“Suppose there’s someone who’s been bitten by
A poisonous snake, and he’s about to die:
What do you say, my lord, should happen to
A man who has the antidote but who
Insists on hoarding it, and will not give
The bitten man the means to help him live?”
(Shahnameh, Mazdak Story)
Such is the case with Russia who is holding out on a 2007 contract to sell Iran S-300, an advanced air defense system, worth $800 million dollars, using this as a playing card with the West for its own gain. And such is the case when a country is dependent on a superpower for help and protection. In the following, I hope to analyze two independent but inner-related narratives, when connected, will demonstrate how and why we have reached this point. The hand that fed us the poison is also holding the antidote.
The key word is industrialization, which is a process of social and economic change through technological innovations and manufacturing for mass consumption. England was the first innovator of such an idea out of need, starting in North-West to Midlands in the eighteenth century. It spread to Europe and North America in the 19th century and to the rest of the world in the twentieth century. In pre-industrialization the availability of food was a major issue. Great Britain experienced a massive increase in agricultural productivity by mechanization. Abundance of food resulted in population growth which in turn provided the labor needed to run newly fashioned industries as development expanded. With division of labor and specialization of skills, plus assembly production lines, they were able to design and produce heavy equipments which included military modernization
Japan was the first to learn how a superpower may lean on a less developed nation, imposing it’s will, because of lack of respect. In the convention of Kanagawa, US Commodore Matthew C. Perry issued a treaty with Japan to open the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American trade. Japan signed this reluctantly with “unequal treaty system”, which was characteristic of the West and Asia’s relations at the time. The Japanese government found it necessary to make dire reforms in the country’s capabilities in order to prevent such an insult from the West again. The feudal system was abolished; military reform was initiated to modernize it, which resulted in industrialization of the country. In the 1870’s Meiji government energetically promoted technical and industrial development that eventually changed Japan to the powerful country that it is today.
Russia suffered the same fate during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War. In 1918 Allied forces of fourteen nations moved into Russia with the initial goal to rescue the Czechoslovak Legion, to secure military supplies in Russian ports, and to re-establish the Eastern Front. At the end of WWI, allies fearful of Bolshevism openly intervened in the Russian Civil War, supporting the pro-Tsarist, Anti-Bolshevik White Forces. It took a general uprising against the Allies which eventually withdrew out of North Russia and Siberia in 1920. Again that prompted the Soviet Union, which had a centrally controlled economy, to invest a large portion of its resources in industrialization and infrastructure to assure this from never happening again.
Now that we have seen how Europe, America, Russia and Japan moved in a new direction in civilization, what happened to the Middle-East? Why didn’t they follow suit, like everyone else? After all, the initial scientific knowledge such as mathematics and geometry, the unique architecture, literature and poetry, the original civilizations first known to mankind, came from this region. How did they become so oblivious to the changing world around them? The answer lies in the second stage of industrialization. To manufacture, one must have raw material. And to keep the factories going and to secure jobs, one must have market to sell them. That is when Africa and the Middle East came into the picture. European’s industrial jump-start advanced rapidly due to competition among themselves. Then it became a competitive foray to the “Less Developed Countries” (LDC) for raw commodities. The pattern for operation then as it is today; a company offered to invest on a particular natural resource to develop it at a predetermined contract. Often, the contracts were enormously advantageous to them far beyond their capital investment. What is more, once they had their feet in the door, they began to interfere with the internal politics and manipulation, for their own benefit. In the course of Europeans competition with one another, a regional strategy developed, far bigger and complex, beyond the capabilities of the small nations to control their own destinies. At times they loaned money to a kingdom of a one man rule, where the money was wasted, resulting in the ruler becoming dependent on the foreign influence for its continuance, protection and economic existence. Emergence of Colonial Empires, became equivalent to stagnation of under developed countries. The strategy was to keep them poor, ignorant and dependent on the foreign power for its existence. Today it is called: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The struggle still continues between the LDC’s and OECD. The following history of Iran during the period of industrialization well demonstrates this scenario, much to our dismay.
