Mutinies, Radical Movements and Fragile Governance

  February 21, 2022   Read time 3 min
Mutinies, Radical Movements and Fragile Governance
The death-blow to the Safavid kingdom did eventually come from the east, but it was impossible to foresee that it would happen as it did. Nor, initially, did the government locate the principal danger in that direction.

Given the incursions from Russia mentioned earlier, Peter the Great's interest in Persia should have given cause for alarm, and a Russian attack on the south-west coast of the Caspian Sea was in fact to occur in the summer of 1134/1722. By that time, however, Safavid might was in any case at the last gasp, and the Russians achieved little more than the capture of Darband. There was unrest amongst the Lezgians, a Sunni people in the northwest of the country, even though one of their number was Grand Vizier. The Shirvanis, also Sunni, were led by the intolerance of their Persian governors to appeal for aid to the Porte.

This may have contributed to Durri Efendi's being sent to Persia as ambassador, a move by which Istanbul probably hoped to gain a clearer picture of Persian affairs. In 1719 the Lezgians became involved in armed conflict, first with the Shirvanis, then with the Georgians under Vakhtang VI of Tiflis. The latter was just preparing to deal a final, crushing blow to the Lezgians when the government intervened to prevent him. Although the Lezgians were saved the future loyalty of the Georgian prince was forfeited. Rebellious Kurds occupied Hamadan and penetrated almost to the outskirts of Isfahan. In Khuzistan rivalry for the office of viceroy (vail) led to unrest among the Musha'sha'. Baluchi tribes made plundering raids on Bam and Kirman.

Since the government could not possibly contemplate dealing with all these potential threats simultaneously it chose to concentrate on what in its view was the most dangerous: the Arabs on the Persian Gulf and the imam of 'Uman, who in occupying the Gulf islands had of course already encroached on Persian territory. The Grand Vizier (i'timad al-daula) Fath 'Ali Khan Daghistanl entrusted the task to his nephew, Lutf'All Khan, the governor of Fars, who assembled a force of 9,000 men which he intended to transport to 'Uman in Portuguese ships. But the project was not destined to reach fruition.

It seemed as if the government's attention was diverted from Qandahar as a result of this plan. There the young Mahmud — he was only eighteen years old when he seized power — was gaining the respect of his fellow tribesmen through his warlike bearing and his cunning. It suited his plans that the death of Aurangzib in 1118/1707 had provoked a crisis in the Mughal empire, which meant that he was safe from surprise attacks on that flank. At the end of 1719 he gained an unqualified success when he advanced on Kirman with 11,000 men. The startled governor took flight and the Ghalzai were able to occupy the city without difficulty. Soon, however, they were forced to march back to Qandahar because Mahmud's position there was threatened.

The sudden attack on Kirman must have caused Fath 'All Khan to change his mind. At all events he endeavoured to divert the government's interest from the Persian Gulf and to concentrate it instead on Qandahar. He urged that all the armed forces should be marched there, the shah himself and the government taking part in the campaign in order to lend the desired weight to the operation for the benefit of external observers. The assembled court did in fact set off for the east at the end of 113 2/beginning of October 1720, but it advanced no further than Tehran.

Write your comment