville himself explained his motives a few weeks later, at a banquet given by some Armenian soldiers in the constitutionalist movement. "I hate war," he began, but he went on to say that war could be justified in furtherance of a greater good, in this case the protection of the city and the cause of constitutional liberty. He was ready to die for these causes, Baskerville continued. When he finished speaking, the Armenians cheered, "Long live Baskerville!" while Baskerville sang for them a verse of "My Country 'Tis of Thee." 

Video Tributes of The Great Howard Baskerville: