Our travelling-party on the outward journey had separated at Tehran, and I travelled back homeward alone. I left Tehran in the middle of November, and as there had been a heavy fall of snow some days before, I quite expected to have a cold crossing of the Kharzan Pass over the Elburz range. I did the journey to Kasvin comfortably in a carriage, and rode thence to Resht in three days. I was unexpectedly fortunate in finding that the bright weather had freed the road over the pass from snow, and I had a perfect day, with still air, for that part of my ride.
About halfway between Kasvin and Resht the road passes through the extensive olive-groves of Rudbar, which for many centuries has been the centre of a flourishing olive-oil and soap business. There are about sixty villages in the district engaged in this industry; they possess from eighty to one hundred thousand trees, each yielding on an average from six to nine pounds' weight of fruit a year. The olive as a fruit-tree has been known in Persia from a comparatively early period, and it is not surprising to hear the villagers ascribe quite a fabulous age to some of the old trees, just as in Italy some olives are credited with an equally astonishing antiquity.
To me it has appeared that the habit the olive has of sending up new stems from the root of an old trunk—just as the chenar sycamore does in Persia—may have made the old trees become young again, and thus present, to succeeding generations in the villages, the look of the same old trunks. Messrs. Kousis, Theophylactos and Co., of Baku, have obtained a concession for pressing and refining olive-oil in this district, and I observed the buildings which they are erecting for their business rising on the right bank of the river there.
Near Rudbar commences the thick growth of various hard-wood trees, which flourish well in the damp soil of the Caspian slopes and lowlands, and in November their foliage was surpassingly lovely, with many warm tints, from delicate red to deep russet and shades of shot-green and brown. On some of the high, thickly-wooded hills, the different colours ran in well-defined belts, showing where particular kinds of trees had found most favourable soil, and had grasped it to the exclusion of all others.
About forty miles from the Caspian coast I fell in with rain and mud—such mud as cannot be realized without being seen. I embarked at Enzelli on board a small Russian steamer, the Tehran, which had taken the place of one of the usual large vessels employed on the mail-service. The sea was rising as I embarked, and I was lucky in getting on board before the surf on the bar at the mouth of the lagoon became impassable. The steamer had five hundred tons of iron cargo on board, machinery for electric light and other purposes, intended for Tehran, but which could not be landed owing to the rolling sea. It was therefore carried back to Baku, a second time within a fortnight, for accident had prevented it being landed on the previous voyage.
There is always this risk of wind and weather preventing landing at Enzelli. Proposals have been made to remove the bar sufficiently to allow steamers of eight hundred tons to pass into the lagoon harbour; but the expense of doing this, and keeping up dredgers, would be great—too great, it is thought, to allow of any profitable return. The same landing difficulties are experienced at Astara and Lenkoran, the places of call between Enzelli and Baku. Should there be any intention of eventually making a railway from the coast to Kasvin and Hamadan, there to meet a line to Baghdad, then it would be the best course in every way to connect Resht with Baku by a railway along the coast, passing through Astara and Lenkoran.
The coast country is famous for its rice, which could be extensively cultivated, and the resources in forest and fishery produce are great. There would be considerable local traffic as the country opened up, and the through trade in oil from Baku would be a paying one. I believe the Russians know that it would be cheaper to build a railway along this coast-line of about three hundred miles, with such trade capabilities, than, in the absence of harbours, to erect breakwaters, make sheltered anchorages, and dredge navigation channels. For two-thirds of the distance the line would lie in Russian territory.
I met at Enzelli a foreign artist, whose acquaintance I had formed in Tehran, where he made some good pictures of local life and scenery. He was loud in his complaints of the elements—the heavy rain and the awful mud. He had come down the road with a minimum of travelling comforts, and had been rather miserable. On going off to the mail-boat in the steam-launch, he vented his feelings of disgust with Persia by spitting over the side towards the land, and saying, 'Ach! ach! what a country! 'May I never see it again!' When I reminded him of Tehran and its club, he acknowledged that he had enjoyed his stay there, and appreciated the place; but the rain and sea of mud at Resht had drowned and smothered all his pleasant memories of Persia.
The voyage to Baku was uneventful. There are two Astaras, one Persian, the other Russian, with the frontier stream between them. The steamer remained part of the night at the former place, and moved in the morning three miles to the anchorage opposite the latter. There the Russian Customs officers came on board to examine luggage. The first mate of the steamer, a Swedish Finn, attended the search proceedings, and became much interested In a rusty pistol which was found in the luggage of one of the deck passengers. The question arose, Was the pistol loaded? and he undertook to find out. He raised the hammer to full cock, and, placing the muzzle in his mouth, he blew down the barrel, with his finger on the cap nipple, to feel if the air passed through. He naively explained to me the certainty of this mode of discovering whether a percussion arm is loaded or not. In this instance the pistol was thought to be loaded, but it was found to be only choked with rust.
