Amir Kabir's Reformist Plans and the Dragon of Systematic Corruption in Qajar Persia

  September 14, 2021   Read time 3 min
Amir Kabir's Reformist Plans and the Dragon of Systematic Corruption in Qajar Persia
Of all of these problems, corruption was the major bane of the Qajar military. The army existed for the most part not to be militarily effective but to transfer money to favored individuals and groups.

Amir Kabir’s primary goals were national unity and self- sufficiency, which the shift ing European alliances reinforced, especially in the area of arms production. Amir Kabir formed a garrison in Tehran staffed with men from all of the provinces to create one true national force while establishing fifteen modern armament and equipment factories to help achieve the latter goal. Earlier, Abbas Mirza, unhappy that he had to rely on European- made weapons for two wars with Russia, established factories to produce gunpowder and weapons while stockpiling other European weapons, maps, and machines. The crown prince also arranged to send Iranians as students to Europe to develop needed military, technical, and medical skills. These students put their foreign education into practice on their return as they were given high positions and great responsibilities, including roles as court physician, diplomat, head of artillery, chief army engineer, and head of the royal arsenal.

The att empted reforms, however, increased the government’s need for cash to buy weapons and maintain the army, which contributed to the Qajars’ fi nancial problems and increased opportunities for corruption. When Amir Kabir tried to curb the profi teering, theft , and nepotism that affl icted the military system, he developed enemies in the court. Nasir al- Din also was wary of Amir Kabir’s championing of the Dar al- Fonun because he associated the school with dangerous European political ideas. As the Great Lord’s achievements grew, he incited jealousy among the royal family. He was assassinated aft er the shah, fearful of Amir Kabir’s power and effi ciency, removed him from offi ce in 1851, shortly aft er the Dar al- Fonun was opened.

None of the att empted reforms fully addressed the standing army’s greatest need: a trained, professional offi cer corps. Generals were chosen by the shah, colonels and majors by the army commander, and junior offi cers by their regimental commanders. In all cases, no military background or special qualities besides the acquaintance of or some personal connection to the senior official making selection decisions were required. The army commander in the last years of the fi rst Russo- Iranian war had no military qualifi cations and extorted money from his offi cers by charging them with misconduct and then extracting payments for leniency.

Part of the problem was that the upper echelons of Iranian society despised military careers as low status and, except for commands where corruption and profi teering were possible, unrewarding. As a result, the offi cer corps tended to be drawn from families of limited means and education. Throughout the Qajar period, these offi cers at all levels of the chain of command pocketed the pay allott ed to their troops, a practice the shahs tolerated. In turn, the unpaid soldiers had to practice a variety of full- time trades in garrison towns or nearby villages to survive, neglecting drill and training. Even if the Qajar offi cers of questionable capabilities had aspirations to serve honorably and well, they had no professional cadre of staff offi cers or noncommissioned offi cers to help support them in their various commands and garrisons.

The Qajars did allow for a large number of aide- de- camps or adjutants to be appointed to assist the most senior civilian and military leaders and provincial governors. These offi cers had no real professional training, however, and, in any event, court politics and intrigues infl uenced most of the armed forces’ policies. The nearest equivalent of a modern staff offi cer was the adjutan- bashi (chief of staff), whose job was to assemble the troops for review and act as the master of ceremonies during military parades at the palace. This offi cer had no other duties, however, and the position was obtained either as a result of gaining palace favor or through outright purchase.