Foreign Trade and Politico-Cultural Opening to West

  November 27, 2021   Read time 3 min
Foreign Trade and Politico-Cultural Opening to West
French attempts to establish trade relations with the shah led to agreements, the contents of which were sanctioned by 'Abbas II in a farman issued shortly before his death, but for the time being nothing came of them in practice.

Apart from the exchange of goods they facilitated, the activities of the Western trading companies contributed to a certain opening up of Iran towards the West. The companies brought large numbers of Europeans to Persia, amongst them men of great acumen and intellectual curiosity who made it their ambition to really get to know the country and its inhabitants in depth, men who recorded their observations and experiences and subsequently published them. Reports of this nature not only provided the contemporary Western world with reliable information on Persia, but constitute to this day indispensable source-material for certain areas of study. Through the agency of the trading companies, for instance by using their ships, Persian merchants also visited European countries and were able to inform themselves of cultural conditions there. Western ideas reached Persia, where their influence is clearly discernible, if not so much on intellectual life, then certainly in the field of art and in the increasing refinement of Persian culture.

In discussing the European trading companies we have already moved to the subject of external relations, which were, as has already been indicated, predominantly peaceful in the reign of 'Abbas II. The treaty of 1049/1639 proved a reliable basis for relations with the Ottomans. In other respects the judicious restraint of the shah paid dividends. He was not tempted by such favourable opportunities to expand his territory as arose, for instance, in Transcaucasia, where the risk of war was so acute that the governor of the Turkish border provinces had even evacuated the civilian population in expectation of a Persian attack, or in Basra, where the shah's aid had been sought to settle a struggle for the succession. Under these circumstances no danger threatened from the Ottomans, whether because the Porte was pursuing interests elsewhere - the conquest of Crete occurs in the period 105 5-80/1645-69 - or because their desire for expansion was counterbalanced by considerable difficulties at home. A significant indication of the peaceful nature of relations between Persia and the Ottomans is the exchange of a number of legations.

Nor did any threat to peace emerge from the north-east, where in Khiva a new ruler had ascended the throne in the same year as 'Abbas II. This was Abu'l-GhazI Khan, whom we have previously encountered as an exile in Isfahan. On the other hand, Persia was drawn into conflicts which arose amongst the Uzbeks of Bukhara. Here we have in mind not those incursions by nomadic Uzbek tribes which did occasionally still occur, though no longer as frequently or on so large a scale as under Shah SafI, but rather conflicts within the ruling dynasty. Just as Imam Qull Khan had in his day arrived in Isfahan as a refugee from his brother Nadr Muhammad Khan, so now this selfsame prince appeared seeking help at the Persian court after being banished from the throne by his son 'Abd al-'Aziz and having, if anything, further exacerbated the situation by asking the Great Mughal for military support. With Persian cooperation a settlement was arrived at between father and son, but it lasted only until the beginning of the fifties. The renewed strife, which had again led Nadr Muhammad Khan to announce his arrival in Isfahan, was resolved by the latter's death.1 From then on Persia seems to have had no further difficulties of any great significance with her Uzbek neighbours.