The Qajar dynasty was established by Agha Mohammad Khan, who had defeated all his rivals, including Lotf Ali Khan of Zand Dynasty by 1794. He reasserted Iranian sovereignty over former Iranian territories of Georgia and Caucasus in northern Iran. He established his capital in Tehran near the ancient city of Ray and was crowned in 1796. But he was assassinated in 1797. This was the last time the Persian Empire restored its territorial integrity. He was succeeded by Fath Ali Shah, his nephew. Shortly after, Russia attacked southward defeating Ali Shah in two wars which resulted in two treaties: Golestan in 1813 and Turkamanchai in 1823. The result was Iran giving up Georgia and Northern Caucasus. This in turn led to the losses of what had remained north of the Aras River, which was Armenia and Azerbaijan. He died in 1834 and was succeeded by Mohammad Shah. This Shah fell under Russian influence, and with their encouraging tried twice to take back Herat in Afghanistan and failed. He died in 1848 and was succeeded by his son, Naser-o-din-shah. No sooner Iran had entered the 19th Century; they lost a portion of Northern Iran. Imagine why? They did not have a reliable military trained leader, the 19th Century military equipments, and training to answer the Russian aggression.
Naser-o-din Shah was able and willing to serve the country. He set out to bring western science, technology and education methods. He began modernization. He tried to play off Great Britain verses Russia for Iran’s independence. But these two had other ideas to weaken Iran. In 1856 when the Shah tried to reassert his position to regain Herat, which has always been part of Persian Empire, Britain prevented him and Herat was given to Afghanistan to create a new country to serve as a buffer between Russia and the British Indian Colonies. Then the Russians in 1881 once again mobilized to take the remaining territories in the north, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Also once again Britain forced a trade concession on Iran which practically gave them the control of Iran’s economy. Naser-o-din Shah was assassinated on May 1, 1896. Again, these guerillas stayed on Iran’s back, taking control, taking territories and preventing Iran from helping itself. There is a bright and noteworthy historic event that took place during this Shah’s reign that set the foundation for future Iran. His name was, Mirza Taghi Amir Kabir, advisor and constable to Naser-ol-Din Shah who later awarded him the position of Prime Minister. At this time Iran was bankrupt with a weak central government, and almost all the provinces operating autonomously. In his next two and half years he set out a major reform in all sectors of society. He slashed government expenditures and made a distinction between what was public purse or private. He overhauled the Central Administration and personally took charge of all bureaucracies. He curtailed foreign interference to the extent possible and encouraged trade. His most significant accomplishment was building the first modern University Dar-ol-fonoon on the edge of the city for future expansion. His intent was to train a new cadre of administrators with Western skills. He brought in French, Russian and Iranian teachers, instructing Languages, Medicine, Law, Geography, History, Economics and Engineering. Unfortunately court politics led to conspiracy which was to the detriment of the nation. You cannot do this much reform without antagonizing those who benefited during the chaos. They formed a coalition against him, with mother Queen on board. She convinced the Shah that Amir wanted to usurp the throne. In October 1851, he was dismissed and sent to exile in Kashan, where he was murdered. This time in the absence of foreign interference, they shot themselves 0n the foot.
Things got worse when Mozaffar-o-din Shah took the helm. He was a typical prince born with a silver spoon in his mouth who didn’t have the least idea on his responsibilities for the nation, being ravaged by foreign elements. He was weak and extravagant. The government treasury was empty with no source of income. Twice he borrowed a large sum of money from Russia, travelled to Europe and spent it. To obtain the funds, he made economic and mineral concessions to the Europeans which brought outrage to the Iranians to a boiling point. Protest broke out all over, led by the clergy, merchants, scholars and common people. He had reneged on a promise of a National Assembly. Instead he engaged on a crack down to quash protesters unlike anything experienced before. Many protesters had to take refuge in mosques and about 10,000 others, mostly merchants, in June found refuge in compound of British legation in Tehran. In August he accepted a decree to a Constitution. In October an elected assembly wrote the Constitution whereupon placed a strict limitation on Royal Power, establishment of an elected Majles with power to represent the people, and a government with a cabinet subject to confirmation by Majles. This was signed on December 30, 1906, recognized as Constitutional Revolution of Iran. He died five days later. In 1907 additional laws were written granting the people freedom of press, speech and association, and Security of life and property. One might say this ended the medieval period in Iran, but the constitution still becomes a dead piece of paper as evidenced by following events.
