The Tobacco Uprising, First Resistance against the Shah

The Tobacco Uprising, First Resistance against the Shah

Reggie contract or tobacco monopoly which was signedbetweenIran government and the English Major Talbot was recorded as the first authoritarian and colonial struggles in the form of an integrated and composed uprising in the contemporary history of Iran ...

Reggie contract or tobacco monopoly which was    signedbetweenIran government and the English Major Talbot was recorded as the first authoritarian and colonial struggles in the form of an integrated and composed uprising in the contemporary history of Iran until January 5th 1892. This uprising lasted for more than 300 days and forced the Qajar authoritarian government and the colonizing England to withdraw.

The above contract was the product of Naser-al-Din Shah’s trip abroad. Naser-al-Din shah who was encouraged to travel abroad and visit the achievements of the western civilization under the influence of courtier intellectual figures, welcomed foreign investments in Iran by approval and encouragement of Mohammad Hassan Khan Etemad-al-Saltaneh and Mirza Ali Khan Amin-al-Doleh, Mirza Malcolm Khan Nazem-al-Doleh and Mirza Hussein Khan Sepahsalar. but his unfamiliarity of the method of investment caused such a big contract with the English Major Talbot which surprised all the world and transferred the concession of tobacco extraction to him for fifty years.

After the Shah’s return, Talbot founded a company with a 650 thousand lira capital and secretly headed to Tehran so that for the first few days no one but Amin-al-Sultan and the members of the English embassy knew he was in Tehran.

After a while with the help of Sir Henry Drummond Wolf, the English ambassador in Tehran, Talbot and Amin-al-Sultan prepared a 50-year contract in this regard and Amin-al-Sultan took the contract to Naser-al-Din Shah to be signed. Just signing of the contract involved 25 thousand liras of gifts and donations for Naser-al-Din Shah and of course this was excluded from Amin-al-Sultan and Kamran Mirza’s gifts. through this contract, an amount of 15 thousand liras were deposited in to Iran State treasury while this contract had massive profits for the English.

This contract was basically violating the country’s dependence and consigned the fate of all tobacco workers, including merchants, sellers and farmers, to the foreigners. And it was crueler than the other similar contracts signed with other countries. Because the destiny of thousands of farmers, merchants and businessmen was sealed with that and in addition to local sales it was one Iran’s greatest commercial products.

The people witnessed in disbelief how the Shah has transferred their fate into the hands of foreigners. Little by little some voices were heard and some reactions were seen.


The Reflection of the Contract in Shiraz

The first sparkle of objection with the Reggie Company and their activity in Iran occurred in Shiraz. At that time Iran’s tobacco was produced in Fars and it was considered the best tobacco in Iran. The state of cultivation of tobacco in Shiraz was special, meaning that from the time of plantation until yielding it took 8-9 months. The farmer had to plant in spring and harvest in summer so that it dried until fall; packaging started from the beginning of fall until winter when it was ready to be sold.

The governors of Fars transferred the taxes every year at the beginning of spring and this put a heavy load on the shoulders of farmers and merchants. Some of the governors paid some of the tax to the central government two months before the end of the year and claimed it from the farmers by New Year. The tax collectors pressured people severely to take the money such that in some villages the farmers had to sell their products to the merchants for a fifth of the real value in order to pay their delayed tax money. The Shirazi merchants and governmental officers benefitted from these conditions. The number of these merchants was not more than 50 or 60 altogether.

After the establishment of Reggie Company, the first officers headed to Shiraz because of its importance. Mr. Benitez (the company’s representative in Shiraz) started his move to that city. He was accompanied by some Iranian officers who carried an order from the central government. Before the foreigners entered Shiraz, it was rumored that the government has sold that city to the foreigners. The first whispers of protests were heard here for the first time. Some people asked the clerics about their duty. Since the clerics of Shiraz considered this as opposing to the interests of religion, they expressed aversion. Of course in between a group of great tobacco merchants and businessmen deployed positions against Reggie and prepared the grounds for a riot. For example, Haj Abbas Ordubadi who supported the Russian government was assigned by the Russian ambassador in Tehran to cause disturbance in Reggie’s work.

