The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
History of the Break-up of Iran
By: Dr. Houshang Ta'leh
Abstract: Before the coming of Islam, the Iranian-Lands was always under threat of invasions from the east and the west. At the beginning of his reign in May 1723, Peter of Russia ordered the invasion of Iranian provinces of Georgia and the Caucasus, and consequently, the Russians advanced to Rasht. After Nader Shah reclaimed the annexed regions of Iran, these areas were again overtaken during the time of Catherine and at the end of the reign of the Zand dynasty. The invasion was repelled by Aqa Mohammad Khan Qajar, but while preparing an attack on Moscow, he was assassinated in Qal'eh Shusheh.
Up to the coming of the Arabs, the land of Iran was always under the threat of invasion by uncivilized nomadic people from the east and by organized states from the west. Following the Arab invasion, which for the first time in the history of Iran came from the south, the Mongol, Timurid and Uzbek nomads from the east and the Ottoman sultanate from the west again invaded the country.
When Peter ascended the throne of Russia, Iranian territory was again breached, this time from the north, an invasion that proved to be the most damaging to the country's integrity. In the long history of our nation, Russian tribes were sometimes mentioned as barbarians in the works of some of our poets and hagiographers. Yet, until May 1722, there was no mention of them in our history.
In 1682, Peter ascended the throne of Russia at the age of 10. During his reign, he managed to bring the various tribes and races that lived across that cold and frozen expanse, under his rule. To preserve the institution that he created with "blood and sword", he started to lay the foundations for his long-range plans. He clearly understood that to continue his rule of "blood and sword", it was necessary to continue "the bloodletting" and to carry "the sword".
The strategy Peter devised was continuous invasion and unquenchable territorial expansion, outlining his plans and incorporating the principles under is known as "Peter's Will". These principles that Peter formulated in 1710, were the backbone of the foreign policy, or rather, the policy of "invasion and territorial expansion", that succeeding Russian governments espoused, until the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.
On the basis of his own guidelines, Peter first attacked areas belonging to the Ottoman Empire, achieving some victories. After overrunning the Ottoman Turks, the czar started eyeing the lands of Iran, which were of major importance in the pursuit of the policy of invasion and territorial expansion. Peter made the following statements regarding Iranian lands: "... Georgia and the Caucasus comprise the vital vein of Iran. The moment the needle of Russian domination pricks this, Iran's bloodletting will start and Iran will become so weak that no good doctor can help it recover ... The key to India is Turkestan. Advance as far as you can toward the deserts of Khyghyztan, Khiveh and Bokhara..."
As mentioned, Peter started thinking about Iran after his victories over the Ottomans. Iran at this point was very weak due to the ineptitude of the Safavid Sultan Hossein. Yet, Iran appeared formidable to the Russians. To assess the local situation, Peter sent to Iran an emissary named Artemis Volenski under the guise of an ambassador. His reports made Peter more determined to invade the country, though he was still worried about encountering great force. In 1721, Peter prevailed against Charles XII following a long series of battles. After this great victory, he called himself Emperor of all Russia, and felt himself to be strongest compared to any other time. Still, he hesitated to act recklessly and confront Iran, which was the greatest Asian power. Finally, he found an excuse in the uprising of the Lesghians and the actions that the Khan of Khiveh had taken against Russians. In January 1722, he sent Simon Avramov to Isfahan to declare Russian grievances.
The Lesghians had trespassed on the lands claimed by the Russians, causing the loss of life and property, and the Khan of Khiveh, who stamped coins in the name of Iran's Shahanshah, had ordered the execution of a caravan of Russian traders, suspecting them to be spies. Avramov arrived in Isfahan after Sultan Hossein had been dethroned just a few months and Mahmood Ghaljayi held the throne of Iran. Avramov appeared in Mahmood's court, complaining against the Lesghians and the Khan of Khiveh. Mahmood got the throne as a result of luck, or rather, as a result of the "mischief" of Sultan Hossein, who, despite his own debauchery and depravity, was sanctimonious and was harsh when it came to religious matters, thus pulling the country to the brink. As others before him, who, throughout history, had ascended the throne, he had no idea and did not completely understand the heavy responsibility of the critical position he held.