I had intended to return via Constantinople, but on arrival at Baku I learnt that the damage done to the railway between Tiflis and Batoum by a storm of unprecedented fury and unusually heavy floods was so extended and bad as to stop all traffic for a long time. I went to Oujari, a station one hundred and sixty miles from Baku, where I was hospitably entertained by Mr. Andrew Urquhart, a Scotch gentleman, established there with a factory and hydraulic presses for the liquorice-root industry, and from there I entered into telegraphic communication with Tiflis to ascertain if I could get a carriage to Vladikavkas, so as to join the railway and proceed home through Russia. There was such a number of passengers detained at Tiflis, en route to Batoum, and all anxious to go to Vladikavkas by road, that I found I should have to wait long for my turn. Accordingly, after six days' stay with my hospitable friend, I went back to Baku and took steamer to Petrovsk, whence I travelled by rail to Moscow and St. Petersburg on my way to England via Berlin.
A great petroleum field is now being developed near Grosnoje, a station on the Petrovsk Vladikavkas railway, north of the main Caucasus range; and an English company has had the good fortune, after venturing much, to find the fountain for which they and others have long looked. After carrying on 'sounding' operations for some time, and sinking several wells, oil was at length 'struck' towards the end of August at a depth of three hundred and fifty feet, and it came up with such force as to reach a height of five hundred feet above ground. The well was on a hillside, and the valley below had been dammed up previously to form a reservoir capable of holding a large supply of oil. But such was the flow from the fountain, that after a few days it rose above the dam, and, although every effort was made to raise and strengthen it, the oil overflowed, and the top of the dyke was carried away. Millions of gallons were lost, though on its course down the valley the oil completely filled another reservoir, which had been prepared for the oil of a rival company, but which never came from their own wells. Eventually the main flow of oil found its own level in a low-lying piece of ground, about four miles below the broken dam.
As the fountain continued to flow with almost undiminished vigour, the Governor of Grosnoje began to be alarmed at the damage which was being done by this deluge of oil, and he therefore placed four hundred soldiers at the disposal of the English engineer in charge, and by their organized labour he was able to repair the dam, so that the flow of oil was checked. A friend, from whom I received this account, visited the place on November 27, and saw the fountain still playing to a height of twenty feet, and also the lake of oil which had been formed. The lake was about three hundred and fifty yards long, one hundred and twenty yards wide, and from fifty to sixty feet deep. The fountain was still playing on January 10, but it shortly afterwards ceased to flow. The same company had another stroke of luck in again 'striking oil' last month at another spot, some little distance from the original fountain, while, strange to say, none of the other companies engaged in prospecting for oil there have as yet succeeded in getting so much as a gallon. All this flow of fortune to the one firm reads very like the luck of Gilead Beck in the 'Golden Butterfly.'
Mr. Stevens, H.B.M.'s Consul for the consular district of Batoum, shows in his report for 1894 that the demand for naphtha fuel is increasing in Russia at such a rate, owing to it being more and more widely adopted for railways, steamers, factories, and other undertakings using steam-power, that the time appears by no means far distant when the Russian home market may be in a position to consume in the shape of fuel almost the entire output of the wells of the Caspian, and he adds that probably the supply will even be insufficient to meet the demand. With all this in view, the value of the Grosnoje wells, situated as they are on the main line of railway through the heart of Russia, is likely to prove very great.
I landed in a heavy snowstorm at Petrovsk on November 30, and found the whole country under its winter sheet. Since October 1 all railway fares and charges in Russia have been greatly reduced, and the policy now appears to be to encourage travelling and traffic, which must result in a general improvement of the minds and condition of the people.
Railway travelling in Russia is now much cheaper than in any other country; a through first-class ticket from the Caspian to St. Petersburg, seventeen hundred miles, is but L4 10s., and the other classes are low in proportion. The carriages are comfortable, and the refreshment-rooms excellent.
With accurate information as to the sailings from Petrovsk to Baku and Enzelli, one can now go from London to Tehran in fourteen days. This, of course, means steady travelling, frequent changes, a saddle-seat for about one hundred miles (which can now be reduced to seventy-five), and some previous experience of rough life, so as to reconcile the traveller to the poor accommodation afforded in a Persian post-house. But the Russian road, now under construction, will soon change the rough ride into a fairly comfortable carriage-drive, with well-provided post-houses for food and rest.
THE SITUATION IN PERSIA (1896).
—Shrine of Shah Abdul Azim —Death of Nasr-ed-Din Shah —Jemal-ed-Din in Tehran —Shiahs and Sunnis —Islam in Persia.
The famous shrine and sanctuary of Shah Abdul Azim, about five miles from Tehran, is a very popular place of pilgrimage with the inhabitants of the town, and its close neighbourhood to the crowded capital makes it a great holiday, as well as religious, resort. This shrine has been specially favoured by many sovereigns, and particularly by those of the present dynasty. On the Mohammedan special weekly day of prayer and mosque services, Friday, called Juma, or the day of the congregation, Shah Abdul Azim is visited by great numbers of people.
On Friday, May 1, this sanctuary was the scene of one of the saddest events which has ever happened in Persia—the murder within its sacred precincts of Nasr-ed-Din Shah, a monarch who was about to celebrate the jubilee of a reign which will always be remembered, not only for its remarkable length, but also for its peaceful character and general popularity. The proof of this popularity is that Nasr-ed-Din Shah was able to leave his country on three occasions for visits to Europe, and returned each time to receive a welcome from his subjects. This in itself is unprecedented in Eastern history.
