The history of Bulgarian-Iranian diplomatic relations is the subject of research by the diplomat Angel Orbetsov
This article was published in Book 4 for 2020 of the Bulgarian historical journal “Anamnesis”
The interest towards the history of Bulgarian-Iranian relations is determined by several factors. First, the two countries are among the most ancient on their continents and are centers of cultures with an influence beyond their borders. Between their peoples there were centuries-old connections facilitated by geographical proximity, dating back to antiquity and continuing to the present day.
Secondly, if we do not consider the Ottoman Empire, Iran was the first Asian country to establish diplomatic relations with the Principality of Bulgaria in the distant year 1897, and according to this indicator it ranks immediately after the great powers and neighboring countries. After that the relations went through various stages, including Iranian diplomatic presence in our country with interruptions and accreditations from neighboring countries, as well as the functioning of the first Bulgarian legation in Tehran in the period 1939-41. Relations were severed during World War II, but their restoration about 20 years later marked the beginning of a rapid development that outlived the dramatic events in both countries – the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the democratic changes in Bulgaria in 1989-90 and the reorientation of the Bulgarian foreign policy and the developments on the Iranian nuclear issue since the beginning of the 21st century.
Third, the history of our bilateral relations with Iran has never been the subject of deliberate academic research. A short, chronologically arranged material is contained in the monograph of Maria Mateeva and Hristo Tepavicharov ”Diplomatic Relations of Bulgaria 1878-1988” (Sofia, 1989), from which a schematic idea of diplomatic relations is obtained. Due to the referential and undetailed nature of that study, it cannot be expected
to cover the bilateral relations in all their aspects – political, economic, cultural, people to-people contacts, nor to address some problematic issues, especially in the initial period, which need to be revealed through research and comparison of available sources.
On the occasion of the two latest round anniversaries of the diplomatic relations (115 and 120 years) a number of events – conferences, seminars and exhibitions were organized in Sofia and Tehran by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and their diplomatic institutes, as well as academic units of both countries . Along with the presented reports and the displayed documents, summarized in several collections , both sides showed strong interest in the history of the bilateral relations and how to benefit from it in order to strengthen bilateral friendship regardless of the international situation. In particular, the
need to set up a bilateral commission to examine the validity of the accepted date for the establishment of diplomatic relations was discussed.
I would like to draw attention to two interesting moments in the history of Bulgarian-Iranian relations. The first concerns the problem of their establishment and the functioning of the first Iranian diplomatic mission in the Principality of Bulgaria. The recognized date of establishment of relations, November 15, 1897, is based on the only relevant document available in the Bulgarian archives – a letter from our diplomatic agent in Constantinople, Dr. Markov, to the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Konstantin Stoilov, confirming that Iranian Ambassador Mahmoud Khan was informed about the consent of the princely government to accept Mirza Hossein Khan as a diplomatic agent (Appendix 1). The motives and the idea behind the decision of the Iranian government under the new ruler Mozaffar ad-Din Shah to appoint a diplomatic representative in Bulgaria may come to light when examining the Iranian archives. The logical explanation on the basis of the information gathered so far is that the Iranian side had assessed its hitherto consular presence in the Principality as insufficient for the protection of the interests of its subjects. Bilateral agenda included the implementation of the Bulgarian-British agreement concluded in June 1897 to settle the issue with the Iranian subjects in the Principality  and the request of the Iranian side to appoint a new consul in Ruse , where the Iranian subjects were the most numerous.
There are no documents left about the inauguration of Hossein Khan, but there is indirect evidence that this happened before the end of January 1898. However, he was soon recalled due to illness and his post remained vacant for some time. The issue was further addressed during the visit of the first dragoman (translator) to the Iranian embassy in Constantinople, Ohanes Khan, who in July 1899 visited Sofia coming from Belgrade, where he was tasked with presenting an Iranian order of merit to the Serbian king. The Iranian diplomat met with Prime Minister Dimitar Grekov, also Foreign Minister, and stated the Iranian government’s intention to appoint a new agent.  In 1900, Montazam os Saltaneh took over as diplomatic agent in Sofia and contributed to the preparation of the first transit visit of the Iranian Shah to Bulgaria. In 1901 Montazam os-Saltaneh was replaced by Sadiq ol-Molk, and in December 1902 Iranian diplomats left the Principality, handing over the protection of Iranian interests to the Belgian diplomatic agent in Bulgaria. 
