© 2006, 2009 Elizabeth Hashemi

Family History

Photograph: Clockwise from top-left: Javad, Jafar, Shahin, and Hamid. Taken in 1952.

Family History as told to Beth Hashemi by Azziz Jon and with additions by Hadi.

Agha Jon was born Sayed Ali Hashemi in 1901 in Mashad. Hadi remembers his father's mother - Beebie - well, as a lovely old lady who always had goodies in her pockets. Agha Jon had one older sister and his father was a scholar, he ran a college - which in those days and in the highly religious city of Mashad meant a theological college. Students and teachers wore the robes and headdress of a mullah. When Agha Jon was about four his father died and his mother later married again and had two more sons and a daughter. His stepfather was very kind and good to his step-children, but he was not well educated. Agha Jon was a great scholar like his father and was educated in the same tradition - though he apparently wanted a broader, more secular education, his father's brother would not allow this. However, Agha Jon did manage to learn French and read widely. His two half brothers were not scholars and to Agha Jon's disappointment they left school early. Needless to say, they both did well and made a lot of money in property and trade.

Azziz Jon was born in 1911 in Tehran and called Zeenat Sadat. Her father was Ali Akbar Tafreshi who was also a mullah. This didn't really mean they were "priests", it just meant that they were educated. You either became a mullah or a mirza. Mirza being a clerk or scribe, and went into government. Hadi remembers this grandfather well, too, he was apparently adored by all. He loved traveling, he was also incredibly generous and sometimes had people staying in his home for months at a time. They say sometimes when he didn't even know who they were! Azziz Jon's mother came from a rich family - Aliabadi. They were big in the court. When Azziz Jon was very young they lived in a big property which is now Park-e-Shahr in down-town Tehran. They were a wealthy, prominent family in the neighbourhood. There were seven children in the family. The oldest was ‘Khal Khonom’, then the mullah brother, then ‘Dayee Jon’ who came to Norman, Oklahoma, when we were there, then Azziz Jon, then the veterinary doctor brother, then the brother who married Ferry's mother when they were both in their forties, finally a brother who died of tuberculosis at about twenty years old. In the early 1920’s birth certificates and surnames were introduced in Iran. So families could choose their last name. Tafreshi meant “from Tafresh”. Azziz Jan’s brothers took different surnames: the oldest chose Tabatabai, the youngest Tafreshi and the others chose Mirsepassi. Agha Jon took Hashemi as his last name because his father’s name was Hashem. He also registered Azziz Jon’s name (they were married by then) as Sakineh Khatun. Their children were Hashemi-Tafreshi.

One year - Azziz Jon called it the year of the cholera - and I think it must have been late in World War I, i.e. 1917 or 1918, Tehran had a very bad epidemic of cholera. The Tafreshis fed the whole neighbourhood all summer - apparently the epidemic was so bad that food distribution was affected and people were hungry. None of the family caught cholera, so when the epidemic was over they decided to travel to Mashad to give thanks at the shrine of Imam Reza. So they set out, parents and as many children as were born by then - all quite young. The journey took ages, they had to go by horse and wagon and stop at caravansarais and small villages. There were bandits in the hills and no form of communication between towns at all. It was rather like the American wagon trains going west in the mid 1800s. On the way, father Tafreshi got ill - some sort of lingering fever - and they had to stop for weeks at a time at caravansarais. They began to run out of money and got to Mashad eventually with a still ill father and no money. All they could do was to settle somewhere and appoint a proxy to go to Tehran and sell the house and bring back the money. This was done, and of course they got a very bad deal and lost their house in Tehran (don't worry, they did still have property in Tafresh and somewhere else in Tehran). The family stayed in Mashad for 2 to 3 years and it was then that Azziz Jon married Agha Jon when she was 9 and he was 19.

Assiz Jon and Agha Jon married, therefore, in about 1920 and were married 62 years, until Azziz Jan died in January 1983. After the marriage Azziz Jon went to live with her mother-in-law who, luckily, was very kind and was almost more of a mother to her than her own mother who soon went back to Tehran with the younger children and father Tafreshi. Khal Khonom married a Khan from Gorgan, whom she adored, and by whom she had 2 sons and 3 daughters. However, her husband was an absolute tartar and was hated by everyone who dealt with him. He was cruel and bad-tempered and literally ordered his people to death right and left! When he died after World War 2 Khal Khonom and the children had to be quickly rushed out of town in case of reprisals. Khal Khonom married again and had another son - Nasser.

I think the first 10 years of your grandparents' marriage was pretty difficult. They didn't live together as man and wife until Azziz Jon was about 15 . She had her first son, Mohammad, in about 1927. He died when he was only a few weeks old - possibly of gastro-enteritis. She told me horror stories of how she sat up with him for days and was so tired that the other women made her go and sleep. When she awoke, not only was the baby gone, but also all signs of his existence: crib, clothes etc. had been removed. However, she had another son Doctor (Mehdi) the following year. Then, of course, Hadi in 1933, another son Hashem who died at about 2 years, then Jafar in 1937, Javod in 1940, Shahin in 1945 and finally Hamid in 1950. Agha Jon was apparently very bad tempered in the early years and when Azziz Jon, who had had very little education, tried to teach herself to read and write he tore up her books... It must have been a frustrating situation for a young man to be married to such a young girl, but it all worked out in the end and, as you know, they were devoted to eachother when we knew them. And Azziz Jon did learn to read and write!

Agha Jon worked for the Government: setting up schools, organizing the registration of deeds etc etc. The countrywide administration of government was just being set in place. First he went from Mashad to Sarakhs on the border with Russia with Azziz jon, Mehdi and Hadi (as a baby). They stayed two to three years there. The brother Hashem died in Sarakhs. After that the family went to Gonabad, S.E. of Mashad, where Jafar was born.

Then they came to Tehran and Agha Jon took a job with the Railways as an Accountant. He became Regional Chief Accountant. They moved to Ahwaz during the Second World War - again for 2 to 3 years. Ahwaz was very hot and they spent every summer in Tehran with relatives to keep cool! After that they had a spell in Tehran and then a couple of years in Arak. Arak was lovely: good weather, grapes, snow in winter, lovely scenery. Hadi went in a bus every day to High School. They returned to Tehran in 1949 for a couple of years and had a final few years in Arak before settling in Tehran in 1955. Agha Jon retired at 65. He died in 1985.