Russian Oppression and Persian Resistance

  October 24, 2021   Read time 1 min
Russian Oppression and Persian Resistance
The seventy deputies of the Majles, encouraged by calls to defy the Russian threat, including a women’s demonstration along Lalehzar Avenue, voted against the government’s recommendation to accept the ultimatum just minutes before the forty-eight-hour deadline the Russians had set.

The Bakhtiyari-dominated cabinet nevertheless succumbed to pressure and dismissed Shuster. Driven by realistic fears of Russian onslaught, the Bakhtiyari oligarchs were also willing to comply with Russian wishes, because at the time they were negotiating with British authorities over land rights in the newly discovered oil field of Masjed Soleiman in Khuzestan province. The prospects in their tribal territory were too lucrative to be jeopardized by offending Russia, now the ally of Britain.

The Majles, however, stood firm until the end. Even the disheartening news of the sudden death on December 13 of Mohammad Kazem Khorasani in Najaf did not deter the deputies. Dying under suspicious circumstances while on his way to Tehran, Khorasani was apparently contemplating declaring jihad against Russia. Rumors in Tehran held Russian agents responsible for his death even though tacit British blessing was not ruled out. Even if these were sheer speculations, they were enough to demoralize the public and erode support for the Majles.

The Russians had no intention of coming to terms with the Majles. Since December 1, Russian troops had reoccupied Tabriz and gone on a rampage of plunder, rape, abduction, and killing of innocent people. The Tabriz urban militia, the remnants of the Fada’is remobilized under the acting city council, put up a stiff resistance during three weeks of street battles with a Russian force of five thousand. Yet despite nearly eight hundred Russian casualties, the Tabrizi snipers were eventually outnumbered by Russian reinforcements of royalist Shahseven tribes. Together they inflicted heavy casualties on the population and destroyed some of the city’s most remarkable monuments, including Arg ‘Ali-Shah, the formidable thirteenthcentury Ilkhanid citadel.

Even more vicious, on the day of ‘Ashura (September 13, 1912), the occupying Russian forces publicly hanged eight leaders of the Tabriz resistance, including the enlightened constitutionalist Shaykhi mojtahed of the city, ‘Ali Aqa Seqat al-Islam Tabrizi (1861–1911). Their bodies remained on the gallows for days after. In due course, thirty-six other nationalists were hanged on bogus charges of resisting foreign occupation.