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Weight of history
... would seem to reflect that any good from Qajar rule was in spite of them, not because of them

By James M. Nugent
December 4, 2003
The Iranian

If Ferydoun Barjesteh van Waalwijk van Doorn [Missed facts] is interested in an objective evaluation of the damage wrought by the Qajars in Iranian history, I would recommend Nikki R. Keddie's Modern Iran: Roots And Results Of Revolution.

The book has recently been updated and re-released in paperback. Dr. Keddie is a recognized historian of Iran and professor of history at the University of California. Her objectivity would seem to be well validated by her peers.

From Prof. Keddie's book we can cull the following facts about the Qajars:

"A Qajar leader castrated in boyhood, Agha Mohammad Khan, was captured and kept under house in Shiraz, but on the death of a Zand ruler he escaped and returned to lead his tribal forces in battle, taking over much of Iran by 1790. His cruelty, especially in plucking a reported 20,000 eyes from men of Kerman, was long remembered." p. 36.

"Neither Fath Ali Shah nor his grandson Mohammad Shah made real attempts at modernization or centralization [my note: Iran was deeply fractured due to tribalization and a lack of consistent authority and policy from the central government, a problem that persisted through to Reza Shah], and both governed in old ways, with the minimum of unavoidable adjustments. Fath Ali Shah was known more for his long beard, tiny waist, and huge harem than for any positive achievements. Because of his hundreds of progeny, an unflattering phrase, alliterative in Persian, became common: 'Camels, lice, and princes are to be found everywhere'". p. 44.

"Fath Ali Shah died ... in 1834. Peaceful accession of the crown prince, Mohammad Mirza, was assured thanks to diplomatic and military support displayed by the British, with the consent of the Russians. Subsequent peaceful accessions were similarly guaranteed by a show of support and force by these two powers, both of whom had an interest in keeping on the throne and immune from civil war a dynasty from which they had obtained major treaty concessions. Knowledge that the British and the Russians were behind the dynasty and would back each accession of a crown prince helped forestall revolts and rebellions against a dynasty that was widely considered incompetent and rapacious." p. 44.

[My note: a consistent theme in this history, and I would think any other besides, possibly, what might be found in Ferydoun Barjesteh van Waalwijk van Doorn's Qajar Studies, is how the Qajars were largely responsible for giving over their country to foreign powers and influences, but largely that of the British and Russians, to the degree that Iranians didn't own their nation in any substantive way.]

"Mohammad Shah died in 1848 and British and Russian protected assured the throne to the crown prince, the teen-aged Naser ad-Din, who was to reign for forty-eight years (1848-96)." p. 47

" ... Naser ad-Din came to fear the upsetting effects of modern education and to discourage both its diffusion in Iran and travel abroad for study. (The effects of these and other policies by this long-lived ruler have scarcely been assessed. [My note: this would tend to support Ferydoun Barjesteh van Waalwijk van Doorn.] In general, Iran would have been better off if " modernization" could have been more gradual and indigenous before 1925 instead of imposed from the top in a brief fifth-year period thereafter.)" p. 49.

" ... the Qajars were also unwilling and possibly unable to carry through financial reforms that would have been a necessary concomitant of economic and political changes. Increasingly during the nineteenth century, governorships and subordinate positions were sold to the highest bidder at a kind of annual auction. This led many winners to try to get the most revenue from their lands in the shortest time, as they did not know whether they had any interest in the long-term productivity of the region, which would have required more moderate taxation; but they did want enough cash to win the next auction for a profitable territory ... Peasants were taxed more heavily than any other part of the population; most of their taxes supported various levels of local or provincial tax collectors and little reached the central government." p. 51.

" The long reign of Naser ad-Din Shah was characterized by far fewer self-strengthening measures or steps to promote economic and social development than were to be found in nineteenth-century Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, or Tunisia, and though this was partly due to the strength of decentralizing, traditional forces in Iran, it was also part due to the character of the Qajar rulers. (The difference cannot be blamed on European pressures, which were at least as great elsewhere.)" p. 56.

The Qajars up to Reza Shah continued selling off the country to foreign powers, and focusing on their own pleasure vice the advancement and modernization of Iran. It would also appear that the were booted from the country not due to any sense of nobility, rather it was made clear to them that there wasn't a place for them in Iran any longer. However bad Reza Shah may have been for the nation, he was significantly better for the nation as a whole than that which he replaced, and he had no need for the Qajars.

Ferydoun Barjesteh van Waalwijk van Doorn informs us of many of the good things that occurred under the Qajars, but the weight of history would seem to reflect that any good from their rule was in spite of them, not because of them. They were rapacious rulers, did much to fractionalize the country by virtue of taxation and indulging tribal leaders, and they served at the whim of the British and the Russians, both of whom indulged their own negative desires on the nation of Iran. It would appear to be abundantly clear that the Qajars did not serve from or for the love of the Iranian people.

Had genuinely enlightened Qajar rulers ruled Iran it would be reasonable to assume that it would be a much different, and likely better off, nation today. Instead Iranians have had to waste time, riches and enormous energy shucking off the damage done to them by the Qajar leeches and their self-serving rule.


James Nugent is not a professional historian, nor does he serve as publisher or editor-in-chief of obscure revisionist historical journals; but he's interested in Iranian history and has wonderful Iranian friends (especially Feri!).

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Book of the day

Modern Iran
Roots And Results Of Revolution
By Nikki R. Keddie

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