Squeezed between Russia and Britain

The 35 years of Fatah-Ali Shah’s reign witnessed a gradual decline of Qajar dynasty


Squeezed between Russia and Britain
by Arash Monzavi-Kia

After Agha Mohammad fell, his army disintegrated and several months of infighting followed among the Qajar princes. Finally, his nephew was crowned as Fatah-Ali Shah, in 1798, whose only Fatah (victory) was over several hundred wives and concubines.


The 35 years of Fatah-Ali Shah’s reign witnessed a gradual decline of Qajar dynasty, who started the nineteenth century like blood-thirsty wolves, but finished it like frail rats. The crippling blow came in the form of Persian-Russian wars. In 1800, incapable of protecting his people against the Qajar invasions, the king of Georgia simply relinquished his crown to the Tsar of Russia! This initiated 14 years of war that coincided with the Napoleonic wars in Europe.

As Napoleon invaded Russia and even captured Moscow, the tide of war temporarily turned in favour of the Iranians (lead by the crown price Abbas Mirza). However, the Russian people united against the invading French army, and aided by their severe winter conditions, defeated Napoleon and achieved supremacy in Eastern Europe. The Russian morale and troop surge reached the Persian front in 1814 and severely defeated the Qajars, forcing them to accept an undignified peace treaty (Golestan). A similar defeat followed in 1826, as the Qajar crown prince again fought with the Russians, leading to the even more ignominious treaty of Turkmenchi, which annexed all of the Armenia and the Caspian Sea, and half of the Azerbaijan to Russia.

In 1834, after Fatah-Ali Shah’s passing, Abbas Mirza’s son was crowned as Mohammad Shah. The new Shah soon fought with both his vizier (Ghaem Maugham) and his mentors (the British). He tortured and killed the learned vizier and invaded the British allies in Afghanistan, which both were shameful and unnecessary bloodletting.

After Mohammad Shah’s passing in 1848, his young crown prince became Nasser-al-din Shah, whose reign lasted for just short of 50 years. The new shah started with dramatic reforms and improvements, led by his energetic and popular vizier (Amir Kabir). Unfortunately, the corrupt Qajar court led by the Shah’s mother were hurt by the reforms and vigorously conspired against Amir Kabir, and finally toppled him after two years of relentless scheming.

At the same time, there was a religious uprising in most Persian cities, which threatened to curtail the power of mullahs and the brutal Qajar princes. After an unsuccessful coup attempt though, the Baha’i uprising was brutally suppressed by the Shia masses and the Qajar forces, resulting in the torturous death of most leaders and the exile of the rest. The Baha’i faith maintained a dissident underground existence in Iran, but was unable to convince the Shia of their founder’s incredible claim to have been the promised Mahdi or his gateway (Baub).

After ten years of religious struggles and remorse over the unjust execution of Amir Kabir, Nasser-al-din Shah agreed to another attempt at reforming the backward state of Persia, this time under a new vizier (Moshir-al-doleh). Like Amir Kabir, the new vizier had learned the basics of European style reforms, while serving as emissary in Moscow and Baghdad. Influenced by the British supported reforms in the Ottoman Empire, he enlisted the help of many Western minded intellectuals to move the country’s affairs away from backwardness and ignorance.

To avoid Amir Kabir’s macabre faith, Moshir-al-doleh followed a much more conservative path. He both tried to enlighten the Shah by taking him to a European tour of the advanced countries, and pursued foreign investments through granting industrial concessions. Unfortunately, both of the Moshir-al-doleh initiatives (although started with honest intensions) resulted in harmful consequences.

Shah loved the worldly pleasures of Europe so much that he became addicted to more glamorous trips. In addition, the corrupt Qajar court discovered the delicious art of peddling various concessions for the foreign nationals, and receiving their sweetener. Therefore, in 1874 the reformer vizier was replaced with a more “amusing” character, who instead of tiring industrial tours, could arrange a lot more attractive programs in Paris!