I little thought when I had the honour of conversing with him in October last that it was possible that a King so admired and loved by his people, and then looking forward with pride and pleasure to the celebration of his approaching jubilee, should perish in their midst by the hand of an assassin within five days of the event.
Passing over what in the early years of his reign, through the exigencies of the times and the pitfalls of intrigue, led to the shedding of blood, we see in his later years a reluctance to inflict capital or severe punishment which almost amounted to a serious fault. I remember an instance of this in the case of a notorious highway robber, guilty of many murders, who was spared so long, that it was only on the bad effect of leniency becoming prominently dangerous to traders and travellers that the extreme penalty was sanctioned. I have already mentioned how the people had learnt to put their trust in the late Shah's desire to protect them against oppressive government in the provinces, and how he had made himself popular with the military and nomad tribes. The crime which has caused his death will undoubtedly be regarded as sacrilege, both with reference to the life which was taken and the sanctuary which it violated. And the abhorrence of the crime will strengthen what it was intended to end or weaken, viz., the influence and power of the Kajar dynasty. With the impressionable Persians there will be but one feeling, of shuddering horror that such a thing could be done by one of their own faith, who was a subject of their Sovereign.
A criminal of the deepest dye can abide with perfect impunity in the Mohammedan sanctuary, and the tranquillity of this sacred safety, we are told, brings reflection and repentance to work the redemption of many from evil ways. Thus we can understand how horror-struck the nation must be at the thought of the Shah being mortally wounded while in the pious act of kneeling in reverence on passing the chain which marks the actual line where the 'bast' or sanctuary begins.
The murder is said to have been prompted by the well-known agitator, Jemal-ed-Din, who, though called an Afghan, is really a native of Hamadan, in Western Persia; but having travelled and resided a short time in Afghanistan, the term 'Afghani' was added to his name. He was well known in Tehran in 1891 for his vehement and violent public speaking against all Western innovations. I have seen it stated that it was owing to him the tobacco monopoly was withdrawn, as he had roused the Moullas throughout Persia, and wellnigh brought about a revolution. Jemal-ed-Din no doubt took a strong part at Tehran in the agitation, but he was in no way such a prominent leader of it as has been represented. The sudden introduction of systematic labour and Excise regulations under foreign direction, by which it was said a few depots were to displace the numerous retail shops and stalls, at once created a hostile army of unemployed small owners of hereditary businesses, who worked on the fears and feelings of the mass of the people. The Moullas and guild-masters then took the lead, and brought about the cancelment of the concession. All this I have previously described. It suited well the nature of a stormy petrel like Jemal-ed-Din to find himself in Tehran at that time, and he became an inflammatory public orator of the hottest kind. At first he confined himself to speaking against the tobacco monopoly and all European enterprise, and on his violent speeches being made the subject of some remonstrance, the Shah said that the Persians had long enjoyed great liberty of speech, and with them words generally took the place of deeds. But this freedom was misunderstood by Jemal, who gradually grew bolder, until his revolutionary utterances went beyond all endurance. He scarcely veiled his contempt for the Crown, and his opinion that all should combine to rid Persia of the rule of the Shah and the continuance of the Kajar dynasty. He was warned, but would not listen to reason; he was then arrested, and informed of the decision to deport him from Persia. On the day of his departure from Tehran under escort, he managed to make his escape, and took sanctuary in the same shrine of Shah Abdul Azim where the Shah was mortally wounded on May 1 by his follower, Mirza Mohamed Reza. Jemal opened negotiations with the Government from his asylum, and was finally persuaded to leave Persia quietly. It was said that he received generous treatment in the matter of his leaving, but I am aware that he stated he had cause for complaint on this head. We must bear in mind, however, that he was a hot hater of the Shah, and a thorough 'irreconcilable.' On quitting Persia he went to Constantinople, where he appeared to be allowed such free expression of disrespect to his Sovereign that the Shah addressed a remonstrance to the Sultan, who stated in reply that Jemal was leaving for some remote place to employ himself in literary work.
As a native of Hamadan, Jemal-ed-Din is a Persian subject; he is also of the Shiah faith, though it is believed that, in order to make things easy for himself, he passes as a Sunni where the State religion is of that creed. He was well received by the Shah on his visit to Tehran in 1890 as a man of learning and letters, and it is said that he accepted and enjoyed his hospitality. This, however, did not prevent him plotting against his royal host, and doing his utmost to compass the downfall of the Kajar dynasty. He probably saw clearly during his stay in Persia then that the Shah's authority rested too strongly in the minds of the people, by reason of his long and peaceful reign and mild rule, to give any hope of a successful revolution during his lifetime. And it may have been in this connection that recourse was had to assassination.
Jemal-ed-Din is credited among Orientals with a powerful energy and will in working on the enthusiasm of others, and establishing a moral despotism over them. His disciple, Mohamed Reza, appears to have resembled his teacher in reckless disregard of kindness, and determination to render evil for good. In him a willing hand was apparently found to carry out the first part of Jemal-ed-Din's programme for the reformation of Persia, but the possibility of madness in the act of murder was not foreseen. For the horror of the crime has been so intensified from being committed in the holy shrine of the sainted Shah Abdul Azim, that its object must be defeated in the most complete manner, and the reaction will result in stronger attachment to the throne of the Kajars.
