Leave us alone
'Noble' and 'dignity' do not apply to the behavior
of the Qajar rulers. A reply to Eskandari-Qajar's "Liaaghat
By Mahan Esfahani
October 11, 2003
It's not enough to speak, but to speak true
William Shakespeare. Midsummer Night's Dream
Let us ask ourselves - what sense does it make to be still worrying
about - not to speak of respecting - a family that left its position
of power, which it in any case had never maintained on a particularly
succesful level in the first place, in 1925? A dynasty that preserved
our nation in a pristine medieval form while its countless members
ate and drank away what little resources and money we had, requires
perhaps some critical analysis rather than the all-too-common
Iranian penchant for romanticised generalisation.
The gentleman writes: "Khaak bar saremaan ke liaaghat-e
yek Soltan Ahmad Shah raa nadaashtim. Khaak bar saremaan ke liaaghat-e
yek Dr. Mossadegh raa nadaashtim." Upon first reading this
lamentation, one of hundreds which every member of the Iranian
community with literacy now feels compelled to submit, I was
prompted to investigate as to whether it was intended in jest.
Indeed, all my observations point to the author's seriousness
in making this remark.
The equating of Dr. Mossadegh's
against imperialism and the reign (note, not rule, but reign)
of "Soltan" Ahmad Shah (whom, you may remember, was
the portly and self-indulgent child who later retired to a short
life of gambling and, presumably, eating, noteworthy only for
the beauty of 5000-dinar coins minted during his period). Dr.
Mossadegh was a true nobleman who defended Iran, which he partly
would not have had to do had it not been for the somewhat tarnished
legacy and precedent left by the Qajar dynasty. The comparison
is nothing short of absurd.
In addition, Eskandari-Qajar writes: "But, instead,
the Qajars are gone. They left the throne and the country not
because they were cowards or could not think of ways to retain
it, but because they were noble, something little Jacks and their
buddies big bully Jacks would never understand. They are gone
and have mostly fallen silent because their dignity demanded
of them to let go of power before becoming servants to a shop-keeper
nation with dreams of being world emperors."
I believe that
this statement is somewhat misguided, apart from having within
it the kernels of a very fine joke which one could tell perhaps
over Sunday afternoon tea with aab-nabaat gheychi. Apart from
the constant references to a children's rhyme that really has
little to do with the matter but which adds a layer - however
thin - of wit to an otherwise incoherent article, Eskandari-Qajar's
piece seems to omit a number of important facts. Let us review
a number of them:
1. The shah who invited Tehran's Russian garrison
to bombard the parliamentary building in the earlier part of
was a Qajar - you may know him as Mohammad Ali Shah, the obese,
mustachioed boor who was later ejected from the country after
his tireless efforts to stamp out the constitution of 1906.
The infamous D'Arcy concession, the loan of money to the Persian
shahs on numerous counts by the Russian and British powers in
order to free them from their crippling gambling and, alas, whoring
debts, the numerous famines which plagued the Iranian countryside
during the 19th and 20th centuries, the neglect and vandalism
of our national monuments - from the Chehel-Sotoon of Isfahan
to the ancient capital of Takht-e Jamshid - and the literal standstill,
brought on by censorship, oppression, and lack of governmental
support, of a formerly vibrant intellectual community concerned
with matters other than the number of imams on a the head of
And of course there was the loss of considerable
territory to the Russians which happened because of Fath 'Ali
of his own
son, Abbas Mirza, all occurred in the period of 1796-1925. This
is known as the Qajar period. And to those who say that many
of this damage had been inflicted before this period, the
Qajars did nothing to help or prevent. Rather, they even
made matters worse, even though they amassed fortunes that could
have helped their supposed subjects.
3. By the time Reza Khan ascended to the throne in 1925 (coronation
1926), Iran was in a sorry state of affairs in terms of literacy,
miles of railroad track (which, if I am not mistaken, was approximately
8 miles to a small shrine south of Tehran built for the edification
of the shah), the unbridled and disproportionate power of a clergy
who used the illiteracy and misery of the people to achieve their
own agenda, and famine.
In the 16-year reign of Reza Khan, which
I by no means defend as a model of government in case anyone
suspects any "Pahlavi loyalty" on my part, progress
was made in these areas which the Qajars had failed to effect
in their 129-year grip on Iran.
4. The Qajars also have the proud distinction of being the
dynasty that introduced the novel idea of destroying a nation's
heritage and art in order to compensate for insecurity. Our great
shah Cyrus, even though he conquered the Medes, Egyptians, and
many other peoples, was a nobleman (not the 'noble'
of Eskandari-Qajar's coinage, which apparently has a different
definition in a dictionary with which I am not familiar) who
respected the cultures and even kings of the countries over which
he was victorious.
Iran has been invaded many times, by
Tatars, Timurids, Afghans, Macedonians, Arabs, and others, but
the Qajars, who called themselves 'protectors of the
people' (Ra-eej-e Mardom-e Iran) of Iran, crudely covered
the beautiful Safavid murals with chalk and destroyed many monuments
because their own ersatz monuments to misplaced enthusiasm could
not be as good.
Did I mention that Aqa Mohammad Khan buried Karim
Khan Zand under a washroom, whereas even the Ottoman conquerors
of Constantinople allowed the supposed tomb of the last Byzantine
emperor, Constantine XI, to be guarded and honored?
Thus, as we can see from the following examples,
the terms 'noble' and 'dignity' do not apply to the behavior
of the Qajar rulers.
In addition, I would like to mention the tendency of many of
our compatriots who call themselves 'members' and 'descendants'
of the Qajar clan, with all due respect of course. The gentleman,
Eskandari-Qajar, is only one of countless hundreds if not
thousands or even tens of thousands of descendants, from Baku
to Baltimore and Tehran to Tennessee, of the unfortunate
nameless women who inhabited the harems of Golestan and other
such locales and who were subject to the sexual whims of just
about every non-castrated male member of the debauched Qajar
court environment, from the smallest princeling (himself a descendant
and veritable 'haramzadeh' of yet another nameless concubine)
to the 'shah' (who should have been ruling his nation in any
case) to the impotent court minister and the opium-addicted scribe's
assistant and, of course, one of hundreds of court clerics who
were looking for a change to the normal routine of molesting
young boys in the dark, fly-infested hallways of the countless
'seminaries' dotting the land that produced but a gaggle of spiritual
who went on to spew the idiocy that perpetuated the Qajar regime.
What claim does the Qajar family have to the loyalty or even
respect of today's Iranian? Today's Iranian is the university
student and the academic, the worker and the city dweller, the
villager and the nomadic herder, well-versed and empowered in
the subjects, areas, life experiences, struggles, and realizations
that will forever prevent a disaster like the Qajar era to ever
return. And on the subject of the Qajars having 'gone silent,'
we must again correct our fellow compatriot. The Qajars did
not go silent, but rather were silenced. Mercifully so. And may
a free and educated Iran never have to contend with their voice
Quite simply put: you already hath ruined the country, now
leave us alone.
Mahan Esfahani is an undergraduate at Stanford
University in Palo Alto, California, pursuing dual degrees in
Middle Eastern History and Musicology. He hopes to pursue a possible
in historical or ethno-musicology. His preliminary study of music
theoreticians in the Islamic Golden Age has been published by
the journal Herodotus.
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