The deluge of foreign concessions caused an added economic hardship for the general populace of Persia, who now had to pay for the added taxes and tariffs associated with those activities. This resulted in a number of riots and uprisings, most notably the so called tobacco obstruction. The popular movement against unfair tobacco levies, united the few modernist intellectuals with the more numerous reform-minded clergies, whose alliance successfully engaged the Shah and forced him to cancel the very unpopular tobacco concession, in 1891.

After nearly 50 years of Nasser-al-din Shah’s reign, the Iranians were probably better off than before. But they were much more discontent; as many could now read in the sprouting newspapers about the amazing advances in Europe (both technologically and democratically) and even some Asian nations (like Japan). But Shah was unreceptive towards further reforms and afraid of the few young school graduates and the enlightened clergy. Hence, instead of cheering up for his bicentennial, a disgruntled intellectual shot the Shah to death, while on a religious pilgrimage!


In 1896, the Qajar crown prince replaced his martyred father and was crowned as Mozafar-al-din Shah. The new king was old and sickly, but still craved similar glamorous visits to Paris. Hence, he too granted many wide ranging concessions to finance his lavish sojourns. One of them was for the exploration and production of petroleum in Southern Iran (for 60 years) that went to a British citizen, for the payment of 40,000 pounds and 16% of the profit. When the unlucky entrepreneur ran out of funds before striking oil, the British government bought his concession cheaply, and soon built a most lucrative industry out of that dark and smelly fluid!

Reference: Persia in the Great Game, by A. Wynn


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The Folly of That Half-Demented Youth

by scb (not verified) on

Chapter V - The Attempt on the Life of the Sháh and Its Consequences from "God Passes By"

"The Faith that had stirred a whole nation to its depth, for whose sake thousands of precious and heroic souls had been immolated and on whose altar He Who had been its Author had sacrificed His life, was now being subjected to the strain and stress of yet another crisis of extreme violence and far-reaching consequences. It was one of those periodic crises which, occurring throughout a whole century, succeeded in momentarily eclipsing the splendor of the Faith and in almost disrupting the structure of its organic institutions. . .

Obsessed by the bitter tragedy of the martyrdom of his beloved Master, driven by a frenzy of despair to avenge that odious deed, and believing the author and instigator of that crime to be none other than the Sháh himself, a certain Sádiq-i-Tabrízí, an assistant in a confectioner's shop in Tihrán, proceeded on an August day (August 15, 1852), together with his accomplice, an equally obscure youth named Fathu'lláh-i-Qumí, to Níyávarán where the imperial army had encamped and the sovereign was in residence, and there, waiting by the roadside, in the guise of an innocent bystander, fired a round of shot from his pistol at the Sháh, shortly after the latter had emerged on horseback from the palace grounds for his morning promenade. The weapon the assailant employed demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt the folly of that half-demented youth, and clearly indicated that no man of sound judgment could have possibly instigated so senseless an act.

The whole of Níyávarán where the imperial court and troops had congregated was, as a result of this assault, plunged into an unimaginable tumult. The ministers of the state, headed by Mírzá Áqá Khán-i-Núrí, the I'timádu'd-Dawlih, the successor of the Amír-Nizám, rushed horror-stricken to the side of their wounded sovereign. The fanfare of the trumpets, the rolling of the drums and the shrill piping of the fifes summoned the hosts of His Imperial Majesty on all sides. The Sháh's attendants, some on horseback, others on foot, poured into the palace grounds. Pandemonium reigned in which every one issued orders, none listened, none obeyed, nor understood anything. . .

No sooner had this act been perpetrated than its shadow fell across the entire body of the Bábí community. A storm of public horror, disgust and resentment, heightened by the implacable hostility of the mother of the youthful sovereign, swept the nation, casting aside all possibility of even the most elementary inquiry into the origins and the instigators of the attempt. A sign, a whisper, was sufficient to implicate the innocent and loose upon him the most abominable afflictions. . . .

