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Importing Modernity: European Military Missions to Qajar Iran

  • Stephanie Cronin (a1)

In the first decades of the nineteenth century, when the Middle East and North Africa first began to attract the sustained attention of European imperialism and colonialism, Arab, Ottoman Turkish, and Iranian polities began a protracted experiment with army modernization. These decades saw a mania in the Middle East for the import of European methods of military organization and techniques of warfare. Everywhere, in the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, Egypt, and Iran, nizam-i jadid (new order) regiments sprang up, sometimes on the ruins of older military formations, sometimes alongside them, unleashing a process of military-led modernization that was to characterize state-building projects throughout the region until well into the twentieth century. The ruling dynasties in these regions embarked on army reform in a desperate effort to strengthen their defensive capacity, and to resist growing European hegemony and direct or indirect control by imitating European methods of military organization and warfare. Almost every indigenous ruler who succeeded in evading or warding off direct European control, from the sultans of pre-Protectorate Morocco in the west to the shahs of the Qajar dynasty in Iran in the east, invited European officers, sometimes as individuals, sometimes as formal missions, to assist with building a modern army. With the help of these officers, Middle Eastern rulers thus sought to appropriate the secrets of European power.

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1 Where countries fell under direct European control, the process of military modernization and state-building took place within a totally different configuration.

2 Although the role of military reform in generating a dynamic for a wider state-building agenda has long been acknowledged, studies of the new armies of the nineteenth-century Middle East and North Africa are few. Among the most important are Stanford Shaw J., “The Origins of Ottoman Military Reform: The Nizam-i Cedid Army of Sultan Selim III,” Journal of Modern History 37, 3 (1965): 291305; Brown L. Carl, The Tunisia of Ahmed Bey (Princeton, 1974); Yapp M. E., “The Modernization of Middle Eastern Armies in the Nineteenth Century: A Comparative View,” in, Yapp M. E. and Parry V. J., eds., War, Technology and Society in the Middle East (London, 1975); Rollman Wilfrid J., “The ‘New Order’ in a Pre-Colonial Muslim Society: Military Reform in Morocco, 1844–1904,” Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1983; Fahmy Khaled, All the Pasha's Men: Mehmed Ali, His Army and the Making of Modern Egypt (Cambridge, 1997). Recent attention has turned from the reforming westernizing elites to military modernization as experienced “from below.” See Fahmy, All the Pasha's Men; Zürcher Erik J., ed., Arming the State: Military Conscription in the Middle East and Central Asia (London and New York, 1999); Moreau Odile and el Moudden Abderrahmane, eds., “Réforme par le haut, réforme par le bas: La modernisation de L'armée aux 19e et 20e siècles,” Quaderni di Oriente Moderno (special issue) (Rome, 2004). Surprisingly, in the light of the amount of material, memoirs, and diplomatic correspondence they generated, the European missions have attracted little interest. Two articles look at the German missions to the Ottoman Empire: Trumpener Ulrich, “Liman von Sanders and the German-Ottoman Alliance,” Journal of Contemporary History 1, 4 (Oct. 1966): 179–92; and Swanson Glen W., “War, Technology and Society in the Ottoman Empire from the Reign of Abdülhamid II to 1913: Mahmud Şevket and the German Military Mission,” in, Yapp M. E. and V. J. Parry , eds., War, Technology and Society in the Middle East (London, 1975), 366–85. Pre-colonial Morocco is the subject of Khalid Ben Srhir's “Britain and Military Reforms in Morocco during the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century,” in, Odile Moreau and Abderrahmane el Moudden, eds., “Réforme par le haut, réforme par le bas: La modernisation de L'armée aux 19e et 20e siècles,” Quaderni di Oriente Moderno (special issue) (Rome, 2004): 85–109. Morocco's interesting experiment with an Ottoman mission is dealt with by el Moudden Abderrahmane, “Looking Eastward: Some Moroccan Tentative Military Reforms with Turkish Assistance (18th–early 20th Centuries),” Maghreb Review 19, 3–4 (1994): 237–45. Iran has suffered a particular lack of scholarly interest in this topic. There is no comprehensive study of the military or military reform in nineteenth-century Iran. For an overview, see Calmard J., “Les Réformes Militaires sous les Qajars (1795–1925),” in, Richard Y., ed., Entre l'Iran et l'Occident (Paris, 1989), 1742. A small number of older Persian works also provide surveys. See Qa'im-Maqami Jahangir, Tahavvulat-i Siyasi-yi Nizam-i Iran (Tehran, 1326); Quzanlu Jamil, Tarikh-i Nizam-i Iran, 2 vols. (Tehran, 1315). The late Nasir-al-Din Shah decades are dealt with by Tousi Reza Ra'iss, “The Persian Army, 1880–1907,” Middle Eastern Studies 24, 2 (Apr. 1988): 206–29. The individual military forces of the late Qajar and constitutional periods have fared better (see The Cossack Brigade, the Government gendarmerie, and the South Persia Rifles, below). The only foreign mission to have received serious attention is the Swedish mission of the constitutional period. See Ineichen Markus, Die Schwedischen Offiziere in Persien 1911–1916 (Bern, 2002). The present article is the first to examine the foreign military missions to Iran as a general phenomenon.

