The Ups and Downs of Iran Constitution in an interview with Abdollah Shahbazi (historian) by Mozafar Shahedi

The Ups and Downs of Iran Constitution in an interview with Abdollah Shahbazi (historian) by Mozafar Shahedi

During the constitutional revolution, perceptions of the word “constitution” were completely different and each group had its own ideal in mind and presumed that constitution is the realization of that ideal. For example Shiraz clergies in one of their telegraphs...

By: Mozafar Shahedi

 

□Dear Mr. Shahbazi, thank you for participating in this interview, please explain the perception and interpretation of different political-social groups of the meaning and nature of constitution at that time?

During the constitutional revolution,   perceptions of the word “constitution” were completely different and each group had its own ideal in mind and presumed that constitution is the realization of that ideal. For example Shiraz clergies in one of their telegraphs wrote what they had in mind of the Islamic Republic constitution: “Iran is an Islamic republic. From the past to the present, any city that revolted against the government, they dismissed the governor with the republic’s prudence.” There was no single, exact meaning of constitutional system. The people wished for change and reform and they searched for their desired change in the meaning of constitution. What the people and clergies meant in the first place was justice house. A house of justice is an organization acting as the source of people’s complaints not exclusive to Tehran. The clergies and people who gathered in Abdul-Azim Shrine at the time of “minor immigrations” asked for the establishment of such a justice house in one articles and “enforcement of Islamic laws for all not sparing anyone” as another article. Meaning that the establishment of a legislative organization in the name of “legislative power” was not what they had in mind. In Mozafar-al-Din Shah’s second writing this organization changed to “Islamic Parliament” the goal of which was to execute “the laws of the holy religion”. Immediately efforts for changing this name began. Representatives of the asylum seekers at the British Embassy went to chancellor, Moshir-al-Doleh’s house with a senior member of the British embassy named Grant Duff and there they decided to ask for a new writing from the Shah in which the term “Islamic Parliament” is changed to “National Parliament”. We must note that guiding of the asylum seekers in the British embassy was performed by pro-western bureaucrats and compradors and their goal was to deprive the clergies of the power they gained during the asylum at Abdul-Azim Shrine.

 

□What ranks and groups of the Iranian society at that time played a role in the formation and victory of the Constitutional Revolution?

Social groupsActive in constitutional revolution can be classified into six types: first, that part of society which formed the general body and ground of the constitutional revolution and we can name it the “general public”. This general public included the middle class and low classes of the city and the most important and the most active part of that were the merchants, shopkeepers and professional and industrial sector.

The second social group was the clergies, clerics and seminarians who had close relations with the merchants and businessmen and played an important role in provoking the general public. During that period the clergies were known as the people’s voice against the government and the term “nation’s clergies” was widely used against the term “government’s authorities”. Among the clergies, the role of the three authorities residing in the shrines (Molla Mohammad Kazem Khorasani, Sheikh Abdullah Mazandarani and Mirza Khalil Tehrani) was very effective and great clerics like Sheikh Mahdi Sultan-al-Motekalemin and Sheikh Mohammad Sultan-al-Mohaqeqin played a great role in encouraging the people.

The third social group active in the constitutional revolution was part of the governmental officials who I call pro-western bureaucrats. The main core of this section of statesmen and big shotsincluded people who worked in the foreign ministry or were familiar with the Western Europe.

This group was the first herald of western style modernism in Iran and in other words they formed the main and initial framework which we call pro-westernism. From Naseri period, the foreign ministry enjoyed a kind of oligarchic structure, meaning that it was monopolized by a network and relative. The members of specific families held the positions of this organization for several generations and it was from these families that the pro-western officials of the Qajar dynasty emerged and occupied important authoritative posts at a national level. This new level of governmental officials had an amphibious nature meaning that they were both active in the government and benefitted from the material advantages and political power arising from their post and had a special place in the political, social structure of Iran and searched for the society’s reform towards a desired and special role model. This model was not ideal and utopian but it was the model which existed in the west Europe.

The fourth social active group in the constitution was a group is the group which can best be described by the word compradors which is a Portuguese word meaning mediator.

