The Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1906-11 (q.v.), directed against the native autocracy and British and Russian imperialist intervention, was an early example of an international revolutionary event in Asia. The contributions made by various non-Iranian individuals and groups to the constitutional/nationalist cause in Persia have long been acknowledged in the historiography of the revolution (Afary, chap. 9; Jāvid, passim). The Persian revolution coincided with an intensified phase of Indian nationalist agitation against British colonial rule (the [British] “Raj”). Just before the outbreak of the Persian revolution, there had been a drastic escalation in Indian nationalist disturbances in reaction to the 1905 partitioning of Bengal into Hindu and Muslim parts by Lord Curzon (viceroy of India, 1899-1905). The upsurge in Indian nationalist activities ranged from the swadeshi boycott of British goods to demonstrations and journalistic condemnations of British rule, as well as campaigns of violence by militant nationalists (ranging from revivalist Hindu groups to religiously/communally mixed pan-Indian groups). In response, British authorities resorted to arbitrary arrests, executions, and suppression of the so-called “seditious” Indian nationalist press. By the time of the Persian revolution, the processes of nationalist “awakening” and the wide array of nationalist campaigns in neighboring India and Persia intersected in a number of ways. Indian individuals and groups (of diverse ideological orientations and commitments) expressed support for the Persian revolution, while groups of nationalists in Persia voiced solidarity with the Indian struggle for self-government (either within the confines of the British empire or in the purna swaraj form of outright independence from Britain).


Many Iranian reformers in the late 19th and the early 20th century underwent part of their political and ideological apprenticeship in India. These included Ḥāji Mirzā NasÂr-Allāh Behešti, Malek-al-Motakallemin, a leading figure of the Constitutional Revolution, who resided in India for two years until British authorities deported him in 1886 after the publication of his tract Mena’l-ḵalq ela’l-ḥaq (From creatures to God). This tract, which included denunciations of the existing socio-political conditions in Persia, British imperialism in general, and conservative Islamic dogmas, enraged the Government of India and the leadership of India’s Ismaʿili Shiʿite community (Malekzādeh, I, p. 157; II, p. 442; Hairi, 1975, p. 159; 1977, p. 17). Another example is Arbāb Kayḵosrow Šāhroḵ, elected as the Zoroastrian deputy to the second Majles (1909-11) and a prominent political personality for years to come, who also studied in India in the latter part of the 19th century (Boyce, p. 219).

At the same time, since the 19th century some reformers in Persia had made textual allusions to “British India” as a comparative frame of reference in highlighting Persia’s social and political underdevelopment. Besides travelogues, these included fictional narratives and plays. Mirzā Sayyed Ḥasan Kāšāni, brother of the proprietor of the Calcutta Ḥabl al-matin and founder of the Tehran and Rasht Ḥabl al-matins (q.v.; 1907 and 1909), was the author of the 1908 Mokālema-ye sayyāḥ-e Irāni bā šaḵṣ-e Hendi (Conversations of an Iranian traveler with an Indian). Notwithstanding the underlying paradoxical implication of the benefits of imperialist domination of India in such works, this publication, written in the form of a (fictional) conversation in the 1890s, contrasted the hodgepodge and corrupt Iranian legal and political structure with its ostensibly more methodical and evenhanded counterpart in British India, underscoring Iran’s socio-political backwardness (Kāšāni, 2001).

In addition to Moʾayyad-al-Eslām and the Calcutta Ḥabl al-matin, other members of Iranian émigré communities in India rushed to the support of the Persian revolution. Their activities ranged from protest meetings to financial assistance for the revolutionary cause and correspondence with the authorities in London and India, as well as with Persian diplomatic representatives in India, the Indian and the British press, and advocates of the Persian revolution in other parts of the world (The Times, 10 August 1908, p. 6; Kasravi, pp. 182, 724; Malekzādeh, V, p. 1019; Taqizādeh, 1970, p. 306; Sardāriniā, p. 517). It should be stressed that these Iranians included Zoroastrians residing in India (as distinct from India’s own Zoroastrian Parsi population, with whom Iranian Zoroastrians maintained close contact; see below) as well as women in the émigré communities (e.g., PRO, F.O.371/1423, no. 153619, “The Persian Women Anjuman Wifak Iranian to Her Majesty the Queen Empress,” 9 December 1911).


Political developments in India, among other parts of the world, further stimulated the development of nationalist and/or nativist ideologies in Persia. In addition to other nationalist and reform movements around the world—such as the 1868 Meiji Restoration in Japan, the Young Ottoman and Young Turks reform platforms, the Egyptian resistance to British occupation of 1882, and the Russian Revolution of 1905—the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 and the intensification of Indian nationalist campaigns after the partition of Bengal in 1905 also inspired various nationalist and reform circles in Persia (Hairi, 1975, pp. 158-62). After the outbreak of the Persian Constitutional Revolution, Iranian nationalists, the Persian constitutionalist press, and other reformist papers published abroad and accessible to readers inside Persia continued to comment on Indian nationalist activities and the injustice of British colonial rule in India (e.g., Iran-e now, no. 73, 21 January 1911, p. 4; the Azari-language Molla nasr al-din, Tiblisi, Georgia, no. 34, 23 August 1909, p. 2; Afary, pp. 306-7). Mohammad Esmail Rezvani also mentions an undated Persian translation during these years of an English-language text on British imperial domination of India, intended as a warning to Iranians (Rezvani, p. 374).

Just as Iranian nationalists were watchful of reformist and nationalist movements in other parts of the world, including developments in neighboring India, the Persian revolution, along with other nationalist movements in Asia and elsewhere (such as the Young Turks Revolution of 1908, the Egyptian struggle for national sovereignty, Irish Home Rule and independence campaigns, and the Chinese Revolution of 1911), were closely monitored by a broad amalgam of Indians committed to varying political, religious, and communal platforms. In turn, the Government of India was concerned with the impact of these nationalist movements on Indian politics and the reaction of India’s Muslim population at large to developments in the Ottoman empire, Egypt, and Persia. Indian nationalists of varying ideological, communal, and religious orientations, whether militant or moderate, violent or non-violent, or demanding Home Rule or full independence from Britain—with both camps employing the term swaraj (self-rule) in reference to their distinctive objectives—considered the Iranian resistance to imperialism as in some ways analogous to their own struggle and worthy of solidarity. Some of these nationalists also welcomed the domestic, “democratic” aspirations of Iranian constitutionalists. In the case of Indian Muslim nationalists, who at this stage endorsed direct British rule (see below), Persia was regarded as one of the last remaining independent Muslim countries, with its continued sovereignty warranting their expressions of support, regardless of denominational differences between the majority of Iranian and Indian Muslims (the latter being predominantly Sunnite). Moreover, many leading Indian Muslim nationalists believed the constitutional reforms in Persia could reinforce the project of Islamic modernism in India and elsewhere. As for India’s small, but highly influential, Zoroastrian Parsi (Parsee) community, irrespective of their varied stance on Indian and imperial politics, Persia constituted their “ancestral” land and the birthplace of their ancient religion, as indicated by the “Parsi” or “Irani” designation of their community (i.e., “Persian"/ “Iranian”). Therefore, many of them were vigilant of Persia’s continued independence and the anticipated salutary impact of the Constitutional Revolution on the treatment of their Iranian co-religionists.

