First Iranian Haaji-Mullah who became the Prime Minister of Iran
Haaj or Haji (spelled also as Hadji), is an honorary title given to a Muslim person who has successfully completed the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage, to Mecca (the holy city of Islam located in Saudi Arabia). Mullah is generally used to refer to a Muslim person, educated in Islamic theology and sacred law, and it is primarily considered as a term of respect for a religiously educated man. Haaji-Mullah Abbas Irvaani (spelled also as Yerevani) mostly known as Haaj Mirza Aghasi (HMA) was one of the famous figures of the Qajar History of Iran (1796-1925). HMA worked as the Prime Minister (in Persian: Nakhost Vazir or Sadr-e Aazam) of Iran during 1835-1848. He was the last Prime Minister of Mohammad Shah Qajar (ruled from 23 October 1834 to 5 September 1848). In this article, the life story and some works of HMA as the First Iranian Haaji-Mullah who became the Prime Minister of Iran are studied and discussed.
HIS LIFE: HMA belonged to one of the various Bayaat families. In fact, the fifth Shah of Safavid Dynasty Shah Abbas I (ruled 1587-1629) relocated about 300 families of Bayaat tribe from Irvaan (Yerevan) to Maku, a town in the northwestern part of the West Azarbaijan province of Iran. The purpose of the relocation was to protect the security of Maku Valley where it used to be attacked by many groups of robbers from different origins. HMA was born as Abbas in Maku in 1784. His father’s name was Mirza Mosslem Irvaani. His primary educations were focused mainly on Persian and Arabic languages. At age 14, HMA was sent to Najaf, the holy city of Shia Islam, to study the Islamic theology and religious jurisprudence. His mentor in Najaf was mullah Abdol Samad Hamadani (ASH) known as Ostaad Fakhredin who was one of the eminent masters in the Islamic Studies and Sufism at the time. Over there, he also successfully completed the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. ASH was assassinated in 1801 when a group of Wahhabi attacked Karbala. (Wahhabi Islam is the primary religious movement behind extremist Islam, includes beliefs and doctrines not found elsewhere). At age 20, HMA made arrangements to relocate the family members of ASH in Hamadan and as their sponsor he also resided there. After a while, HMA returned to his birth-place Maku where he was initially called as Haaji-Mullah Abbas Irvaani and finally as Haaj Mirza Aghasi.
Few years later, HMA joined the office of mirza Abolghasem Ghaem-magham Farahani (AGF) who used to work as the chief minister of crown prince Abbas Mirza Qajar (AMQ) in Tabriz, the capital city of Azerbaijan. In Tabriz, HMA was assigned to work firstly as a teacher of Mirza Musa, the son of AGF, and shortly after as a mentor to Mohammad Mirza Qajar (MMQ), the crown prince’s son. Mentoring MMQ created a Sufism atmosphere that continued to exist throughout the life of MMQ who became the Shah of Iran later on. In that atmosphere, HMA was a Master and Leader (in Persian: Morshed or Moraad), and MMQ was a Student and Follower (in Persian: Moreed or Payro). That atmosphere provided a channel for HMA through which he could rapidly pave his way toward promotion and to be appointed as the Prime Minister of Iran at the appropriate time.
HIS PREMIERSHIP: Crown prince AMQ passed away one year before the death of the second Shah of Qajar Dynasty Fath Ali Shah (ruled from 17 June 1797 to 23 October 1834). MMQ who had entered Tehran in June was appointed crown prince and the governor of Azerbaijan. MMQ returned to Tabriz with his Minister AGF. On 23 October 1834, Fath Ali Shah passed away. As soon as the news of Shah’s death arrived, AGF blinded MMQ’s two brothers Jahangir Mirza and Khosrow Mirza in Ardebil prison and made preparations for MMQ’s coronation.
MMQ ascended the throne as Mohammad Shah Qajar (MSQ) on 16 December1834. AGF was appointed as his Minister who started few reforms in the government together with the elimination of some opposing figures. Soon after, the rumors of a conspiracy made MSQ suspicious of his Minister to eliminate the Shah too. Upon an order issued by MSQ, AGF was soon strangled to death in Negarestan Garden, and HMA was appointed as the Prime Minister of Iran on 28 June 1835.
On the onset, two important events happened. First, there was an outbreak of epidemic cholera (in Persian: Vabaa), which caused much mortality in Tehran and its suburbs. The second event was the trip of MSQ to other parts of the country. It should be noted that MSQ was only interested in military affairs and he did not like to interfere with the governmental issues. He also used to look at HMA as his Master and Leader exactly like before when they were together in Tabriz. HMA did not know much about governmental affairs either, and he could admit it himself. That was why HMA asked Mirza Shafi-e Ashtiani, known by title of Sahab Divan, to cooperate and help him on the job.
MSQ finally died of gout disease after 14 years of reign at the age of 42. When MSQ was on his dead bed, Iran was in turmoil and HMA took refuge in Shah Abdolazim's shrine. In September 1848, Crown Prince Naseredin Mirza came to Tehran and with the cooperation and protection of Mirza Taghi Khan, later known as Amirkabir, he ascended the throne. Amirkabir was then appointed as the Prime Minister of Iran, and he took the office from 12 May 1848.
