Iran-Persia: A historical perspective

This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive

Naveed PicNaveed Tajammal


Persia is the old official name of current state of Iran,The term- Iran was put forth by Reza Khan Pahalvi ,in 1935 for all official world wide & National  usage,Persia derived its old geographic name from ‘Persis’,that being the south-western part of the state,representing the old entity of, ‘Pars/Fars’.The interesting part is that,this is the name by which the Ionians [Greek] referred to this state,in their records.So this Greek term over the Time had become dominant in the Western Literature,as well in usage by its old enemy for itself that being the irony,hence was its old capital called by them as ‘Persepolis’.The Sassani dynasty[3rd century AD] emerged from this region as well,and had made ”Istakhar’ on the Pulwar River,about 9 miles ahead of old Persepolis their first Capital,which later,was shifted to the old Ashkani [Arsacid] caiptal i.e Ctesiphon,or the ‘Madian of the Arabs.After the fall of the Sassani Empire the entity of Persia ceases,as the Caliphate takes over,followed by other Entities,last being the Turkish Ak Qoyun’lu and the Kara Qoyun’lu,the Sunni Oghuzz turks.
The revival of Persia started with inception of the Safavid state under Shah Ismail l in the 16th Century,and with it comes the first Shia State[ isolated odd small entities like Zaydis on the Caspian sea coast or the Buyids, never did achieve any political power as such], based on the Ja’fari version of Shia’ism,as the official state religion,and it was through forced conversions that it became one,as the earlier states had been always been of the Sunni Sect within Islam,in the regions which later became Safavid Shia State.
In the Rise and survival of this state a lot of factors were involved,The Western & North Western Christian states and the ever manipulative Vatican  had its role,and so they played the Sunni-Shia Schismatic Card to the hilt,After the fall of Christian Fortress of Constantinople in 1453,and failure of earlier 9 Crusades,this was a Golden Chance for the Christians to engage the Turk on its Eastern Frontiers,Though the Ottoman Turks had their own reasons to have earlier,left, a buffer region between themselves and the rising Uzbegs forces across the Oxus [Ammu darya], the earlier invasion of Amir Timur had delayed their Conquest of Constantinople,which  Bayazid defeated by Timur was about to start.The Christians had succeeded in ending the Muslim rule in Spain after the Fall of Granada in 1492.The intensive Intrigues of European courts under threat from Ottomans,ensured that hostility between the new Shia state and the Sunni Ottomans continue,which is seen reflected,in the report given to The Christian Holy Roman Emperor ‘Ferdinand'[1503-1564] by his ambassador i.e Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, at the Sublime porte [Ottoman Court],in the following words ,” It is only the Persian who stands between us & ruin’ and ”The Turk would fain [gladly/willingly] be upon us,but,he [Tamasp] keeps him back’.
The change of state religion in Persia changed the whole state approach to the common man,Earlier when the Turkish rulers when awarding the ‘Iqta’ [land assignment] or appointing officials to various offices in their state directed the awardee to treat the subjects well,because they were a charge given onto him by the will of Allah ; In the new Safavid state the subjects were directed to pray for the well being of the ruler,Not because he,being by nature sinful,was in need of their prayers,but,because their function as citizens was no longer primarily to worship God,but,to glorify the ruler-The whole emphasis on the outlook changed with the rise of Safavids-The ruler thus became the central figure to the exclusion of all else”.[Ref : Landlord & Peasant in Persia-page 105 note 2,by Ann K.S.Lambton,edition of 1991].So emerged the theory of Divine right in Persia,under Safavids.This change is one of causes why province after province,of Safavid- Persia, would fall to the new invasion from the north or west.
The British not to be left back during the rule of Shah Abbass [1571-1628] knowing the weak state of affairs in Persia,due to discords within its state caused by internal Tribal wars being fought by the Qizilibashi Turks who were the main fighting arm of the Safavids,and the ever looming threat of the Ottomans,and Uzbegs of the north,beside the tug of war over Qandhar between Mughals and Safavids,took a Royal grant from the king of Persia,who also made all possible efforts to establish alliances with Christian Monarchs for eventual destruction of the Turks [Ottomans].The Grant extracts,as given by king Abbass to British ,shows his mindset to please the British and the other Christian rulers to take a cue from it;
            ”’……Our absolute commandment,will,and pleasure is that our countries and dominions shall from this day be open to all Christian people and to their religion;….I do give this  Patent for all Christian merchants to repair & traffic in and through our dominions without disturbances or molestations……That none of any dignitary [state officials of Persia] shall have power to look unto neither Shall our Religious men,or whatsoever sort they be,dare disturb them [Christians] or speak in matters of their faith..”[Ref : Treaties- British Government .C.U.Atichison,Vol-vii,1865,pages -87/88].
With this Grant to British came the long winded whine of Shah Abbass,for a request to the British to maintain, Two Men of War [Battle ships] to defend the Persian ports on the Gulf coast,subsequent to this the English,French & the Dutch established their factories at Gombroon [Bandar Abbass],though the Portuguese much earlier under Al Buquerque [1453-1515] in 1507 conquered had occupied the island of Hormuz.
The death of Shah Abbass in 1628 was followed by a rapid fall of the Safavid dynasty ,four weak rulers followed each other,during this period the Turks had taken over all of its western provinces,The Arab ruler of Muscat took over the gulf islands,under tact British approval,Abdali’s took over Herat and the Ghilijies of Qandhar [later Ghilzia’s] took over Ispahan the capital of Persia,though it was a short lived affair as it lasted till 1730 AD.Shah Hussain’ Safavid had handed over his Crown to the Ghilijies,however his son Tammasp made feeble efforts to recover the crown by seeking aid from the Czar of Russia,and further ceded all Persian possessions on the Caspian Sea Coast.
It was Nadir Shah who can be credited for reviving the Old Name of Persia- only,it is pertinent to note that he also revived the Sunni Faith,in Persia.His conquests in East and elsewhere speak of his Iron fisted control though again short-lived as he was assassinated in 1747 AD,Persia once again fell in decay,Ahmad Khan Abdali, The Captain of the Royal Guard sacked the royal treasury and bought himself kingship in Qandhar and took over the Eastern Empire of Nadir Shah,while the South and west went to Karim Khan Zand,the Zand rule ended in 1795,and Agha Muhammad Qajar took the Crown of Persia,with the start of 19th Century-Persia, what was left of it,came under the threat of Russia,in 1805 we see them marching onto Tehran,The Persian threw themselves for support to Napoleon of France,The Wise British played Wait & Watch game,and used the diplomatic tactics by sending Sir John Malcolm to Tehran,and by the 25th treaty which was signed in march 1809-The British annulled the previous all treaties with Persia,however a some what final agreement over the next course of actions between both States is seen in Treaty number 27 concluded in 1814.Persia meanwhile continued to suffer losses in territory to the Russians on the North,and the British looked the other way,Knowing fully well that the Conquest of Khurassan [later Afghanistan] was the ultimate dream of a strong Persia under the Qajars,Keeping all this in view,the British on 25th Jan 1853 entered in their 35th Treaty with Persia-however soon after the fear of British emerged as Persian troops entered Herat,and badly treated the British Mission at Shiraz,as the Quarrel remained unsettled the British Declared war on Persia on 1st November 1856,and occupied the Kharrack Island in the Gulf…
[to be continued]