Mahmood told Peter's emissary that he had no power over the people who were the subject of the complaint and that the Russians themselves should act for their protection. On hearing this unexpected answer, Avramov sped back to Moscow to relay the go signal for the invasion of Iranian territory. Following military preparations, in May 1723, Peter ordered the attack against Iran. The repercussions of this invasion continued, sometimes overt and sometimes under guise, for the next 268 years, until the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.
During this period, Iranians were never for a moment secure from Russian invasion. Iranian territory was also broken up. Chains of separation were placed on the limbs of this great nation, fictitious names were invented for the cities of our motherland and artificial borders were created in order to fabricate fictional histories. Historical writings without any factual basis severed and destroyed the unity of the people who had lived in Iranian lands. Their languages were changed, the original alphabet was discarded with their own ungainly alphabet taking its place.
Subsequent to the order of invasion, the Russians entered the Caspian Sea via the river Etel (Volga) and occupied Dâghestân with the excuse of punishing the Lesghians. The Ottomans, looking for an opportunity, occupied Shâmakhi and threatened the Russians with war if they crossed Darband. The Russians avoided a war on two fronts and did not cross Darband, advancing instead to Gilan. With their defeat of the local forces and the occupation of Rasht, they became more brazen and also took over Bâdkubeh.
The Russians and the Ottomans were engaged in a race to occupy more Iranian territories and were about to engage in a war over the occupation of Gandjeh when France intervened. With France as intermediary, the two governments signed a treaty in "Bâb-e 'Ali" on June 23rd, 1724, dividing a large portion of our motherland between them. Thus, the lands located on the east of the conjunction of the rivers Kurosh (Kur) and Aras were given to the Russians and the lands on the west went to the Ottomans.
The emergence of Nader-shah in the Iranian political scene confounded all the designs of enemies against Iran. With great farsightedness, he confronted first the Ottomans. He destroyed the latter's army in a series of battles, rendering them incapable of ever invading Iran again and ending several centuries of continuous Ottoman encroachment on Iranian territory. After ascertaining that the Ottoman empire was no longer a threat, Nâder faced the Russians and told them to immediately take their forces out of Iranian soil. Knowing they could not engage in battle with the Iranians, the successors of Peter evacuated Gilan and major areas of the Caucasus during the night. Another more serious warning and the Russians evacuated the rest of the territories they got in the Caucasus.
At the end of the reign of the Zand dynasty, Iran was again engulfed in turmoil, and the Russians, under Catherine, again got another opportunity to overrun Iranian lands. Catherine was a confrontational despot whose name sent a shiver down the spine of Europe's strongmen. Following the policy of Peter, she aimed the poisonous Russian needle toward Iran's jugular, i.e. Georgia and the Caucasus. Russian troops under the command of Valerian Zubov crossed the Aras river and threatened parts of Azarbaijan and Gilan. At the same time, another Russian contingent moved toward Lankarân, with the final aim of occupying Rasht. This time, czarist designs were confounded by one of the greatest men in Iranian history, Aqa Mohammad Khan Qajar, who inflicted heavy defeats on the Russians during the course of several critical battles. Aqa Mohammad Khan was also aware of Peter's will and knew that the main threat to Iran was the Russian empire, being the remaining one with the capability to invade Iran, after the Ottomans had been vanquished by Nader. To free the country from such a threat, this force had to be crushed.
Aqa Mohammad Khan defeated the armies of Catherine in Arrâan province (today known as republic of Azerbaijan) and the Caucasus provinces, and liberated Tbilisi (today Georgia). But when he was preparing to cut the head of the snake in its nest in Qal'eh Shisheh, one of the most secure forts in the Caucasus, he was assassinated.
He was planning to invade Moscow. In that sinister night in Iranian history, treachery tore the torso of Aqa Mohammad Khan. Grasping the clothes of one of his killers, he cried out: "You did not kill Aqa Mohammad. You killed Iran!"
This painful remark still echoes, after 200 years, inside and outside the borders, resulting from the dismemberment of Iran. Following the assassination, the tearing of Iran into pieces began. First the Caucasus, then Afghanistan, then Khwârazm and Fararood, then Baluchistân (of Pakistan), and so on.
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