Indian nationalists and the Persian Revolution. Indian nationalists in both India and Britain—with London, the imperial metropolis, as a major center of Indian political activities during this period—voiced support for the constitutional/nationalist struggle in Persia. Moreover, some leading British members of the “pro-India” lobby in Britain, including members of the British Committee of the Indian National Congress (1889), happened to be outspoken advocates of the Persian revolution (see the membership list of the Persia Committee in PRO, FO 371/1422, Persia Committee to the F.O., 16 January 1912; and “Our Friends in Parliament and Outside” in the Calcutta Modern Review, April 1909, pp. 344-48). For the most part, the British pro-India lobby endorsed the mainstream, “moderate” agenda of the Indian National Congress (INC), which in 1906 splintered into the majority moderate wing, advocating Home Rule within the confines of the British empire, and the minority revolutionary “New Party” wing. Meanwhile, different British critics of Sir Edward Grey’s Persian policy played different “Indian” cards, based on their varying political commitments, immediate agendas, and propaganda expediency, alternatively concentrating on disparate, and at times contradictory, Indian ramifications of the Persian Question. For example, some exploited official British concerns with India’s security in denouncing the 1907 Agreement and urging London’s condemnation of Russian aggression in Persia, while others sought to publicly dissociate the nationalist movements in Persia and India in their effort to recruit British imperialists in opposition to Grey’s Persian policy (see J. Ramsay MacDonald in The Times [London], 21 October 1910, p. 6; Browne, 1995, pp. xix-xx).

Indian nationalists in Britain, including students—Hindu, Muslim, Parsi, Sikh, or secular—followed the revolutionary developments in Persia and joined protest meetings in support of Persia’s independence (Browne Papers, Box 10, Arthur Finch to Browne, November 1911; Datta and Cleghorn, p. 8), as did members of the Parsi community in Britain not engaged in Indian nationalist politics, as well as Indian Muslim nationalists residing in Britain. Among the more prominent pan-Indian nationalists active in Britain was Shyamaji (Shyamji) Krishnavarma, editor of the militant Indian nationalist journal the Indian Sociologist (published in London from 1905 to 1910 and in Paris subsequently), which occasionally commented on the situation in Persia (e.g., Indian Sociologist, December 1909, p. 47).

Regardless of ideological commitments, a host of commentators in Persia, India, Britain, and elsewhere alluded to the crossroads of nationalist politics and struggles in India and Persia, even if on occasion overstating or misrepresenting the connection. (E.g., Sri Aurobindo [Ghosh], “The Old Year,” Bande Mataram, Calcutta, April 1907, reproduced in Mukherjee and Mukherjee, pp. 35-38; Ḥabl al-matin, Tehran, no.112, 9 September 1907, pp. 1-2; no.135, 8 October 1907, pp. 1-2; no.187, 15 December 1907, p. 1; Browne, “The Persian View of the Anglo-Russian Agreement,” Albany Review 2, 1907, pp. 293-94; Edinburgh Review, October 1907, pp. 284-85; Fortnightly Review, 1 August 1908, p. 209; Labour Leader, 23 July 1909, p. 472; Justice, 4 July 1908, p. 1; Hardie, p. 123; MacDonald, p. 180; Morley, p. 154; Nevinson, p. 320; Lenin, “Inflammable Material in World Politics,” Proletary, no. 33, 23 July [5 August] 1908, in Lenin, pp. 182-83.)

In India itself, the press coverage of the Persian revolution and the 1907 Anglo-Russian Agreement (q.v.) was mixed. The Times of India and many other British papers, such as the Calcutta Englishman, were overall supportive of the Anglo-Russian Agreement, even if critical of certain clauses in the Agreement, and were categorically antagonistic towards nationalist camps in both India and Persia. Meanwhile, the Indian nationalist press, such as the left-leaning Calcutta monthly Modern Review, edited by Ramananda Chatterjee, or the militant nationalist Bande Mataram (founded in Calcutta in 1906 by Bipin Chandra Pal and edited by Aurobindo Ghosh prior to being banned in India by British authorities in 1908), enthusiastically endorsed the constitutional/nationalist struggle in Persia. For his part, the abstemious Indian nationalist Sant Nihal Singh, the renowned Indian Sikh reporter for a variety of Indian, British, Canadian, American, and other press, composed one of the most detailed contemporary accounts of women’s participation in the Persian revolution and the emergent feminist movement in that country (“The Persian Woman at the Parting of the Ways,” Englishwoman, February 1911, pp. 173-81).

The INC’s early interest in the Persian revolution is evident from passing references to Persian developments during its annual presidential addresses by Dadabhai Naoroji in 1906 and Rash Behari Ghose in 1907 (Zaidi, II, pp. 305, 341). The Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907, the 1908 Russian-backed, anti-constitutional royalist coup in Persia, and the Russian-instigated clampdown on the Persian constitutional movement in December 1911 resulted in more definitive INC commentaries on Persia (e.g., Sitaramayya, pp. 45-46; Zaidi, II, p. 106). On the other hand, mindful of ideological divisions and communal/religious tensions plaguing India’s nationalist politics, a number of Indian nationalist commentators reproached the rival Iranian constitutionalist/nationalist camps for the internecine hostilities erupting after the overthrow of Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah in the summer of 1909. In a 1911 article, relying heavily on Edward Granville Browne’s The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909 (London, 1910), Naginlal H. Setalvad condemned British and Russian intervention in Persia’s internal affairs and lamented the growing factionalism in Iranian revolutionary ranks. He concluded that the collapse of the Persian revolution would be a loss, not only to Iranians, but to the entire world (Modern Review, February 1911, pp. 132-38). The escalation of Russian aggression in Persia in late 1911 with London’s tacit assent, the Baḵtiāri-led military suppression of the second Majles under Russian duress in late December, and Russian outrages in northern Persia provoked a torrent of protest meetings, letters, and messages of solidarity with Iranian revolutionaries and the Majles by exclusively Hindu as well as pan-Indian nationalist organizations (e.g., PRO, FO 371/1423, Ambalal Desai [Ahmedabad public meeting] to the viceroy and the F.O., 18 January 1912; Malekzādeh, VII, p. 1469; Shuster, p. 188).

