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Iranian Peoples Struggle for Freedom, The era of constitutional revolution (Mashroottiat)

By Abbas Sadeghian, Ph.D.

Towards the end of 19th century, colonialism was at its peak in the Middle East. The Russians and the English were competing on every peace of land, over any treaty of natural resources, manpower and anything else which could be plundered. Iran was practically divided into two halves. The northern part was under the influence of the Russians. The Iranian army was run by the Russian officers called Persian Cossacks. They were in charge of the capital as well.

Persian Cossacks

The southern part of the country was run by the English and they had their own military force called Southern Persia Police.

The southern Police force in a parade in Shiraz: the soldiers are all Indian

The power of the Iranian king was limited to his own castle, and a few cities around Tehran. The British did not like the influence of the Russians on the Shah. They were afraid of a day that a person with some brains might become the king and threaten their interests in the Middle East and India.

The incident of the British tobacco company
Naseraldin Shah Ghajar during his 40th year of his rule (20 Mar. 1890) granted a maddening concession to a British company. He gave a complete monopoly on the production, domestic sales, and export of tobacco. The Imperial Tobacco Corporation of Persia agreed to pay 25,000 pounds immediately for the concession and to provide an annual payment of 15,000 pounds to the Shah's treasury. The king would also get 25 percent share of the net profits. The arrangement was to be maintained for a period of fifty years. The British were famous for this type of treaties which usually was followed by similar treaties to come. Once this treaty was signed and implemented the British Company began to build a huge building in Tehran. Those looking at the building were of the opinion that the building was too large for its purpose, and that it was not just a headquarters of a tobacco company, but the headquarters of pirates. Meanwhile the Grand Ayatollah of the time, Ayatollah Mirza Shirazi was following these events diligently. He was powerful, popular and lived in the holy city of Najaf in Iraq.

Ayatollah Mirza Muhammad Hassan Shirazi
The Ayatollah was just fed up with Naseraldin Shah. He wrote an intimidating, one line, religious decree which read as "The use of all tobacco material is equivalent to declaration of war on the Messiah." Once the news was telegraphed to Tehran, the entire country quit smoking. People throw all of their tobacco, pipes, and all other smoking paraphernalia out of their houses. They set fire on all stores selling tobacco. Within about two days nobody could find any tobacco in the entire country. The crowds gathered by the king's palace and threw dirt and dog feces at his gates. They called the king and his soldier's names and demanded the revocation of the treaty. The soldiers shot a bunch of unarmed civilians. Naseraldin Shah was loosing control; the old dictator was not accustomed to such an unruly behavior from his subjects. The situation got so bad that the shah could not find any tobacco in his own palace. His favorite wife Anisodoleh refused to prepare his pipe. When the king chastised her, and asked her who is responsible for this madness, she replied it has been banned by the representative of the same god who authorized their marriage. In other words, she gave him the message that if he does not revoke the treaty, he might even lose her. The Shah who thought of himself as the shadow of the god had no other choice except to revoke the treaty. He abolished the concession completely and agreed to pay compensation to the families of those killed in demonstrations, and pardoned all leaders of the revolt and compensated the family of the dead. Ayatollah Shirazi telegraphed a few days later to say that Muslims could resume smoking. This event left a biter taste in the mouths of Naseraldin Shah and the British.

Mozafareldin Shah Ghajar (1896-1906)
Naseraldin Shah was assassinated on May 1, 1896 and his Crown Prince Mozafareldin Shah ascended to the throne on June 1896. The New Shah acquired the crown under unpleasant adversarial circumstances. His incompetence and expensive frequent tours of Europe added insult to injury. In 1905, protests broke out over the collection of Iranian tariffs to pay back the Russian loan for the royal tours. Two Iranian merchants were punished in Tehran for charging high prices In December 1905. They were caned in public, which caused an uprising of the merchants in Tehran. The clergy followed suit as a measure of alliance. The two protesting groups took sanctuary in a mosque in Tehran, but the government violated this sanctuary and entered the mosque and dispersed the group.


Ayatollah Tabatabaii

Ayatollah Behbahani

Ayatollah Tabatabaii and Ayatollah Behbahani
The two powerful leaders of the revolt did not just win the conflict; they introduced the power of clergy to Iranian politics.

This violation of the sanctity of the mosque created an even larger movement which sought refuge in a shrine outside Tehran. On January 1906, the Shah gave in and agreed to surrender power to a new "house of justice."

