(MUSLIMS in the MIDDLE EAST, 1700 to 1837 – continued)

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MUSLIMS in the MIDDLE EAST, 1700 to 1837 (2 of 3)

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Iran, 1700 to 1828

Iran in the early 1700s suffered from civil wars and economic decline, especially in northern Iran, where silk and cotton had been exported and through which caravans had passed on their way to Turkey and Russia. Weakened militarily, Iran in 1719 was invaded by Sunni Afghanis, who were outraged by Shia persecutions of Sunni Muslims within Iran. It was Iran's Safavid Dynasty that the Afghans fought, and defeated, the Afghans taking the Safavid capital, Tabriz, in what today is Iran's far northwest, just east of Turkey and south of Azerbaijan.

The Afghans were unable to consolidate their rule, and by 1729 an army of the Afshar tribe drove the Afghans out of Iran, and in 1736 the head of that tribe assumed the title of Shah of Iran. This was Nader Shah who subsequently conquered Afghanistan and later sacked Delhi. Nader Shah's military campaigns exhausted the resources of Iran and in desperation the leaders of his own tribe, the Afshar, killed him. His successor was the eldest son of Nader's brother. He too was overthrown, and he was killed by his successor. He ruled only a couple of months and then he too was overthrown, blinded and killed, all within the extended family – not unlike successions in China a millennium before.

Rule in Iran stayed within the Afsharid Dynasty until Karim Khan won power, in 1751. He founded the Zand Dynasty and provided Iran with peace, a modest prosperity and recovery from 40 years of war. During his reign, relations with Britain were restored, and he allowed the East India Company to have a trading post in southern Iran. He made Shiraz his capital and ordered the construction of several architectural projects there. Following Karim Khan's death in 1779, at the age of 74, civil war broke out once more. His son and grandson were unable to rule as effectively as he had. The last of his ruling descendants was overthrown in 1794, bringing to power the Shia leader of Agha Mohammad Khan, the Shia leader of the Qajar tribe, originally from Azerbaijan in the Caucuses.

Agha Mohammad Khan extended his rule to the south of Iran. He distributed young women from the south as slaves to his soldiers. He sent his soldiers out to unite more of Iran, and he sent an army to Georgia and Azerbaijan. Georgia had been fought over between the Turks and the Iranians for centuries. In 1795 Agha Muhammad Khan left the Georgian capital, Tiflis, in ruins and took from Georgia 22,000 slaves.

In 1796, Agha Muhammad Khan crowned himself as King of Kings (shahanshah). In 1797 he was assassinated. He had no sons. At the age of five he had been emasculated by his family's enemies. Rule stayed within his family, to his nephew who took the name Fat'h Ali Shah. The Qajar dynasty to last until 1925.

Iran, its economy and international politics under Fath Ali Shah

Shiite ulama became dominant in influence again in Iran, while Fath Ali Shah enjoyed his vast harem and the prestige of rule, and he liked to identify himself with the great rulers of Iran's past.

By 1801, Georgia had reverted to Russian control, and, in 1804, Fath Ali Shah sent troops back to the Caucasus, where they fought the Russians until 1813, when he felt compelled to abandon Iran's claims there and to sign the Treaty of Gulistan.

Fath Ali Shah sought advantage from the British, who had begun to look to Iran as a bulwark against Russian expansion in the direction of India. In 1814 the British continued a series of agreements with Fath Ali Shah. The British were concerned with Russian expansion and agreed to come to Iran's aid should any war with a European country arise. They agreed to refrain from interfering in any struggle between Iran and Afghanistan (where Iran was claiming suzerainty) and they promised to pay the Iranians an annual subsidy of 150,000 pounds. Iran, in turn, agreed to break relations with any power that attacked the British.

A decade later, with the death of Russia's tsar Alexander I, Fat'h Ali Shah sent his troops back into the Caucasus. Russia's new tsar, Nicholas I, said, "I am just crowned and here the Persians are occupying several of our provinces." Nicholas disliked going to war, but he did so to defend what he called Russia's dignity. The British failed to join Iran against the Russians, claiming that the Iranians were the aggressors.

Fath Ali Shah was miserly about spending his great wealth on his military, and against his weakened force the Russians were able to push through the Caucasus and force Iran to sue for peace. The Treaty of Turkmanchai followed, in 1828, a treaty said to have left Iran not completely independent. Russian goods were to be exempt from tariffs within Iran; Russians in Iran were not to be subject to Iranian law; and the Iranians were not to have a naval force on the Caspian Sea.

Fath Ali Shah managed to hold on to power for thirty-seven years, to 1834, to his death at age 72. Iran's economy would not fare well. Inertia left Iran with fabrics from abroad entering the country and collapsing Iran's fabrics industry. In Iran, carpet production, tobacco, railway construction and telegraph installation was to be in the hands of non-Iranians.

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