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  • A.Baluch  On November 28, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Thanks for a wonderful historical perspective of an important neighbour of ours. Stand educated.

  • shahbazthuthaal  On November 28, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Naveed ,

    Thanks for sharing.


    Muhammad Shahbaz Thuthaal EME CHS Multan road,lahore. 0301-3667777

  • Javed Brg  On November 28, 2013 at 1:44 pm


    Anxiously awaiting the follow-up.


    • naveed tajammal  On November 29, 2013 at 2:12 am

      Malik sahib History indeed is the reflection of the past,here the article is focused on Old Persia and who coined the Term,Pars/Fars is a part of what is now iran,the glory of Persia on which the Persians take so much pride,was won not by Persians but,by other races/tribes who fought with them,The flaws in the iranian glory are seen in their Epic,should it be studied minutely.The point highlighted above in my comment to Idrees sahib,was on our East we have a Fallacious epic based on Mahabharta & Ramayana,on our West we have the Shah nama e Firdausi,Yet we remain distinct from both,or a wedge in between,with the oldest civilization in the region,our Past has been hijacked by our neighbours in West and East.

  • Idrees  On November 28, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    But the Persians have a rich history of civilization, invading barbarians to their north, east and west and being invaded by them occasionally. But Imam Khomenie’s Iran is a new country altogether and will be the jewel state in the Mideast within 30 years.

    Khush Raho, khushiyan baanto
    Love, Freedom, Connectivity & Justice

    • naveed tajammal  On November 28, 2013 at 2:20 pm

      Idrees Sahib We have a much richer history of Civilization i.e that of the Sindh valley basin,but sadly we never had a Firdausi to pen it,with all additions,by, mixing Facts with Fiction.

  • a m malik  On November 28, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    History is only a guide for the future course of actions. More important is what are you NOW. We need to get out of the yawning gap of the past glories and get going. But can we with all the prejudices being trouted at one point or the other – never seem to settle down?

  • Ahsan  On November 29, 2013 at 1:15 am

    Yes as Idress sb said,

    Inqlab e Islami changed every thing in Iran


  • Muhammad Ajmal  On November 29, 2013 at 5:29 am

    Another splendid piece of research by Naveed, anxiosly waiting for part 2.

  • Average Joe Bodybuilder  On December 7, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    i find this article rather biased. there have been sordid people throughout hist all civilizations. who was mir jaafar? he sided with the british for his petty interests. who was ibn saud? he sided with the british against hte muslims.l more reent history shows that ZAB basically split pakistan in 2. and this isn’t even very deeply done research. pakistani history isn’t even that old and we have leaders who willing to kiss the backs ides of the christians. so please do not be too harsh on a group of people who were the first foreigners to accept islam. if you have a problem with the safavids tht is a different problem, the safavids were not persian. they were turkomongolian who were persianized in language. you can not blame persians for that. shiaism was bloodily shoved down their throats. again you canot blame the persians for that. there should be some balance as to how we treat a group of people who helped spread islam to pakistan.

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