There are many ambiguities and inaccuracies in the discovered documentation from this period, but enough evidence has been gathered in order to confirm the functioning of the Iranian diplomatic mission in Bulgaria in 1898-1902, which allows to reconsider the thesis adopted in Maria Mateeva’s research that an Iranian agency in Sofia was not opened, and the said Iranian diplomats were accredited from Belgrade . Probably such an impression was created by the visit of Ohanes Khan from Belgrade to Sofia. The studied Iranian documents, as well as materials from the Bulgarian press from this period also confirm the existence of an Iranian agency in Sofia. 
Of fundamental importance is the question of how we determine the date of the establishment of diplomatic relations, provided that this is not marked by a specific act – an agreement, declaration or exchange of notes. Do we correctly take as a starting point
the handing over of a note for granting an agrément for a diplomatic representative, given the fact that long before that, the two countries maintained official relations through their missions in Constantinople, and Iranian consuls functioned in the Principality of Bulgaria? Indeed, some of the consuls were not recognized as such by the princely government, but there were some to whom the relevant exequaturs were issued. The first were the vice-consul in Varna Petar Suhora in 1879-80.  and the consul in Ruse Antoan Yaldazci in 1880 , and since the beginning of the 90’s the honorary vice-consul in Varna Agop Mavi had been very active .
The key to dating the beginning of diplomatic relations could be given by the exchanged initial correspondence between Prince Alexander of Battenberg and the Iranian monarch Nasser ad-Din Shah – an announcement of the Prince’s accession to the Bulgarian throne in June 1879 and the congratulatory message of the Iranian Shah on this occasion. The letter of the Prince has not been preserved, but a copy of the Shah’s greeting in Persian from May-June 1880 is kept in the Iranian archives and has been displayed in the above
mentioned exhibitions (Appendix 2). It confirms the receipt of the “good news of the entry (of the prince) into the independent possession of the Bulgarian state” and congratulates him on the “attributes of independence of the new government”; there is also talk of strengthening friendly relations between the two countries. The receiving of the letter of
congratulation is documented in the Bulgarian archives, although the document itself is not available.  It is a matter of legal interpretation whether this incomplete correspondence can be considered as Iran’s recognition of the independence of the Principality of Bulgaria  and, accordingly, as the beginning of official relations between the two countries. It is significant to note that the term “independence” is used in three places in Nasser ed-Din Shah’s letter. Apart from paying homage to Prince Alexander, the motives behind using that term may be sought in the historical confrontation between Iran and the Ottoman Empire. The sensitivity of the Iranian monarchy to the subject should also be taken into account, given its semi-colonial dependence on Britain and Russia.
The second moment is related to the opening and operation of the first Bulgarian diplomatic mission in Tehran. A little known fact today is the transformation of Iran in the 1930s into a center of attraction for Bulgarian labor emigration.
The intensive economic development of Iran undertaken during the time of Reza Shah Pahlavi, and especially the large-scale infrastructure construction with the participation of Western companies, attracted foreign labor, incl. Bulgarian workers. The main profile of the Bulgarians in Iran were masons, builders and general workers, although there were also painters, carpenters, mechanics and even engineers, decorators and entrepreneurs. The largest contingent came from the central part of Northern Bulgaria – Dryanovo, Gabrovo, Veliko Tarnovo, Sevlievo, Tryavna, known for its traditions in construction.  From the correspondence with our Consulate General in Constantinople it is understood that by 1937 1500-2000 Bulgarian subjects were working in Iran, who needed consular services and protection of their interests. 
This was the primary motivation for accrediting a Bulgarian diplomatic representative in Iran – an issue that had been in the spotlight of Bulgarian diplomacy since the second
half of the 1930s. Initially, the opening of a permanent consulate in Tehran and accreditation of a minister plenipotentiary from a neighboring Bulgarian legation was discussed , but subsequently, taking into account the opinion of Iranian diplomats in third countries, the considerations for a Bulgarian diplomatic legation in Tehran with a resident head of mission prevailed . This task was entrusted to the 45-year-old counsellor of our legation in Bucharest Dimitar Dafinov – one of the experienced Bulgarian diplomats with higher education in Law from Sofia University, specializations in France and Switzerland, with over 21 years of experience at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, incl. in the Bulgarian missions in Rome, Budapest, Berlin and Bucharest. 
