ḴĀDEM-E BESṬĀMI, Moḥammad Ṭāher b. Ḥasan, local historian, calligrapher, and poet of the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I (Ḵādem-e Besṭāmi’s exact dates are not known). His short history, entitled Fotuḥāt-e Feriduniya, describes the wars of Feridun Khan Čarkas (d. 1620-21), the eunuch Governor-General (amir-al-omarāʾ) of the province of Astarābād (known also in Safavid administrative terminology as Dār-al-marz) in northeastern Iran, with the Turkmen nomads of the northern fringes of the province.
Little is known about Besṭāmi’s life. As suggested by the toponym, we can perhaps assume that he was born in the district of Besṭām itself, which was administratively part of the Astarābād province throughout the Safavid era (pace Floor in Naṣiri, p. 166). The unique autograph manuscript of Fotuḥāt is written in a fine nastaʿliq (Dānešpažuh, XI, p. 2297; Ṭehrāni, XVI, p. 118), a testimony to Besṭāmi’s calligraphic talents. It is possible that Ḵādem may have been related to Šams-al-Din Moḥammad Besṭāmi, a relatively unknown calligrapher at the royal library of Shah ʿAbbās I (Eṣfahāni, pp. 131, 254). As with many other Safavid historians, Besṭāmi was also a gifted poet: more than 340 lines of his own poetry appear in different parts of his narrative. His sobriquet Ḵadem (“Deacon”) can provide us with another clue about his career. Before attending the local court of Feridun Khan in November 1613, Besṭāmi lived in Mashad, where he describes himself “circumambulating the tomb of Imam ʿAli b. Musā al-Reżā” (Besṭāmi, p. 21). It is feasible therefore that, while he was residing there, he was a ḵādem serving the flourishing administration of Imam Reżā’s shrine (see āstān-e qods-e rażawi) under Shah ʿAbbās I and, given his position, he was known as Ḵādem.
Besṭāmi’s history, written in 1613, consists of a preface (dibāča), the introduction, 20 chapters (fatḥs), and an epilogue. Its contents are organized topically, with the single exception of the opening chapter, which bears November-December 1606 as its date. Elsewhere, the chronological sequence of events is totally subordinated. The introduction deals briefly with Feridun Khan’s early life. He was of Circassian origin (see Čarkas ii) and was kidnapped at an early age by the “thieves of the Āstān” (Besṭāmi, p. 25). After more than seven years in captivity, Feridun was finally bought as a ḡolām (see Barda and bardadāri iv) by merchants acting for the Safavid royal court, who, as Besṭāmi’s narrative suggests, were systematically engaged in the slave trade in Central Asian marketplaces (Besṭāmi, pp. 25-28). Afterwards, having been elevated to the rank of ġiyem qurčisi/qurči-e zereh (the keeper of the shah’s armor), Feridun became a member of the shah’s expanding retinue of ḡolāmān-e ḵāṣṣa-ye šarifa. Late in October 1605, during a period of intense Safavid military operations in Azerbaijan against the Ottomans, when a Kurdish prisoner from the Mokri tribe tried to murder Shah ʿAbbās I at the royal camp, it was Feridun Khan who managed to save the shah’s life (the date is given by Monajjem-e Yazdi, p. 294; Besṭāmi, p. 30, does not mention the exact date of the incident). In response to this act of bravery, in November 1606 (but December 1605 according to Monajjem-e Yazdi, p. 300) Shah ʿAbbās appointed Feridun as governor of the province of Astarābād. During the Safavid period the province covered the administration of a vast stretch of Persia, enclosing most of today’s provinces of Golestān, Semnān, and northern Khorasan
As governor, Feridun Khan’s main brief was to protect his province from the Göklān, Yamut, and Dodorḡa Turkmen nomads of Khwarazm, as well as from the indigenous Turkmens of Astarābād, such as the Sālur, the Oḵlu, the Qušči, and the Dövaji, who were bent on extending their territory and carrying out routine raids, to the detriment of the rural and urban communities in the hinterlands of Safavid Persia. The remaining chapters of Besṭāmi’s history are devoted to the clashes between the province’s Safavid troops, led by Feridun Khan, and Turkmen nomadic warriors. Almost exclusively, Besṭāmi focuses his narrative on the military accomplishments of Feridun Khan, with recurrent references to Turkmen captives and severed heads as trophies from Feridun Khan’s military campaigns (Besṭāmi, pp. 68, 73, 83, 90, 96, 109, 116, 131, 134, and 143; Monajjem-e Yazdi, p. 426).
