A new book about behind-the-scenes Russian diplomacy in Iran has seen the light of day

As part of the 15th International Fair of Intellectual Non-Fiction Literature in Moscow, historian and Orientalist Revaz Uturgauri (Georgia) presented his autobiographical work, "Poker with the Ayatollah. Notes from the Consul in Iran."

Journalists, diplomats, and some of the book’s protagonists enjoyed an enthusiastic, hour-long discussion of the East and diplomatic life...

"Poker with the Ayatollah. Notes from the Consul in Iran" is the fascinating story of a career diplomat and Orientalist in the turbulent period of Iran's history that began with the coming to power of the Islamic clergy in 1979. Soviet-Iranian relations were placed under strain, provoking a severe bilateral confrontation and several regional wars (the so-called Islamic Revolution). The book describes the lives of diplomats with accuracy and wit.

In the words of the author, "Any serious matter, even a life-threatening one, has its funny moments. Alongside the trials and tribulations, they are a mandatory part of this adventure, and also help shield the participants in the drama from pride and pathos. If you got through it alive with head held high and a desire to tell someone about it, an amusing story about serious events will always attract an audience."

"This is a wonderful book, very funny... Rezo [Revaz] reveals himself to be a ​​witty chronicler of life inside our diplomatic corps on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union...," is Russian TV reporter Yevgeny Kiselev’s verdict on the book.

For the first time, RBTH publishes an extract from "Poker with the Ayatollah. Notes from the Consul in Iran" in English:

... In Isfahan, I was under constant surveillance. It happened for two reasons: first, it was inconceivable to local counter-espionage that there weren't any intelligence scouts on the consulate staff. In their mind's eye, all other matters were of little consequence. Second, they had no one else to monitor (I mean foreigners), and ­as a result I was tailed by an entire department.

Getting a fix on a scout acting under diplomatic cover is, in most cases, not a complex affair. Due to the nature of the work, his schedule is quite unlike that of the ‘pure’ diplomat. An intelligence officer is always on the move­. In ‘dangerous’ countries, such as Iran, where ordinary diplo­mats have security restrictions imposed on their movement around the city, scouts are easily de­tectable. They crop up in places where no other Foreign Ministry staff would go even by accident. The car in the parking lot always faces the exit: that is an iron rule (the ‘pure’ official never bothers with such trifles). There are countless other minutiae that help dr­aw up a "who's who" list. Generally speaking, tight surveillance for a maximum of six months is sufficient for this purpose.

 Consuls are an exception. It is often hard to say which bureau they work for! They come and go as they please, and Lord only knows if it's official business or something murkier. They can get behind the wheel at night and go for a spin. An ambassadorial diplomat's head would be on the block for that, but these wily rascals get away with it. And again, it's not cle­ar: was it a secret drop, or was the chump just off to get drunk and cause trouble! Consuls are always a double headache for counterintelligence.
Reader reviews:
"A light-hearted and cheery book about the difficult, unhappy country of Iran... In the words of renowned writer and historian Boris Akunin, 'I read it, shuddered, then laughed...'."

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia Alexander Sadovnikov: "The writing style I would describe as impressionistic. It is not just an exact reproduction of events, but of what passed through the heart of the author.”
RBTH publisher Yevgeny Abov notes: "A stunning, fascinating book and essential reading for anyone even remotely involved or interested in international relations, foreign policy, or the history of the East."

About the author:

Revaz Uturgauri was born in 1954 in Tbilisi, Georgia, spending most of subsequent life in Moscow. He graduated from the Institute of Asian and African Studies under Moscow State University. He served in the Soviet Army and worked in the Foreign Ministry of the USSR, performing his duties in difficult and dangerous circumstances in Iran. Currently resident in Georgia, Revaz works as a writer and flies hot-air balloons — and considers these two occupations to be the most engaging aspect of his life.

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