In early 1906 a clergyman was killed by Government forces which led to riots in which Cossack soldiers killed 22 protesters and injured 100. The clergy went on strike again. A large number of the high level clergymen took sanctuary in the holy city of Qom. Many merchants went to the gardens adjacent to British embassy which agreed to offer protection to the rebels in their grounds.

Creation of the constitution of 1906

12,000 men camped out in the gardens of British embassy. They demanded formation of a parliament. They wanted to put a limit on the power of the Shah. In August 1906, Mozafareldin Shah agreed to allow a parliament, and in the fall, the first elections were held. In all, 156 members were elected, with an overwhelming majority coming from Tehran and the merchant class.

The First Session of the Parliament (Majlis): the only one ever without cheating

The first meeting of parliament was held soon after and the members of the new congress immediately gave themselves the right to make a constitution, raising their organization to a Constitutional Assembly. The Shah was getting old, sick and more superstitious, and after much consultation with exorcists, fortune tellers, and even the fish in the castle pool, he attended the inauguration of the parliament, which was his last act as a king. Mozafareldin Shah's son Muhammad Ali, however, was heavily influenced by Russians and did not like the idea of constitutionalism. The new constitution was modeled after the Belgian Constitution. According to the new document signed by Mozafareldin Shah, the Shah was from there on "under the rule of law, and the crown became a divine gift given to the Shah by the people."

Mohammad Ali Shah

Following Mozafareldin Shah's death, his successor, Mohammad Ali Mirza pledged to respect the fundamentals of the Constitution and the Nation's Rights. But he broke his word from the very beginning, which caused the Constitutionalists to react. The dissatisfaction caused Mohammad Mirza to summon the cabinet members under the pretense of soliciting advice. He broke his word and detained all of them. A new cabinet was formed but a bomb was thrown at Shah's Coach, making him highly suspicious. The bomb was probably built by Heydar Almighty, a famous, successful revolutionary for years to come.

Heydar Khan Amooghly

Two days later, Shah invited the leaders of the constitutional movement to the Imperial Gardens outside Tehran, where he imprisoned all and placed the parliament under siege and ordered its bombardment by artillery fire. Colonel Liakhov, the leader of Persian Cossacks, destroyed the new parliament and killed their leaders.

Mirza Jahangir Khan Soresrafil (killed savagely by Liakhov)

Ironically, the revolt did not die and instead turned into an armed struggle. Starting in Tabriz. The leaders of this struggle were the famous Sattar Khan and Bagher Khan. They started a homegrown uprising and took over the city.

Sattar khan & Bagher khan
Sattar Khan acquired a lot of guns and trained a lot of people. Muhammad Ali Shah sent his uncle with the Cossack brigade to fight him. During the first days of battle Sattar Khan lost badly. The number of his soldiers had dwindled to a few people. The commander of the Cossack brigade, noticing Sattar Khan's impending loss, sent a few soldiers with a white flag and told Sattar Khan that he should just take the white flag and go wherever he wanted to, in peace. Sattar Khan replied "This flag is the flag of freedom and I want all people of the world to be under it. I am not going to surrender, you go back to your commander and make sure that you do everything thing that you can to win." Then he went back to the city and noticed that most houses had put white flags on their doors. He took his sword and broke the flag poles and put the men of the city to shame, he yelled at them saying it would be more manly if they were wearing veils rather than putting a white flag on the doors. The people of Tabriz who are famous for their pride and honor couldn't take it any more and came out to fight. The odds against him in the battles were astonishing. Sattar Khan was facing overwhelming military superiority. However, he won every battle until the government forces were totally defeated and sent back to Tehran. Sattar khan's success was followed by triumphs of Bakhtiaris from the mountains of central Iran.


They used the element of surprise and moved through the lines of the government forces. Thus the 3000 strong, well-equipped forces of Bakhtiari entered the capital. Following bloody fights in the streets and the Bazaar District, once again the national forces triumphed, and the Cossack brigade was surrounded and forced into surrender.

The Jewish Constitutionalists

Fearing for his life, Mohammad shah and a number of his supporters, under armed escort of Russian soldiers, took miserable asylum in Russian Embassy. On this very day, the National Consultative Assembly (Majlis) held an emergency session and deposed Mohammad Ali Shah as a monarch, and named his 13 year old son, Ahmad Mirza as his successor. Mohammad Ali Shah left the Russian Embassy and went into exile in Russia.

Ayatollah Noori
Ayatollah Noori was the only one to be hanged after the revolution, guilty of siding with the dictator. He was Ayatollah Khomeini's mentor!!!!!

... Payvand News - 11/29/10 ... --

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