THE RECENT HISTORY OF PERSIA.*
THERE is probably no country in the world about which the average Englishman is so densely ignorant as Persia. lie knows that it is rather a large place—indeed, contrary to his usual custom, he exaggerates its geographical importance—is aware that it is inhabited by Mussuhnans, and has a faint suspicion that Russia will take it if she can, and there his knowledge ends. Of its modern history or present politics he knows nothing, and of its people only what he has picked up from Morier's amusing story, Bahl Baba, perhaps the most accurate and readable Oriental novel ever written. Even the description of its soil as a vast desert, broken by oases usually capable of cultivation by artificial irrigation, but not irrigated by a population far too thin for high eivilization, will strike him as something novel. To him Mr. Watson's compact, well written, but over concise history of Persia from 1800 will be of real interest, a book which, if he can but once overcome his dislike to its plethora of Mu.ssulman names, he will read through to the end.
It is a really good book, dull only in outside seeming, full of interest, without prejudice patent to outsiders, and only too con- cise for the information it contains. Mr. Watson was years in Persia, understands what Englishmen will wish to hear, and writes without any of that tendency towards exaggeration which besets most Oriental travellers. We believe we shall best serve our readers by condensing from his narrative a still more rapid account of the modern history of Persia.
Modern Persia, then, stretches from the bottom of the Per- sian Gulf to the Caspian, bounded on the west by the Turkish Empire, and on the east by Affghanistan and the regions we so vaguely name Central Asia, with a superficies equal to three French Empires. This great tract, however, lacks water, the trees having been cut down till the rainfall has almost ceased, and the country, with the exception of Azerbijan and the district between the Elburz Mountains and the sea, is "a vast desert, in which many fertile oases are scattered here and there." In these oases and in the desert camp and wander probably ten millions of souls, of many races, Arabs and Koords, Turks and Mongols, the latter being the true "Persians," the people who think in the Persian tongue. Brave to a degree most unusual in the East, hardy, and obedient, they are unenterprising, vain to excess of themselves and their country, and the most incorrigible liars in the world. Their physique is excellent, all weakly children being killed out by the system of bringing up, their physical nerve is unusual even in a race accustomed to the open air and the saddle, and their vanity would make them excellent soldiers, did not their profound distrust of each other interfere with discipline in the field. They are nevertheless the most efficient of the Mussulman races of Asia, have conquered India, have defeated Russians, and have defied, though unsuccessfully, British power. The Shah is regarded as the chief of all Sheeah Mussulmans, and has therefore a strong party in most Muasulman countries, influencing the Deccan, for example, more than any other potentate. The organization of the people is properly speaking tribal, but each province is governed by a relative of the Shah, generally a son or brother, and authority of the Sovereign is what that of the Sultan is the only supposed to be, quite absolute, impaired only by a system of bribery which extends to every official in the county, from the Shah himself to the lowest agent of the police. This Shah, who is himself the State, for whom alone it exists, both in theory and fact, is the head of the Kajar family, a tribe with whose accession the contemporary history of Persia may be said to begin.
This family, which ascended the throne in 1795, just 71 years
• 4 History of Persia from 18.10. By Robert Grant Watson. London: Smith, Elder, and Co.