The Bulgarian diplomat, appointed by Georgi Kyoseivanov’s government,  arrived in Tehran on April 21, 1939, and was received on May 1 by Iranian Foreign Minister Mozaffar Alam, to whom he presented his credentials (Appendix 3). [23 ] The legation included two other Bulgarian employees plus a local dragoman of Armenian origin.  In his first report, Dafinov informed about his acquaintance with the Bulgarian colony in Iran, to which he subsequently devoted much of his activity. According to his calculations, the Bulgarians were numbering about 600 people only in Tehran and approximately the same number in the rest of the country. With the opening of the Bulgarian legation, an alphabetical catalog of Bulgarian citizens in Iran was compiled, which was constantly supplemented and enriched. Dafinov initiated the establishment of a Bulgarian cultural and charitable society as an auxiliary body of the legation, assisting it in the protection of the interests of our compatriots. The legation was instrumental in solving their problems, including expired passports, inability to transfer their savings, unpaid receivables and arbitrary deductions by employers, etc. 
The presence of a Bulgarian mission on the ground in Tehran provided an opportunity for Bulgarian diplomacy to better understand events in Iran and the wider region on the eve and during the Second World War. Dafinov provided interesting analyses of the activities of the members of the Saadabad Pact (Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Afghanistan) established in 1937 . Although the Pact had not turned these countries into allies, they had the obligation to consult with each other on political issues. The head of the Bulgarian legation provided valuable information about the internal shifts in the Iranian ruling elite, as well as the activity of Soviet, British and German policy in Iran against the background of its course of neutrality since the beginning of World War II. He payd special attention to the radically changed international position of Iran after the German attack on the USSR. 
Significant efforts were made in the economic field, and from the very beginning Dafinov has set himself the task of working for the realization of Bulgarian exports and the search for niches for Bulgarian economic activity in Iran, e.g. sending specialists, gardeners and farmers. He sounded out opportunities for the export of Bulgarian quality tobacco and silkworm seed, and later recommended that the possibilities for export of cement, sugar and cotton manufactory be explored. The difficulties come from the inability to pay in foreign currency, which is why compensatory deals were offered.  Another of his initiatives was related to the inclusion of Bulgaria in the routes for transport of goods between Europe (mainly Germany) and Iran using the Soviet port of Batumi.  The Legation contributed to a large-scale study undertaken by the Export Institute at the Ministry of Commerce of the possibilities for the development of trade with Iran , and
from the beginning of 1941 it became involved in the attempts of Bulgarian business to import Iranian cotton .
The closure of the Bulgarian legation in Tehran in September 1941, caused by the invasion of Iranian by Soviet and British troops in order to counter Hitler’s Germany, was imbued with big drama. Iran was forced to sever diplomatic relations with the countries of the fascist coalition, to whom Bulgaria was added by the allies only on September 13. The withdrawal of the Bulgarian employees, for which they were given a period of only four days (Appendix 4), went through tense experiences and vicissitudes, and taking care of the Bulgarian community turned out to be an impossible task.  Immediately before the departure on 17 September, the Bulgarian legation organized a transfer of its belongings to the Swedish legation in Tehran, which was designated to protect Bulgarian interests.  The journey of the Bulgarian employees was carried out as part of a convoy of cars together with the German legation and colony and the Hungarian legation. The convoy was put under the operational leadership of the Soviet GPU and accompanied by an official of the Soviet embassy in Tehran, while the Swedish consul in Tehran also joined the column. The group traveled for seven days and six nights, covering nearly 1,000 km through the Soviet-occupied zone of Iran to the Turkish border, where it received a friendly welcome and service, and reached the Bulgarian border town of Svilengrad after another three-days of journey and five days of rest. 
