Classic Military Techniques and Modern Challenges

  October 12, 2021   Read time 3 min
Classic Military Techniques and Modern Challenges
The governor, Ain al- Dawleh, became the acting royalist commander and decided to starve the population of Tabriz by blocking the roads leading into the city. The shah dispatched a ruthless mercenary named Samad Khan in January 1909 to take command of the Qajar troops.

Within a month, Samad Khan had completed the encirclement of Tabriz, but his forces still were unable to break into the city. The resistance remained strong because surrender was tantamount to death at the hands of brigands. With famine, illness, and desertions beginning to take their toll on the mujahedin, however, the constitutionalists accepted royalist off ers to negotiate in April. By then, concerns about the revolution and the precedent it might set for the czar’s disaff ected subjects prompted a Russian military intervention. Approximately 2,600 Russian cavalrymen and infantry supported by two artillery batt eries and a sapper company entered the city on the last day of April 1909. The Russians disarmed the revolutionaries, who then numbered fewer than one thousand fi ghters. They also disbanded the royalist forces, which probably prevented the pillaging of the city and other depredations by the tribal levies. Additional Russian cavalry and infantry formations were dispatched to protect consulates in Rasht, Astarabad, and Mashhad while Russian naval vessels steamed into Iran’s Caspian ports.

The siege of Tabriz was over, but the setback to the nationalist cause was only temporary because rebellions were flaring up throughout the country. Inspired by the Tabriz mujahedin, revolutionaries were increasingly active by late 1908 in Rasht, Astarabad, and Mashhad in the north, Bandar Abbas in the southeast, and Shiraz and Esfahan in central Iran. The uprising in Esfahan gained the support of local Bakhtiari tribal khans, who with three hundred horsemen succeeded in throwing the royalist government out of the city in January 1909. After securing the goodwill of the other southern tribes to protect (or at least not threaten) Bakhtiari lands, the khans gathered an army of five hundred to six hundred horsemen for an assault on Tehran. By the beginning of March 1909, there were multiple centers of nationalist resistance, acting more or less in concert, in Tabriz, Esfahan, and Rasht. By early April, Hamadan, Shiraz, Bushehr, Bandar Abbas, and Mashhad had joined the revolt.

The insurrection in the Caspian region was the next to gain momentum. Because of its heavy woodlands and swamps, the Caspian districts were distinct from the rest of Iran, and the local peasantry was fi ercely independent. Lord Curzon had assessed that any conquest of the region would be a difficult undertaking because the peasants and native militia, familiar with the land and inured to guerrilla war, would make occupation nearly impossible. In the two years leading up to the 1908 coup, the anjumans and mujahedin in Gilan had already fought the government to an uneasy standstill. Gilan’s governor tried to reassert Qajar control over the province in September 1908 with a force of one thousand infantry and cavalry with two cannons. The soldiers of this royal army were unenthusiastic, having been warned by the local peasants of the unpleasant consequences of being taken prisoner.

After six weeks on campaign, the Qajar force reached the Tavalash region, which was known for its high and dense forests. Unprepared for either guerrilla warfare or the determined resistance it encountered, the Qajar army broke in the Batt le of Tavalash and retreated in disarray harried by the mujahedin as it fl ed. Freed from the threat of royalist att acks, the mujahedin went on the off ensive. Yephrem Khan (Ephraim Khan), an Armenian Christian who had fought against Russia’s government, commanded a force of five hundred men, called “walking arsenals” by one British eyewitness, that easily seized Rasht aft er revolutionaries assassinated the governor there. By February 1909, Muhammad Vali Khan Nasr al- Saltanah, the former Qajar commander at Tabriz, had switched sides. Also known as Sepahdar- e Azam, or Greatest of the Marshals, Vali Khan was given command of the mujahedin army from Gilan and Mazandaran. After consolidating control over the Caspian region and collecting money, this force prepared to move against the shah.

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