Jemal-ed-Din held a brief for the union of Sunni and Shiah, an idea which from time to time has found favour with some advanced leaders of the former faith. He spoke of the gain to Islam in sinking their religious differences, and joining to form one Church and one creed. He was said to be very earnest on this point, and he succeeded in planting his opinions in Persia, as shown by the subject being still occasionally discussed. But the idea is entirely of foreign growth, and is generally introduced by enthusiasts like Jemal-ed-Din, who have exchanged their Persian national pride of Church and State for the ambition to see Islam ruling as one power from Constantinople to Pekin. These visionaries fail to see what thoughtful Persian politicians and Churchmen know well, that the Shiah schism has preserved Persia as a nation, for without it the incentive to popular cohesion would long ago have ceased.
The annual Passion-play to commemorate the murder and martyrdom of the progeny of Ali, and the solemn fast-days when their assassins are cursed and reviled, which are observed all over Persia, serve to keep alive their patriotism and pride of independence, for with the Persians, religion and patriotism are synonymous terms. There is probably no country where Church and State are more closely and fortunately bound together than Persia. Had the sovereignty not been Shiah, it would long ago have disappeared between its Sunni neighbours. With them the persecution of the 'accursed Rafizi,' as they speak of the sect, is the exercise of a holy duty, and their enslavement by Sunnis is a meritorious act, giving the heretics an opportunity of benefiting by example, and of rescue from perdition by conversion to the orthodox faith. Thus it was that the Hazaras and Shiah inhabitants of the small principalities on the head-waters of the Oxus were sold into Sunni slavery, and the purchase of the Shiah Circassians in the Turkish markets was justified on the same grounds. The bitter experience of ages has taught all Shiahs that, once helplessly at the mercy of the Sunnis, there must be absolute submission on all points. This conviction has buried itself deep in the minds of the Persian people, and they now and then are painfully reminded of the savage readiness of their Sunni neighbours to emphasize the fact.
In 1892 a bazaar quarrel in Herat between Sunni and Shiah traders grew to a disturbance, and culminated in some of the latter, Persian subjects, being slain and their goods plundered, the Moullas solemnly pronouncing their judgment that it was 'lawful' for Sunnis to take the lives as well as the property of the heretical Shiahs. The Shah, on the representation of the Meshed religious authorities, addressed a remonstrance to the Amir Abdul Rahman Khan, who, being a strong and wise ruler, made reparation. The religious antagonism is very bitter in Afghanistan, and were it not for the warlike character and good fighting qualities of the Shiah Kizzilbash tribe at Kabul, their presence at the capital would not be tolerated by the bigoted Moullas. The common danger makes the Kizzilbashes a united band and dangerous foe, and arms them to be always ready to fight for their lives. They have become a power which it is the policy of the rulers to conciliate, and thus secure their support. But notwithstanding this, the fanatical hatred of the orthodox Sunni, as representing both Church and State, cannot be suppressed. I was with General Sir William Mansfield (the late Lord Sandhurst) when he, being Commander-in-Chief in India, had a conversation with the Amir Sher Ali of Kabul on general subjects, in the course of which the Amir, in rather a captious manner, made some sharp remarks on what he called the hostile differences in the Christian Church; Sir William rejoined by referring to the great division in Islam between Sunni and Shiah, and asked if there were many of the latter faith at Kabul. A look of displeasure passed over Sher Ali's face as, half turning towards his people who stood behind him, he said, in a severe tone, 'Yes, there are a few of the dogs there, sons of burnt fathers.'
The mutual hatred ever existing with Sunni and Shiah has always worked against very cordial relations between Turkey and Persia, and once certainly, in the sixteenth century, the fear of Persia, then actively hostile on the south-eastern border, benefited Austria and Russia by deterring the Turkish Power, in the days of its triumph and strength, from extended aggressive operations north and west of Constantinople. Accordingly, the reconciliation of Sunni and Shiah has long been a cardinal point of policy with the Porte. While it appears that Austria thus benefited in an indirect manner through Turkey's fear of Persia, it is an interesting coincidence that, from the time the latter extended her diplomatic relations beyond those with Russia and England, which, for a considerable period, were the only Western Powers represented at the Shah's Court, Austria has held a prominently friendly position in Persia. Austrian officers have long been employed in her army, and the fact of the Emperor Francis Joseph and the late Shah Nasr-ed-Din having ascended their thrones within three months of each other in the same year (1848) was regarded by the latter as an association with himself of the highest honour and amity. And this brings to my recollection a matter connected with the Austrian Legation at Tehran which occurred after the deportation of Jemal-ed-Din in 1891. Mohamed Reza, the murderer of the late Shah, remained in Tehran, and continued the treasonable practices which had been originated by Jemal, even to the extent of disseminating his revolutionary opinions by means of printed papers.