- “God Passes By”,Pg 61-63 by Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Baha’i Faith

“Bahá'u'lláh, when that attempt had been made on the life of the sovereign, was in Lavásan, the guest of the Grand Vizir, and was staying in the village of Áfchih when the momentous news reached Him. Refusing to heed the advice of the Grand Vizir's brother, Ja'far-Qulí Khán, who was acting as His host, to remain for a time concealed in that neighborhood, and dispensing with the good offices of the messenger specially dispatched to insure His safety, He rode forth, the following morning, with cool intrepidity, to the headquarters of the Imperial army which was then stationed in Níyávarán, in the Shimírán district. In the village of Zarkandih He was met by, and conducted to the home of, His brother-in-law, Mírzá Majíd, who, at that time, was acting as secretary to the Russian Minister, Prince Dolgorouki, and whose house adjoined that of his superior. Apprised of Bahá'u'lláh's arrival the attendants of the Hajíbu'd-Dawlih, Hájí `Alí Khán, straightway informed their master, who in turn brought the matter to the attention of his sovereign. The Sháh, greatly amazed, dispatched his trusted officers to the Legation, demanding that the Accused be forthwith delivered into his hands. . .

Delivered into the hands of His enemies, this much-feared, bitterly arraigned and illustrious Exponent of a perpetually hounded Faith was now made to taste of the cup which He Who had been its recognized Leader had drained to the dregs. From Níyávarán He was conducted "on foot and in chains, with bared head and bare feet," exposed to the fierce rays of the midsummer sun, to the Síyáh-Chál of Tihrán. On the way He several times was stripped of His outer garments, was overwhelmed with ridicule, and pelted with stones. As to the subterranean dungeon into which He was thrown, and which originally had served as a reservoir of water for one of the public baths of the capital, let His own words, recorded in His "Epistle to the Son of the Wolf," bear testimony to the ordeal which He endured in that pestilential hole. "We were consigned for four months to a place foul beyond comparison. . .

“Upon Our arrival We were first conducted along a pitch-black corridor, from whence We descended three steep flights of stairs to the place of confinement assigned to Us. The dungeon was wrapped in thick darkness, and Our fellow-prisoners numbered nearly one hundred and fifty souls: thieves, assassins and highwaymen. Though crowded, it had no other outlet than the passage by which We entered. No pen can depict that place, nor any tongue describe its loathsome smell. Most of those men had neither clothes nor bedding to lie on. God alone knoweth what befell Us in that most foul-smelling and gloomy place!"

- “God Passes By”, Pg 71-63 by Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Baha’i Faith


didn't the babi's try to assassinate the shah?

by Anonymous Irani (not verified) on

I remember reading that the babi's tried to assassinate Nasir Al Din shah. When that failed and their plot was revealed, then there was the cruelty and mass presecutions.

Is that correct?


They Endured - Their Lips Were Not Opened in Complaint

by scb (not verified) on

In reference to the remark alleging Baha'i insurrection, etc., please consider the following remarks of Mirza Abl Fadl Gulpaygani, the eloquent master-scholar (and former mullah)of the Baha'i Faith.

As the Mirza said: "They were killed, but they killed no one. They endured violent calamities, but their lips were not opened in complaint."

It remains the same for Baha'is in Iran today.
Except below from "The Brilliant Proof" by Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani.

"Numerous historical and tangible evidences can be furnished to demonstrate and prove that it was even the powerful and mighty pen of Bahá'u'lláh which protected from death His own enemies, such as Subh-i Azal, Nasíru'd-Dín Sháh, and certain great doctors and divines.

Otherwise the Bábís would not have allowed a single one of these people to have escaped alive. Yes, it was Bahá'u'lláh who, through the effect of pure, heavenly utterances even more refreshing than the zephyrs of the morn wafting from the rose garden and even more limpid than the vernal rain which distills drop by drop from the fragrant rose petals — trained his friends so that people of the world were amazed and astonished.

