ʿAYN-AL-DAWLA, SOLṬĀN ʿABD-AL-MAJĪD MĪRZĀ ATĀBAK-E AʿẒAM (1261-1345/1845-1926) son of Solṭān Aḥmad Mīrzā ʿAżod-al-dawla, Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah’s forty-eighth son and a prominent political figure of Moẓaffar-al-dīn Shah’s reign (1313-24/1896-1907). He is mainly remembered in modern Iranian history for his “reactionary stubborn character” which, as pointed out by Sykes (History II, p. 399), was often considered a major cause of the conflicts leading to the Constitutional Revolution. Although opinions on him generally remained negative, recent reappraisals (see below) tend to partly rehabilitate him and his political actions which continued, on a lesser scale, after the granting of a constitution.

He was educated by a private tutor but his lack of academic motivation led to his removal from Dār al-Fonūn (the Tehran Polytechnic). He was then sent to Tabrīz to the crown prince’s service where he learnt administrative skills and calligraphy (Sykes, ibid.; Mostawfī, Zendagānī II, pp. 54f.; Ṣafāʾī, Rahbarān II, p. 357). He was proud of his royal descent and renowned for his haughtiness, ostentatiousness, extortions, and meanness (Mostawfī, op. cit., p. 56). Reportedly, he was a hot-tempered, rude, and greedy courtier (Bāmdād, Rejāl II, p. 93). In 1289/1872-73, he married one of the crown prince’s daughters, Anīs-al-dawla, who died without giving him any children. His only son was from a temporary (ṣīḡa) wife (see below).

He began his career at Moẓaffar-al-dīn Mīrzā court at Tabrīz as nāyeb-e eṣṭabl, a deputy to the amīr(-e) āḵōr (stable-master) whom he eventually replaced in 1303/1885-86. He then obtained several governorates in Azerbaijan (Mostawfī, ibid.; Bāmdād, ibid.). In 1306/1890, while he held the governorate of Qarājadāḡ (Arasbārān), Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah on his return from his third European tour fell ill in Azerbaijan and was saved in extremis by Doctor Feuvrier (September, 1890). Allegedly ʿAyn-al-dawla announced the shah’s imminent death to the crown prince and was severely castigated for his rashness after the shah’s recovery (Eʿtemād-al-salṭana, Rūz-nāma, p. 665; Molkārā, Šarḥ-e ḥāl, p. 107; Bāmdād, op. cit., pp. 93 ff.; Feuvrier, Trois ans, pp. 66f.). In 1309/1891-92, along with the post of stable-master, he received the governorship of Ardabīl, Mešgīn and Qarājadāḡ with the rank of amīr(-e) tūmān as well as being in charge of the crown properties (ḵāleṣajāt) in Azerbaijan. In 1310/1892-93, he was given the title ʿAyn-al-dawla by Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah (Bāmdād, op. cit., p. 95).