The press used for printing was a lithographic one, and one of the Mirzas employed by the Austrian Legation having been drawn into Jemal's secret society, he was induced to set it up in his own house. The usual informer accomplice was found, or offered himself, for the purpose of betraying his brethren, and the police became so keen on capture that oblivious of the privilege enjoyed by the employe of a foreign Legation, they entered the Mirza's house and arrested him in the act of printing treasonable papers from the lithographic press. The Mirza was carried off to prison before the Minister knew of the occurrence, but, on being informed, he promptly made a strong remonstrance against the violation of international privilege. The fullest satisfaction was at once given; the Chief of Police called and apologized, and the prisoner was released and sent to the Legation.
The Minister conducted his own inquiry, and on undeniable proof of the truth of what was alleged, he dismissed the Mirza from his post, and the Persian authorities were then free to arrest him. The Mirza was kept a prisoner for some time, and was eventually released with Mohamed Reza and his companions. The Tehran telegram of May 4 tells us that Mohamed Reza continued his old course of public hostility to the Government, and was again imprisoned, but once more obtained his release, and was granted a pension by the Shah, notwithstanding which he remained discontented, as the 'black-mailer' generally does, greed suggesting that the price paid for silence is inadequate. This lenient treatment of the conspirators was quite characteristic of the later disposition of Nasr-ed-Din Shah, and his averseness to judicial severity.
From what is now known regarding the Mohammedan revival and Church union contemplated by Jemal-ed-Din, it is obvious that the idea of any connection between Babism and the crime at Shah Abdul Azim is out of the question, for the Babis of Persia and Jemal-ed-Din's followers have little or nothing in common. I have already told how the former are averse to violent measures, practise no public preaching, and suffer in silence, while the latter we know shout aloud and try to terrorize.
When Nadir Shah accepted the throne, he insisted on the abandonment of the Shiah schism and reunion with the Sunni faith, and he went to extreme lengths in suppressing the unwillingness of the clergy to accept the arbitrary decree which he issued in proclaiming his mandate. His attempt to bridge the great gulf between the hostile creeds entirely failed, and the Persians remained Shiahs. Freedom of thought and liberty of speech are national characteristics and privileges, and with minds never thoroughly subjected to severe Church discipline, the people have been ever ready to indulge in free criticisms on religious and other matters. They had no desire to study a new religion, even at the command of their King, and, judging that any change would be irksome, they sided with the Moullas, and without display refused to be Sunnis. Nadir's devotion to ambition was greater than his love of religion, and his object in trying to drive all into one creed was to remove the obstacles to the progress of his Imperial power among the Sunnis of India, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Asia Minor. On issuing his mandate to form the Shiahs into a new branch of the true faith, he intimated to the Emperor of Constantinople his high aim at general concord among Mohammedans.
Islam, as it was forced on Persia, was the faith of foreign conquerors and oppressors, so it never has had the same considerable influence on the people as elsewhere. This, taken with their habits of freedom of thought and love of romance and poetry, inclined them to champion the Shiah schism, which, on the fall of the Arab power, they adopted for their National Church. I refer to this in connection with what is now reported of Jemal-ed-Din's relations with the chiefs of the State Church party at Constantinople, for in his preachings in Persia there were clear signs of movement towards a great Mohammedan revival, which was to restore Islam to its old dominant position in the world.
THE SITUATION IN PERSIA (1896).
—The Shah Mozuffer-ed-Din —His previous position at Tabriz —Character and disposition —His sons —Accession to the throne —Previous accessions in the Kajar Dynasty —Regalia and crown jewels —Position of the late Shah's two sons, Zil-es-Sultan and Naib-es-Sultaneh —The Sadr Azem (Grand Vazir) —Prompt action on the death of the late Shah.
Among the great families of Tartary from whom the chiefs of the royal Kajar tribe claim descent, much importance has always been given to the birth of the mother of a candidate for high position. Therefore, in the choice of an heir to the throne, Persia, as now represented by the Kajar dynasty, looks to the claims of the mother as well as the father, and requires royal birth on both sides. For this reason Mozuffer-ed-Din Mirza, the second son of the late Shah, his mother being a Kajar Princess, was preferred to the first-born, Sultan Masud Mirza, known as the Zil-es-Sultan. It has been customary with the Kajars to have the Vali Ahd, or Heir-apparent, at a distance from the capital, and for him to be nominal Governor-General of Azerbaijan, the richest and most important province of Persia. Its capital is Tabriz, a town of considerable commercial prosperity, through its Russian and other foreign trade connections. The mother of Mozuffer-ed-Din Mirza maintained a dignified position of high influence at the Court of the late Shah until her death, which took place at Tehran in May, 1892. During the intrigues and disquieting rumours which at one time prevailed, the strong influence of the mother of Mozuffer-ed-Din Mirza was always present to watch over his interests in the Shah's palace, and when she died his friends feared that he had lost his only good protector. But the Sadr Azem, then known as the Amin-es-Sultan, rightly interpreting the true feelings of the royal father and the people, promptly filled the vacancy himself, and has now led the nation to act as executors of the will of the departed Shah in securing the peaceful succession of the heir whom he appointed.
