For Queen's Sykes
Sir Percy Sykes: British spy in Iran
April 6, 2004
Persia in the Great Game
Sir Percy Sykes Explorer, Consul, Soldier,
by Antony Wynn.
John Murray Publishers; London, 2003
This book is the story of the larger than life character
of Sir Percy Sykes. Sykes was a spy sent by the British government
protect their interest in Persia from 1890s up to World War I.
Sykes was given a mammoth task of preventing the expansion of Russia
to Persia, Afghanistan and India.
Persia at the time became the playground of Germans,
Russians and the British agents. All of them tried to impose their
in the region and outsmart the other ones. It is interesting to
note how well Sykes was received by Farman-Farma who not very long
into their friendship entrusted him with large sums of money (equivalent
to $7 million today) to invest for him aboard.
Once again the corruption and ineptitude of Qajar
kings of the period and their governors is blatant throughout the
proclivity to take side and swap side with foreign powers or better
say the highest bidder is flagrantly described. Their willingness
to give away regions of the country on request, and their laziness
to restore security in the country torn apart by nepotism, corruption,
tribal wars and bandits is nothing short of treachery.
However, the redeeming features come in the latter
pages. For example, the demonstration of Constitutionalist women
outside the Majlis
in Tehran. According to Shuster, it was the first political gathering
of women in modern history.
The other very interesting revelation
is the coming to power of Reza Khan. Smyth who promoted him to
the head of the Persian Cossack, writes in his recently come-to-light
personal diary, that contrary to the common belief that the British
government brought him to power, in fact they knew nothing
of his movements. Wynn writes that Smyth tells us in his diary
that Reza Shah acted on his own initiative with only his encouragement
on a personal level.
The book is as much about the adventurous life of
Sykes as it is about another turbulent episode in Persian history.
In fact the
two are so intertwined that you cannot separate them. Perhaps no
other foreign agent has engaged so deeply with various strata of
Persian society ever. The book also contains dozens of fascinating
period photographs. It's an intriguing read by both academic
and the layperson alike.
goodbye to spam!
Farid Parsa left Iran in 1981 and lived in Europe
for three years. He immigrated to Sydney in June 1984,
where he has lived eversince. He has studied mass
communication, theology and Theatre at tertiary level. He
is currently employed as senior staff with the State
Library of NSW, Sydney.