The comprador system in Iran emerged during Qajar and formed a strong social group of the great businessmen. This group is separated from the merchants and shopkeepers because the great comprador businessmen were different with the general merchants regarding relations with western colonizing associations and also regarding the cultural context and political goals. Actually the merchants and shopkeepers formed the most important part of the middle class but the great comprador businessmen benefitted from close and intimate relation with the pro-western bureaucrats. This social group formed from the middle of the 19th century and during Mohammad Shah Qajar’s reign and beginning of Naseri period.

The fifth social group effective in the constitutional revolution was the heads of clansand tribes. This group which was followed by nearly all the tribes had an important role in the constitution events. We must pay attention that at that time the tribes and clans constituted 1.5 million people of the 10 million population of Iran. That means about 25 percent of the whole population. Due to their especial way of living, this group was considered the most important military force in the society and the constitutionalists’ victory could only be granted through their participation.

The sixth social group effective in the constitutional revolution was the intellectuals. Of course modern intellectuals were not yet accepted as a notable social group at the time of constitution. The emergence of this group, meaning the people who make a living through new ways of thought, was more related to the 1960’s in Iran and the spread of urbanism and the possibility of working in new intellectual jobs (like journalism, writing and scientific research and etc.). I mean the initial circles of intellectuals in Iran who did not yet have a notable social weight and importance. Scholars and authors and people who worked in the press and intellectual circles of the constitution period are classified into this group.

 

□How much do you think the colonizing conspiring circles were involved in the events and incidents of the constitution period?

Another factor which must always be noted in surveys related to constitutional revolution and the effect of which can never be ignored is the role of colonizing conspiring circles. Elements which were present in all constitutional groups and which are guided by secret associations and their performance was towards transfer of power to the pro-western bureaucrats and compradors. Today, according to documents, we can have a relatively more comprehensive insight about these secret associations compared to previous historiography. The most important of these secret associations is Iran awakening masonry organization. The members of these secret associations gradually paved the way for their own ideals by for example hanging Sheikh Fazl-Allah Nouri, assassination of Sayyed Abdullah Behbahani, unpleasant, insulting actions against Akhond Khorasani, assassination and elimination of honest political figures, establishment of punishment committee and such similar action. These ideals finally manifested in Reza Khan’s dictatorship. The thought of reformist dictatorship, which formed the basic rising theory of the Pahlavi monarchy existed not only from the beginning of the constitutional revolution but from the start of a new class named pro-western bureaucrats during Naseri period. We must note that Mirza Fath-Ali Akhondzadeh, one of the initial and most eminent theoreticians of this group, was the promoter of centralization of state power in Iran and considered the achievement of the “monarchy’s internal and external independence” and its transfer into the “only resource for the nation” was the first step in “civilizing Iran”.

 

□How was the clergymen and cleric’s approach and deployment towards the events and transitions during constitution?

After the victory of the first constitution and in the process of the new campaign against Mohammad Ali Shah, the clerics who were active in constitution also divided into two main groups. One group defended Mohammad Ali Shah’s dethronement and the other group considered the pro-westernfanatics to be more dangerous and not only had no reason to remove Mohammad Ali Shah but they even considered his presence necessary. The most famous figure of the latter group is Sheikh Fazl-Allah Nouri who was one of the grade one clerics of Tehran and despite severe propaganda against him at that time and later he was famous and respectable among people. Bear in mind that in a biographic report sent to London in 1937, Colonel Picot, the military attaché of the British embassy, describes Sheikh Fazl-Allah Nouri as: “he is very knowledgeable. He lives a pious, humble life. He is much respected.” Less among the cleric and more among seminaries and preachers, there was a group which must be separated from the other classes of clergymen. This group included the people who dressed like clerics but either believed like pro-western modernists or worked with them and their actions was against all clergymen. To name a few, Sayyed Assad-Allah Kharaghai and Sheikh Ibrahim Zanjani were among this group. Kharaghai benefitted from much influence in the house of Akhond Khorasani and had a great impact on the transitions of constitution. Zanjani was not an important person in the first constitution and lived in Zanjan. He first entered the constitution as a member of the parliament and after that he became one of the effective intellectual and political figures of pro-western modernists. Among preachers, Malik-al-Motekalemin and Sayyed Jamal Vaez were from this group and among the seminaries many famous people were from this group the most eminent of which was Sayyed Hassan Taqizadeh.

