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 fight 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 very 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 this century 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.
2. 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 a pin.
And of course there was the loss of considerable territory to the Russians which happened because of Fath 'Ali Shah's jealousy 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 usurers 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 again.
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.