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Changing Iran: the Qajar Dynasty

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Between the rise of the Qajar Dynasty and the end of the Constitutional Revolution, Iran went through drastic political, social, and economic changes. Brought on by several diverse forces, most specifically, internal turmoil and western influences contributed to Iran’s drastic changes throughout the Qajar Dynasty. Foundations of Qajar Iran

In 1797, Fat’h Ali Qajar founded the Qajar Dynasty when he became the Shah of now day Iran. With the start of his new Dynasty, he reunified Iran after a long civil war. However, the start of the Qajar Dynasty brought with it the invasion of Western forces that would carry throughout the Qajar’s era. Thus, during the Napoleonic Wars, Russia invaded Iran’s Georgia area igniting the 1st Russo-Persian War in 1804. Iran loss the war and signed the Treaty of Gulestan in 1813. The treaty forced Iran to recognize Russia’s annexation of Georgia and most of the north Caucasus region. Incidentally, unclear territorial provisions under the Treaty of Gulestan lead to disputes between Iran and Russia in 1826. Negotiations failed to settle the issues. Therefore, Iranians demanded revenge and retaking of the territories they felt the Russians had occupied without treaty rights; starting the 2nd Russo-Persian War which ended with the Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828. The treaty called for more territorial loss, loss of rights to the Caspian Sea, burden of the cost of the war, and extraterritorial rights for Russia. Furthermore, by the 1850’s Iran divided into four cardinal sociological classes.

The first, the upper class, consisted of the elites, such as the Qajar dynasty and regional notables. The second, the middle class, included urban merchants, landowners, bazaar shopkeepers. While, the third class consisted of urban wage-earners, such as laborers and household servants. Lastly, the fourth class consisted of the majority of the rural population and peasantry. Consequently, Naser al-Din Shah’s government lacked access to a divided geographic country, because of the lack of roads and railroads with which to reach the provinces. The government also suffered from an inefficient army/police force, thus; the central government had to rely upon indirect means of rule, such as dividing opposing forces, encouraging factional fights, etc.

However, the strongest force against the government was the vastly influential Shi’i Ulama; which had strong ties with the bazaar classes. Above all, to pay for the reforms, the Shah resorted to the sale of offices, titles and concessions, increasing foreign investments. While, landowners began using their land for exporting crops like cotton and opium. This lead to a decline in subsistence crops, which in times of export problems lead to terrible famines, like the famine of 1860-72. Moreover, Britain and Russia had particularly strong political and strategic interest in Iran. Britain concerned with retaining control of the Persian gulf to keep other powers out in order to hold India. Furthermore, the increase of foreign trade caused the destruction of many handcrafted industries, such as textile; which lead to the unemployment of several Iranians. Thus, Iran’s dependence on Western economic forces and its political and military weakness, made Iran out to be a country with an exceptionally limited independence.

Raise of the Intelligentsia
Moreover, the introduction of secular education institutions, and the expansion of central administration positions created a new middle class that became to be known as the modern intelligentsia. The local bazaars transformed into the new national middle class with a mutual enemy as the intelligentsia, the foreign competitor. For this reason, Amir Kabir Iran’s first modern reformer and intelligentsia life and work would go on to inspire future reforms. Amir Kabir acted as Naser al-Din Shah’s tutor and chief minister, establishing several administrative, cultural, economic, and military reforms within Iran.

However, his only lasting impact, Iran’s first modern European-style institution of higher learning the Dar al-Funun, which went on even after Kabir’s untimely death. The Dar al- Funun gave birth several of Iran’s future leaders. Moreover, Malkum Khan became to be known as the voice of the revolution. He worked with Naser al-Din Shah and drafted the first Book of Reform in Iran. However, once the Shah dismissed him in 1889, he became more radical. Moving from a representative petitioning reform into an outsider advocating revolution. He founded the newspaper Qanun, which was a crucial factor in the outbreak of the constitutional revolution; becoming the first Persian demand for a parliamentary government.

Tobacco Protest
Moreover, the rising discontent of the middle class and the modern intelligentsia came to the open in the tobacco crisis of 1891 to 1892. The economic and political dislocations of Iran brought by western economic influence undermined most Iranian handicraft industries. While, the fall in prices of Iranian exports as compared to European imports, and a disastrous drop in the international price of silver (the basis of Iran’s currency), and increased foreign political control of Iran, created mass western resentment. The tobacco concession elicited far more protest than any other because it dealt with the daily life of every Iranian. Massive protest against the concession began in the spring of 1891. Tobacco company agents began to arrive and to post deadlines for the sale of all tobacco to the company. In December of 1891, the movement culminated in to a statewide consumers boycott, which forced the government to terminate the concession in 1892. The movement was the first successful mass protest in modern Iran, combining Ulama, intelligentsia, merchants, and ordinary citizens in a coordinated move against government policy.

Constitutional Revolution
Above all, the sight of the only Asian constitutional power defeating the only major European non-constitutional power during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, aroused a stronger determination in Iran for a constitution. The final push came through the economic crisis of early 1905. This triggered three public protests, each more intense than the last, culminating the revolution August of 1906. The first protest broke out after the governor of Tehran beat the feet of several sugar merchants for not lowering their raised sugar prices as ordered. A large group of bazaars took bast in the royal mosque of Tehran, but dispersed when the Shah promised to meet their demands. The second protest in December included a large crowd of the Ulama who retired to the shrine of Shahzadeh Abd al-Azim and concluded with demands for the formation of a House of Justice. While, the third protests broke out in the summer of 1906 sparked by the failure of the Shah to convene a House of Justice and police brutality.

More bazaar merchants and tradesmen took bast at the shrine asking for the dismissal of Ain ad-Daulah and a National Assembly to draft a written constitution. However, the struggle for the constitution continued with the first majlis opening in October of 1906. In January 1907, the Fundamental Laws were established, which spelled out the powers of the assembly and the Shah ratified them on his deathbed. Mozaffar ad-Din Shah succeeded by his son, Mohammad Ali Shah, who refused to ratify the Supplementary Fundamental Laws. After a mass protests and the assassination of his Prime Minister Atabak, he quickly signed the laws into effect. Consequently, on the same date, August 31, 1907, the Anglo-Russian Entente was signed between Britain and Russia.

The treaty divided Iran into three spheres, with the Russians in the North and British in the South. The Iranians were neither consulted on the agreement nor informed of the terms when it was signed. While, the final dissolving of the majlis and removal of American foreign treasurer Morgan Shuster marked the end of the constitutional revolution. All in all, considered a failure, this revolution left a significant legacy behind that would carry Iran into the modern day. In conclusion, economic changes caused social changes; social changes, in turn, lead to political changes within the Qajar Dynasty. While, several forces and political leaders helped shape Qajar Iran, internal turmoil and western influence brought down the Qajar Dynasty. Moreover, the constitutional revolution did not accomplish its supreme goal, but the ideals and political culture established during the revolution will only develop and evolve as time goes on, pushing Iran into the modern day as a united country.

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