It is also noteworthy that at least two militant pan-Indian nationalists received direct assistance and protection from Iranian nationalists during this period, foreshadowing the more substantial armed collaborations between segments of Indian and Iranian nationalists during World War I. In 1910, under the heading of “How Reformed Persia Treats Political Refugees,” the Indian Sociologist (which had resumed publication in Paris) reproduced a report form the Trevandrum Swadeshabhimani on the refusal of the Persian constitutional government to extradite two renowned, militant Indian nationalists, Ajit Singh and Sufi Amba Prasad, who had fled British prosecution and taken refuge in the south-central Persian city of Shiraz, where they were publishing a paper by the name of Ḥayāt (Indian Sociologist, September 1910, p. 35; see also Browne, 1983 [1914], p. 79; Bande Mataram, Geneva, I/12, August 1910, pp. 1-2; Brown, p. 145). Both would later join the Indian revolutionary Ghadar party (founded in the U.S.A. in 1913; also spelled “Ghadr”). Sufi Amba returned to Shiraz during World War I to set up an operational headquarters for the Ghadar/Berlin-based Indian Independence Committee (see below) to fight the British alongside German-sponsored Iranian anti-Allied groups. He was eventually killed in a military engagement after some initial success against British forces.

The All-India Muslim League and the Persian Revolution. While many Indian Muslims participated in or supported the activities of the INC and other pan-Indian nationalist organizations, a group of Muslim personalities formed the All-India Muslim League (ML) in December 1906. This was in reaction to the complexities of India’s communal/religious politics at the time, with the ML maintaining that the INC neglected, or even conspired against, the interests of India’s sizeable Muslim minority. The ML supported Bengal’s 1905 partition, which granted Bengal’s Muslim community greater leverage over its own affairs but was regarded by Indian nationalists (including Muslim pan-Indian nationalists) as a divisive, British imperialist ploy. The ML embraced a Muslim nationalist and, at the time, “pro-British” platform vis-à-vis the INC, other pan-Indian nationalist groups, and the exclusionary Hindu nationalist organizations.

Among Indian groups, Muslim nationalist organizations and personalities took the lead in expressions of sympathy and solidarity with Iranian constitutionalists/nationalists, though this did not diminish the support of Iranian revolutionaries for the pan-Indian nationalist struggle. For their part, many British critics of Grey’s Persian policy attached greater weight to Indian Muslim denunciations of Anglo-Russian policy in Persia, either out of primary concern with the fate of the remaining independent Muslim countries and the rights of Muslims in general, as in the case of E. G. Browne and Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, or for chiefly tactical reasons, given that British authorities desired to cultivate the allegiance of India’s Muslim population to the Raj as a bulwark against pan-Indian nationalism. While prior to 1913 the ML attracted a very small following, it nevertheless occupied an inordinate position in British policymaking in India, particularly from its foundation until 1911, when the partition of Bengal was abrogated.

Concerns with Indian Muslim reception of the provisions in the Anglo-Russian Agreement pertaining to Persia surfaced in both private and public British political exchanges prior to and after the signing of the Agreement in 1907 (e.g., PRO, Grey Papers. F.O.800/70, pp. 100-101, Spring Rice to Grey, 28 March 1907; idem, pp. 107-11, 118-20; Spring Rice to Grey, 26 April 1907; Great Britain, Parliamentary Debates [House of Lords], 4th series, vol. 183, 29 January to 11 February 1908, cols. 1013-14). This anxiety was not unwarranted. The British empire had an estimated Muslim population of 96 million, of which just under two-thirds lived in India. Well before the conclusion of the Agreement, in January 1907 Syed Ameer Ali, the most prominent Indian Muslim nationalist leader in London at the time, had defended the Persian constitutional movement and Persia’s independence in an article appearing in a British monthly journal (“Afghanistan and Its Ruler,” 19th Century and After 61 [361], January 1907, p. 49; see also Aziz, p. 245; Majumdar, p. 248). Like the majority of Persia’s population, Ameer Ali was an Emāmi Shiʿite Muslim whose Iranian ancestor had settled in Awadh (Oudh) in the 18th century after serving in Nader Shah’s invading army (see vii. above). He was the founder of the National Muhammadan Association in 1877 (the precursor to the ML), a preeminent figure in the founding of the ML, a future co-founder and president of the London branch of the ML (1908), and was appointed to the Privy Council of the Empire in 1909 (see also Aziz, passim; Encyclopaedia of Muslim Biography: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Delhi, 2001, I, pp. 434-41).

Despite assertions by some of Grey’s supporters that doctrinal and denominational tensions between Shiʿite and Sunnite branches of Islam precluded widespread expressions of worldwide Muslim sympathy with the Iranian nation (e.g., Spring Rice Archives. CASR 1/12, f. 16, Valentine Chirol to Spring Rice, 10 June 1907; Fraser, pp. 291-92), others believed differently (Temple, p. 13; A. Vambréy, “The Anglo-Russian Convention,” Nineteenth Century and After, December 1907, pp. 895-904; The Times, 5 May 1910, p. 10; The Times, 14 December 1911, p. 5; ibid., 26 September 1912, p. 5; Manchester Guardian, 2 December 1911, p. 9; Muhammad, p. 253; Aziz, pp. 365-66). The India Office in London certainly was not prepared to discount the impact of Persian developments on Indian Muslim opinion (e.g., P.R.O., F.O.371/506, India Office to the F.O., 11 November 1908; Zara Steiner, “The Foreign Office Under Sir Edward Grey, 1905-1914” in Hinsley, p. 49).

Over time there were abundant indications of worldwide Muslim expressions of outrage directed against Anglo-Russian policy in Persia, particularly among Indian Muslims; and Iranian nationalists inside and outside Persia actively solicited Indian Muslim support. Muslim sentiments in India and elsewhere became a routine component of criticisms of London’s Persian policy by British foreign-policy dissenters as well and were echoed in the constitutionalist/nationalist press in Persia. For example, in 1910 the radical Irān-e now (no. 228, 12 June 1910, p. 2) reported Lord Lamington’s statement in the House of Lords that continued Russian aggression in Persia was having deleterious effect on Indian Muslim opinion towards Britain and that representatives of Iranian nationalists had traveled to India for further incitement of Indian Muslims in support of the Persian struggle. A number of Iranians residing in India were closely associated with the ML and engaged in pan-Islamic politics in general. These included Moʿayyad-al-Eslām, Mirzā Šajāʿat-ʿAli Beg, the Persian vice-consul in Calcutta who was elected as a vice-president of the Bengal branch of the ML in 1910, and Āqā Sayyed Ḥosayn Šuštari, who also served as a vice-president of the Bengal ML. All three would also be active in founding the Indian Red Crescent Society in late 1911 for tending to wounded Turkish troops in the first Balkan War (Rahman, pp. 78, 229, 242; Pirzada, p. 191; Özcan, p. 139).