There has been much speculation regarding the character, abilities, and disposition of Mozuffer-ed-Din Shah. I think the general opinion formed of him by those who have had opportunity of judging is favourable. He is of kindly disposition, and has pleasing manners, and though prudence has demanded that as Heir-apparent he should not take a very active part in public affairs, yet there have been occasions on which he showed himself to be a capable ruler. His position made it absolutely necessary that he should avoid all appearance of impatience of subjection to the Central Government, and he showed considerable tact in never giving cause for suspicion on this point. He was most successful in keeping clear of everything that could offend the susceptibilities of his royal father, and was always regarded as a dutiful son and a loyal subject. His was a most difficult position to fill, and the fact that he filled it to the satisfaction of the Shah proves that he possesses the qualities of prudence, patience, and good judgment.
Mozuffer-ed-Din Mirza had with him for a long time as Kaimakam, or Vazir, the well-known Amir-i-Nizam, who was virtually Governor-General of Azerbaijan, for the Shah held him personally responsible for the administration of the province. He was a man of strong character, and had great influence in Azerbaijan. His wealth also added to his importance, and it was not surprising, perhaps, that he considered himself qualified to hold independent opinions. The active resistance to the tobacco monopoly was first shown in Tabriz, and he was said to have encouraged opposition to the wishes of the Central Government. In consequence of this the Shah summoned him to Tehran in the end of 1891, and early in 1892 appointed him to be Governor-General of Kurdistan and Kermanshah, a post which he still holds. On this change taking place, Mozuffer-ed-Din was directed to assume responsible charge of the Northern province, and has continued to exercise it till now. The Amir-i-Nizam was succeeded as Kaimakam by Haji Mirza Abdul Rahim, who was formerly Persian Minister at St. Petersburg, and as his predecessor had been Minister at Paris for some years, the European experiences of these able Vazirs no doubt aided the further education of the Vali Ahd. The association of enlightened companions and Ministers gave him opportunities of gaining knowledge which not only informed him on matters of public importance and general interest, but was also calculated to prepare him for the position of Sovereign. It has been said of him that he is entirely Russian in his inclinations, and considering his long residence at Tabriz, within view, as it were, of the great power of Russia's vast empire, it would be strange if he had not been strongly impressed with the vital necessity of securing the goodwill of the Czar, and we may feel certain that the advice and opinions of the two Vazirs I have mentioned were to this effect. But it does not follow that Mozuffer-ed-Din Shah's mind is wholly bent in that one direction. Judging from the present as well as the past, he knows well he can believe in England's sincere desire to preserve the same friendly relations with him as existed with his father, and that she wishes to see Persia strong, prosperous, and independent.
While the Amir-i-Nizam was at Tabriz, his energetic management left nothing for the Prince to do, and as, moreover, a policy of caution debarred him from taking a very active part in public affairs, he occupied himself chiefly with the simple amusements of a country gentleman. He was greatly interested in his horse-breeding farms established on the fine pasturelands of Maragha, near Lake Urumia, and made frequent visits there. He is a good horseman and a keen sportsman with gun, rifle, and falcon, just as his father was, and his love of life in the open brought him much in contact with the people in a manner that developed the good-nature for which he is known. He possesses in a large measure the pleasing characteristics of a nomad chief, and on the departure of the Amir-i-Nizam, his personal qualities, added to the sympathetic exercise of his duties, made his rule popular.
While his prominent brothers have benefited pecuniarily to a considerable extent by the positions which they hold, the Vali Ahd was content to maintain a miniature Court on a modest scale, keeping up his dignity in a fitting manner, and showing no desire to amass money. The people were aware of this, and respected him for not taking advantage of his opportunities to enrich himself as others might have done. More than once lately mention has been made in the papers of the large fortune which the Zil-es-Sultan is said to have acquired at Isfahan, and invested in foreign securities.
Mention may here be made of the first two sons of Mozuffer-ed-Din Shah. The elder is Mohamed Ali Mirza, twenty-four years of age, whose mother is a daughter of Mirza Taki Khan, Amir-el-Kebir and his wife, who was the favourite sister of the late Shah. The second is Malik Mansur, about fifteen years of age, whose mother is a daughter of Ismail Mirza, a Prince of the reigning Kajar family. The latter is spoken of as an engaging and bright-looking youth, and is generally believed to be the favourite son. The other sons are not much known nor mentioned as yet, but it may be said that the succession in the direct line appears to be well assured.
Naturally the health of the Heir-apparent was a matter of great consequence to himself, in the first place in view of his future, and secondly to those who desired to see the nomination to the succession undisturbed, for change would have produced great uncertainty and unrest throughout the country. When I visited Tabriz in the end of 1892, there were three physicians attached to the Vali Ahd's Court. One was the Hakim Bashi, Mirza Mahmud Khan, a Persian of superior education and professional training, who was in constant attendance on the Prince, and with him were associated the English Dr. Adcock (who had then been four years in Tabriz, and is still with Mozuffer-ed-Din Shah), and an Italian doctor, S. Castaldi, brother of the wife of the Russian Consul-General, regarding whom I have no late information.
The succession of Mozuffer-ed-Din Shah so far has been peaceful, notwithstanding the fears of many that opposition would appear in the South. This is the first time with the present dynasty that on the death of the Shah the Vali Ahd has found no rival in his path. Curzon stated very decidedly in his important work on Persia that a contest for the throne was most improbable, and his forecast has proved correct. Mozuffer-ed-Din Shah is the fifth Sovereign of the Kajar dynasty, which was founded by Agha Mohamed Shah, and I may here remark that the reign of the late Shah was just within one year of completing a century of royal rule shared by only three successive sovereigns of this line, a notable fact in an Oriental kingdom.
