The First War with Russia: Shivering Foreign Policy

  August 05, 2021   Read time 2 min
The First War with Russia: Shivering Foreign Policy
Fath ‘Ali Shah fought two wars with Russia over Georgia. The first war broke out in 1804. The Shah’s irredentism was matched by the expansionist zeal of Alexander, "the Tsar of Peace.”

He suddenly turned his attention from Russia’s internal problems to the field of foreign relations. Russia was already in possession of eastern Georgia. Alexander now embarked upon the conquest of western Georgia, which was regarded by Russia as the strategic key to all the northern provinces of Iran. The Russian forces overran the Sultanate of Shurgel, a part of the Khanate of Erivan. The Iranian army took the field under the command of 'Abbas Mirzà, the heir apparent. The war dragged on until 1813.

Iran’s objective was the recovery of Georgia. The fact that the Georgians had thrown in their lot with Russia and the latter had officially annexed Georgia did not deter Fath 'All Shah. Nor did he take cognizance of the fact that his own policy and that of Agha Muhammad Shah before him had created much dissatisfaction among the Georgian people. Yet, it was not the Shah’s objective as such that proved harmful to Iran. The fundamental harm came from the disparity between objective and capability.

The Shah attempted to recover Georgia from Russia with an unprepared army. A close observer of the Iranian forces described them harshly: The disciplined forces of Persia, considered as an arm y-w ere from the epoch of their first creation contemptible. Beyond drill and exercise, they never had anything in common with the regular armies of Europe and India. System was entirely wanted, whether in regard to pay, clothing, food, carriage, equipage, commissariat, promotion or command; and under a lath-and-plaster Government like that of Persia, such must have inevitably been the case.

Fath 'All Shah not only fought an unprepared war but also refused to conclude a favorable peace when it was possible. After France made peace with Russia at Tilsit, it strove to mediate between Iran and Russia. Russia was willing to negotiate a peaceful settlement at the time, but Fath 'Ali Shah insisted intransigently that peace would be made only if Russia relinquished Georgia. The loss of this opportunity in 1807 prolonged the war. Finally, in 1812 the Iranian forces were annihilated in a battle at Aslandoz. In 1813 Iran signed the unfavorable Treaty of Gulistan with Russia as a result of British mediation.

The main provisions of the treaty may be summarized as follows : 1) Territorial: Iran acknowledged the sovereignty of Russia over Karabagh, Georgia, Shaki, Shiravan, Derbend, Kobeh, Daghistan, Abtichar, a part of Talish, and “all the territory between the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea.” 2) Maritime: Iran conceded to Russia the exclusive right to sail ships of war on the Caspian Sea.

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