The New Frontiers: Myth and Reality

  September 12, 2021   Read time 1 min
The New Frontiers: Myth and Reality
The boundary problems of Iran in the nineteenth century were the consequence of a long period of diminishing power as an empire. This weakening had set in, as we have seen, long before the nineteenth century.

The fall of the Çafavï empire marked Iran’s lowest point in the eighteenth century, but the meteoric rise of Nadir arrested the decay. The former territories were recovered, and Iran even launched its own imperialist campaigns. Then the assassination of Nadir Shah was followed by the loss of Afghanistan and Georgia. The Qäjär monarchs including Aghä Muhammad Shah, Fath 'All Shah, Mu* hammad Shah, and Näsir al-Din Shah all resorted to force of arms in an attempt to recover the lost territories.

Their irredentist wars, however, did not regain what had been lost; instead their failures forced them to acknowledge and confirm their losses. Fath *Ali Shah acknowledged the loss of Georgia in the Treaty of Gulistan (1813), and Näsir al-Dîn Shah affirmed that of Afghanistan in the Treaty of Paris (1857). The outbreak of war with Turkey in 1821 was probably least influenced by irredentist considerations, but even in this conflict Iran’s determination to regain its former terirtories in the west played a part.

Iran’s acknowledgments of its losses and its acceptance of its diminished frontiers did not necessarily mean recognition of its position as a weak state. The Shahs were still Shähinshäh, King of Kings, and Iran continued as an “Empire." The empire had died, but die myth survived. The ever-present past with its real as well as its mythological glories lived on. The lure of this past was a powerful influence in Iran’s foreign policy whether it led to the imperialist expansion of Nadir Shah, the irredentism of Fath ‘All Shah, or the boundary hagglings of Näsir al-Din Shah.

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