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Qajar Banquet

Lucinda H. Dunn

Still revered within the family circle as such, HRH Soltan Ali Qajar was the guest of honour at a recent banquet by the Qajar Family Association in London. 

‘Prince’ Ali would be the Shah of Iran today had Reza Khan not succeeded in his 1921 coup, creating the Pahlavi dynasty. The Qajars, a nomadic tribe of Turkic origin, had been ruling over Persia for 130 years until that point.

Ali was born in 1929 in Lebanon and raised in Paris. He spent short periods of time in Iran in his youth, and has written a historical book in French named ‘The Forgotten Kings’ (‘Les Rois Oublies’), but his connection to today’s Iran inevitably remains distant.

However the Qajar family, of which there are between 2-3,000 remaining members across the world, maintain their closeness by means of these periodic events.

During the course of the evening guests revel in the family legacy: a luxurious banquet comprising several stews and rice dishes is served up by Mohammad-Ali Azodi, a Qajari chef living in London. Later, the scene is set with the beautiful traditional Persian Sufi music of Sarang Music School, based in London but including band members of Qajari lineage.

Of course Qajari contributions to Persian culture made during their reign are also celebrated. The day before, the Association organised an ‘Art Study Day’ of Qajari artefacts at the Victoria and Albert Museum. When asked about the Qajari fingerprint on today’s Iran, Ferial Nikpour, the Association’s Head of Executive Committee says there has been a revival of Qajar art and fashion. They are, for example, now refurbishing the Qajari Palaces Sadabad and Saheb Qaranieh in Tehran. Contemporary artists Shadi Ghadirian and Ramin Haerizadeh draw inspiration for their work from Qajar fashion and ‘Taaziye’ theatre, and alternative pop duo Abjeez mix ghetto with Qajari style to create their own unique image. “The Qajars were remote Kings, strict Muslims, but also avant-garde. They travelled a lot,” Nikpour explains.

The evening climaxes with a nostalgic and historical photographic slide show of the various Qajar Shahs presented by family member Amir Farmanfarma. But these events are more focused on celebrating a family rather than a nation: “The purpose of the Association is so the family can meet up,” says Nikpour “we are the cultural keepers of our own heritage.”

The 600-member strong Association is based in London, although previous events have been held in such varied places as France, Holland, Austria and America. In a speech given before dinner, Treasurer Nazafarine Rokni shares plans for future activities, which she hopes will include the expansion of the website into a virtual museum of Qajar art, and a charitable aspect aimed at helping Iran.



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