Syed Ameer Ali emerged as the most outspoken Indian Muslim critic of London’s Persian policy, repeatedly assailing Anglo-Russian policy in Persia and encouraging Indian Muslim protests in both Britain and India. He was already known to Iranians residing in Britain and India, was introduced to the Iranian reading public by the Tehran Ḥabl al-matin in May 1908 (no. 23, 14 May 1908, p. 8), if not earlier, and would meet a number of Iranian revolutionaries traveling to London over the coming years. Iranian nationalists clearly regarded him as a pivotal defender of Persia’s independence. He also joined the Persia Society, founded in London in 1911. Moreover, Ameer Ali and other Indian Muslim nationalist leaders were in communication with La Fraternité Musulmane, founded in Paris in 1908 and presided over by a leader of the Young Turks, Ahmad Riza Bey, with whom Iranian nationalists were also in contact (see also Afšār, 1980, p. xxiv), even though this association does not appear to have yielded a notable result. In March 1910, the newly founded society of Oḵowwat-e Eslāmiya (Islamic Fraternity) in London, which included leading members of the British branch of the ML, vehemently protested Russian military occupation of northern Persia during its very first session (Irān-e now 190, 28 April 1910, p. 2; 191, 30 April 1910, p. 3). Oḵowwat-e Eslāmiyah was an offshoot of the Pan-Islamic Society founded in London in 1903 by the Indian Muslim nationalist Abdullah Suhrawardy (Rahman, pp. 75, 227), who also lent support to the Persian campaign. The society’s 1910 meeting, which was attended by a number of Iranians residing in Britain, was presided over by Syed Abdulmajid, a member of the ML who was personally acquainted with prominent Iranian nationalists traveling to London (Dawlatābādi, pp. 170-71).

The British Note of October 1910 to constitutional authorities in Tehran, threatening to establish a permanent British force in southern Persia, and the subsequent temporary landing of British Bluejackets in southern Persia for maintaining security on the roads, provoked a protest meeting of the London ML, which was “the most effective” branch of the ML at the time (Rahman, pp. 81-84; see also Visram, p. 100). A resolution was passed at this meeting, calling on the British government to honor Persia’s independence (The Times, 31 October 1910, p. 7; Manchester Guardian, 31 October 1910, p. 7). This was followed by a protest meeting in London (2 November) of Muslims residing in Britain, organized by Major Syed Hassan Bilgrami, a founding member of the London ML. Another prominent Indian Muslim nationalist in London, Dr. Syed Mahmud, helped arrange this meeting and assisted the Persian campaign in general (Browne to Syed Mahmud, 3 November 1910, in Datta and Cleghorn, pp. 10-11; P.R.O.30/69/1154, Ramsay MacDonald Correspondence, foll. 23-24, Browne to J. Ramsay MacDonald, 3 November 1910). In addition to Muslims from India, Egypt, and the Ottoman empire, and non-Muslim Indians, a number of leading British foreign policy dissenters attended this gathering, which received messages of solidarity from Muslims residing in various parts of Britain, France, and other European countries. The gathering drafted a resolution, “seconded by the Prime Minister of the Rampur State” (India), demanding respect for Persia’s independence. The proceedings of this meeting were subsequently distributed throughout India (“The Report of Proceedings of a Representative Meeting of Mohammedans . . . to consider the recent developments of British policy in Persia” in Browne Papers, Box 8; Manchester Guardian, 3 November 1910, p. 9; The Times, 4 November 1910, p. 4; Datta and Cleghorn, pp. 7-8, n. 2). The British note to the Persian government also elicited protest meetings and resolutions by the ML in India itself, including the presidential address of Syed Nabiullah during the 1910 annual congress of the ML in Nagpur (Manchester Guardian, 29 December 1910, p. 4; Pirzada, p. 170; Rahman, pp. 201, 228-29).

Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, “Aga Khan III,” (q.v.) was yet another prominent Indian Muslim nationalist personality assisting the Persian campaign. Elected as the honorary permanent president of the ML in 1908 and staunchly loyal to the Raj, he was the leader of the influential Ismaʿili community in India and a former member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council from 1902 to 1904 (Rahman, pp. 58-59 and passim). Similar to India’s Zoroastrian Parsis, some members of India’s Ismaʿili community, too, traced their origins to Persia. While the ancestors of the Parsi community had fled Persia in the aftermath of the 7th-century Muslim conquest and subsequent waves of religious persecution (including that under the Safavids), Aga Khan’s grandfather and a number of his Ismaʿili followers had settled in India in the 1840s after the failed Ismaʿili insurrection against the ruling Qajar dynasty in Persia (see vii. above), joining the already established Ismaili community in India.

The ex-shah’s (Moḥammad ʿAli) abortive military bid to regain the throne with Russian assistance in the summer of 1911, Russian ultimatums to the Persian government in November of that year, the Russian-provoked, Baḵtiāri-led clampdown on the second Majles in December, and subsequent Russian atrocities in Tabriz, unleashed an avalanche of Indian protests, including many by the ML and Indian Muslims in general. (E.g., PRO, FO 371/1422; London All-India Muslim League [on behalf of Madras Muslims] to the F.O., 4 January 1912; idem, Muzaffarpur District Muslim League to the F.O., 9 January 1912; PRO, F.O.371/1423, All-India Muslim League [Lucknow] to the Government of India, 25 December 1911; idem, Anjuman-i Islamia [Punjab] to the viceroy, 4 January 1912; ibid., Muzaffarpur District Muslim League to the viceroy, 8 January 1912; idem, Hubli Muslim League to the viceroy, 17 January 1912; idem, Belgaum Muslims to the viceroy, 20 February 1912; idem, Meerut Muslims to the viceroy, 15 January 1912; idem, Bareilly Muslims to the viceroy, 24 January 1912; idem, Anjuman-i Imamia [Shahganj] to the viceroy, 25 January 1912; Philip Morrell, “Our Persian Policy,” Nineteenth Century and After, January 1912, p. 44; The Times, 1 August 1911, p. 5; idem, 13 December 1911, p. 6; ibid., 13 January 1912, p. 5; Manchester Guardian, 24 November 1911, p. 9; ibid., 15 January 1912, p. 7; ibid., 16 January 1912, p. 8; ibid., 22 January 1912, p. 14.) In its last days, the second Persian Majles made frantic appeals to the ML and Aga Khan, among other groups and governments around the world (The Times, 5 December 1911, p. 5). In fact, after the first Russian ultimatum to constitutional authorities in Tehran in November 1911, Grey warned the councilor of the Russian embassy in London that the threatened Russian occupation of the Persian capital would alienate Indian Muslims from the Raj and, therefore, was unacceptable to London (PRO, Cabinet Papers. CAB. 37/108, no. 150, Grey to George Buchanan, 16 November 1911). Of course, Grey also had British interests and his domestic critics in mind when objecting to the intended Russian course of action, in which case Indian protests, and Indian Muslim opinion in particular, served as his most potent and convenient alibi in requesting Russian moderation.

