The rise of the Qajar dynasty in late eighteenth-century Persia was as sudden as its fall. The autocratic attitude of these rulers and excessive friendship with foreigners eventually led to the downfall of this dynasty. Written by Nasreen Shawkat
Qajar dynasty and empire
The history of the Persian monarchy is two and a half thousand years old. The rise of the Qajar dynasty is a significant event in history. This dynasty ruled Persia (present-day Iran) from 1785 to 1925. The Qajars were an Iranian royal family. Who are originally a nomadic tribe of Oghuz Turkic origin. The first ruler of this family was Mohammad Aga Khan, leader of Qajar tribe. who wanted to reunify Iran by establishing the Qajar dynasty in Persia.
The Qajars were a clan of the Qizil dynasty, allies of the Safavid dynasty of Persia. During the Mughal rule in Iran, the Qajars migrated to Iran. He started living in Armenia area. Shah Ismail was the founder of the Safavid dynasty in Safavid Iran. Among the nomadic tribes who assisted him then, the Qajars were among them. Later the Qajars joined the Kizil Bakad tribe. Before the Pahlavi dynasty, Iran was ruled by the Safavid dynasty and the Qajar dynasty respectively. These two dynasties have a very important role in Iranian politics. Ismail, the first king of the Safavid dynasty, declared Shia Islam as the state religion of Iran. Later the Qajar dynasty came to power and gave political power to the scholarly community. Seven shahs of the Qajar dynasty reigned on the throne of Iran.
The Qajar dynasty ruled Persia for about one hundred and fifty (140) years. During this long period, as they conquered new territories, they also lost control over many territories. In the 19th century, the territories lost to Russia included large areas of the Caucasus and Central Asia. The area over which the Russian Empire expanded. At the time of Khazar’s reign, Russia was in a long-term conflict with Great Britain. Despite losing control of two of their vast territories, the Qajar dynasty was able to exploit tensions between Russia and Britain to their advantage. Through which came the end of this dynasty, a massive modernization of the Qajar kingdom took place. As a result, the Qajar Empire underwent extensive reforms in the field of education. At the same time, good relations with the West began to increase, which changed the image of the Qajar land forever. The Qajar dynasty officially fell in 1925, through assassinations, wars, and finally a coup. The fall of the Qajar dynasty completely changed the map of the Middle East.
Zand dynasty ruled the southern part of Iran. The last ruler of this dynasty was Muhammad Karim Khan Jand. Karim Khan Zand died in 1779. Then Aga Khan Mohammad, the leader of the Turkmen Qajar clan, moved forward. His aim was to overthrow the enemy and reunify Iran. In 1785, Aga Khan removed the Zand dynasty from power and seized the Peacock throne. Three years later in 1789, Aga Khan ascended the throne as the king of Iran. Through this, the rule of the Qajar dynasty was established in Iran. But the Aga Khan ascended the throne but was not formally crowned as Shah or Emperor.
Aga Khan’s rule was brutal. In 1794 Lutf Ali Khan, the former ruler of the Jand clan, who was almost deposed, was given refuge in the city of Kerman. After a long struggle, Aga Khan captured the city of Kerman. After that, its inhabitants were subjected to cruel punishment for harboring his enemy in the city. As part of this punishment, all men in the city of Kerman were blindfolded.
It is known that at that time 20 thousand plucked eyes of the city of Kerman were brought and collected in front of Aga Khan. Meanwhile, women and children were enslaved and the city of Kerman was completely destroyed. The Aga Khan wiped out all his rivals that year. Along with that, he also established the sovereignty of Iran in the former regions of Georgia and the Caucasus with ruthless hands. Meanwhile, the capital of the city was established in Tehran. Through this, the Qajar dynasty was able to take control over the whole of Iran. Two years later in 1796, Mohammad Aga Khan was formally crowned Emperor of the Persian Empire with the title of Shah. But the brutal incident happened the following year. In 1797, the founder of the Qajar dynasty, Aga Khan, was brutally murdered.
Mohammad Aga Khan was sent into exile when he was only six years old. He had no sons. So after Aga Khan’s death, his nephew Fateh Ali Shah succeeded him on the throne as ‘Shahenshah’ (King of Kings). Once on the throne, he focused on expanding the Iranian empire and incorporated new territories into the empire. Fateh Ali is said to be the best ruler of the Qajar dynasty. At that time, Fateh Ali conducted two successive wars to prevent Russian incursion into the Caucasus region. The first phase of Russo-Persian wars took place in 1804 and 1813 respectively. At that time, the Caucasus region was traditionally under the control of Iran. But the war brought dire consequences for the two Khazars. As a result of the war of 1813, a treaty was concluded between the Russian forces and the Qajar forces called Gulistan. According to the terms of the treaty, the Qajar rulers had to hand over Azerbaijan, Dagestan and Georgia to the Roman Tsar of Russia. Later another Russo-Persian war took place in the second phase. Those two wars of 1826 and 1828 ended in terrible defeat. As a result, Iran had to hand over the rest of South Caucasus to Russia.