Despite its short existence, the first Bulgarian mission in Tehran left deep traces in the Bulgarian presence in Iran and the development of bilateral relations, especially given the lack of Iranian diplomatic representation in our country at that time. The information and experience gained by the legation were subsequently used by the sections for the protection of Bulgarian interests in the legations of Sweden, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.
These moments are just two touches of the interesting development of Bulgarian-Iranian relations from the Liberation to the present day, which is full of twists and strong experiences. Regarding the date of establishing official contacts and the initial period of diplomatic relations, it may be necessary to rethink the accepted views and come up to a joint assessment on the example we have had with Japan.  As for the first Bulgarian mission in Tehran, it identified problems as well as ideas and areas for the development of cooperation, which were followed after the restoration of bilateral relations in December 1961 and even in the modern period.
Appendix 1 – Letter from the Bulgarian diplomatic agent in Constantinople Dr. Markov to the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Religions Dr. Konstantin Stoilov dated November 15, 1897 regarding the notification to the Iranian side of the granting of an agrément to the Iranian diplomatic agent Mirza Hossein Khan (2 pages)
(CDA, fund 176K, op. 1, a.e. 1136, p. 2).
Appendix 2 – Transcript of a congratulatory letter from Nasser ad-Din Shah from May June 1880 to Prince Alexander Battenberg on the occasion of his accession to the throne (1 page manuscript in Persian with 1 page translation into Bulgarian) 
Appendix 3 – Copy of letter of credence from the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Religions Georgi Kyoseivanov dated April 12, 1939 for the appointment of the diplomat Dimitar Dafinov as head of the newly opened Bulgarian Legation in Tehran (1 page in French) and reply from Iranian Foreign Minister Mozaffar Alam of May 17, 1939 (1 page in French), CDA, Fund 176K, op. 18, a.e. 1173, pp. 181, 187
Annex 4 – Note of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Bulgarian Legation in Tehran dated September 13, 1941 with a request for its closure and setting a 4-day period for evacuation of Bulgarian personnel (1 page in Persian with 1 page translation), fund 176K, op. 8, a.e. 1033, pp. 1-2
 The Center for Oriental Languages and Cultures at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski ”and his Iranian partners.
 Cf. published proceedings: International Conference Iran and the Balkans in the Mirror of History (Past, Present, Perspectives), edited by Ivo Panov and Alireza Purmohammad, Sofia, 2014; International Conference Iran and Bulgaria in the Mirror of History (Past, Present, Perspectives), edited by Ivo Panov and Alireza Purmohammad, Sofia, 2015; Bulgaria-Iran bilateral relations, Collected papers and historical documents, ed. by Kazem Sharif Kazemi & Georgi Petrov (Seminar papers and Exhibition of historical documents on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Islamic republic of Iran, Tehran, 17 September, 2017 & Sofia, 27 November, 2017).
 Central State Archives (CSA), Fund 176K, Inventory 1, Archive Unit 1136, Sheet 2.
 Ibid., A.e. 1001, pp.6-16, 19-22.
 Ibid., A.e. 1434, pp. 1-3.
 Ibid., A.e. 1001, pp. 34-35, 41-48.
 Ibid., A.e. 1433, pp. 1-5.
 Ibid., Op. 14, a.e. 512, pp. 2, 6-7, 11-12; f. 3K, op. 8, a.e. 214, pp. 1-2.
 Maria Mateeva and Hristo Tepavicharov, Diplomatic Relations of Bulgaria 1878-1988, Sofia, 1989, pp. 157, 160.
 Bulgaria-Iran bilateral relations, Collected papers and historical documents, ed. By Kazem Sharif Kazemi & Georgi Petrov, p. 90-91; Pryaporets newspaper, year IV, issue 38, Sept. 13, 1901, p. 4.
 CDA, f. 176K, op. 1, a.e. 29, pp. 1-3.
 Ibid., F. 321K, op. 1, a.e. 9, pp. 26-28; a.e. 41, pp. 234-235.
 Ibid., F. 176K, op. 1, a.e. 418, pp. 10-14; op. 21, a.e. 21, pp. 7-9; f. 321K, op. 1, a.e. 743, pp. 1-4.