The Russian bombardment of the holiest Shiʿite shrine in Persia (Masjed-e [or Ḥaram-e] Imam Rezā in Mašhad) in April 1912, and the ensuing Russian atrocities in Mašhad, further fueled Indian Muslim rage (India Office, L/P & S/10/270, “Persia: Russians in Meshed”; Ameer Ali, p. 17; Hardy, p. 182; Pirzada, ed., pp. 226, 255, 280; Rahman, pp. 255, 260-61). The India Office advised Grey “publicly to dissociate” London from the latest Russian action (e.g., India Office, L/P & S/10/270, “Persia: Russians in Meshed,” no. 1354, India Office to F.O., 15 April 1912; The Times, 3 September 1912, p. 3). The British Foreign Office rushed to allay what the London branch of the ML described as “the anxiety regarding the independent existence of Persia which exists all over [India] and which is finding strong expression at public meetings of both Mohammedans and Hindus” (India Office, L/P & S/10/270, “Persia: Russians in Meshed,” no. 1688; London All-India Muslim League to Grey, 26 April 1912). The continued Russian military occupation of northern Persia and the suspension of constitutional government in that country elicited similar protests (e.g., India Office, L/P & S/10/270, “Persia: Russians in Meshed,” no. 4238; Rangoon Moslem Association to the viceroy, 7 October 1912). During a private meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Sazanov, in Balmoral on 24 September 1912, Grey cited mounting British opposition and “Mussulman opinion” in urging considerable Russian moderation in Persia (Crewe Papers, C/17, Grey, 1912, “Conversations Between M. Sazanoff and Sir Edward Grey at Balmoral on Thursday, 24th September, 1912”).

The Parsi community and the Persian Revolution. The small Parsi community in India, with Bombay as its main center of concentration, was one of the most financially influential communities in all of India. Since the 19th century, the British Foreign Office had taken a special interest in the rights of Persia’s minority Zoroastrian community because of their religious and historical links to Britain’s Parsi imperial subjects, particularly due to repeated Parsi appeals to British authorities in this regard (Wright, 1977, pp. 44-45). In 1853, under the initiative of Dinshaw Petit, Parsis had founded the Society for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Zoroastrians in Persia, with other similar relief organizations and funds formed at later dates (see also Palsetia, pp. 169-70). Arriving in Persia in 1854, Manekji Limji Hateria was the first representative of the Society to investigate and improve the conditions of Persia’s Zoroastrian population. Among his numerous accomplishments were first the remission and eventually (1882) the abolition by Nāṣer-al-Din Shah of the jezya poll tax imposed on Persia’s Zoroastrians, as well as the founding of schools for both Zoroastrian boys and girls (see also Boyce, p. 210).

Parsi leaders also made other direct appeals to the Persian government for protecting the welfare of their co-religionists in that country. Among their many deputations to Persian authorities, in 1873, 1889, and 1902 prominent Parsi leaders in London, Dadabhoy Naoroji, Nowrozjee Furdoonjee, and Mancherjee Merwanjee Bhownaggree, made direct representations to Nāṣer-al-Din Shah and Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah during their respective European tours (Palsetia, p. 289; Hinnells, p. 111; Wright, 1977, p. 45). The first Majles, which convened in October 1906, included a Zoroastrian representative, Arbāb Jamšid Bahman Jamšidiān. To express their gratitude for the recognition of the political rights of Zoroastrians in Persia and to secure the good will of the new shah (Moḥammad-ʿAli) towards his Zoroastrian subjects, in June 1907 Bhownaggree helped organize a reception for the Persian representative in London, Mehdi Khan Mošir-al-Molk, in honor of “the new Shah’s accession to the throne” (Hinnells, p. 112; see also Hinnells and Ralph, p. 25).

While some Zoroastrian Parsis were engaged in pan-Indian nationalist activities, there were also Parsis who remained staunchly loyal to the Raj. In general, Parsis were attentive to the treatment of their co-religionists in Persia, some had commercial interests in that country, and many of them expressed support for the Persian revolution, even though in the case of the Parsis engaged in pan-Indian nationalist campaigns their expressions of sympathy with Iranian revolutionaries should not be treated in isolation from the general pan-Indian nationalist commentaries on Persia (see above). Given the commercial interests of some of India’s Parsi magnates in Persia, a number of them had been publicly receptive to some form of an Anglo-Russian rapprochement that safeguarded British commercial interests in southern Persia, regardless of their ultimate attitude towards the reform movement in Persia (The Times, 8 November 1906, p. 15). However, the British sphere of influence in the 1907 Agreement did not include the major southern Persian trade centers, and the reaction of these Parsi merchants to the Agreement must have been less than favorable, particularly in view of the mostly critical press reception of the Agreement in Bombay (see Manchester Guardian, 4 October 1907, p. 10). The satirical Hindi Punch (formerly Parsee Punch), published by Parsis in Bombay, was among the Indian press critical of Anglo-Russian policy in Persia during this period, with some of its cartoons reproduced in the British press opposed to Grey’s Persian policy (e.g., Social Democrat 15/2, 15 February 1911, p. 82).

In matters of Indian and international politics, the Parsi community was just as divided as other Indian religious groups and communities. The domestic political aspirations of Parsis ran the gamut of “pro-” and “anti-"British tendencies. Prominent Parsi political personalities ranged from the “pro-Raj” loyalist M. M. Bhownaggree in Britain, who also served as a Conservative member of the British House of Commons from 1895 to 1905, to some of the leading figures of the INC, notably Pherozeshah M. Mehta and Dadabhai Naoroji, both of whom served as presidents of the INC. Naoroji, a co-founder of the London Zoroastrian Association as well as the Religious Fund of the Zoroastrians of Europe (RFZE) in 1861, was a founder of the INC, assisted with the formation of the British Committee of the INC, and had served as a Liberal member of the British House of Commons from 1892 to 1895 (see also Hinnells, passim; Visram, passim; Burton, passim).

Bhownaggree, who in 1908 assumed the presidency of the RFZE in London (which in 1909 changed its name to the Parsee Association of Europe), was well known to Iranians in Britain and was in contact with the Persian legation concerning the welfare of Persia’s Zoroastrian population (The Times, 1 February 1908, p. 14). Though the available evidence does not indicate whether he actively participated in the Persian debate, he nonetheless attended a number of gatherings in Britain where the Persian Question was raised in one form or another (The Times, 3 February 1910, p. 6; 16 November 1911, p. 7; Manchester Guardian, 16 November 1911, pp. 9-10).

There were also the likes of the Parsi pan-Indian revolutionary nationalist and feminist Madame Bhikaji Rustom Cama in Paris, who was associated with militant pan-Indian nationalists in India, Europe, Canada, and the United States, such as Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Shyamaji Krishnavarma. Cama financed and supervised the publication of Bande Mataram, which resumed publication in Geneva, Switzerland in 1909, following the suppression of its Bengali precursor by British authorities in 1908. At the September 1910 meeting of the Egyptian Congress in Brussels, organized with the assistance of militant pan-Indian nationalists in Europe, Cama arranged for “a telegram to be sent by the Persians of Paris condemning Russo-British aggression in Persia” (Saha, pp. 37-38). Apparently, she was also instrumental in inspiring numerous Indian letters of protest in support of Persia’s independence over the years. At the June 1913 “International Women’s Congress” in Paris, Cama would represent both India and Persia, stating in her address to the delegates: “Hindustan is the land of my birth, and Iran is the country of my ancestors!” (Bande Mataram 4/11, Geneva , July 1913, pp. 1-2).

