By V. Minorsky, BSOAS Vol. 19, 1957
My article written some twenty years ago had a twofold purpose: to insist on the importance of a systematic study of the toponymy of Persia and, by way of example, to examine the Mongolian stratum of placenames in the southernmost area of the Persian province of Azarbayjan.
Much of what I said in the first part of the original draft has happily become superfluous in view of the appearance of a very welcome series of volumes which, in the years 1328-32/1949-53, was published by the Persian Army Survey, under the title of Farhang-i joghrdfiyday-yi Iran. The production of this series is chiefly due to the enlightened endeavours of the former chief of the Survey, General Hosayn 'Ali Razmara (brother of the assassinated premiere Haj Ali Razmara).
The 10 volumes are arranged according to the 10 ostans into which Persia is divided under the present-day administrative organization, namely:
- I. Centre (247 pp.)
- II. West-Central (324 pp.)
- III. Caspian provinces (331 pp.)
- IV. Azarbayjan (593 pp.)
- V. Kurdistan (517 pp.)
- VI. Khuzistan (314 pp.)
- VII. Fars (243 pp.)
- VIII. Kerman-Mukran (458 pp.)
- IX. Khorasan (444 pp.)
- X. Isfahan (224 pp.)
Altogether the series consists of roughly 4,000 pages, large quarto, each volume containing a complete enumeration of the component parts of each shahristan (larger governorships administered from principal towns), bakhsh (smaller districts), and dihistdn (rural units of several villages). The names in these terms will be further referred to under abbreviations: sh., b., and d.
Persian script are also presented in an easy Latin transcription,l the items being accompanied by brief notices on their geographical and administrative location, distances, number of inhabitants, and their native speech and occupations. The names are marked on the accompanying maps, drastically reduced but not totally illegible.
It is a pity that no references are made to the older forms of the names altered under the Pahlavi dispensation. Thus historical research is somewhat hampered, but, in any case, the mass of nomenclature thrown open for the first time is formidable. I understand that a catalogue of such geographical features as mountains, rivers, etc., has also been prepared by the same agency and no explanation is needed of the importance of its publication to scholars, especially if it is accompanied by clear plans and sketches.
Only at the present day has a systematic study of Iranian place-names become possible on a scale on which such studies have been conducted in most European countries. Places mentioned in historical texts will be easier to identify; philology will find an interest in the ancient forms which have survived in people's everyday use, or have undergone unusual alterations under the influence of local factors; ethnologists will be able to trace various ancient populations and examine the 'visiting-cards' left by migrations and invasions.
Contrary to the study of Iranian personal names, for which we have Justi's Iranisches Namenbuch, 1895 (now considerably antiquated), the study of the toponymy of Iran has been conducted unsystematically. We have no general study similar to G. Hoffmann's painstaking analysis of Aramaic placenames in his Ausziige aus syrischen Akten persischer Mdrtyrer, 1880, or to H. Huibschmann's 'Die altarmenischen Ortsnamen.
Mongol Place-Names in Mukri Kurdistan (Mongolica, 4)
By V. Minorsky
Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies,
University of London,
Vol. 19, No. 1 (1957), pp. 58-81
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