HIS DOMESTIC POLICIES: HMA was a fan of farming and agricultural works. He encouraged farmers to plant mulberry tree (in Persian: Derakht-e Toot) in order to promote silk production and silk industry in Iran. (A silkworm’s preferred food is white mulberry leaves). He also liked to construct Qanat or Ghanaat (in Persian: Kareez), a water management system used to provide a reliable supply of water to human settlements and for irrigation in hot, arid and semi-arid climates. It is documented that HMA used to encourage people to dig for Qanat in various regions of the country. Besides, on the basis of his order the route of the Karaj River was redirected to allow a better water supply for the residents of Tehran. HMA also liked to establish botanical gardens, the public parks with flowers, plants and places to sit. The complex of Ferdows Garden (in Persian: Bagh-e Ferdows) located in Shemiran, North Tehran and near to Zafaraniyeh, might have been originally designed by Haji Mirza Aghasi.
HMA was also aware of the importance of armaments and the weapons with which a military unit must be equipped and armed. He therefore founded an Arsenal (in Persian: Zarrad Khaneh, Ghoor Khaneh, or Aslaheh Khaneh) where some sorts of military weapons were manufactured. Later, he issued an official order in April 1846 and banned performing any torture and abuse by the governmental officers towards all Iranian citizens.
HMA was also one of the first Iranian authorities who made the arrangements for about 50 Iranian students to be sent to Egypt to study on Industry and Technology. He also sent Mirza Mohammad Hassan Bayk Afshar to Russia to get some training on the Sugar Industry. During his premiership, Mirza Saleh Shirazi opened a publishing house (in Persian: Chaap Khaneh) in Tabriz in April 1837. Mirza Saleh then moved his publishing house from Tabriz to Tehran in 1846 and printed the First Iranian Lithographic Newspaper called as Kaghaz-e Akhbaar in Persian.
HMA was not however successful in financial affairs and at any given time the government of Iran was facing a big problem as the budget deficit continued to grow.
In 1846 when HMA was in power, the Babi movement was also occurred. According to some sources, due to a pressure from a group of clergies of Isfahan (capital city of Isfahan province in the center of Iran), MSQ ordered Bab to come to Tehran in January 1847. It is documented that HMA believed that MSQ was unable to make any decision in regards to the various problems of the country. HMA therefore did not like Bab meets MSQ. After spending several months in a camp outside Tehran, and before Bab could meet the Shah, HMA sent Bab to Tabriz in the northwestern corner of the country, where he was completely confined.
HIS FOREIGN POLICIES: Discussing the foreign Policies of HMA requires little background information. Larry Everest in his very interesting and insightful article on Iran and Imperialism’s Great Game of Empire noted that, “At the turn of the 19th century, Iran was a backward, feudal society. Most people lived in the countryside and toiled on the land, and the country included different tribes, loosely held together by a common religion and a weak central monarchy. The monarch’s word was law from which there was no redress. From the late 1700s on, Iran had suffered a series of military defeats and had to give up territory to European powers, particularly Britain and czarist Russia. Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, Iran became a focal point of a prolonged struggle between Russia and Great Britain over who would acquire territory and gain political and economic control. For the British, Iran was a crucial communications link to the Indian subcontinent, the crown jewel of its empire, and a buffer against Russian expansionism. Russia in turn viewed Iran as key to protecting its southern flank and preventing British encroachment. Both powers sought to exploit Iran’s ethnic, religious and tribal differences and keep the central government weak and dependent. Iran was robbed through economic and political concessions which sold the right to exploit Iran’s wealth and resources for a pittance”.
At the time HMA took the office, the British had already established the outer limit of their Indian empire and the line was drawn at Heart, a city belonged to Iran. The Russian conquest of the Uzbeks brought no British response but a threat to Herat. When Russia marched on Khiva (the former capital of Khaarazm, aka Khawarezmia, which lies in the present-day Khaarazm Province of Uzbekistan) in 1839 the British briefly considered moving deeper into Central Asia and siege and capture Herat.
MSQ marched towards Herat in September, 1837. Backed by the British, Herat's governor Kamran Mirza decided to resist. The Iranian army captured the well fortified Ghurian Castle. The British first sent envoys to convince MSQ for peace. When they did not succeed, the British declared war on Iran and captured the Khark Island in Persian Gulf. It was not until Bushehr came under attack that HMA found out that the Russians had betrayed Iran and made a deal with the British. After consulting with HMA, MSQ lift the siege on Herat and returned to Tehran. Iran then lost Heart.
As Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh noted, “Iran's sovereignty and presence in the various islands of Persian Gulf were defined in terms of Islamic territorial description, and continued albeit vaguely until the arrival in the Persian Gulf of British colonialism and start of their interference in the political geography of the region as from 1820 when they signed their first treaty of peace with the tribal entities therein. They continued this task and by 1839 signed many similar treaties that brought all major tribal entities under British protection and sovereignty. The Iranian Government protested against this process of colonization of Iranian dependent entities in the south of the Persian Gulf and Prime Minister in mid-1840s, Haji Mirza Aghasi issued a warning reminding the British that all ports and islands in and around the Persian Gulf belonged to Iran, but they preferred to ignore his warnings”.
