Colonial Intrusions and Cultural Downfall

  September 01, 2021   Read time 3 min
Colonial Intrusions and Cultural Downfall
Russia’s defeat by the Japanese in 1905 had left her in a state of shock and made her more amenable to co-operate with Britain in devising a structure for the protection of their respective interests in Iran.

The emergence of Germany as a world power and a potential threat to Britain and Russia was probably another incentive to conclude an agreement. Without consultation or even a hint to the Iranians the two powers in August 1907 entered into an agreement which dealt with their differences in Afghanistan, Tibet and Iran. In the case of Iran they in effect carved up the country between themselves. Iran was divided into three zones. Russian in the north. British in the south and a neutral zone in between. With the logic that comes from naked power the preface to the Convention stated:

...the sole object of the arrangement is the avoidance of any misunderstanding on the ground of Persian affairs between the contracting parties. The Shah’s government will be convinced that the Agreement... can not fail to promote prosperity, security and interior development of Persia in the most efficacious manner.

Lord Grey, Britain's Foreign Minister a t the time, stated: Persia had always attempted to play one power off against another thus creating tension between the two great imperial powers. Only a cordial understanding would prevent such a state of affairs from becoming worse...

The reference to the integrity and independence of Persia in the preamble was merely a formality. Grey went on to say, 'Persia was honeycombed by concessions... and was not in reality a viable entity’. He concluded, ‘Persia tried my patience more than any other subject’.

From the moment the purports of the Convention were made public, Britain lost whatever temporary popularity she had gained and was viewed with increased suspicion. The British concentrated their efforts toward the southern oil fields. They ignored the central Government and entered into various agreements with local tribes to protect the drilling and export of oil. The Russians inspired even greater fear. Another consequence of the agreement was to give the Russians an almost completely free hand in their relations with the Iranian Government, something the Russians were happy to exploit in the face of demands for a constitution.

Mohammad All Shah, who had been close to the Russians from his days as Crown Prince in Azarbaijan, actively sought their intervention to dismantle parliament. There were some abortive attem pts in 1907 and finally in 1908 he staged a bloody coup. The parliament building was shelled by the Iranian Cossack Brigade under Russian officers. Prominent constitutionalists were arrested, most tortured and some murdered. Others fled the country or went into hiding.

The torture and extreme repression after the shelling of parliament contributed to greater discontent, and soon there was a full-scale uprising in Tabriz, the capital of Azarbaijan. This province being nearer to European Russia was more conversant with Western thought and ideas. The people of Tabriz, although more religious than the inhabitants of central Iran, could read pamphlets written in Turkish issued by members of nationalist and reformist movements in Russia and Turkey. Mohammad All Shah, unable to quell the revolt, laid siege to the city. Provinces on the southern shores of the Caspian also rose against the Shah. Esfahan in central Iran came into the picture as well. The Bakhüari tribe had a blood feud with the Shah’s unde Zell al Soltan, who had murdered one of their chieftains, Hosein Qoli Khan, in 1881. Troops led by Sardar As’ad,* a tribal elder, began to march into Esfahan. Another body of troops led by Mohammad Vali Khan Tonokaboni (Sepahsalar), a landed grandee from Mazandaran who had espoused the cause of the constitutionalists but who also had personal grievances against the Shah, marched from the shores of the Caspian toward Tehran.