By the time of Moẓaffar-al-dīn Shah’s accession (Ḏu’l-ḥejja, 1313/May-June, 1896), he had been for some time the head of the crown prince’s court in Azerbaijan (Dawlatābādī, Ḥayāt-e Yaḥyā I, p. 150). Already in September, 1895, he was reluctantly given by Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah the pīškārī of Azerbaijan (Ṣafāʾī, Rahbarān II, pp. 258ff.; according to Amīn-al-dawla, Ḵāṭerāt, p. 263, his pīškārī was only semi-official). Although he enjoyed Moẓaffar-al-dīn’s confidence and was influential among the Azerbaijani retinue of the new king (the Turk of the Tabrīz party, according to Mostawfī, op. cit., p. 56), his ascendancy was temporarily barred by powerful rivals. ʿAlī-Aṣḡar Khan Amīn-al-solṭān (ṣadr-e aʿẓam until Jomādā II, 1314/November, see ATĀBAK-E AʿẒAM) managed to send him as governor to Māzandarān. But under Farmānfarmā’s cabinet (November, 1896-April, 1897), he resigned and left his governorate unexpectedly to go on pilgrimage to the ʿatabāt (Dawlatābādī, op. cit., I, p. 168; Amīn-al-dawla, op. cit., pp. 232f.; Ṣafāʾī, op. cit., p. 361). In 1317/1899, he was governor (wālī) of Lorestān and Ḵūzestān where he was able to bring about a degree of stability (Ṣafāʾī, op. cit., pp. 362f.). His decisive step to power came with his appointment as the governor of Tehran (1319/1901). Together with his brother Wajīhallāh Mīrzā Amīr Khan Sardār (then sephsālār), they were considered the most powerful enemies of Amīn-al-solṭān Atābak-e Aʿẓam. During Moẓaffar-al-dīn Shah’s second European tour (1902), the two brothers were entrusted with the task of vice regency. ʿAyn-al-dawla was in contact with anti-Atābak ʿolamāʾ and journalists and was considered as the “prime instigator” of the anti-Atābak drive. While the shah promised him the premiership, he tried to bar Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā from the succession (Dawlatābādī, op. cit., pp. 299, 317; Keddie, “Iranian Politics,” I, p. 26, II, p. 153; Ṣafāʾī, op. cit., pp. 363f.; Bāmdād, Rejāl II, p. 96). Whereas popular discontent continued, he made profit by putting arbitrary taxes on bakeries and slaughterhouses. Through his contacts with the atābak’s opponents, he was involved in the circumstances leading to the latter’s second dismissal (Jomādā II, 1321/September 1903), notably the takfīr-nāma (text in Kasravī, Mašrūṭa2 I, p. 45). He also incited the atābak to dismiss his rival Ḥakīm-al-molk (Dawlatābādī, op. cit., I, p. 317; Malekzāda, Tārīḵ-eenqelāb I, p. 272; Amīn-al-dawla, op. cit., p. 317; Keddie, op. cit., II, p. 156; see also ATĀBAK-E AʿẒAM). Having abandoned the atābak, their former faithful supporter, the British now favored his enemies, notably ʿAyn-al-dawla and his brother Wajīhallāh Mīrzā who both convinced the shah that they could maintain security and order. Appointed minister of the interior (September, 1903), ʿAyn-al-dawla was made wazīr-e aʿẓam (chief minister; January, 1904) and ṣadr-e aʿẓam (prime minister; September, 1904). Shortly afterwards, he was granted his predecessor’s title of Atābak-e Aʿẓam (Bāmdād, ibid.).

His firm hand on court and provincial affairs at first enabled him to prevent a general spread of disorders. Although he could then enjoy the support of some of the opponents of Mīrzā ʿAlī-Aṣḡar Khan Atābak, his rough attitude towards the clergy, notably the ṭollāb, undermined his position. Leading ʿolamāʾ were soon divided into ʿAyn-al-dawla’s partisans and opponents, some of the latter working for the ex-atābak’s restoration. His authoritative measures to resolve the inherited financial crisis (such as reduction of court expenses, imposition of new taxes), the increasing influence of Belgian officials on customs and other departments, and his own greediness and private hoarding were factors which made him meet, like his predecessors, the opposition of many vested interests (Keddie, op. cit., II, pp. 234ff.). Opponents to the Russians, the Belgians, and ʿAyn-al-dawla’s policy were encouraged by the news of Tsarist Russia’s difficulties (defeat against Japan in 1904-05, revolution of 1905). A vast campaign united merchants, modernists, and ʿolamāʾ (some of whom being regrouped in secret societies) against ʿAyn-al-dawla and the Belgian Joseph Naus who held several top-level official positions (Naus’s photograph in a mollā’s dress taken at a costume ball caused great uproar among the clergy). News of a third royal European tour added to the discontent. This time (summer 1905), ʿAyn-al-dawla accompanied the shah while government at Tehran was secured by the harsh measures introduced by the crown prince Moḥammad ʿAlī Mīrzā. From the beginning of 1905, secret societies helped to provoke further discontent among merchants and ʿolamāʾ, notably at Mašhad, Tabrīz, and Tehran (bast at Shah ʿAbd-al-ʿAẓīm, April, 1905). Disturbances sometimes took a racial or religious character against the Jews, the Babis, the Armenians, and others. A factional strife raged at Kermān between šayḵīs and bālāsarīs (see G. Scarcia, “Kermān 1905: la "guerra tra šeiḫī e bālāsarī",” AION, N.S. 13, 1963, pp. 195-238).