Scholars and historians have expressed various views about the policies of HMA towards French, British and Russians. Few people consider HMA a pro-French. A number of historians note that HMA was either a British puppet or a Russian lackey. Some researchers, however, view HMA as an independent politician who used to work for the interest of Iran.
HIS HISTORIC SWORD: As HMA became the Prime Minister of Iran, according to some scholars, MSQ offered him a special precious sword, which was proudly carried by HMA up to the end of his premiership. The sword that originally belonged to Shah Abbas I, has transferred to Nader Shah and then to Agha Mohammad Khan, the founder of Qajar dynasty. It used to be kept as a treasure in the royal court of Iran. It is the same sword that was among many other gifts presented to French Emperor Napoleon III (ruled 1851-1870) in 1857 when Iran signed the Treaty of Paris to end the hostilities of the Anglo-Persian War (from 1 November 1856 to 4 April 1857).
VARIOUS REMARKS ABOUT HMA: Here are some of the opinions and view attributed to HMA as quoted by various scholars or appeared in different historic sources:
“Haji Mirza Aghasi's appointment as Vezir was a great disaster as he was very superstitious and wanted to govern the country by black magic. Nevertheless, he was able to keep the Shah satisfied”: Fouman, Iranian History 1834 AD.
“A survey of the correspondence between Muhammad Shah Qajar and his premier, Mirza Aghasi, splendidly illustrates that even the political dialogue between these men was an obsessive concern with sickness, nakhushi, and the menace of new diseases: A. Afkhami.
“Haji Mirza Aghasi is an old man who represents the totality of Iranians’ power and at the same time the insufficiencies of the authorities of the Iranian government”: French Envoy to Iran in 1840.
“Haji Mirza Aghasi was a guy to be always blamed for his bad manners, but you need to write a book to fully describe his munificence and magnanimity”: M. H. Etemad Saltaneh.
“A book entitled as Mesbaah-e Mohammadi and a research note explaining some difficult verses of Koran are attributed to Haji Mirza Aghasi”: M. H. Etemad Saltaneh.
“Haji Mirza Aghasi was a politician who liked to please everybody”: H. Saadat Nouri.
“Haji Mirza Aghasi occasionally used to compose poetry and his alias or pseudonym (allonym) was Fakhri, in the memory of his mentor Fakhredin Abdol Samad Hamadani”: S. Sajjadi.
HIS END: As already noted, Naserdin Shah Qajar (NSQ) appointed Mirza Taghi Khan Amir Kabir as his Prime Minister on 12 May 1848. Simultaneously, NSQ made HMA to depart from Iran. HMA firstly moved to Najaf and finally to Karbala where he died on 1 August 1849.
EPILOGUE: More research works should be carried out to elucidate the complete life story of HMA and to reveal the true picture of this character who was one of the most secretive figures in the history of Iran.
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
Afkhami, A. A. (2003): Online Article on the Sick Men of Persia: The Importance of Illness as a Factor in the Interpretation of Modern Iranian Diplomatic History.
Afshar, I (1965): Recording Notebook of Haji Mirza Aghasi’s Properties, ed., Tehran, Iran.
Etemad Saltaneh, M. H. (1971): Sadrol Tavaarikh (in Persian), ed., Vahid Publications, Tehran, Iran.
Everest, L. (2007): Online Article on Iran and Imperialism’s Great Game of Empire.
Fouman Website (2010): Online Article on the Iranian History 1834 AD.
Mojtahed-Zadeh, P. (2006): Online Article on Territorial claims for nation-building exercise.
Mostofi, A. (1956): My Life Story (in Persian), ed., Zavvar Publications, Tehran, Iran.
Muhlberger, S. (1999): Online Article on Iran: Lead up to a Revolution, History Course No. 2805, Nipissing University.
Naraghi, H. (2010): Online Article on the Sword of Haji Mirza Aghasi.
Nelson, J. C. (1976): Online Article on the Siege of Herat 1837-1838.
Saadat Nouri, H. (1984): Anglo-Persian War (in Persian: Jang-e Iran-o Engliss), a Translation from the Notes written by Captain Hent, 3rd ed., Tehran, Iran.
Saadat Nouri, H. (1972): Haji Mirza Aghasi (in Persian), 2nd ed., Vahid Publications, Tehran, Iran.
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Online Article on First Iranian Newspaper.
Saadat Noury, M. (2009): Online Article on First Iranian Students sent abroad.
Sajjadi, S. (2010): Online Notes on Aghasi, Article No. 295.
Shahbazi, A. (2009): Online Article on Oligarchy (in Persian).
Various Sources (2010): Notes and Articles on Haji Mirza Aghasi and Qajar Dynasty (in Persian and English).
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2010): Online Note on Haji Mirza Aghasi (in Persian).
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2010): Online Note on Bagh-e Ferdows and the Treaty of Paris.
View the Image of Haji Mirza Aghasi
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