V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > C. The Middle East and North Africa, 1792–1914 > 2. The Middle East and Egypt, 1796–1914 > b. Iran
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1796)
b. Iran
AGHA MUHAMMAD SHAH, FOUNDER OF THE QAJAR DYNASTY. The Qajars, originally Turkish tribal chiefs in Safavid service, consolidated their rule in Iran in the last two decades of the 18th century. The able and brutal Qajar leader Agha Muhammad took advantage of the political chaos to expand his control of the country. In 1796, after crushing the Zand dynasty and taking Khurasan from its Afshar ruler, he was crowned shah in his capital of Tehran.  1
The Qajars, who ruled Iran until 1924, headed a weakly centralized regime in which strong provincial tribes and an increasingly independent religious establishment set limits on the power of the state. Growing European intrusion also debilitated the government. In the 19th century Iran did not experience the level of modernizing reform of the Ottoman Empire or Egypt. The population grew from about 6 million in 1800 to around 12 million in 1920, but close to 90 percent of it remained rural, with a strong nomadic and tribal element (estimated at over a quarter of the population).  2
FATH ALI SHAH. The shah deferred to the Shi’ite clergy in order to enlist their support for the Qajar regime. He contributed state money to them and established many mosques and madrasas. At the beginning of Fath Ali's reign, the Qajar bureaucracy was only rudimentary. He created many additional administrative positions, such as controller general. Fath Ali Shah had five prime ministers during his reign. Their duties varied according to their abilities and the trust they elicited from the ruler. Always threatened by court intrigue and potentially fatal royal disfavor, no high-level governmental appointee ever felt safe. Fath Ali's many sons were appointed as governors of major provinces. Abbas Mirza (d. 1833), the heir apparent, maintained his own provincial army as the governor of Azerbaijan and later Khurasan.  3
Fath Ali Shah organized the army into two sections, one of which was based on a European military model and was directed by French, British, and Russian officers. By 1813 the nizam-i jadid (new army) included 12,000 regular cavalry and 12,000 regular infantry. Despite this addition, the Qajar army remained dependent on tribal levies and the ghulams (military slaves), usually of Christian origin, who formed the shah's personal guard.  4
Mirza Baba, naqqash-bashi (head painter) at the Qajar court, painted one of many life-size portraits of Fath Ali Shah. Mirza Baba mastered oils, miniature illumination, and lacquer, and many of his paintings were designed as presents for European rulers.  5
War with Russia (See 1804–13). Following its annexation of Georgia in 1801, Russia pushed outward to extend its control in the Caucasus to the Aras River. After nine years of hostilities the Treaty of Gulistan (Oct. 12, 1813) confirmed Iran's loss of Georgia and districts of Azerbaijan, including Baku and Qarabagh. Russia remained dissatisfied, and war resumed in 1826.  6
Appointment of Hajji Mirza Abu al-Hasan Khan as the first Qajar ambassador to Great Britain. He became the object of the satirical work Adventures of Hajji Baba in England by James Morier.  7
Opening of a printing press. The press in Iran remained much less developed than that of the Ottoman Empire or Egypt.  8
c. 1813
Completion of the Masjid-i Shah in Tehran. Situated in the heart of the city, the royal mosque is a notable example of the Qajar royal building program, in which members of guilds (asnaf) provided the skilled labor for the construction of major architectural projects. In the building trade, as in other crafts, a system of guilds with their inner hierarchy of apprentices and masters was in place.  9
Death of Sheik Ahmad ibn Zayn al-Din al-Ahsa'i, founder of the Shaykhi School of Shi’ism. The doctrines of the Shaykhi school were regarded as heterodox by the majority of the Shi’ite religious learned. They attempted to reconcile reason and religion in order to explain difficult aspects of Shi’ite beliefs. They posited that the hidden twelfth imam, whose return is awaited by all Shi’ite Muslims, was not literally hidden on earth, but existed in an intermediary world of archetypes called Hurqalya. Later members of the Shaykhi School argued that one perfect Shi’ite Muslim might act as an intercessor between this world and the hidden twelfth imam. The Shaykhis retained a minority following in Iran and Iraq, but influenced the later Babi movement.  10
Second war with Russia (See 1804–13). The Russians succeeded in gaining the coveted frontier along the Aras River. Under the Treaty of Turkmanchay (Feb. 22, 1828) Iran lost the areas of Erivan and Nakhchevan, and provided for a Russian diplomatic and commercial presence in Iran.  11
Death of Mirza Abd al-Vahhab Isfahani. A bureaucrat with a flair for poetry and calligraphy, Mirza rose through the administrative ranks. In 1809 he was appointed munshi al-mamalik (head of the royal chancery). By 1821, he had control of Iran's foreign affairs. Although never named prime minister, in practice he had a similar influence over Fath Ali Shah in Qajar state affairs until his death.  12
MUHAMMAD SHAH. After two previous humiliating Qajar losses to the Russian army, Muhammad Shah sought to modernize his military forces. To this end, he utilized European officers as commanders of special brigades, set up a foundry for casting brass cannon, and produced gunpowder.  13
Under the influence of his prime minister, Hajji Mirza Aghasi, the shah displayed Sufi mystical tendencies and thus jeopardized the traditional role of the Qajar rulers as patrons of the Shi’ite clergy. The situation strained relations between the government and the clergy, some of whom articulated the idea that the Qajars were not legitimate political authorities.  14
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.