3 el Moudden, “Looking Eastward,” 243.

4 The Safavids claimed descent from the seventh Imam and had ruled an empire that at its height stretched from Baghdad to Herat.

5 Riza Shah, like his contemporary Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, conceptualized the state-building project in terms of consolidating these borders, not as an irredentist challenge.

6 This was indeed a global phenomenon. See Ralston David B., Importing the European Army: The Introduction of European Military Techniques and Institutions into the Extra-European World, 1600–1814 (Chicago, 1990).

7 The use of such strategies continues in the contemporary Middle East, most notably by Hizbullah in Lebanon. The similarity of this approach to methods of guerrilla warfare adopted in other areas of the world is obvious.

8 Levy Avigdor, “The Officer Corps in Sultan Mahmud's New Ottoman Army, 1826–1839,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 2, 1 (Jan. 1971): 2139.

9 Matthee Rudi, “Between Sympathy and Enmity: Nineteenth-Century Iranian Views of the British and the Russians,” in, Eschment Beata and Harder Hans, eds., Looking at the Coloniser: Cross-Cultural Perceptions in Central Asia and the Caucasus, Bengal and Related Areas (Würzburg, 2004), 311–38.

10 See C. E. Bosworth, “Army, ii. Islamic, to the Mongol Period”; M. Haneda, “Army iii, Safavid”; Perry J. R., “Army iv, Afsar and Zand,” all in Encyclopaedia Iranica (Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation, Center for Iranian Studies, Columbia University),

11 Europeans observers have left several contemporary accounts of the army in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. See, inter alia, Comte de Ferrieres-Sauveboeuf, Mémoires Historiques, Politiques et Géographiques des Voyages du Comte de Ferrieres-Sauveboeuf Faits en Turquie, en Perse at en Arabie, depuis 1782 jusqu'en 1789 (Paris, 1790); Forster George, A Journey from Bengal to England (London, 1798); Dr.Olivier G. A., Voyage dans l'Empire Othoman, l'Egypte at la Perse (Paris, 18001807); Gardane P.A.L., Journal d'un voyage en la Turquie d'Asie et la Perse fait en 1807 and 1808 (Paris, 1809); Morier James, A Journey through Persia, Armenia, and Asia Minor, to Constantinople, in the Years 1808 and 1809 (London 1812); Morier James, A Second Journey through Persia, Armenia, and Asia Minor, to Constantinople, between the years 1810 and 1816 (London, 1818); von Kotzebue Moritz, Narrative of a Journey into Persia (London, 1819); Tancoigne J. M., A Narrative of a Journey into Persia and Residence in Tehran (London, 1820); Jaubert Pierre Amédée, Voyage en Armenie et en Perse (Paris, 1821).

12 Atkin Muriel, Russia and Iran, 1780–1828 (Minneapolis, 1980).

13 For a discussion of the respective military strengths and weaknesses of Iran and Russia, see Atkin, Russia and Iran, 99–122.

14 See Pakravan Emineh, Abbas Mirza (Paris, 1973).

15 Morier, A Second Journey through Persia, 211.

16 In the Ottoman Empire and Egypt, the reform effort could only begin in earnest after the destruction of reactionary military castes, the Janissaries and the Mamluks, respectively. In Iran no such forces existed. This indicates not Iran's relatively advanced condition, but rather its primitive civil and military structures.

17 The presence of such a significant number of Russian deserters in Tabriz may be explained by the extremely harsh conditions prevailing in the Russian armies in the Caucasus. See Atkin, Russia and Iran, 106–7.

18 Morier, A Second Journey through Persia, 211–12.

19 For the Gardane mission, see Gardane, Journal d'un voyage en la Turquie d'Asie et la Perse; de Gardane Alfred, Mission du Generale Gardane en Perse sous le premier Empire (Paris, 1865). For Franco-Iranian relations, see Iradj Amini, Napoleon and Persia (Richmond, Surrey, 1999).