Mohammad Ali Shah, son of Mozaffar-o-din Shah, took the helm in 1907. As an 11 year old he was under the influence of Russians. In June 1908 he used the Russian-officered Persian Cossacks Brigade to attack and bomb Majles, arrested many deputies and shut down the assembly. Iranian supporters of the constitution responded in July 1909. Many marched from Rasht and Isfahan to Tehran. This resulted in re-establishment of the constitution and Shah’s exile to Russia. Now the freedom loving Iranians thought the constitution would provide the foundation for Independence. Russians move their forces into Iran in 1910 with the intention of re-installing the Shah. But the British would not allow them to have it all. They executed the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907, whereby Russia took control of the north; the British took the south and east, with a buffer zone at the center, for both to compete for economic advantage. However it must be said the division was more based on areas of influence and not annexation of territory. The government still functioned as such. At this time the government had hired the services of an American, Morgan Shuster to reform the Treasury General and finances. He sent Gendarmerie, a tax department police force, to the Russian zone to collect taxes from Iranian officials who were under Russian protection. Russia demanded the removal of Shuster and moved forces already in the country to occupy the capital, this was 1911. An opportunistic group, Bakhtiari chief and their troops surrounded Majles, and forced acceptance of Russian ultimatum, and shut down the Majles, Once again the constitution was shelved. Morgan Schuster was loved by Iranians for his courage and services, in comparison to what Russian and British had dished out to Iranians. In later years he wrote a book “The Strangling of Persia” in which…”he expressed his admiration for the moral courage and determination of the people he worked with in the period of Constitutional Revolution”. During World War I, British, Russians and Ottoman forces occupied Iran from 1914-1918, sealing this shah’s fate.
Reza khan, an officer in the Iranian army staged a successful coup-d’état in February of 1921. He marched his Cossack Brigade from Gazvin to Tehran and seized the city with little resistance. Later, he encountered numerous opposition groups which he defeated, and by October 26, 1923, he seized control of Iran and forced the Shah to flee to Europe. He became the Shah of Iran in 1925 as Reza Shah Pahlavi. He was a strong man with vision. For the first time after over 100 years, we found a leader who loved his country, who diligently tried to stop exploitation of Iran by inexorable super powers. He engaged in a wide array of modernizations, building large scale industries, road constructions, Trans-Iranian Railroad, National Public Education System, establishment of University of Tehran, and improving health care. He had the vision of a centralized government run by educated personnel. He sent many to Europe for education including his son. In such a short time, Iran became an industrial, urbanized country. His boldest move was the Women’s Awakening program and removal of Hijab. He changed the country’s name from Persia to Iran in 1935. Reza Shah was a patriotic man but perhaps not a good politician. During his reign he ran an autocratic government with little use for Majles or the Constitution. He arrested, imprisoned and murdered many upper echelon politicians due to paranoia. He massacred demonstrators in Mashhad, committed repression against intellectuals and censorship on newspapers. He even caused dissent in his military. That is why when his time came, he was standing alone.
Iran’s industrialization required foreign technicians. He avoided the British and Soviets and awarded many of the contracts to Germany, France, Italy and other Europeans. In 1939 with WWII looming, he announced Iran’s neutrality. The allies demanded that Germans be expelled as spies. The Allies real motive was to use Iran as a corridor to ship arms and supplies to Russia. When he refused on the grounds that it would interfere with the country’s progress, in 1941 once again Britain and USSR invaded Iran, arrested Reza Shah and sent him to exile in South Africa. They took control of communication and railroads. American military forces came to Iran in 1942 to maintain and operate sections of the railroad system. Winston Churchill called Iran “The Bridge of Victory”. I have seen a picture of him in exile, wearing a drably suite, gazing down sideways, with face of a bewildered man, hopeless and lonely, nothing to do, but waiting to die. Reza Shah died from a heart ailment on July 26, 1944. (A number of years later when his body was returned to Tehran from Egypt, I was in Elementary school. They took all of us children out of school for that day. We were taken to a large wide avenue, lined up along the edge of sidewalks. We stood on our feet for several hours when finally his body passed before us, it was a short glimpse. Now after so many years, this memory seems more like a dream!).