Fateh Ali Shah succeeded to the throne in 1797, having been appointed Vali Ahd by his uncle, Agha Mohamed Shah, who had no family of his own. He was the son of Hussein Kuli Khan (full brother of the Shah), Governor-General at Shiraz, and he was there with his father when called to the throne at Tehran. On the death of Agha Mohamed Shah in camp with his army on the Northern frontier, General Sadik Khan, chief of the Shekaki tribe in Azerbaijan, seized the opportunity to gain possession of the Crown jewels and treasure, and quitted the camp with his men; but the rest of the troops marched at the command of the strong Prime Minister Haji Ibrahim, to the capital, which by his orders was held by the Kajar chief, Mirza Mohamed Khan, for the legitimate heir of the Shah. Two competitors for the Crown appeared in the South, in the persons of Fateh Ali Shah's own father, and a son of Zaki Khan Zend; but both, as well as the Shekaki chief who advanced similar claims in the North, and Nadir Mirza, grandson of the great Nadir Shah, who had entered Khorasan from Afghanistan, and raised the standard of revolt, were soon defeated and driven into submission. The Shakaki chief was able from his possession of the Crown jewels and treasure to make terms for pardon and preferment; but he afterwards broke his oath of allegiance, and rebelled. He was captured and confined in a dungeon, where his life soon ceased.
Fateh Ali Shah died in 1834, and was succeeded by his grandson, Mohamed Shah, son of the capable Abbas Mirza, who predeceased his father. He was at Tabriz, holding the post of nominal Governor-General of Azerbaijan, which was the customary position assigned to the Vali Abd, when his grandfather died, and I have in a previous chapter told of the part taken by British officers in defeating the Pretenders, who attempted to dispute his right to the throne. These Pretenders were his uncles Ali Mirza, the Zil-es-Sultan, and Hussein Ali Mirza, Governor-General at Shiraz, each of whom proclaimed himself King. Fateh Ali Shah died at Isfahan while on his way to Shiraz to compel the obedience of his son Hussein Ali Mirza, who in expectation of his father's death from age and infirmity had decided to withhold payment of revenue to the Crown. The rebellious son advanced with an army, and took possession of the jewels and treasure which his father had brought with him; and his brother, the Zil-es-Sultan, seized what had been left at Tehran, but Mohamed Shah afterwards regained possession of the whole.
Nasr-ed-Din, son and heir-apparent of Mohamed Shah, was present at his post of Governor-General of Azerbaijan when his father died in Tehran, and there was an interval of disturbance for the six or seven weeks which passed between the death of the one King and the coronation of the other. During this period revolution prevailed in the towns, and robbery and violence in the country. The son of Ali Mirza, the Zil-es-Sultan, the Prince-Governor of Tehran, who had disputed the succession of Mohamed Shah, issued forth from his retirement in Kasvin to contest the Crown with his cousin; but the attempt came to an inglorious end. A revolt at Meshed with a similar object also failed, and then Mirza Taki Khan, Amir-i-Nizam, proceeded successfully to consolidate the power of Nasr-ed-Din Shah, whose long reign, and on the whole good rule, have so accustomed the people to peace that the old ways of revolution and revolt on the death of a Shah have been forgotten and changed.
The regalia and Crown jewels of Persia mentioned in these changes of royal rule have, by inexplicable good fortune, been preserved from plunder while in the hands of rebels. The Crown jewels are in great part a portion of the splendid spoil which Nadir Shah obtained in the sack of Delhi, when it was the capital of the richest empire in the East. On his assassination near Meshed, the treasury was seized by the troops, and while a considerable share, including the famous Koh-i-Nur diamond, which now adorns the English crown, fell to the Afghans with Nadir's army, the greater part, with the Koh-i-Nur companion diamond, known as the Darya-i-Nur (Sea of Light), was secured by Persian soldiers, who hid it all away in Khorasan and the adjoining districts.
When Agha Mohamed Shah found leisure from his wars and work of firmly establishing his authority, he turned his attention to the recovery of Nadirs jewels, and proceeded to Meshed, where, by means of cunning and cruelty, he succeeded in wresting from the plunderers of Nadir's camp, and others, the rare collection of gems and ornaments now in the royal treasury at Tehran. The value of the collection is believed to be very great.
The singular preservation of the regalia and Crown jewels of Persia from plunder while they were in the hands of rebels after the death of Agha Mohamed Shah, and again on the death of Fatch Ali Shah, is most remarkable. A superstitious feeling of fear and respect appears to have kept them from being lost from the Crown, or it may be that, on the principle of 'safety in numbers,' every one, with a prospective share of the plunder in view, was a check on his neighbour against theft of that which they thought belonged to all.
Sultan Masud Mirza, better known as the Zil-es-Sultan, the eldest son of the late Shah, has generally been regarded as likely to challenge the right of his younger brother to the throne. His ambition and overweening self-confidence combined to make him imprudent in permitting his partisans to speak aloud of his superior qualifications as a successor to his father. The late Shah's considerate treatment of him on all occasions also led him to make ill-judged requests for such extended rule in the South that his father said Persia was not large enough for two Shahs. I think his idea of a viceroyalty in the South came from foolish vanity, and not from any serious thought of semi-independence, as some who heard him speak on this subject supposed.