It was rumored in Shiraz that Reggie’s measures will cause hundreds of merchants to go bankrupt and become jobless. Also it was said that the price of tobacco would increase and the foreigners would invade Iran. Despite the various promises by Reggie Company and the Britain, the people refused to let the foreigners enter the city. The company officers were delayed at Shiraz Quran gates. In April 1891, excitement reached its peak. A large group of people closed their shops and assembled in Vakil Mosque led by Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Akbar Fal Asiri. The people denounced the central governments’ actions and through an intense sermon, the leader announced his disagreement with the entry of the English to Shiraz.

This was surprising regarding the influence of the English in that region and a governor like Zal-al-Sultan who was their friend. The English ambassador asked Amin-al-Sultan to end the riot and Sayyed was sent to exile. Of course the exile of Sayyed Ali Akbar Fal Asiri to Iraq caused his meeting with Sayyed Jamal-al-Din Asad Abdadi and preparation of an open letter to Mirzaye Shirazi which prepared the grounds for issuing a Fatwa to ban the use of tobacco.


Riot in Tabriz and Reggie’s Retreat

The second city which reacted against the English committee was Tabriz. The people of Tabriz did not produce tobacco but engaged in its export. Therefore Tabriz and its clerics declared their dissatisfaction upon hearing this news. Haj Mirza Javad Awa Mujtahed Tabrizi was among the clerics and one of the chief of the campaign. At this time Hassan-Ali Khan Amir Nezam Garousi, Azerbaijan governor and foreman joined the people and resigned because he believed this concession was against the interests of religion and government; and also the Russian officers in Tabriz resisted against the English’s expansionistic goals.

The movement of the people of Tabriz started from the beginning of summer. A large number of people who thought granting of concessions to the foreigners are against religious laws, closed their shops and gathered around Mirza Javad Aqa Mujtahed. In   August 1891, the Shah was in his country house in Shahrestanak in the north of Tehran and was not aware of the news in towns. One day a threatening telegraph was delivered to him from the people of Tabriz in which he was asked to stop ceding Muslim interests to Christians who are against the laws of Quran and if this request is not granted they will defend their own right using guns.

The central government asked the Russians to end the riot but Russia abstained from doing so. The Russians used the Tabriz riot in their own advantage. They had outrun the English in their colonizing competition and held the trump card. That’s why they tried to force their opponent to retreat as far as possible. And so they insisted very much on annulment of the concession. With much effort, the Shah succeeded in temporarily       calming the people with the promise of annulment but in summer 1891 the people of Tabriz revolted again. Although they were promised that the company will not perform in Azerbaijan, the people were not satisfied and started to rebel. So in Tabriz the rebellion had a general aspect especially because the prices determined for purchase of tobacco was very cruel and they were in fact forced to sell their product at a very low price.


Isfahan and General Rebellion

Isfahan was also one of the important cities in opposing against Reggie and the clerics’ leadership in Isfahan riot was obvious and evident. Furthermore, this movement was very consistent and cohesive. The importance of Isfahan movement was in that the first whispers of tobacco sanctions started from there. The interesting point is that Zal-al-Sultan, Isfahan’s governor openly supported the Reggie concession and England had especial place among Isfahan and Bakhtiari tribes.

The people of Isfahan, guided by Mirza Mohammad Taqi, known as Aqa Najafi (the powerful cleric) acted on opposing the actions of Reggie Company and acted on a novel action by boycotting tobacco. The behavior of agents of Reggie Company in Isfahan was very humiliating and aggressive. One of the famous and reputable merchants of Isfahan repeated the Shirazi merchants’ action and set fire to tobacco after being ordered by Zal-al-Sultan to deliver his purchase. This symbolic action strengthened the status of clerics more than before. The Fatwa regarding prohibition of tobacco was effective and the company was practically paralyzed. Therefore they complained to the government and the government threatened that if the clerics do not surrender and the people rebel, they will bombard the people’s houses. But all clerics, other than one or two, resisted against these threats.