Apart from his own eyewitness observations, Besṭāmi drew on the details of military operations given to him by Feridun Khan and the military elite of the province, including Qāsem Beg Laškarnevis, who was later sent by Shah ʿAbbās as the holder of the honorary post of the Sepahsālār of Mazandarān to the Ottoman court and the Qoṭb Šāhi sultanate of Deccan (Eskandar Beg, II, pp. 931, 933, and 951). Parallel to the central role of the eunuch Feridun Khan in Besṭāmi’s narrative, three non-Qezelbāš chiefs of the region are also applauded by him for their distinguished service to the Safavid crown: Tavakkol Khan Ḡarāyli from the district of Ḡarāyli (present-day Bojnurd), and Ṣafar Khan and Oġurlu Ṣolṭān Čaġani, both from the region of Darun (present-day Qučān and the district of Abivard). Besṭāmi is fulsome in his praise of the military achievements of his master, Feridun Khan, and the local, mainly non-Qezelbāš, including inter alia the Jalāyer tribal chiefs who helped in subjugating the Turkmen invaders, placing them well above past victories achieved by Tamerlane and all the kings of Iran (Besṭāmi, pp. 78, 109). This exaggeratedly sensational and heroic evaluation accords well with the concerns of Iranian urban and landed notables in northeastern provinces of Safavid territory, who had suffered grievously from the constant raids of the Turkmen plunderers. Furthermore, in stark contrast to his contemporary, Monajjem-e Yazdi, who emphasizes the active role played by Shah ʿAbbās I in Feridun Khan’s dealings with the Turkmen nomadic chiefs (Monajjem-e Yazdi, pp. 300, 333), Besṭāmi is reticent on any part that the Shah may have played in the internal affairs of the province of Astarābād. From yet another point, Besṭāmi’s work can be seen as one of the first literary expressions heralding the final elimination of the Qezelbāš from the Safavid structure of political power in the concluding decade of Shah Abbās I’s reign.
Moḥammad Ṭāher [Ḵādem] Besṭāmi, Fotuḥāt-e Feriduniya, ed. S. S. Mir Moḥammad Ṣādeq and M. N. Naṣiri Moqaddam, Tehran, 2001.
Moḥammad-Taqi Dānešpažuh, Fehrest-e ketābḵāna-ye markazi-e dānešgāh-e Tehrān XI, Tehran, 1961.
Mirzā Ḥabib Eṣfahāni, tr., Taḏkera-ye ḵaṭ o ḵaṭṭāṭān, ed., Raḥim Čavuš Akbari, Tehran, 1990.
Eskandar Beg Torkamān Monši, Tāriḵ-e ʿālamārā-ye ʿabbāsi, ed. Iraj Afšār, 2 vols. Tehran, 1955-56.
Mollā Jalāl Monajjem-e Yazdi, Tāriḵ-e ʿabbāsi, ed. S. Vaḥidnia, Tehran, 1987.
Mirzā ʿAli-Naqi Naṣiri, Titles and Emoluments in Safavid Iran: A Third Manual of Safavid Administration, tr. and comm. Willem Floor, Washington, D.C., 2008.
Āqā Bozorg Ṭehrāni, Al-Ḏariʿa elā taṣānif al-šiʿa, 26 vols., Beirut, 1983.
Originally Published: September 15, 2009
Last Updated: April 19, 2012
This article is available in print.
Vol. XV, Fasc. 3, pp. 325-326