Turkish vs. Iranian Elements of Safavid Persia

  March 28, 2021   Read time 2 min
Turkish vs. Iranian Elements of Safavid Persia
From the outset there were on the one hand Turkish soldiers who could claim credit for having laid the political foundations of the new state, and on the other hand members of the Iranian aristocracy who were proud of the part they had played in organizing and administering the realm.
Two sections of the population of the Safavid empire stand out in particular, the Turks and the Iranians. They are distinct not only in language and customs, but also in origin and culture. Whereas the Turkish element is composed of Turkmen tribesmen, for the most part nomadic herdsmen and warriors, the Iranian consists of the old-established peasantry and the urban mercantile and artisan classes. In the figure of Isma'il the Turkish and the Iranian groups fused. It was not immediately apparent whether Isma'Il would cast in his lot with one or the other of these two sections of the population, and if so which one he would choose. Although the sultan had not been able to exploit his victory to the full, the battle of Chaldiran had immense repercussions not only on Shah Isma'il's personal conduct but also on the history of Persia. With the resulting loss of the Safavid territory in eastern Anatolia the capital Tabriz found itself deprived of its more or less central location and placed on the frontiers of the empire; the geographical centre of gravity of the Safavid realm was thereby well-nigh compulsorily transferred to the Iranian highlands. Despite all Isma'il's Iranian conquests as far as Khurasan, it was by no means clear in the first phase of his rule whether his realm, whose western frontier with the Ottoman empire was marked by the upper stretches of the Euphrates, would develop into an Iranian state with a Turkish glacis to the west, or into a Turkish state with an Iranian perimeter to the east. Both were possible, although certain circumstances such as the inclusion of some Turkmen traditions in the administration and the army appeared to indicate a preference for the Turkish option. The defeat at Chaldiran did not indeed supply a final answer to this question, for Isma'Il still clung to Tabriz as his capital and the seat of government was not moved to Qazvin for another generation; but without doubt it caused Safavid policy to be directed towards the east, especially since Isma'il accepted the new situation without endeavouring to reverse it. It would be wrong to see in the distinction between Turks and Persians at this time something approaching a national bias, if only because nationalism in the modern sense came only much later from Europe to the Near East. On the other hand, the individual peoples were fully aware of the differences between themselves and others. In the Safavid empire discord and even violent antagonism deriving from the rivalry between Turks and Persians were not only common, they even exerted a strong influence on the internal development, at least in the 10th/16th century and, moreover, as early as Shah Isma'il's own reign.

Write your comment