Hyenas and the Lonely Cat

  March 27, 2022   Read time 3 min
Hyenas and the Lonely Cat
Actually, however, control of the Regent was not enough to satisfy the intervening powers. Because the Cabinet was in charge of affairs of state, Great Britain and Russia became deeply involved in the rise and fall of various Cabinets.

Political instability was thus compounded by foreign intervention. To preserve their commercial and political interests the powers demanded, through the medium of their legations, that the Iranian government conform its policy with the principles of the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. They made every effort to see that no Prime Minister took office unless he was either their man or would not stand in their way.

Sa'd al-Dawlah was the Anglo-Russian candidate for the post of Prime Minister. In November 1912 the powers outwitted Prime Minister Çamsâm al-Saltanah into requesting Sa'd’s return from Europe. In London Sazonov and Grey even discussed the conditions of his taking office. These included his acceptance of the financial and other terms that the powers proposed.”

Because of personal animosity between him and the Regent, as well as for other reasons, the powers failed to install him in office in spite of his return to Tehran on November 9, 1912. It was not easy for the powers to find another man whom they both trusted. Furthermore, their experience in the Sa'd al-Dawlah case made them realize that their choice should not offend certain factions and individuals active and influential in Iranian politics.

The British and Russian Ministers at Tehran were asked to find out who would be reasonably acceptable as Prime Minister. The British Minister informed Grey that ‘Ala* al-Saltanah might be the man, and the latter took office. On January 11, 1913, the Minister further informed his government that Ala alSaltanah’s Cabinet was the most stable one that could be formed at the time. The Russians were not so enthusiastic as the British. Sazonov wrote the British Ambassador on January 13, 1913, that the Russian attitude toward the new Cabinet would depend entirely on its attitude toward Russia." To be acceptable to Russia, the ‘Ala alSaltanah Cabinet soon felt compelled to yield to Russian pressure for a concession for a railway from Julfa to Tabriz.

Russia meanwhile was acting like a predatory power in Iran. On March 29, 1912, Russian troops bombarded the holy shrine of Imam Riga at Mashhad because Yüsuf-i Harati, a notorious agent provocateur to borrow the words of Sir Percy Sykes, who witnessed the incident, had taken refuge there. Harati had served the Russians previously but was now disenchanted with them (apparently because his services had been rewarded inadequately).
The wanton bombardment was accompanied by looting. The treasury containing the rich gifts of monarchs and other pilgrims was removed to the Russian bank. Later it was restored with some of its contents missing. “The Official Custodian of the Shrine,” wrote Sykes, “was forced, under threat of death, to seal a document to the effect that he had received it back intact.’
Russia did not treat all its agents so ungratefully. The ex-Shah had served Russia’s interests most consistently, though not always successfully. In a note dated March 18, 1912, Russia, with Great Britain, demanded that the government of Iran "come to an agreement with Muhammad Ali Shah on the subject of his departure from Persia, of his pension, and of a general amnesty of his followers.” Russia was determined to reward the ex-Shah in spite of the fact that on July 31,1911, when he had returned to Iran to regain the throne, it had declared that he had forfeited his right to the pension fixed by the Protocol signed with the Constitutional regime by the two powers in September 1909.

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