Shah Safi's Foreign Ties

  September 25, 2021   Read time 3 min
Shah Safi's Foreign Ties
The question of Iran's foreign relations under Safi I is another important issue that should be taken into account in this context. Even under normal circumstances a change of ruler in the Safavid empire always touched off increased interest and, all too easily, covetous aspirations among neighbouring powers.

Since Shah Safi revealed himself only too soon as a weak, insecure and impressionable character, his neighbours lost no time in making appropriate moves. In the reign of Shah Safi hostilities started up on the frontiers with the Ottoman empire, in Georgia, with the Uzbeks and with India, and these resulted in territorial losses or at all events in the necessity for counter-measures. The fact that Iran escaped fairly lightly is hardly attributable to its ruler, but was due rather to other circumstances.

The first disorders that occurred after the death of Shah 'Abbas were incursions on the part of Bedouin Arabs of the Banu Lam tribe into the area around Baghdad. These, however, had no significant effect upon the destinies of Iran; and even various conflicts among the Musha'sha' in the area of Havlza (Huvaiza), a tribe subject to the shah, which broke out after the murder of the governor of Shlraz, Imam Qull Khan, had no particularly momentous consequences. This was because 'All Pasha, the independent Turkish governor of Basra, who might have caused difficulties, was shrewd enough to avoid any involvement in these disputes.

Grave news, however, was arriving in Isfahan from the west, where under the young Sultan Murad IV (1032-49/1623-40) an enterprising and ruthless grand vizier had come to power in the person of Khiisrev Pasha. The object of his planning was clearly to exploit the easement achieved as a result of the renewal of the Peace of Szony recently negotiated between the Porte and the Emperor Ferdinand II by mounting a blow against Persia. At the news of his approach in the summer of 1038-9/1629, the Persians did not find themselves unprepared. Zainal Khan Begdell Shamlu, the newly appointed commander-in-chief, moved at the head of the Persian forces to Hamadan, where the shah was also encamped with his court.

Khusrev Pasha, who had temporarily given up his original objective, Baghdad, and had advanced in the direction of Hamadan, scored a victory on 4 May 1630 at Mahldasht. Though Hamadan then fell into his hands, he resisted the temptation to press on further into the interior of Persia and turned his attention to his real objective, Mesopotamia and Baghdad. As the Baghdad contingent under Safi Qull Khan held out against the Ottoman assault following heavy artillery bombardment, Khiisrev Pasha regarded the venture as a failure, and withdrew. It seems likely that his decision was prompted in part by the thought of the approaching winter — the attack took place between 8 and 12 November 1630 — and no doubt by the associated thought of how vulnerable his lines of communication to the rear would be, having regard to their length and particular geographical location.

It proved not too difficult for the Persians to clear out the garrisons left behind by the Ottomans in the central part of the Euphrates region, and to bring to heel the Kurds, who had largely sided with the enemy. Although it at first looked as if peace could be brought about between the Ottomans and the Safavids, these hopes were destined to be dashed because the new Turkish Grand Vizier, Tabanyas'i Mehmed Pasha, observing the murder of the Persian princes and the Georgian resistance to the shah,1 did not regard Persia as a dangerous enemy and had no interest in concluding a peace. Hence the next four years saw no end to frontier skirmishes in which the initiative and the outcome alternated from one side to the other constantly.