As in the case of Iranian Zoroastrians, many members of the Parsi community rushed to support the revolutionary movement in Persia from the very start, irrespective of their stance on Indian politics. Parsis in India, other than communicating with Iranian reformers and their supporters in other parts of the world, either in conjunction with pan-Indian nationalists or strictly on behalf of their own community, financed a number of reformist Persian papers, including the pan-Islamist Calcutta Ḥabl al-matin (Jāvid, p. 52), held protest meetings, and issued proclamations in support of Persia’s independence. Evidently, the prominent Iranian constitutionalist Sayyed Ḥasan Taqizādeh’s references during his stay of exile in London in 1908 to Zoroastrians as the most oppressed religious minority in Persia, his condemnation of the murder of a prominent Iranian Zoroastrian, Arbāb Fereydun, by royalist agents in December 1907, and his pledge of Iranian constitutionalists’ commitment to religious equality, were also aimed at soliciting Parsi support for the Persian constitutional struggle, in addition to underscoring the reformist character of the Persian revolution for British politicians and the British public at large (Browne, 1909, p. 10; Daily News, 29 June 1908; see also The Times, 11 November 1908, p. 10; 12 November 1908, p. 7).

The passage of article VIII of the Persian supplementary constitutional law of October 1907, which guaranteed equal legal rights to Iranian Zoroastrians among other religious minorities (with the exclusion of Babis and Baha’is), appears to have owed part of its success to private and public campaigns financed by Iranian and Indian Zoroastrian merchants (Bayat, pp. 190-91, 262). E. G. Browne, long watchful of the conditions of religious minorities in Persia, blamed the failure of Iranian reformers to found a national bank in 1907 (intended to end their country’s financial dependence on British and Russian Imperial Banks) in part to the lack of anticipated financial support from India’s Parsi community in reaction to the murder of one of their prominent co-religionists in Persia, Arbāb Parviz Šāhjahān Jahāniān (Browne, 1910, p. 137). In late 1909 and early 1910, Browne informed one of his closest Iranian friends, Taqizādeh, that to alleviate Persia’s economic crisis and remedy the government’s financial predicament Iranians should resort to Bombay’s wealthy Parsis, whose financial assistance could be secured through additional improvements in the conditions of Persia’s Zoroastrian population (Zaryāb and Afšār, pp. 24, 29-30).

By 1910, if not sooner, the Persia’s Defence Society was formed in Calcutta, with Shams ul-Ulama (Šams-al-ʿOlamāʾ) as its president (possibly the Parsi dastur Ervad Jivanji Jamshedji Modi [1854-1933], who held the title Shams ul-Ulama). The Society claimed to represent 50,000 “Persians” residing in India (i.e., chiefly Parsis) and made ardent attempts to defend the Persian constitutional movement and Persia’s independence (Browne, 1914 [1983], pp. 325, 327, 334; The Times, 22 November 1910, p. 5; 7 December 1911, p. 5; 13 December 1911, p. 6; New York Times, 30 December 1911, p. 2; PRO, FO 371/1423, “Persia’s Defence Society to the Government of India,” 22 February 1912; Shuster, p. 188; Navāʾi, p. 286.) There were also other organized Parsi endeavors in support of Iranian constitutionalists/nationalists. Copies of a resolution drafted at the December 1911 meeting of “The Irani Zoroastrians residing in Bombay” (i.e., the Parsi community and Iranian Zoroastrians in Bombay) were sent to both Grey and the British Liberal prime minister, Henry Asquith, urging steps to protect Persia’s independence (PRO, F.O.371/1422, no. 248, 12 December 1912). The resolution was signed by the young Ardeshir Mehrban Irani (1886-1969), who would later play a key role in the history of Indian and Persian cinema.

Iranian revolutionaries and their British supporters, for their part, repeatedly appealed for greater Parsi assistance. In September 1910, Nasarvanji Maneckji Cooper, a prominent Parsi in London, organized a gathering of Parsi residents in Britain and “European friends” to address developments in Persia. Among the invited guests were Mehdi Khan, the Persian representative in Britain, and Mirzā Ḡaffār Khan, the secretary at the Persian legation. Various speakers, including Mehdi Khan, solicited Parsi financial investments in Persia as a means of developing that country’s economy and sustaining the reform agenda of the constitutional government (The Times, 12 September 1910, p. 6). Among the Parsi participants at this meeting was Pheroze Kershasp, an employee of the Indian Civil Service, author of Studies in Ancient Persian History (1905) and an acquaintance of Browne; he was also in communication with Iranian nationalists (see Correspondence of E. G. Browne: 1. Letters from Persia. 1910-11. Add. Mss. 7604, foll. 28-31, 90, “Kershasp to Browne,” 14 June 1910, and 6 July 1910). In June 1911, another gathering of Parsis on the Persian Question was organized in London by Nasarvanji Maneckji Cooper. The purpose of this gathering was to meet Browne and three leading Iranian constitutionalists traveling to Britain: Yaḥyā Dawlatābādi, Sayyed Żiāʾ-al-Din Ṭabāṭabāʾi, the former editor of the radical paper Šarq, which enjoyed the patronage of Persia’s wealthy Zoroastrians (see the text of a letter from Zoroastrians appearing in Šarq, reproduced in Šarif-Kāšāni, p. 474; Afary, p. 289), and, evidently, Mirzā Ḥasan Khan Sāʿed-al-Wozarāʾ, a Majles deputy. Once again, speeches made during the gathering focused chiefly on the exigency of Parsi financial assistance to, and investments in, Persia. In a pre-Balfour Declaration Zionist simile, Browne insisted: “to the Zoroastrians of India Persia should be what Palestine was to the Jews” (The Times, 28 June 1911, p. 7).


Despite the eventual defeat of the Persian constitutional movement in late 1911, Indian protests, along with the activities of British foreign policy dissenters and other groups, had helped sustain the Persian constitutional/nationalist struggle and made it more difficult for Grey to countenance additional Anglo-Russian violations of Persia’s sovereignty. Given the extensive organizational networks of both Indian nationalists and Indian Muslim nationalists in different parts of the world, and their broad range of international collaborations with other groups, Indians significantly contributed to the worldwide coverage of the Persian Question and to expressions of sympathy with Iranian revolutionaries outside India itself. The same verdict applies to the Indian Parsi community at large and its diaspora communities.

Indian commentaries on Persian developments continued after late 1911, as in the case of protests against Russian aggression in Mašhad in 1912. An article by the Indian nationalist, Sundara Raja, in the September and October 1912 issues of the celebrated African Times and Orient Review (London), accompanied by two photographs he had received from Browne, detailed the Russian barbarities in Tabriz in December 1911. Raja insisted that in the long run imperialist powers could not crush the nationalist spirit of the Iranian people and other weaker nations (September 1912, pp. 78, 102-4; October 1912, pp. 121-22). The ML’s criticisms of British policy in Persia grew more scathing after late 1911, both because of the worsening crisis in Persia and because of the organization’s sense of betrayal by the British government in the aftermath of the annulment of Bengal’s partition in December 1911. The latter development facilitated the organization’s gradual rapprochement with the INC (Rahman, chaps. 7 and 8; Hamid, p. 91; Majumdar, p. 332; Nation, 28 September 1912, p. 924; The Times, 8 October 1912, p. 5). At the 1913 Karachi session of the INC, which marked the collaboration of the ML with the INC in demanding Indian self-government within the confines of the British empire, Nawab Syed Mohammad Bahadur, the president of the session and a longtime INC activist, commented on the “strangling of Persia” (Sitaramayya, pp. 45-46; see also Zaidi, III, p. 106).

