Michael Noel-Clarke, who studied as an undergraduate in Esfahan and later served in the British Embassy in Tehran (1970-74), has recently translated the memoires of Prince Arfa, a prominent member of the Persian establishment at the end of the 19th century. The book has been published by Gingko Library as Memories of a Bygone Age: Qajar Persia and Imperial Russia 1853-1902. In this speech given by Noel-Clarke at the book’s launch, he describes the significance of Prince Arfa and the role he played on the national and international stage.
Prince Arfa wrote his memoirs just before he died in 1937, but probably for political reasons they were not published in Persian until 1965. His son and my wife’s grandfather, General Hassan Arfa, gave us a copy in the early 1970s, and my wife suggested that when I retired I should translate them. I hope that the Prince’s memoirs will become a useful secondary source on Iran’s relations with Tsarist Russia, on which I understand that there is not much material in English, and even more so on the social history of later Qajar Iran. Furthermore, there are certain abiding themes in Iranian history which form a backdrop to these memoirs and, at a moment when people are again beginning to travel to Iran and take an interest in its politics, they will, I hope, help to partially explain the emergence of the Islamic Republic and its subsequent development. I also hope that non-academic non-specialist readers will find the book as amusing and interesting as I did. It is packed with various wild and wonderful adventures and witty anecdotes, not all of which end to the author’s advantage. Continue reading