SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London


The photographs of Alexander Iyas the Tsar's Consul to Persia, from 1901 - 1914 Presented by the Iran Heritage Foundation

10 October - 9 December 2006

On 11 August 1913, the Tsar's consul in Persia, Alexander Iyas, photographed Mamed Amin Agha Piran, Head of the Kurdish Piran tribe, in front of a wall of fierce-looking warriors from Bayz Pasha's Mangur tribe. The photographer was thus marking a reconciliation he had successfully negotiated between the two warring tribes. 15 months later, on 29 December 1914, Iyas was assassinated and beheaded by these and other tribesmen and Turkish troops that had crossed the Persian border as WW1 spilled out onto the Middle Eastern front. By an extraordinary series of coincidences, the reconciliation negatives as well as others were recovered on a Turkish officer killed by the Russians during the battle near Tabriz in January 1915.

Alexander Ivanovitch Iyas, officer in the Tsar's Lithuanian Regiment, had arrived in Persia in 1901, in the small town of Turbat-i Haydari near the Afghan border. He was armed with several cameras, including the remarkable Kodak Panoram taking wide-angle images of 150°. As Head of the Sanitary Cordon his mission was to ensure that Bubonic Plague would not be carried to Russia by trading caravans coming from British India, but the British were convinced he was simply there to gather intelligence. In 1912 he was transferred to Soujbulak, a Kurdish town south of Lake Urmie near Persia's western border with Turkey. Throughout his years in Persia he documented the places, people and events he encountered with some remarkable photographs, providing us today with a rare Russian point of view of the Great Game – the rivalry between Britain and Russia for the domination of Central Asia. A unique and hitherto unknown group of images has been uncovered for a region and a time for which no other comprehensive collection exists.

As an earthquake geologist, John Tchalenko travelled extensively in Iran where he first came across the traces of Alexander Iyas. On researching the Foreign Office archives he uncovered information on Iyas which made him realise that Iyas had been his great-uncle. Eventually he succeeded in locating all of Iyas' known photographs. John Tchalenko is presently Reader in Drawing and Cognition at the University of the Arts London.

Further details can be found at: FACTUM arte

A book will be accompanying the exhibition - Images from the End Game, Persia through a Russian Lens 1901-1914 by John Tchalenko which will be available from the Brunei Gallery Bookshop during the exhibition, and online from Saqi Books and Amazon .

An extract from John Gurney's Preface to the book:
"John Tchalenko's reconstruction of the unknown, lost life of Alexander Iyas, a military officer and consul on the borders of Persia in the years immediately before the first World War is a remarkable achievement. It is a story of the discovery of a long-forgotten relative and how a number of negatives found on the dead body of a Turkish officer killed when Russian troops retook Tabriz in early 1915, led through many vicissitudes to the piecing together of an extraordinary photographic collection. Russian, Finnish and English archives have been skilfully used to recreate as far as possible the life of that photographer and place it in the context of the conflict between Russia and Britain in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries."

Tuesday 31st October from 12:30-13:30
Free guided tour
of the exhibition and a talk about the photographer Alexanger Iyas by John Tchalenko the Curator and Author of Images of the End Game in the Gallery on:

Wednesday 22nd November
The exhibition will have late opening until 19.00 with a guided tour of the exhibition at 17:00 on before the lecture:
"Diplomacy and murder in Kurdistan: the life, death and photography of Alexander Iyas, the Tsar's Consul to Persia 1901-1914" by John Tchalenko in the Khalili Lecture Theatre at 19:00