Aga Khan’s interest in Persian affairs also outlasted the collapse of the Persian constitutional movement, even as he found himself increasingly pressured by other Indian Muslim leaders to abandon his unflagging devotion to the British crown in the aftermath of the abrogation of Bengal’s partition and was forced to resign his honorary presidency of the ML in 1913. In a 1914 article, he attributed the growing frustration of Indian Muslims to recent extra-Indian events such as European imperialist intervention in Morocco, Tripoli (Libya), the Balkan territories of the Ottoman empire, and Persia (Edinburgh Review, January 1914, pp. 5-7).

After the outbreak of World War I, with hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers eventually dispatched around the world as part of Britain’s imperial military force, the INC, many other Indian nationalist groups, and the ML adopted an official platform of defending the empire (in expectation of British recognition of, and eventual reward for, their loyalty). The Ottoman empire’s entry into the war on the side of the Central Powers created a dilemma for some of India’s pan-Islamist Muslims, who now felt they had to choose between loyalty to Britain and solidarity with the Muslim Ḵelāfa (represented by the Ottoman sultan). In 1916, with mounting Indian military casualties in the war and India’s worsening economy, and particularly in light of the absence of any tangible British attempts to implement reforms encompassing greater Indian participation in the government of India and the ML’s continued frustration in obtaining communal administrative leverage in predominantly Muslim provinces after the revocation of Bengal’s partition, the INC and the ML set aside their differences and concluded the “Lucknow Pact.” The two sides agreed to jointly press for the implementation of Indian self-government (within the empire) immediately after the war and agreed to proportional Muslim representation in local legislative and governmental bodies. Meanwhile, some militant Indian nationalist organizations, and notably the pan-Indian Ghadar (“mutiny”) party (founded by Har Dayal in San Francisco in 1913 and largely made up of Sikh members), continued their revolutionary activities against the Raj inside and outside India, with the war bringing some radical Iranian nationalists and militant Indian nationalists into closer contact (Rai, p. 222).

While declaring neutrality in the war, Persia was occupied by British and Russian forces after the Ottoman entry into the war. During the war, the Berlin-based and German-backed Indian Independence Committee (IIC), founded in 1915 and chiefly comprised of Ghadar members, attempted to enlist the support of other nationalist movements and coordinate their activities against British imperialism. Varying groups of Iranian nationalists were already engaged in fighting the British in their country. The veteran Iranian nationalist, Taqizādeh, who was now in Europe and previously had met in the U.S.A. with militant Indian nationalists associated with Ghadar, was among those approached by the IIC (Taqizādeh, 1988, pp. 175-76, 183-84). By 1916 the IIC had set up a revolutionary committee in Persia and helped establish an affiliated anti–Allied Iranian nationalist network, with the objective of inciting an uprising against British and Russian occupation forces in Persia (Majumdar, p. 408; Mathur, pp. 78-79). Even though the main theater of the IIC’s operations in the region was Afghanistan and they counted more on Ottoman support, both the IIC and Ghadar sent Sufi Amba Prasad, Amin Chaudhry, Rishi Kesh Letha, and Kedar Nath (Sondhi) to Persia, where they were to fight the British forces alongside Iranian nationalists and German agents around Shiraz and Bušehr. They were also instructed to form an Independent Indian Army, by recruiting Indian soldiers serving in the British occupation force in Persia through propaganda or capture, in preparation for invading India through Baluchi-stan (Mathur, pp. 78-79; Sareen, chap. 7; Poppelewell, pp. 176-85; Brown, pp. 183, 205, 210).

These wartime collaborations failed to yield the desired results, but contacts between segments of Iranian and Indian nationalists and their respective expressions of solidarity and reciprocal international appeals continued after the end of the war in 1918. These ranged from cooperation in the Third [Communist] International (Kohn, p. 148; Young, pp. 129-30, 135-36, and passim) to the militant Indian “Arya Samaj” nationalist leader Lala Lajpat Rai’s letter in the New Republic (New York) in condemnation of the ultimately abortive Anglo-Persian Agreement of August 1919 (q.v.), which would have reduced Persia to a virtual British protectorate (New Republic, 3 September 1919, pp. 152-53).

After 1919, the nationalist movements in both India and Persia underwent substantial transformations. Furthermore, the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in November 1917 and the new regime’s denunciation of most former czarist treaties concerning Persia, including the 1907 Agreement, altered the imperial balance of power in Persia, leaving Britain as the sole imperial interloper in that country after the withdrawal of other Allied forces at the end of World War I; Britain also expanded its imperial dominion over parts of the former Ottoman empire and further solidified its hegemony in the region. The Bolshevik Revolution impacted both Persian and Indian nationalist politics, boosting the appeal of communism as an anti-colonial ideology among revolutionary nationalists and creating new fissures in nationalist ranks and new revolutionary ideological and tactical adjustments. The failed Anglo-Persian Agreement of 1919 jolted Iranian nationalists into multiplying their efforts, with an increasing number turning to Bolshevik Russia for inspiration, as did many militant Indian nationalists. This process was also expedited by Berlin’s defeat in the war, with Germany itself now reduced to a smaller, semi-occupied country bereft of its imperial might and no longer serving as a potential counter-power to British imperialism.

In India, not only did the INC’s and the ML’s expectation of substantial Indian participation in governing India fail to materialize once the war was over, but Britain rewarded the wartime loyalty of the majority of its Indian subjects by introducing the repressive “Rowlatt Acts” in March 1919. This was followed by the Amristar massacre of April 1919, in which troops fired on a large crowd of unarmed nationalist demonstrators and religious celebrants, who had gathered in a park in defiance of a recent ban on public gatherings. Nearly four hundred men, women, and children were killed and over a thousand injured. This event eliminated the possibility of British authorities reconciling even moderate Indian nationalists to the existing administration of the Raj and permanently sealed the fate of British rule in India. After 1919, even the mainstream majority in the INC abandoned petitional politics in favor of the agitational politics of civil disobedience and campaigns of non-cooperation with British authorities. The Amristar massacre, among other developments, set in motion a more defiant phase of Indian nationalist politics that eventually overpowered British imperial rule in 1947, albeit the division of the subcontinent into two separate, independent countries of India and Pakistan. In Persia, London’s eventual failure to consummate the 1919 Anglo-Persian Agreement brought about the British-endorsed 1921 coup d’état (qq.v.), which led to the monopolization of political and military power by Reza Khan, who crushed various nationalist groups and insurgency movements, albeit with the initial blessing of other nationalists, including many on the left, and then ushered in the Pahlavi regime (1925-79).

This entry concludes with a brief clarification on the role of the Government of India and Indians in Brit-ish policy towards Persia from the 1919 Anglo-Persian Agreement to the 1921 coup d’état, which paved the way for the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925.

