New Prime Minister and His Challenges

  January 27, 2024   Read time 6 min
New Prime Minister and His Challenges
By early July 1918, with military conquest and occupation complete, the British moved to take complete political control of Persia.

Southard describes the political situation and British policy as well as the British campaign to get Hasan Vossough, Vossough-ed-Dowleh, appointed prime minister: There is considerable political unrest in Persia but owing to the impotence of Persian Government and the control exercised by the British in all parts of Persia excepting the Northwest, it is improbable that this unrest could result in more than local disturbances. Unrest due to enemy propaganda and Persian resentment [of] British military occupation and supervision of Persian affairs. Enemy propaganda much less by arrest or driving from the country many German agents and Persian agitators by the British during the last year. In the provinces, political conditions are closely watched by British officials and several Persians have been arrested and removed from office. Ten days ago British military arrested Governor of Hamadan and several supporters. Governor reported taken to Bagdad.

British are bringing about appointment of Persian officials friendly to Allied interests, a notable example being the retention of Prince Farman Farma as governor of Fars, second most important Persian province. He resides in Shiraz and is considered to be entirely in sympathy with British interests, and is influential in all parts of Persia. His son, Nosrat-ed-Douleh [Nosrat-ed-Dowleh] is reputed to be active British propagandist in Teheran. The leading Persian political party is named Democratic Party and is anti-foreigner and particularly anti-British and Russian. Most prominent Persians are Democrats. Chief Democratic activity is protesting against British occupation and in fighting growing British political influence. Principal result has been cabinet changes. . . . The cabinet is radically Democratic. There is constant agitation headed by former Prime Minister Vossough-ed-Dowleh who wishes again to be Prime Minister. He is reputed to be British agent and if appointed is expected to form new Ministry entirely friendly to Allies. Adherents of this man are waging active campaign in Teheran against the present cabinet by organizing protesting demonstrations of gendarmes and bazaar people. Quantity of money and food has been distributed by them in this connection alleged supplied by British. Some bombs have been thrown and one was exploded three nights ago in the garden [of] Minister without portfolio. Strong belief prevails that Vossough will succeed soon in causing the resignation of the Ministry and be appointed Prime Minister. In this event political as well as military situation in Persia will be well controlled by the British.

Additional light on the manner in which the anti-British cabinet of Samsam-es-Saltaneh was undermined by the expenditure of funds by the British legation is provided by Caldwell: “On account of riots and scourges occasioned by food shortage and political disturbers Teheran has been placed under military government. Nothing serious is expected to happen.” In a subsequent dispatch Caldwell gives more information on the protests and the establishment of martial law in Tehran: About a fortnight ago large crowds of beggars and idlers gathered at the mosques and other public places in the city and were harangued by native priests and other speakers. The object of these gatherings was said to be public protest against and a general disapproval of the do nothing policy and methods of the present Cabinet.

The Cabinet and their sympathizers and followers, on the other hand, claimed that these gatherings were brought about, encouraged and financed by rival candidates for the Premiership and other Cabinet positions, and further claimed that financial assistance was being furnished by interested foreign powers. Of the truth or falsity of this latter statement this Legation has been unable to obtain any evidence or facts, but such charges are promiscuously and repeatedly made. However, there can be no doubt that much money is being spent to encourage rioting, for rice, costing about sixty cents per pound, other foodstuffs and money have been daily distributed among the crowds of agitators, the number of which vary from three hundred to five hundred. It is believed, from best reports, that an average of about a dollar per day has been given to the active agitators. Although a number of arrests were made by the local police, they seemed unable to cope with the situation, hence the order establishing martial law. The city is now quiet and no further trouble is looked for. It is my opinion that these gatherings and protests are largely, if not entirely, instigated against the present Cabinet by rival candidates for public favor, though these rival candidates may have received some encouragement and financial backing from interested foreign governments.

The term “interested foreign governments” was a euphemism for Great Britain. Caldwell discusses the appointment of Vossough-ed-Dowleh. Despite several challenges, the position of the cabinet was secure by November 1918, thanks to the British: During 1917 and in the late spring and early summer of this year there was a considerable amount of terrorism culminating in political assassinations and bomb throwing and accompanied by demonstrations against the Samsam-esSaltaneh cabinet, which was then in power. A great many persons took “bast” [sanctuary] in the Shah’s Mosque at the instigation of the mollahs who, it is said, were paid by opponents of the then existing cabinet and the pro-British party. In order more effectively to deal with these manifestations martial law was proclaimed in Teheran on July 6th. Matters remained in very much the same state, however, for some time and nothing active or effective was done against the demonstrators except to arrest some of those taking bast in the Mosque. Matters remained in about this condition until August when the British Minister succeeded in having the Shah request the resignation of the Samsam-es-Saltaneh cabinet and appoint Vossough-ed-Dowleh in his place. Vossough-ed-Dowleh is pro-British and one of the most intelligent and competent of the present Persian statesmen and his coming to power greatly strengthened the position of the Allies in Persia. The old cabinet was very popular with the people, however, and just before leaving office it took all possible steps to discredit the new cabinet. For several days after the new cabinet assumed office there was no bread in the city.

The old cabinet’s action in abrogating all Russian treaties, conventions and concessions won the populace to its side. The position of the new cabinet for several days was rather difficult but things soon settled down into their normal course and no trouble arose. The democrats and other opponents of the Vossough-ed-Dowleh cabinet, who were openly questioning his motives, were only waiting for a chance to cause him embarrassment and if possible turn him out of office. The evacuation of Baku by the British and the Turkish advance in Azerbaijan, from Mianeh to a point near Zinjan [Zanjan], seemed to be the opportune moment and they, the German Legation and the Turkish Embassy used this Allied set back to the utmost. The opportunity was short lived, however, as a few days thereafter the news of the Turkish debacle in Palestine and of Bulgaria’s collapse strengthened the pro-Allied party and the movement against the present cabinet ceased almost as quickly as it had begun. Now that Germany is vanquished in the West it is not likely the Vossough-ed-Dowleh cabinet will experience any great opposition for some time to come.

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