For these possessors of hearts and souls, three hundred and thirteen of whom resisted in battle thousands of the regular troops of the government during many months, astonishing and bewildering the enemy as well as the warriors of other nations by their valor, heroism, strength of heart, firmness and resolution in the terrible battles of Nayríz, Zanján and Mazandarán, were so trained in tenderness of heart and gentleness of disposition through the glorious teachings of Bahá'u'lláh that during the long years from the time of His arrival in Bagh-dad down to the present day, they have shown forbearance and self-restraint throughout many great events and have not committed that which would disturb any soul or be contrary to the law of any government. They were killed, but they killed no one. They endured violent calamities, but their lips were not opened in complaint.[8]

When the late Hájí Muhammad-Rida of Isfahan suffered martyrdom in the city Ashkabad in 1882, the chief of police found the city in great excitement and the Bahá'ís exposed to danger. He therefore permitted the Bahá'ís to carry arms, but they did not do so, considering death better than self-defense. The government then engaged in the trial of those who conspired and murdered the martyr. After five months' trial examining and hearing both sides, a high justice of the war department, accompanied by an imposing body arrived at Ashkabad from St. Petersburg. An open court, the account of whose proceedings would lead to prolixity, was held. That court ordered two of the murderers to be hanged and the conspirators to be imprisoned for life in Siberia and subjected to hard labor.

As the governor of the province had the right to lessen this penalty, in three days four of the Bahá'ís appeared before him. This great man was Kamaroff, the victor of Merv and the viceroy of the province. They interceded for the condemned murderers. As the governor was greatly pleased with the excellent conduct and good training of the Bahá'ís, he accepted their intercession and exercised his authority by changing the verdict of hanging into exile and reducing the punishment of the others from hard labor to simple confinement."


The title should read,

by takeresponsibility (not verified) on

The title should read, Squeezed bitween Mollah and Malijack. Really.


To: Arash Monzavi Kia

by امیر کبیر سر سه را آذری در حال خرید بلبل (not verified) on

Why is that every time we point out to the crimes of the invaders and those who meddle with the Iranian domestic affairs,we should immediately open the "pandora's box" and start belittling ourselves and start self psychoanalyzing -as how bad we are?

Even if we are a criminal nation against our own, that still does not give the British the right to come and assassinate out prime ministers or any other political figures. Considering it takes one century for any nation to produce a single and true national hero, I think we still do not fully comprehend how great of a loss we have gone through, for all our good men and women who had been killed by foreign agents in Iran.

I do still think that we are indeed a very innocent nation with mastery in self destruction.

Anonymous Observer

Really Arash?

by Anonymous Observer on

"Now, haven't the British, Russians, American and Israeli's meddled in Iran? Absolutely, but that does not relieve us of ultimate responsibility for our actions"..

Really? We have to take responsibility for our own actions?!!!! Wow!! That's a new concept. Aren't you the person who just two days ago blamed everything that has happened in the Muslim world for the past sixty years on Israel? Didn't you say that the Iran-Iraq war was caused by Israel (without any shred of evidence I may add)?

BTW, as usual and true to form, you went into hiding after throwing a bomb and refused to answer a simple question that I posed to you. I'll repeat it again. Perhaps this time you can show the readers here that you have the courage to answer a simple question. And, again, this goes to your posting a video about an Israeli attack on Gaza when the issue was an Iranian student demanding freedom from Larijani in Iran. Here's the question again:

What does an Iranian student's demand for democracy and freedom have to do with the Arab / Israeli conflict?

Please show some courage and answer this question.


Thank You

by Choopan (not verified) on


I enjoy reading your blog . keep them coming.

Thank you 





Poor Iranian

by Iran parast (not verified) on

that have been crashed under the arabs and turks mongols ...


Qajar Pictures

by Qajar (not verified) on

ebi amirhosseini

well written..

by ebi amirhosseini on

piece Arash jaan.



Faryar jaan thanks for info & links.I should read Abbas Amanat's book.


