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  • 1/5/2011

Background and Achievements of Amir Kabir

Part 2

amir kabir

Amir Kabir made a second indirect contribution to the elaboration of Persian as a modern medium with his foundation of the newspaper Vaqaye?-ye Ettefaqiyeh, which survived under different titles until the reign of Mozaffar-al-din Shah. A minimum circulation was ensured by requiring every official earning more than 2000 rials a year to subscribe. In founding the journal Amir Kabir hoped to give greater effect to government decrees by bringing them to the attention of the public; thus the text of the decree forbidding the levying of soyursat was published in the third tissue of the paper. He also wished to educate its readers in the world’s political and scientific developments; among the items reported in the first year of publication were the struggles of Mazzini against the Habsburg Empire, the drawing up of the Suez Canal project, the invention of the balloon, a census of England, and the doings of cannibals in Borneo.


Painting attributed to Amir Kabir , 19 th century AD , National Museum of Iran.

All of the measures enumerated so far had as their purpose the creation of a well ordered and prosperous country, with undisputed authority exercised by the central government. This purpose was in part frustrated by the Ulema, who throughout the Qajar period disputed the legitimacy of the state and often sought to exercise an independent and rival authority. Amir Kabir took a variety of steps designed to curb their influence, above all in the sphere of law. He sought initially to supersede the shar? courts in the capital by sitting in judgment himself on cases brought before him; he abandoned the attempt when he realized that the inadequacy of his juridical knowledge had caused him to pronounce incorrect verdicts. Then he established indirect control over the shar? courts by giving prominence to one of them that enjoyed his special favor and by assigning the divan-khana, the highest instance of ?orf jurisdiction, a more prominent role. All cases were to be referred to it before being passed on to a shar? court of the state’s choosing, and any verdict the shar? court then reached was valid only if endorsed by the divan-khaneh. In addition, any case involving a member of the non- Muslim minorities belonged exclusively to the jurisdiction of the divan-khana. Not content with thus circumscribing the prerogatives of the shar? courts, Amir Kabir took stringent measures against shar? judges found guilty of bribery or dishonesty; thus Molla ?Abd-al-Rahim Borujerdi was expelled from Tehran when he offered to settle a case involving one of Amir Kabir’s servants to the liking of the minister.

Amir Kabir also sought to reduce clerical power by restricting the ability of the ulema to grant refuge (bast), in their residences and the mosques under their control, to criminals and others pursued by the state.

 In 1266/1850, bast was abolished, for example, at the Masjed-e Shah in Tehran, although it was restored after the downfall of Amir Kabir. In Tabriz, prolonged efforts were made to preserve bast at various mosques in the city, and recourse was even had to the alleged miracle of a cow that twice escaped the slaughterhouse by running into the shrine known as Boq?a-ye Saheb-al-amr. The immediate instigators of the “miracle” were brought to Tehran, and soon after the emam-e jom?a and shaykh-al-eslam of Tabriz, who had reduced civil government in the city to virtual impotence, were expelled. Less capable of fulfillment was Amir Kabir’s desire to prohibit the taziyeh, the Shi?ite “passion play” enacted in Moharram, as well as the public self-flagellation that took place during the mourning season. He obtained the support of several ulema in his attempt to prohibit these rites, but was obliged to relent in the face of strong opposition, particularly from Isfahan and Azerbaijan.

Amir Kabir took a benevolent interest in the non-Muslim minorities of Iran, largely to further his desire of strengthening the state. While in Erzurum he had learned of the fashion in which the European powers intervened in Ottoman affairs on the pretext of “protecting” the Christian minorities, and there were indications that Britain, Russia, and France hoped for similar benefits from the Assyrians and Armenians of Iran. He moved therefore to remove any possible grievances and hence any need for a foreign “protector.” He exempted the priests of all denominations from taxation, and gave material support to Christian schools in Azerbaijan and Isfahan. In addition, he established a close relationship with the Zoroastrians of Yazd, and gave strict orders to the governor of the city that they not be molested or subjected to arbitrary taxes. He also forbade attempts made in Shushtar to convert forcibly the Sabean community to Islam.

The foreign policy of Amir Kabir was as strikingly innovative as his internal policies. He has been credited with originating the policy of “negative equilibrium,” i.e., refusing concessions to both of the rival powers pressing on Iran, Britain and Russia, and avoiding alignment with either of them. He abrogated the agreement whereby the Russians were to operate a trade center and hospital in Astarabad, and attempted to put an end to the Russian occupation of Ashuradeh, an island in the southeastern corner of the Caspian Sea, as well as the anchorage rights enjoyed by Russian ships in the lagoon of Anzali.

In the south of Iran he made similar efforts to restrict British influence in the Persian Gulf, and denied Britain the right to stop Iranian ships in the Gulf on the pretext of looking for slaves. It is not surprising that he frequently clashed with Dolgorukiy and Sheil, the representatives of Russia and Britain in Tehran. In order to counteract British and Russian influence, he sought to establish relations with powers without direct interests in Iran, notably Austria and the United States. It may finally be noted that he set up a counter-espionage organization that had agents in the Russian and British embassies

Source: wikipedia.org

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