 Bulgaria-Iran bilateral relations, Collected papers and historical documents, p. 92. The document was erroneously called “the Bulgarian king’s reply to a congratulatory letter from the Shah of Iran on the occasion of Bulgaria’s independence, April 1880.” In fact, it was a transcript of the Shah’s congratulatory letter in response to a letter received from Prince Alexander on his accession to the Bulgarian throne. The Bulgarian translation was made by the author with the assistance of Iranian lecturer and researcher Alireza Pourmohammad.
 CDA, f. 321K, op. 1, a.e. 41, pp. 92-93, 96-97, 102.
 The Treaty of Berlin of 1878 (Art. 1) granted the Principality of Bulgaria the status of a self-ruled tributary principality under the sovereignty of HE the Sultan – cf. Maria Mateeva and Hristo Tepavicharov, Diplomatic Relations of Bulgaria 1878-1988, p. 48.
 CDA, f. 176K, op. 8, a.e. 1033, pp. 40-101.
 Ibid., F. 363K, op. 3, a.e. 243, pp. 15.
 Ibid., F. 176K, op. 7, a.e. 146, pp. 3.
 Ibid., Op. 7, a.e. 784, pp. 6; op. 18, a.e. 1172, pp. 167-169.  Ibid., Op. 18, a.e. 1172, pp. 182, 185, 208, 213, 218.
 Ibid., Pp. 176-181.
 Ibid., F. 176K, op. 13, a.e. 205, pp. 1-4; op. 18, a.e. 1172, pp. 186-187
 Ibid., Op. 17, a.e. 355, pp. 1; a.e. 356, pp. 12-15; a.e. 357, pp. 105; f. 239К, а.е. 2, pp. 15.
 Ibid., F. 173K, op. 6, a.e. 261, pp. 1-8; f. 176K, op. 7, a.e. 1054, pp. 19- 23; op. 8, a.e. 1033, pp. 40-101; op. 11, a.e. 1642, pp. 1-5; a.e. 1643, pp. 1- 26; op. 13, a.e. 205, pp. 1-4; f. 239K, op. 1, a.e. 1, pp. 78-133.
 Ibid., F. 176K, op. 7, a.e. 1057, pp. 1-4.
 Ibid., A.e. 1056, pp. 1; a.e. 1057, pp. 5-9; a.e. 1059, pp. 1-2.
 Ibid., F. 176K, op. 11, a.e. 1642, pp. 4-5; f. 285K, op. 5, a.e. 323, pp. 152- 153.
 Ibid., F. 176K, op. 11, a.e. 1641, pp. 13-29; f. 285K, op. 5, a.e. 323, pp. 35, 147-148.
 Ibid., F. 176K, op. 11, a.e. 1641, pp. 1-12.
 Ibid., F. 192K, op. 1, a.e. 255, pp. 72; a.e. 266, pp. 2, 3, 5.  Ibid., F. 176K, op. 8, a.e. 1033, pp. 1-16; a.e. 1118, pp. 17.  Ibid., A.e. 1032, pp. 4-5; a.e. 1033, pp. 14, 32-33.
 Ibid., A.e. 1032, pp. 8-12.
 In 2014, a bilateral working group was set up at the Foreign Ministries of Bulgaria and Japan, which conducted a study in the archives of the two countries and issued a report on the beginning of official contacts and the establishment of diplomatic relations. The report was approved by an exchange of notes in 2017 and was further laid down as a basis for celebrating the respective anniversaries.
 Bulgaria-Iran bilateral relations, Collected papers and historical documents, ed. By Kazem Sharif Kazemi & Georgi Petrov, p. 92.
 These are state institutions.
 The sixth month of the lunar Muslim calendar, corresponding in that year to the period 11 May to 10 June in the Gregorian calendar.
 1880 according to the Gregorian calendar.
 Equal to September 13, 1941.
 Note № 3801, sent earlier in the day on the same date, 13 September 1941, stated the request of the USSR and Britain to close the Bulgarian legation and evacuate from Iran its employees and Bulgarian subjects. It was noted that the Ministry considered it unnecessary to go into a detailed explanation of the matter, as the mission staff “are aware of the events surrounding the passage of Soviet and British troops and the conditions imposed by them”, but conveyed “the Shahinshah government’s regret in this regard“(Fund 176K, op. 8, a.e. 1033, pp. 1-2).
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