agn, were the hereditary chiefs of the Kajars, a tribe of Turkish origin divided into two great septa, which had inhabited Astra- bad for many hundred years. Strong in the possession of a dis- trict sheltered by the Elburz chain and the unassailable fidelity of their clan, they resisted even Nadir, fought the Zend Princes who usurped his grandson's throne for nearly fifty years, and at last, under a leader named Aga Mohammed Khan, seated themselves on a throne which still in Persian opinion belongs legitimately to the extinct family of Sefaveeans, des- cendants of the Prophet, whose Mayor of the Palace
Nadir was. This great conqueror was originally a bandit in Khorassan, and it was only by a dexterous use of the name of Shah Tahmasp, a Sefaveean, that he conquered Persia and had himself publicly elected to the throne. Aga Mohammed, the hero of Morier's novel, Zohrab the Hostage, and one of the moat extra- ordinary rulers the East ever produced, was a eunuch, the only one except Narses who has a great place in history, and it is difficult not to suspect him either of is secret enmity to the whole human race or of latent lunacy. While a guest in the palace of the Zend Shah Kereem, whom even then he intended to supplant, "he used to vent his spite against the triumphant foe of his House by cutting, with a knife which he concealed beneath his robe, the rich carpets of the Regent, not reflecting that he hoped that those same carpets would one day come into his own possession." He murdered one of his brothers by whose assistance he acquired the throne and blinded the other, and the city of Kerman having supported the last of the Zenis, "Aga Mohammed issued orders to deprive all the adult males of their life, or of their eyesight ; and the females and children, to the number of twenty thousand, were granted as slaves to the soldiers. But when news reached the conqueror that his enemy had been captured a stop was put to the slaughter, which had been dictated as much by policy as by cruelty. The vengeance of the royal eunuch was now partly diVerted from the citizens of Kerman to be concentrated for the moment on his captive rival. The unsurpassed courage displayed by that ill-fated prince, and the constancy with which he had supported every reverse of fortune, might have been expected to inspire some gleam of pity in the breast of a soldier who had himself known adversity. But no trait of mercy was to be dis- covered in the conduct of the triumphant Kajar. The eyes of his wounded foe were torn from his head, and the further treatment to which he was subjected was such as could only have been con- ceived in the mind of a brutal barbarian. Aga Mohammed could not at first resolve to renounce the pleasure of knowing that his rival still lived in misery ; Lutrali was therefore sent to Tehran, where, after a time, he suffered by the bowstring that death which he had so often braved in battle The wives and daughters of the citizens—some of the latter being children of tender years—were publicly exposed to the brutality of the soldiers in the very presence of their husbands and fathers, who were afterwards forced to receive them thus dishonoured, or to destroy them with their own hands on the spot. All the fortifica- tions and the elegant structures with which Kerman had been beau- tified by the Affghans during the period of their possession of this part of Persia were razed to the ground, and the famous city that had been the emporium of wealth, luxury, and magnificence was doomed to lie desolate for many years, to expiate the crime of having afforded a last shelter to the heroic rival of Aga Mohammed Khan." He is the Shah who made 300 prisoners carry each two skulls of decapitated prisoners to the place where his rival fell, and when they arrived at their destination decapitated them also to complete the pyramid. He tortured Shahrukh, the blind grand- son of Nadir, with red-hot irons, to make him yield up his grand- father's jewels, and was at last murdered by two servants whom he had condemned to death for a caprice. Yet this man re- consolidated Persia, and established such order that the roads became secure and that his dynasty has lasted ninety years, and was believed by his subjects to be brave as one of their legendary heroes. The stories related of his death, whether true or false, sufficiently prove the estimate in which he was held. One of the two servants whom he had condemned to death was his valet, and after the condemnation Aga Mohammed suffered him to perform all his usual duties, while his last words were a reproach to his murderers for killing him in a place where his army might without him be destroyed.
From this date to 1804 the interior history of Persia is one of incessant family contests, in which, however, Aga Mohammed's nephew ahd successor, Fetteh Ali, was usually successful. In 1804 broke oat a war with Russia, nominally for the suzerainty of Georgia, which its last" Czar" had surrendered to the Empress Catharine, which resulted at first in the defeat of the Russians, whose Commander-in-Chief was treacherously murdered. The Russians, however, never gave way, and the war at last ended in the conquest of the districts of Georgia, Derbend, Bakoo, Sheerwan, Sheki, Genja, Taleesh, and Moghan, all of which were ceded by the treaty of 12th of October, 1813. It was in the final scene of this war, the defeat of the Crown Prince on the Araxes, that Lieutenant Lindsay and Captain Christie, two officers deputed to the camp by the British Envoy, Sir John Malcolm, were engaged. It is difficult, after reading Sir Gore Ouseley's account, to doubt that the Crown Prince was himself a traitor, and purchased by a willing defeat the personal aid Russia in this treaty was pledged to lend him. -Abbess Meerza was second son only, and he expected that his claim would be contested in arms.