This is how the end came: They made him an offer that he could not refuse. “Would His Highness kindly abdicate in favor of his son, the heir to the throne? We have a high opinion of him and will ensure his position. But his highness should not think there is any other solution.” – His son, Mohammad Reza Shah took the throne on September 16, 1941. Iran’s political system was moving along nicely and in January 1942 Britain and Russia signed an agreement respecting Iran’s independence, and to withdraw six months to the end of the war. Then in the 1943 Tehran Conference, U.S. reaffirmed the agreement. When time came to leave in 1945, again the Soviets reneged and would not leave eastern and western sides of Azerbaijan. It took considerable negotiations and pressure from the other two powers to get them to withdraw in 1946. Now for first time Iran had some breathing room to exercise constitutional politics. In 1944 a true election for Majles took place with competition among candidates. As time went on people began to think of Anglo-Iranian Oil Company that was pumping Iranian oil with little return to Iran. The nationalization of the Oil Industry became the centerpiece of Iranian Nationalism. The Shah under Constitutional Monarchy was to defer the governmental decisions to a parliamentary government. He interjected himself in decision making process and marginalized the parliament. As the result he was always in challenge with his Prime Ministers. He revived the army and kept it under Royal control as a power base. The Nationalization of Iranian Oil industry took place in 1951 with the leadership of Mohammad Mosaddeg, who was voted to become prime minister by Majles. British resorted to threats and sanctions and tried to get the backing of the US, under President Truman, unsuccessfully. Mosaddeg was a nationalist and extremely popular with the public. During the challenge of oil nationalization, he was backed by all factions including Hezbe Tudeh (Communist Party). So when it came time for US and Britain to take him down, he became an easy target of accusation as a communist. Meanwhile his confrontation with the Shah heated up more. He took up an inflexible position in negotiations for market, which led to a global boycott of Iranian oil. His position on International injustice made him an Anti-imperialist hero to the developing world. He demanded the Shah give up control of the military which the Shah refused. In anger he resigned, but he was re-instated after a popular riot broke out. He also initiated a referendum to dissolve the parliament for being under the Shah’s influence. All of this was too much for those who wanted to control Iran, so Mosaddeg had to go. By this time General Eisenhower became president of United Sates. In 1953 the British SIS acquired the help of the CIA and proceeded with a plan for a coup. In reality it was a poorly planned and executed operation which almost failed. The Shah fled to Iraq. Not so resolute, they had to convince him to hang in there to the end. Mosaddeg made some strategic mistakes with his supporters and opened the door for General Zahedi to crush the sparse resistance and arrested Mosaddeg. This ended the last stand of an Iranian patriot for Iran’s Independence. (At this time I was 15 years old, and a typical teenager. School and play was my priorities. Aside from going school, I played soccer for a club north of Tehran, and flew pigeons from my rooftop).
In conclusion, this was a fascinating, but painful history of Iran in the past two centuries, which found it difficult to make the transition to a modern era of industrialization and modern warfare. The Soviet Union and Great Britain became a paradigm of oppression with proclivity to oppress, conquer, manipulate, ravage and plunder resources with indignity and without shame. We were unlucky with the succession of incompetent leaders, who trampled and discarded the Constitution lasting to this century. There remains an unfulfilled dream of a Constitutional Democracy. And whenever we had a leader with a strong resolve to win our independence, they cranked up the propaganda machines, accused one for being a Nazi sympathizer and the other a communist, and put them into pasture. To pour salt on our wounds, the 1979 Revolution became a source of disillusionment and disappointment politically and economically, which does not ensure Iran’s Independence in the future with bellicose politics of the Islamic Republic.
* Foreign Policy: Beyond Moderates and Militants, by ert Malley and Peter Harling
* Wikipedia: Indusrialisation
* Wikipedia: Reza Shah
Entente intervention in the Russian Civil War
* MidEastWeb: History of Modern Iran
* IranChamber: Qajar Dynasty
* A History Of Iran, Empire of The Mind, Michael Axworthy, Basic Books, 387 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016-8810, pp. 192, 198, 203, 209, 210, 227, 237.
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