Roxane Farmanfarmaian is a specialist on Iranian geo-strategic affairs, particularly Iran’s relations
with regional neighbours, and with the US and the EU. She is the author of “Blood and Oil: The
Memoirs of a Persian Prince” published by Random House (re-printed as “A Prince's Memoir of Iran”, and “from the Shah to the Ayatollah” and co-written with her father, Manoucher Farmanfarmaian). She has published numerous scholarly articles on Iran’s Islamic revolution, its oil economy and its security profile.
She is Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Modern Middle East and North Africa
(MENA), in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Currently, she is director of a research project at Cambridge, funded by Al-Jazeera Media Network, entitled ‘Media in Political Transition in the MENA’.
Dr Roxane Farmanfarmaian
1-How are you related to the Qajar family?
My father, Manoucher Mirza Farmanfarmaian, was the son of Abdol Hossein Mirza Farmanfarma, who was a grandson of Abbas Mirza.
2-Where did you receive your education?
I attended Princeton University, obtaining my BA in Middle East Studies. I attained my MPhil and PhD from the University of Cambridge.
3-Where did you grow up?
I was born in Utah, where my mother, Verla Gean Miller, was from. I spent the next two years in Iran. My father was then appointed the National Iranian Oil Company representative to the World Court in The Hague, Holland, to put together the Oil Consortium, the framework that followed the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadeq and the re-organization of the oil industry after nationalization. I remained in Holland for 15 years, until I graduated from the International High School and went on to college.
4-How important for you personally is it to belong to our family?
I take great pride in being a Qajar. It is a responsibility, but likewise an inspiration, to be part of such a legacy.
5-Which historical Qajar time period do you prefer?
When I wrote my father’s autobiography, “Blood and Oil: The Memoirs of a Persian Prince”, I had a chance to research and then describe the history of the Qajars. The Shahs, many of their sons and several of their wives came alive for me – they had strong personal styles, and each encountered unusually difficult challenges in the face of great power politics and the growing demands of modernization. Ours was a dynasty that did not live in easy times – but each of our ancestors were characters of great interest, and intensely human. I cannot pick a period I favour over others – they are all fascinating.
6-Many detractors of the Qajar dynasty use the Turkmenchay and Golestan Treaties as proof of
Qajar bad governance. What is your point of view?
In my introduction to “War and Peace in Qajar Persia: Implications Past and Present”, which combined the papers of the Qajar Studies Conference that I hosted in Cambridge in 2005, I stated that in time, history would revise the image of the Qajars – whose legacy was largely written by the colonial victors of the Great Game, and those that succeeded it. Under the Qajars, although periphery territories indeed were lost, the country stayed unified and stable, and importantly, it was never colonized – a unique state of affairs in the entire Middle East at that time. The Qajars adeptly played their infinitely more powerful opponents off each other, retaining Persian sovereignty throughout. This was a remarkable achievement, and one that historians are coming to address in more nuanced and positive ways.
7-Do you keep in touch with many members of the Qajar family?
As a member of the Farmanfarmaian ‘clan’ inside the Qajar tent, I happily can say I do. Over the years I have attended several of the Qajar family gatherings, and served for several years on its board. Among the joys of being in this family is that I feel an immediate bond with so many of its members – and it gives me added pleasure to see my son, Kian, experience a similar feeling of visceral connection when he meets Qajar members of his generation.
8-Your father was Iran’s first Ambassador to Venezuela and helped found OPEC. Would you say you always had a vocation for politics or did you follow a particular path that led you to this career?
It was more chance than design. After university, I returned to Iran, just in time to catch the
Revolution. The only job was at Kayhan International, which gave me a taste for writing news and
living in the midst of political excitement. When Kayhan International closed, I founded, along with
three partners, a weekly news magazine called “The Iranian”, which we published for 10 months out of my grandmother Batoul Khanoum’s house on Maydan-e Kakh, all during the American Embassy
take-over and hostage crisis. After that I became a journalist, often covering Iran and the Middle East
for American and British newspapers and magazines, until I wrote “Blood and Oil”. In 2001, I decided
to at last go back to university to get a Master’s, and write on US-Iranian relations. I arrived at
Cambridge five days before 9/11 – and the rest is history.
9-What would you say is your biggest life’s achievement?
Being the mother of my son, Kian Farmanfarmaian Stevenson, writing my father’s book, and being an aunt to the children of my two brothers, Alexander and Teymour.