Russian military aims and activities in Iran

  November 17, 2021   Read time 5 min
Russian military aims and activities in Iran
I. Noskov was a traveler who happened to free some Russian captives in Iran: his success seems to have been rather unintentional and limited. After delivering the crystal bed (see next section, “Russian diplomacy in Iran”) to Fath ‘Ali Shah, he was preparing to leave Tehran in December 1826, when the second war between Iran and Russia was under way

Noskov says that ‘Ali Shah Mirza, one of the Shah’s sons, approached him quite unexpectedly with a “strange” proposal to escort to Esfahan 320 captive Russian soldiers, who had been brought some time ago from Tabriz. Taken aback by such an offer, Noskov rejected it, pointing out that he was not sure of his own safety and that this assignment could be carried out much better by a Persian official. The story of that group of Russian prisoners had a comparatively happy ending: through Sir John Kinneir Macdonald, the British Minister in Tehran, Noskov petitioned the Shah to free the Russian prisoners and to turn them over to him as a gift.

The Shah granted his request, and the prisoners were given to Noskov. In connection with this, the Shah told Noskov: “Let it be a proof to your Emperor of how pleased I am with you, and how far I am from the thought of hostility towards Russia.” Noskov notes that out of 320 soldiers who had been brought to Tehran about two months prior to that, only 250 were still alive: the rest of them had died of disease and unbearable exhaustion. Noskov writes that he had to wait till warm clothes for the soldiers were ready; after that, on 12 December 1826, he left Tehran, accompanied by an Iranian mehmandar (host) and a representative of the British Mission. In Erevan, he was able to save two more Russian prisoners of war who were serving at the house of the Iranian commandant of the fortress. In mid-February 1827, Noskov successfully accomplished his mission and brought back the freed soldiers.

According to a well-informed author, in 1829 the Russian Battalion consisted of 1,400 men but later this number decreased: After the cholera [epidemic] of 1830, and especially after the death of ‘Abbas Mirza, the strength of the battalion considerably diminished; in 1838, when I arrived in Tehran, it had about 500 men. Easy service and good pay drew our soldiers to Persia. Their heroic deeds in campaigns against the Turcomans and Afghans earned them great respect in Persia. The battalion had the fame which made it look threatening in the eyes of the Persians and their enemies in the Orient. It bore the title of the Grenadier’s Battalion (Bahaduran); it formed palace guards during the time of Fath ‘Ali Shah and his successor, Muhammad [Shah]. [The battalion] guarded the tranquility of the Persian rulers; it was their hope during attacks and in military campaigns. It assisted Muhammad Shah greatly in his succession to the throne, which Zill al-Sultan (son of Fath ‘Ali Shah) had almost stolen from him.

As reported by Berzhe, in November 1828, after the Treaty of Turkmanchai was concluded, the Russian Minister in Tehran Alexander Griboedov complained about the evasiveness of the Iranian government in the matter of returning Russian deserters and war prisoners. According to the treaty, all the prisoners of war were to be returned; while Iran was not to allow Russian deserters serving in the Iranian army to be stationed near the new frontier.8 Griboedov was able to get the Iranian government to agree to return them, but his murder postponed the resolution of the problem until good relations between the two countries were restored. In 1830, while Prince Dolgorukov was the Russian Ambassador to Iran, the Russian government issued pardons to the deserters and granted them permission to return home. However, the Russians could not issue an open order for the deserters to return, since that would be contrary to the terms of the Treaty of Turkmanchai. In 1837, Nicholas I requested that the battalion formed from Russian deserters and prisoners of war be dissolved and the Russian soldiers return to Russia. He also requested that the Iranian government not accept more Russian deserters to Iran. This request was sent to the Russian Minister in Iran, Count Simonich, who was supposed to deliver it to Muhammad Shah. In the event of the Shah’s refusal to meet the Emperor’s request, Simonich was supposed to leave Iran, together with all the members of his Mission. At that time, Muhammad Shah was at the siege of Herat, therefore Count Simonich was allowed to go to Herat in person on that assignment. Later the same year, Simonich was replaced by Diugamel’ who received the following instructions personally from Nicholas I before his departure for Iran:

Emir Nizam [Commander-in-chief of the Iranian army in Heart whom the Emperor had met when he visited the Caucasus in 1837] told me that the number of these deserters has reached two thousand. Since then, the battalion numbers seemed to have declined since now [the Persians] are only talking about 400 people. It is highly probable that our deserters have got scared and run away when they heard that I am requesting that they be returned. There is nothing surprising in the fact that the deserters are able to hide and avoid government control in a country which is as poorly governed as Persia. However, I don’t want regularly organized units to be formed out of them right next to us, which can serve as an encouragement and enticement for any soldier who decided to desert. Soon we shall hear that either the Persian government has accepted my request or that our Mission has left Tehran according to my orders. If our deserters are returned to us, in future we shall have to take care that similar units are not to be created.