There were serious demonstrations against the construction of a new building for the Russian Bank on waqf land at Tehran (November, 1905) and revolutionary activities began to flare up throughout Iran. After his return, the bastinado inflicted on some Tehran merchants (mostly sugar dealers) by the governor Mīrzā Aḥmad Khan ʿAlāʾ-al-dawla, applying ʿAyn-al-dawla’s policy (December, 1905), initiated the chain of events leading to the granting of a constitution. Repression of demonstrations provoked a massive bast of the ʿolamāʾ in Tehran and at Shah ʿAbd-al-ʿAẓīm (January, 1906) which resulted in ʿAlāʾ-al-dawla’s dismissal and the promise of an ʿadālat-ḵāna (house of justice). Further protests and repressions in Tehran and the provinces led to the great emigration (hejrat-e kobrā) of the ʿolamāʾ to Qom and the massive bast of merchants, ṭollāb, preachers, and others at the summer quarters of the British Legation at Golhak (July-August, 1906). Along with the demands for an ʿadālat-ḵāna and eventually a majles-e šūrā-ye mellī, national consultative assembly, and a constitution (mašrūṭa), ʿAyn-al-dawla and Naus’s dismissal were consistently insisted upon. Even before the issuing of the mašrūṭa decree, ʿAyn-al-dawla was dismissed (9 Jomādā II 1324/31 July 1906) and replaced by Mīrzā Naṣrallāh Khan Nāʾīnī Mošīr-al-dawla (Algar, Religion and State, pp. 240ff.; Browne, Revolution, pp. 105ff.; Kasravī, op. cit., I, pp. 31 ff.; Keddie, op. cit., II, pp. 234-50; Nāẓem-al-eslām Kermānī, Bīdārī-e Īrānīān I, pp. 243ff.; Ṣafāʾī, op. cit., pp. 368f.).

ʿAyn-al-dawla then went to Mobārakābād and Varāmīn and finally settled at Farīmān, his personal estate in Khorasan, and remained politically inactive for nearly two years. After the bombardment of the Majles (June, 1908) and the intensification of the resistance at Tabrīz, he was sent to Azerbaijan as governor together with Moḥammad-Walī Khan Tonokābonī Sepahdār-e Aʿẓam to quell the revolt. His efforts to induce the nationalists to surrender or negotiate failed and on a few occasions governmental forces were defeated by nationalists on the outskirts of Tabrīz (October, 1908). Moḥammad-Walī Khan Sepahdār-e Aʿẓam joined the nationalists and ʿAyn-al-dawla was not even recognized as governor by the provincial anjoman and was forced to settle at Bāsmenj. When after months of siege Tsarist troops entered Tabrīz, ʿAyn-al-dawla went to Tehran and reported to Moḥammad-ʿAlī Shah about the provincial anjoman’s attitude and Tabrīz diplomats’ lack of support (June, 1909). He then retired to his house in expectation (Ṣafāʾī, op. cit., pp. 369ff.; Browne, op. cit., pp. 256ff.; Kasravī, op. cit., I, pp. 198ff.).