Relations with the West
It was during Fateh Ali’s reign that Western diplomatic relations with Iran began. As a result, there was a fierce competition between the Europeans over the territory of Iran. Five years have already passed. Fateh Ali was succeeded by his grandson Mohammad Shah in 1834. He made two failed attempts to capture Herat under Russian control. After a century and a half, Mohammad Shah died in 1848. After the death of his father, the Shah’s son Naser al-Din sat on the Qajar throne.
The beginning of modernization
The reign of Qajar Shah Naser al-Din became known mainly for significant infrastructural development and the introduction of modern science, technology and educational systems. This vast development and modernization was made possible by Mirza Taghi Khan Amir Kabir, a highly skilled advisor and constable of Naser Din. From that period in the middle of the 19th century, Iran entered the modern era and continued thereafter. It was during this reign of the Qajar dynasty that telegraph lines, a modern postal service, Western-style schools and the first newspapers were introduced in Iran. Nasser Din limited the power of the Shia Muslim clerics with a fairly strict hand to maintain secularism during his reign. It is said that he was the first of the Qajar rulers to indulge in luxury. He is also accused of taking huge foreign loans to go on expensive personal trips to Europe. He was the first to grant concessions to the British as foreigners to build railways and irrigation canals and to process and sell tobacco in Iran. His actions gave birth to a new nationalism throughout Iran. A nationwide boycott of tobacco products was eventually enacted through a fatwa, forcing Nasser Deen to backtrack on his policies.
Although Nasser Din wanted to capitalize on the mutual distrust between Britain and Russia to protect Iran’s independence, this strategy actually backfired for him. Because it was during his reign that both foreign intervention and territorial occupation increased in Iran. As a result, by 1881, Russia took control of present-day Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, Britain similarly infiltrated Asia by supporting the creation of Afghanistan. By the end of the 19th century, many Iranians began to believe that a large part of their country and rulers were blind to foreign interests.
Naser al-Din was assassinated in 1896. This time, his son Mozaffar ad-Din sat in the Qajar rulership through inheritance. Like his father, he also had a weakness for luxury. He quickly became an unpopular and incompetent ruler for his extravagant spending and lavish lifestyle. In 1906, the Iranian people launched an armed revolution against the Qajar dynasty, demanding control over Iranian royal power and the establishment of a true rule of law. As a result Mozaffar Shah was forced to establish the legislature by framing the constitution. As a result, his power as king was effectively reduced. The Anglo-Russian agreement with Iran was concluded the year after this important reform in Iranian politics, which was the final blow to Iran. Through this agreement, Russia’s control over Iran matured.
World War I and the fall of the Khazars
World War I significantly weakened the Qajar dynasty. Mohammad Ali Shah, another son of Naser Din, was ruling Iran at that time. Who with the support of Russia tried to annul the constitution of parliamentary system of government. As a result, Ali Shah faced fierce opposition and was finally forced to abdicate in 1909. At that time, his 11-year-old son Ahmad Shah succeeded him. But like his father, he became an unpopular ruler due to his luxurious and lavish lifestyle.
Meanwhile, it was during World War I that Britain, Russia and the Ottoman Empire began occupying Iran, which was a major blow to the Persian monarchy. Iran could never come out of this occupation. Oil was discovered in the Middle East after this war. As a result, new competition between European countries regarding Iran increased. This time the British became desperate to seize the oil market. They established the ‘Anglo Iranian Oil Company’. The British are accused of orchestrating a military coup in Iran in 1921 through intelligence services to consolidate this oil company. This time, with their help, Reza Khan Pahlavi, the commander of the Cossack brigade of the Persian military, became the ruler of Iran. Reza Shah Pahlavi, who later became an important political figure, founded the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran. This former military ruler made himself known as Reza Shah from Reza Khan.
At that time, this region of the Middle East located in Western Asia was known as ‘Persia’. Reza Shah Pahlavi named it Iran. After that, he focused on making Iran a secular and modern state, following the example of the West. In the meantime, the year 1925 comes. During Ahmad Shah’s absence in Europe, the Iranian Parliamentary Assembly declared the end of the Qajar dynasty. This is how the Qajar dynasty, which had been dominant for almost 150 years in Iran, fell. However, even today the Qajar royal family exists, but they live in exile.