In 1821 he displayed the courage and skill of an experienced general against the Turks, whom he defeated in the great battle of Toprak-Killeh, but in the succeeding war with Russia he again suffered himself to be defeated, the Shah flung on him in punish- ment the whole expense of the campaign, and the war only ended in the cession of Erivan, Nakhtehivan, Taleesh, and 3,000,000/. in cash. His excessive ahxiety on the occasion of the murder of the Russian Ambassador by a mob points to the same conclu- sion, and Mr. Watson believes him to have been harassed by a mental conflict between a wish to seize his throne for himself and to owe it to Russian protection. Before he could decide he died, at the age of forty-six, the ablest and most successful of the Kajar Primes. His father, Fett.sh Ali, only survived him one year, dying in 1834, and was succeeded byMohammed Shah, the monarch with whom we came in conflict for the sake of Herat. The Per- sians never forget that they were once masters to the Suleiman range, and at every opportunity have endeavoured to re-assert their claim to Herat, Affghanistan, and Candahar, which has been opposed by the British on the ground that they are mere vassals of Russia. He died in 1848, after a reign which on the whole had been successful, his able Minister, Haji Meerza Aghassi, having maintained internal order and produced a partial prosperity. He was succeeded by Nasser-ed-deen, the present monarch, who had the fortune in the earliest days of his reign to secure the services of Meerza Teki Khan, the ablest and most honest among modern Per- sians. He was appointed Commander-in-Chief, and for some years he governed Persia as well as a European might have done till his Russian sympathies excited the suspicion of the Shah, and he was put to death. His greatest internal difficulty was the suppression of the sect of the Bible, or followers of Bab, a fanatic who in the previous reign declared himself an incarnation of God, and preached a creed of which Mr. Watson gives the following account :—
"The main tenet of Babism is utter indifference to, and disbelief in the existence of, good and evil. But nothing could be less in accordance with this theory than was the practice of the followers of the Bab. Far from looking on the course of events, and the changes and chances of this mortal life, with the calm eyes of unconcerned spectators, they attempted to impose their opinions upon others by force. The earth, they said, had been given to them for a possession, and it was there- fore lawful for them to appropriate to themselves the goods of un- believers. They asserted that the time had come when Mohammedan- ism must fall, and that to them had been assigned the task of bringing about the decree of fate. In their opinion the restrictions imposed upon men by the Koran were too heavy to be borne. According to their creed all men were alike' none were impure, since all human beings, with all other created objects, whether animate or inanimate, formed so many portions of one all-pervading and everlasting God. It was probably when in possession of this idea that the Bab had startled his disciples by the sudden announcement that he was God. The followers of the Bab were to have all their possessions, including their women, in com- mon, marriage being one of the puerile observances of the Mohammedan code which it was now time to abolish. The Bahia admitted of no hereditary claims to high rank; nor did they see the necessity of any formal election of rulers or teachers; they admitted only such superiority as was conferred by the force of intellect, and that force, they held, would make itself felt -without the adventitious aid of human laws. Hell'-was no longer a source of terror to men who had been enlightened by to teaching of the Bab. Their master had explained to them that there wag-ta-be no hereafter beyond this enduring world; he had laughed to scorn alike the Moslem prophet's description of the terror-striking bridge of Al-Sirath and of the black-eyed virgins who repose on green cushions and beautiful carpets, hidden from public view in the pavilions of paradise. This terrestrial globe was to be everlast- ing, and men need not fear what people falsely term death, since in truth
they could not die."
The Babis showed reckless courage, and it is believed that their tenets are still held by thousands in secret. It is with Nueser-ed- dean that our last conflict was fought, and in him Mr. Watson sees an exceptional Asiatic king — a man who has the inclination and the capacity to do justice and promote the welfare of his people.