Ebi aka Haaji

Arash Monzavi-Kia

امیر کبیر در قصر دارآباد

Arash Monzavi-Kia

The notion of "Iranian Innocence" wrt all the evils that have happened in Iran is absolutely incorrect. Since 2,500 years, we have been many things, but never innocent! No man is innocent; we too have done our share of killings, raping and pillaging, from time immemorial.

Now, haven't the British, Russians, American and Israeli's meddled in Iran? Absolutely, but that does not relieve us of ultimate responsibility for our actions. Amir was only one of the so many viziers, who have been killed in the Iranian court intrigues. Did the British kill Sorena of Parthia? Did the English torture Anoshrivan's BozorgMehr? Did Churchill kill the Barmaki's?

Of course, taking responsibility for our deeds does not absolve the colonial powers of their crimes, but clears the issues and the players; so that the domestic culprits cannot dodge their judgment and punishment.

 Arash M-K

Arash Monzavi-Kia

Dear Faryar M

by Arash Monzavi-Kia on

Thanks for the references. Sorry for the loss of distinctions on that short paragraph; as it is not easy to correctly convey the story in a short bit. Considering your level of knowledge, you may want to expand on the formative years of the Bad and Baha movements in a more extensive piece. It is a nearly forgotten and actively forbidden part of our history, which is a shame.


Arash M-K


آقای جمشید نیاورانی

امیر کبیر در قصر دارآباد جلوی فواره کذایی (not verified)

آقا جان، بر خلاف اظهارات آن جناب، آن ایرانیان نبودند که بنده را بقتل رساندند، توطئه سفیر انگلیس بود و با حمایت روسیه و خود شاه "کج کلاه".

تمام جنایات سیاسی که در ایران رخ میدهند، با اطلاع قبلی سفیر انگلیس است، وگرنه خود مردم ایران بندرت دست به چنین جنایاتی میزنند.


Good Question...How did Nasiridin Shah last...

by faryarm on


In Pivot of the Universe: Nasiridin Shah Qajar and the Iranian Monarchy, 1831-1896, Prof. Abbas Amanat's biography of the first phase (1848-1871) of his reign throws much light on Nasiridin Shah's long reign by Drawing on a wide range of published and unpublished primary sources, including newspapers, British foreign office records, Persian chronicles and, Qajar documents.

please see Review of the book by Sholeh A. Quinn




How Nasser-al-din Shah out lasted Reza Khan is odd.

by Jamshid Niavarani (not verified) on

Reza Khan was a dictator, how Nasser-al-din Shah outlasted the reign of Reza Khan is odd at least and absurd at most. 1848-1896, that's a long time to be King. Amir Kabir started the first modern day school during that time, Dar-ul-fanoon. That is why the Iranians assassinated the dude. The more educated Iranians got, the more they found out that they were short changed.
In January 1979, many years after the creation of the University of Tehran, University students and more than 30 million people ran the Shah out of Iran.
People were so educated that they knew a monarchy was antiquated for Iran.
Today those same students crave social freedoms of Amsterdam and a democratic republic like the United States of America. And why not?


Dear Arash

by faryarm on


Your reference to 

"At the same time, there was a religious uprising in most Persian cities, which threatened to curtail the power of mullahs and the brutal Qajar princes. After an unsuccessful coup attempt though, the Baha’i uprising was brutally suppressed by the Shia masses and the Qajar forces, resulting in the torturous death of most leaders and the exile of the rest. The Baha’i faith maintained a dissident underground existence in Iran, but was unable to convince the Shia of their founder’s incredible claim to have been the promised Mahdi or his gateway (Baub). "

A few corrections if i may..

I think you are primarily referring to the followers of the Bab, the Babis and not the Bahais, who you incorrectly  refer to as dissidents.

The early Babis were essentially non militant until they were brutally set upon by the clerics whose machinations frightened the Qajar monarchs.  

For a more accurate portrayal of this period, can I refer you to


also جنبش بابيه  


ميرزا فتحعلى آخوندزاده

بنيان گذار انديشه انقلاب ملى مشروطيت در ايران

بكوشش و مقدمه بهرام چوبينه