When Tehran was captured by constitutionalist forces (July, 1909), ʿAyn-al-dawla refused any foreign protection and dearly bought his liberty by giving his estates in Qarabāḡ to the revolutionary government. He was, however, promised the government of Fārs for which he gave a heavy pīškeš. But his appointment was canceled because of Taqīzāda’s strong protest (Ṣafāʾī, op. cit., p. 371; Browne, op. cit., pp. 315ff.). Although he was invited to the opening of the second Majles (November, 1909) he had to remain out of office for four years while being prosecuted on the ground of forgery for the purchase of his Farīmān estate. In Ṣafar, 1331/January, 1913, in Mīrzā Moḥammad-ʿAlī Khan ʿAlāʾ-al-salṭana’s cabinet, he was appointed minister of the interior and paid particular attention to news given about Iran in European newspapers. He kept his office under the subsequent government of Mostawfī-al-mamālek but was again idle after the latter’s resignation (March, 1913). He was appointed prime minister and minister of war (Jomādā II, 1333/April, 1915), but after he granted his support to his minister of the interior Farmānfarmā (who committed a political error by being hostile to the Ottomans), he was interpellated and compelled to resign (July, 1915). During the famine of 1915, he had bread made from the wheat of his own estates baked in Tehran and distributed freely among the needy. In Ṣafar, 1336/November, 1917, he was again chief minister, but because of the British disapproval, the hostility of the Tehran democrats, and criticism of his ministers by Azerbaijani deputies, he again resigned (Rabīʿ I, 1336/January, 1918). Under Woṯūq-al-dawla’s second cabinet (1297-99/1918-20), he was again Azerbaijan’s governor and had to cope with Shaikh Moḥammad Ḵīābānī’s rebellion. He had no further official appointment (Ṣafāʾī, op. cit., pp. 371ff.; Kasravī, Āḏarbāyjān, pp. 51ff.).

In the coup d’état of 1299 Š./1921, he was among the officials who were arrested and was heavily fined. Although he had gathered a certain amount of wealth through inheritance and official appointments, he was deep in debt from having borrowed money to cover state expenses during his first tenure. Contrary to the customs of the Qajar government, Moẓaffar-al-dīn Shah held him personally responsible for these debts, which were said to amount of three korūr (1,500,000) tomans. This paralyzed his life, for his creditors kept harassing him, especially after his loss of influence. He died on 7 Jomādā I, 1345/10 Ābān, 1306 Š./23 November, 1926.

ʿAyn-al-dawla was dismissed by most of his contemporaries, and still is by modern authors, as a mere reactionary, being generally described as an unscrupulous “Russian creature” whose fortune came from speculation, extortions, and malversations. Although he was less friendly to Naus than Atābak Amīn-al-solṭān, he still embodied Qajar autocracy and symbolized the past which had to be destroyed by revolutionary forces (Destrée, Les functionnaires, pp. 5f., 113ff.). But he had to pay more dearly than Naus—who retained his position for some time—for his stubborn resistance to both foreign influence and internal rebellion. Although he was later somewhat more liberal and showed a certain courage, his contemporaries only saw in his change of attitude (notably towards the poor, which included the foundation of an asylum in Tehran) a means to maintain his political influence (Ṣafāʾī, op. cit., pp. 373f. quoting Mostawfī). There have been recent attempts at his partial rehabilitation, including praise for his courage and chivalry (Javānmardī, see Ṣafāʾī, ibid.), his opposition to foreign influence, his partial success on the economic plan notably by cutting down court expenses. His repression was mainly directed against discontented bāzārīs rather than radical intellectuals (Ādamīyat, Īdeʾoložī, pp. 126ff., cf. Bagley, “New Light,” pp. 49ff.).

ʿAyn-al-dawla’s only son Mīrzā Moḥammad Šams-al-molk ʿAżod-al-dawla was a pleasure-seeking courtier who dissipated what remained from his father’s fortune and ended as a pauper (Bāmdād, Rejāl II, p. 99, V, p. 198; Ṣafāʾī, op. cit., p. 376). Photographs of ʿAyn-al-dawla have been published many times (see, e.g., Dawlatābādī, Ḥayāt-e Yaḥyā I, p. 150; Nāẓem-al-eslām Kermānī, Bīdārī-e Īrānīān I, opposite p. 169; Malekzāda, Tārīḵ-eenqelāb I, p. 269; Bāmdād, Rejāl II, pp. 93ff., IV, p. 122, V, p. 144; Ṣafāʾī, op. cit., p. 356). A street in Tehran was named after him (Mostawfī, Zendagānī I, p. 258).



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(J. Calmard)

Originally Published: December 15, 1987

Last Updated: August 18, 2011

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