 

□We know that the three cleric of Najaf played a vital role in the formation of Iran constitutional revolution and the events following that, even though the reality of this subject is not seriously considered in the constitution historiography. What do you think is the reason for that?

This ignorance is both due to the weakness in the constitution historiography and is also intentional. Generally we are weak in the field of constitution as we are in other historiography of contemporary fields and the works carried out are not enough. For example take Kasravi’s history which is the most famous constitution history. This book is silent about some important sections of the constitutional revolution. Or in the book Iranian Awakening of Nazem-al-Islam Kermani an important part of the constitution events has not been mentioned at all. Or for example in the above book the incident about Atabak which is one of the Gordian knots of constitution history, there is nothing notable inscribed there. I can mention many instances where Nezam-al-Islam’s writings have been censored in the first edition and there are reasons which show this was intentional and not accidental. The great mass of internal and external sources published during the last few years had made the execution of new research in the field of constitutional revolution quite necessary. In the subject of the three clerics this deficiency is also present. For example, we have no scientific documented biography from the life of Akhond Khorasani and Sheikh Abdullah Mazandarani ad Mirza Khalil Tehrani and Sayyed Kazem Yazdi as monograph writings about other figures and the events of constitution is very rare too. Even the important archives of England and Russia have had very little reflection regarding the events of constitution in Iran historiography. The two compilations translated into Persian and published with the names Blue Book and Orange Book are only a selection of a mountain of foreign documents about the events in Iran constitution. There has been partiality, I mean in some published books the role of the three clerics is intentionally less than what it has really been and the role of some groups who had little or limited effect is intensified which is not real and it is clearly distorted.

 

□You talk of the bureaucrats and amphibious statesmen in your classification of the constitution figures and participants. Please clarify the nature and performance of this group with some examples.

This group, meaning the amphibious political elites, was not outside the monarchy before constitution. They are the productions of Qajar monarchy and in the context of their ministerial organization and held very influential political and cultural and economic levers. For example the country’s mint house and finance was under the control of Haj Hassan Amin-al-Zarb. Nasr-Allah Khan Moshir-al-Doleh, who is the first chancellor of the constitution, was already the foreign minister and chancellor and one of the grade one political figures. Moshir-al-Doleh and his sons, Hassan Moshir-al-Molk and Hussein Motamen-al-Molk who later changed his name to Pirnia had important roles in achieving the constitution order. Many valid sources specify that Moshir-al-Doleh’s wealth was gained through bribes and he didn’t have much at first. For example it is said that in attaining the Darcy oil concession, Moshir-al-Doleh received 500 shares as his brokerage share and when he died he left 25 million tomans which was divided between his two sons and 1daughter. The person, who obtained the constitution order from Mozafar-al-Din Shah, was Mirza Mahdi Khan Ghafari Kashi (Homayun’s Vizier). Homayun’s vizier was the son of Farokh Khan Amin-al-Doleh Kashi who concluded the scandalousParis 1857 treaty and caused the separation of Herat from Iran. Mokhber-al-Saltaneh Hedayat writes: “we left the signing to Homayun’s vizier to wittingly state the law.” It was the same in Ottoman and the Ottoman constitution left the superior role in political power to pro-western bureaucrats who were in the government before and so gained enough levers to liquidate the Ottoman regime and establish Ataturk’s dictatorship. After the constitution Iran pro-western bureaucrats gained these levers too and finally imposed their desired government on Iran in the form of Pahlavi dictatorship.

 

□In Iran contemporary history many of the political-social movements and uprisings, including Iran constitutional campaign was soon faced with may problems and failure. As the last question how do you evaluate these failures?

In my opinion, in one word, the root of all failures of the Iranian society is in poverty of political and social flection. Until real foundations of intellectualism is not formed in Iran, meaning that a notable group of intellectuals producing thought in different fields of social sciences are not actively involved in political management of our society, all reformist plans and social movements will face failure.

 

□I thank you very much for your presence in this interview and your new and interesting views about the events and incidents during the period of constitutional revolutionin Iran.

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