His father always wrote to him as 'my well-beloved first-born,' and up to 1888 he allowed him great power and freedom of action. He was fond of 'playing at soldiers,' and he went to work at this amusement with such energy and will that he formed a numerous and very efficient army under well-trained officers, too good, the Shah thought, to be quite safe. Nasr-ed-Din sent an officer whom he could trust to Isfahan to bring back a true report on the army there; and such was the Zil's self-assurance, that he went out of his way to show him everything, and to make the most of his force.
The Shah, on learning all, became jealous or suspicious, and ordered the reduction of the troops to the moderate limits really required for provincial purposes. As affairs then stood, the Zil, with his well-appointed army, was master of the situation, but he was constrained to submit. He singled out the Amin-es-Sultan (now the Sadr Azem) as his enemy at Court, and regarded him as the strong adviser who influenced the Shah. His relations with Tehran then became so strained that the Shah summoned him to his presence to have his wishes clearly explained to him. The meeting of father and son did not tend to smooth matters, and the latter, allowing his temper to carry him to extreme lengths, tendered his resignation of the various governments he held, asking only to retain the governorship of Isfahan. His request was granted, and from that time he made no secret of his enmity to the Prime Minister.
Two or three years later the Shah restored to him some of the provinces which he had resigned in 1888, and this enabled, him to carry out more successfully the task which he had set himself, viz., that of amassing money, after his army was broken up. The warlike Bakhtiari tribe form the most important part of the military strength under the nominal command of the Zil-es-Sultan, but he alienated them entirely by his cruel and treacherous murder of their popular chief, Hussein Kuli Khan, in 1882, and the long imprisonment of his son, the equally popular Isfendiar Khan. Now that he has promised allegiance to his brother, Mozuffer-ed-Din Shah, we may regard the peace of the South as assured.
The Naib-es-Sultaneh, Kamran Mirza, as Minister of War, Commander-in-Chief, and Governor of Tehran, who was in constant attendance on his father, was also regarded by foolish partisans as a likely successor to the throne, but he himself never entertained the idea. His position as head of the army gives him no real power—in fact, it rather takes from his influence as Governor of Tehran; for the soldiers look upon him as a costly appendage, for whose pleasures and palaces their pay is clipped.
There is really no standing army, in Persia as we understand such, except the royal guard and the weak Persian Cossack brigade at Tehran. The artillery and infantry which do all the garrison work are militia regiments, embodied for two years at a time. The conditions are one year's service to two years' leave, and that they serve under their own local chiefs and officers. The administration of regiments is given to Ministers, high officials, and others for purposes of emolument or distinction, as the case may be. This system gives the influence over the troops to those who deal with their pay, and not to the Commander-in-Chief, who is regarded merely as the keeper of the great gate through which the pay passes after toll is taken. The Naib-es-Sultaneh, equally with his brother, the Zil-es-Sultan, appears to have a great dislike to the Prime Minister, whose loyalty to the Sovereign and his heir could not fail to create strong jealousy in high places.
I shall now finish with a few remarks on the able and sagacious Sadr Azem, the Prime Minister, who, by his strong character, resolute will, and prompt action, has proved his loyalty to the Crown and his fidelity to the Shah. He became Prime Minister at an unusually early age for such a high position, and this preferment drew upon him the jealousy and envy of many in such a manner as often to cause him great embarrassment. There can be no doubt of his conspicuous energy and talent. His pleasing manner and happy disposition attract adherents and gain for him their best services. In addition to his personal qualities, he has an astonishing knowledge of public affairs, which makes him a most valuable Minister. With the people he is deservedly popular, for not only is he liberal and kind, but he understands their feelings and can interpret their minds.
He was beside Nasr-ed-Din Shah in the shrine of Shah Abdul Azim when the assassination took place, and at once brought his Majesty back to the palace in Tehran. This happened about two o'clock in the afternoon, and the Shah breathed his last within four hours afterwards. It appears that the Sadr Azem immediately grasped the situation, and put himself in telegraphic communication with the Vali Ahd at Tabriz, four hundred miles distant. He then summoned all the Ministers, State officials, military commanders, and the most influential people of the city, to the palace, and announced the death of the Shah. Under his able guidance, the prompt recognition of Mozuffer-ed-Din Mirza as Shah, in accordance with the will of his father, was effected.
The English and Russian Legations, as representing the two strongest and chiefly interested European Powers, were immediately informed, and the Minister of the former, and the Charge d'Affaires of the latter, were invited to the palace. On their arrival, the Sadr Azem wired to the Vali Ahd in their presence the allegiance of the whole party who were there assembled. This was done about four or five hours after the death of Nasr-ed-Din Shah, and the following morning, in consequence of this decisive action, Mozuffer-ed-Din was publicly proclaimed Shah of Persia.
Thus the electric telegraph, which Nasr-ed-Din Shah introduced into Persia, has been the means of helping most materially to save the country from the uncertainty which has hitherto always produced revolution and civil war in the interval between the death of one Shah and the accession of his successor.