With the entrance of English officials to Mashhad the people closed their shops and revolted but Fath-Ali Khan Saheb Divan (Mashhad’s governor) convinced the tobacco sellers to open their shops. In addition to the shopkeepers, the main force of movement in Mashhad was the seminaries. The main subject of protest was Reggie at first but later the rebellions openly shouted slogans against England but said that England is obviously after occupation of Iran in the name of trade like India. The Mashhad uprising was not able to increase the power of people’s mobilization like Shiraz, Tabriz and Isfahan due to lack of a powerful and strong religious leader. And the same happened in the people’s demonstrations and riots in Yazd, Qazvin and Kashan.


Tehran and Tobacco Sanction

In this movement Tehran had a decisive status due to political and economic relations and the presence of the Shah and the government, especially because Tehran religious leader was a scholar like Mirza Hassan Ashtiani who never stopped fighting. The people and merchants constantly visited him. a group of clerics like Mullah Feiz-Allah Fazel Darbandi delivered the harshest sermons against the Shah, therefore he was arrested by government’s order and was sent to exile in Iraq. Tehran scholars gradually concluded that they must do what the clerics of Isfahan did and prohibit using tobacco from Reggie company. Thus Mirzaye Shirazi in Iraq was notified of the events and the process of campaigns. Meanwhile, with the rise of the movement, the rumor of tobacco sanction spread in Tehran and started great anxiety. The decree read: “In the name of God, from today the use of tobacco in any kind is the same as fighting against Imam Mahdi. Yours Mohammad Hassan al-Husseini”.

The day after the decree was passed and distributed, meaning December 4ththe matter of people’s unity under guidance of religious leadership was materialized. Even the city knights also obeyed this order. In Shah’s jockey ceremony on Dooshan hill no one smoked hookah because contradicting the order of clerics was like contradicting Imam Mahdi. Also all the hookahs in Shah’s harem were broken. Following that the Shah ordered a halt to the activities of Reggie Company but delayed its annulment.


Annulment of the Reggie Concession

On the night of December 25th 1891 an announcement was attached on Shams-al-Emarah’s door on which read: “according to order from Hujjat-al-Islam Mr. Mirzaye Shirazi, the next Monday is jihad. Be prepared people.”

The Shah and Naser-al-Din Shah wanted to put an end to the matter by sending the clerics and Mirzaye Ashtiani on exile but the rumor of Mirza leaving Tehran quickly spread in the city and the people and clerics announced that they will accompany Ashtiani, so the government felt endangered.

The rumor of Jihad was denied but Amin-al-Sultan’s lack of prudence made matters worse. He, angry at the clerics’ insistence on annulment of Reggie, sent Mirzaye Ashtiani on exile. But at that time even Sheikh Hadi Najm Abadi who did not directly participate in the movement, announced that if clerics are going to migrate to holy places he will be the first to migrate on foot. From the morning of January 4th 1892, when Ashtiani was going to be exiled, the people wore shrouds and while holding bats headed towards Sanglaj neighborhood where his house was situated and shouted in protest.

Naser-al-Din Shah noticed that Tehran will not have peace until the Reggie contract is annulled and so he wrote a letter to Amin-al-Sultan and announced the complete annulment of the Reggie concession. a few days passed but the government and people awaited an order from the clerics. Amin-al-Sultan sent a letter to Ashtiani and asked insurprise: “now that Reggie is annulled, why don’t you let people smoke hookah?” Ashtiani responded that he has not banned tobacco and he cannot free it; it was Mirzaye Shirazi’s order.

Mirza Hassan Ashtianiannounced the annulment of the concession in a telegraph to Mirzaye Shirazi and requested he issues the permit of tobacco use. Mirza answered the order remains until the foreigners are completely evicted. He had said that Reggie’s eviction must be proved to him and until then the order persists.

This continued until everyone lost patience and in the end the order for removal of tobacco sanction from Mirzaye Shirazi was received and a movement with such expanse ended in victory.

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