Whereas the security of British India had constituted the primary raison d’etre for the inception and evolution of Anglo-Persian diplomatic relations and the emergence of the Persian Question in British foreign and imperial policy in the early 19th century, British authorities in London and India periodically diverged in their analyses of, and approach to, the Persian Question. From early on, the Foreign Office in London was concerned also with the broader, extra-Indian calculations in handling Persian affairs. This accounted for London’s unwillingness to fulfill its treaty obligations towards Tehran during the Russo-Persian War of 1804-13, with London desirous of maintaining Russia’s friendship in the European balance of power contra France. Similarly, by the close of the 19th century concern with Germany’s rapid rise as a military power in Europe and an imperial rival compelled the Foreign Office to pursue improved relations with Russia, culminating in the 1907 Anglo-Russian Agreement. Although the secretary of state for India at the time, John Morley, endorsed the final terms of the Anglo-Russian Agreement, the Government of India privately objected to clauses in the Agreement delineating the respective Russian and British spheres of influence in Persia, viewing the size of the former as excessive and the range of the latter inadequate in safeguarding “Indian” interests in southern Persia and the Persian Gulf (see also viii. POLITICAL AND CULTURAL RELATIONS, THE QAJAR ERA: THE 19TH CENTURY; GREAT BRITAIN iv. BRITISH INFLUENCE IN PERSIA, 1900-21; ANGLO-RUSSIAN CONVENTION).

Likewise, London and Delhi (replacing Calcutta as the seat of the British Government of India in 1911) were at odds over policy prescriptions respecting Persia after the end of the World War I. The British foreign secretary, Curzon, himself a former viceroy of India, no longer viewed Persia as a mere buffer state for India’s defense. By the end of World War I, not only had the reach of British imperialism in the region expanded with the division of the former Arab territories of the Ottoman empire between Britain and France, including British-controlled Iraq, which neighbored Persia to the west, but the old czarist Russia had collapsed and was now replaced by a Bolshevik state. Moreover, also with the discovery of substantial oil reserves in Persia after 1908 and the formation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (q.v.), in which the British government came to be the largest shareholder, Persia’s strategic importance to Britain now far surpassed concerns with India’s security. Persia now figured in British policy on a number of fronts: defense of India; oil; commerce; the defense of new imperial territories in the Middle East; containment of armed insurgency movements in Persia; the perceived ideological threat of Russian communism throughout the region and beyond; the civil war in Russia (1918-20), in which British and other wartime Allied forces joined with the White Army with the aim of ousting the Bolsheviks. Meanwhile, the British Treasury and the War Office were determined to reduce military expenditures in Persia as a cost-saving measure in light of post-war economic constraints and London’s expanded military role in Europe, other parts of the Middle East, and elsewhere, and the Government of India was disinclined to contribute to the maintenance of a substantial British military presence in southern Persia after the war, both financially and in terms of personnel. To these factors must be added that Curzon’s unreconstructed imperialist disposition, which led to his promotion of the unsuccessful 1919 Anglo-Persian Agreement. Privately, the Government of India disapproved of the Agreement, believing it would fuel further anti-British sentiments and require expanded British military commitment in Persia, at a time when British authorities in India faced growing dissent in India itself and could ill afford additional incitement of anti-British grievances among India’s Muslim population; it was also unwilling to assume costly extra-Indian military responsibilities (see also Sabahi, pp. 18, 40-42, 43-44; Mozafary, passim; Katouzian, p. 6).

The Government of India also proved initially apprehensive of the 1921 coup in Persia, carried out by Reza Khan and his accomplice Sayyed Żiāʾ-al-Din Ṭabāṭabāʾi with the assistance of a number of British diplomats and military officers in Persia in the aftermath of the botched Anglo-Persian Agreement; neither Curzon nor other cabinet ministers in Britain appear to have been privy to the coup plan, notwithstanding Curzon’s continued commitment to buttressing British imperial influence in Persia and containing both existing and potential future Iranian insurgent, as well as Bolshevik, challenges to British supremacy in Persia. Initially, the Government of India was unsure of the coup’s reception in Persia and concerned it might further destabilize an already volatile situation in a country wracked by regionalism, insurgency movements, and the spread of communism, requiring increased British military vigilance and intervention. (See also GREAT BRITAIN v. BRITISH INFLUENCE DURING THE REZA SHAH PERIOD, 1921-41; Sabahi, pp. 114-23, passim; Zirinsky, pp. 645-47)

The decision by a number of British officers in Persia to back Reza Khan’s participation in the coup appears to have been facilitated by an Indian Parsi, Ardeshir Reporter (Ardeshirji Edelji), though the extent of his full knowledge of the coup plan, let alone his direct role in the event, remain unclear. Reporter (d. 1933) had arrived in Persia in 1893 as the representative of the Society for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Zoroastrians in Persia. Given his mission, his status as a subject of the British empire, and continued British diplomatic appeals to Persian authorities for better treatment of Zoroastrians (see above), Reporter forged close ties with some prominent Iranian political personalities and the British legation (Wright, 1977, p. 45). His association with the British legation did not prevent his advocacy of the Persian constitutional movement of 1906-11, which was stifled by Russia with the compliance of the British Foreign Office. Reporter’s enthusiasm for the Persian constitutional movement appears to have stemmed, not only from prospective improvements in the condition of Zoroastrians in that country, but also from Reporter’s historical-religious identification (as a Zoroastrian) with Persia and his commitment to the country’s overall regeneration (see also Šahmardān, pp. 360-64 and passim). It seems the latter aspiration served as one of his underlying incentives in introducing Reza Khan to a British military officer in Persia who abetted the 1921 coup: Reporter “had met Reza Khan in 1917 and been much impressed by his patriotism; he states in his unpublished memoirs that he first introduced Reza Khan to [Major-General Sir Edmund] Ironside” (q.v.; Wright, 1977, p. 181, n.). In his unpublished memoirs Reporter would express continued support for Reza Khan, who eventually consolidated his military and political power, overthrowing the Qajar dynasty in 1925 and replacing it with his own family’s Pahlavi dynasty. Most likely Reporter was also responsible for the grandiose belief among some leading members of the London-based Zoroastrian Association following Reza Khan’s accession to the throne that the new Persian monarch’s “right hand man, guide, philosopher and friend is our Parsee Arbab Ardeshir” (see the excerpt of a letter from Spitama Cama, the secretary of the Association, to Bhownaggree appearing in Hinnells, p. 113). Yet, there is no evidence whatsoever of any organized Parsi involvement in Reza Khan’s rise to power, nor, contrary to the conviction among some Iranians, is there yet any substantiated proof of Reporter acting as a British agent when introducing Ironside to Reza Khan (for the text of the memoire attributed to Ardeshir Reporter, see Moʾassesa-ye moṭāleʿāt o pažuhešhā-ye siāsi, pp. 146-59).



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(Mansour Bonakdarian)

Originally Published: December 15, 2004

Last Updated: March 27, 2012

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Vol. XIII, Fasc. 1, pp. 34-44