Reflecting History – A Canon Ball and a Sword: The case of the missing stories

Haifa, Israel, the International Baha'i Archives

There are several stories from early Baha’i history that are quite compelling. One tells of the harrowing defense of the adhoc fortress at the Shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi. In order to defend themselves against the attack of marauding hoards of townspeople, and later against the Qajar dynasty’s professional army, this small band of early believers constructed several defensive walls around the run down shrine. Their succesful defense belies explaination beyond that of Divine intervention.

Sepehr Manuchehri analyzes the defense of the fortress is his paper “A Brief Analysis of the features of Babi Resistance at Sheikh Tabarsi,” which was presented at a Baha’i Studies Conference in Sydney, Australia in 1998. Here is an excerpt that describes the resistance:

Almost none of the Babis had witnessed or participated in any forms of conflict or battle prior to Sheikh Tabarsi. They did not even know the basics of one-on-one fights. There is virtually no accounts to suggest that any of them had committed murder or killed any person before coming to the battles. In other words, they were totally and utterly inexperienced and unfamiliar with military operations. There are numerous examples of the transformation of these people after the start of battles. Haji Mirza Jani remarks about a certain Reza Khan who hade developed an expertise in choping-off the heads of the cannon operators hiding behind the cannons. (2)

Another example is sighted of Mulla Hossien who chased after a particular soldier in one battle. The soldier retreated and hid behind a tree and used his rifle as his guard. Mulla Hossein quickly applied his sword and cut the tree, rifle and soldier in to six parts.

In modern militia uprisings, such lack of training and experience will quickly lead to a hasty defeat at the hands of the regular government troops. However, Babis at Sheikh Tabarsi held up the Royal Qajar Army for more than nine months despite lack of weaponry and basic necessities. If the purpose of Babi leadership was purely military, the resistance could have continued well beyond nine months. Waves after waves of the best and most competent Qajar officers and soldiers were time and time again mutilated and decimated by these former civilians…

The resistance appears particularly interesting when we consider that Bab never permitted Babis at Sheikh Tabarsi to conduct a Holy War [Jahad]. Mulla Hossein and Quddus constantly reminded Babis to only defend themselves. Every time Babis got the upper hand and appeared to change the balance of the military confrontation and exert a degree of offensiveness, Mulla Hossein would quickly order a retreat.”

This provides enough of the picture for the mystery that is longing to be told. In Haifa, Israel, the International Baha’i Archives houses two relics from this episode. One is a canon ball the army shot into the fort. The other is the sword which Mulla Husayn used in those attacks. The stories that are missing are about these artifacts journeys to the Holy Land.

A cannon ball from the fortress of Shaykh Tabarsi, and the sword of Mulla Husayn


I’d like to create a digital story with an interactive map and timeline that tells those stories, much the way the movie The Red Violin tells the story of a violin’s journey from its creation to the present day, through many people’s lives. The research involved would be extensive and would require some travel, but if Jonathan Harris can go to Bhutan than I can do this!

If you have any suggestions on how I might go about building such a map or timeline, let me know.  I have been thinking about using Our Story for the timeline, and Wayfaring for the map.  But it would be even cooler to find a good Flash programmer to work with to create something original. 

(Thanks to Alan Levine’s CogDogRoo for pointing me in the direction of some great tools!)