20 On the regiment of Russian deserters, see Aleksandr Kibovskii, “‘Bagaderan’—Russian Deserters in the Persian Army, 1802–1839,” Tseikhgauz 5 (1996), Mark Conrad, trans.,

21 For a description of the appearance of officers and men in this period, see Aleksandr Kibovskii and Vadim Yegorov, “The Persian Regular Army of the First Half of the Nineteenth Century,” Tseikhgauz 5 (1996): 20–25, Mark Conrad, trans.,

22 See the remarks of the Russian staff officer Captain N. N. Muraviev quoted in Kibovskii and Yegorov, “The Persian Regular Army.” See also Malcolm John, The History of Persia (London, 1829); Rawlinson Henry Creswicke, England and Russia in the East (London, 1875), 3031.

23 For a general discussion of conscription in the Middle East, see Lucassen Jan and Zürcher Erik J., “Introduction: Conscription and the Historical Context,” in, Zürcher Erik J., ed., Arming the State: Military Conscription in the Middle East and Central Asia (London and New York, 1999), 119.

24 Some observations about the difficulties encountered by the British officers of this mission may be found in Stuart Lt-Col, Journal of a Residence in Northern Persia and the Adjacent Provinces of Turkey (London, 1854).

25 Throughout the nineteenth century the shah possessed in his service a number of European officers of a wide variety of nationalities. See, for example, Mansurah Ittihadiyyah and S. Mir Muhammad Sadigh, eds., Zhinral Saminu dar Khidmat-i Iran-i Qajar va Jang-i Hirat, 1236–1266, with an introduction by Jean Calmard (Tehran, 1375); Bo Utas, “Borowsky, Isidore,” Encyclopaedia Iranica; Jaqueline Calmard-Compas, “Ferrier, Joseph Phillipe,” Encyclopaedia Iranica,

26 See Count de Sercey F. E, Une Ambassade Extraordinaire. La Perse en 1839–1840 (Paris, 1928); Pichon J., Journal d'une mission militaire en Perse (1839–1840) (Paris, 1900).

27 An account of the French Mission may be found in Flandin Eugene, Voyage en Perse (Paris, 1851).

28 See Amanat Abbas, Pivot of the Universe: Nasir al-Din Shah and the Iranian Monarchy, 1851–1896 (London and New York, 1997); Bakhash Shaul, Iran: Monarchy, Bureaucracy and Reform under the Qajars, 1858–1896 (London, 1978).

29 For the Austrian mission see the account by its medical doctor, Polak Jakob, Persien, das Land und seiner Bewohner (Leipzig, 1865). For Austro-Iranian relations see Slaby Helmut, Bindenschild und Sonnenlöwe: Die Geschichte der Österreichisch-Iranischen Beziehungen bis zur Gegenwart (Graz, 1982); Helmut Slaby, “Austria, Diplomatic and Commercial Relations with Persia,” Encyclopaedia Iranica,

30 For the circumstances of Amir Kabir's fall, see Amanat, Pivot of the Universe, 133–68.

31 For a discussion of the Italian interest in Iranian military reform, see Piemontese A., “An Italian Source for the History of Qāğār Persia: The Reports of the General Enrico Andreini (1871–1886),” East and West 19 (1969): 147–75; “L'esercito persiano nel 1874–75. Organizzazione e riforma secondo E. Andreini,” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 49 (1975): 71–117.

32 For the shah's relationship with Napoleon III, see Amanat, Pivot of the Universe, 352–53.

33 This policy held sway between 1830 and 1870 and concentrated on consolidation in India and a static defense of the Empire.

34 Nashat Guity, The Origins of Modern Reform in Iran, 1870–1880 (Urbana, Ill., 1982), 5571.

35 For the early history of the Cossack Brigade, see Kazemzadeh F., “The Origin and Early Development of the Persian Cossack Brigade,” American Slavic and East European Review 15, 3 (Oct. 1956): 351–63; Cronin Stephanie, The Army and the Creation of the Pahlavi State in Iran, 1910–1926 (London and New York, 1997). See also the memoirs of its fifth Russian commandant, Khatirat-i Kulunil Kasakufski, Abbas Quli Jali, trans. (Tehran, 1344).

36 Slaby, “Austria, Diplomatic and Commercial Relations with Persia.”

37 Picot, Report on the Organization of the Persian Army, Durand to Salisbury, 18 Jan. 1900, FO881/7364,105.

38 See Avery P. W and Simmons J. B, “Persia on a Cross of Silver, 1880–1890,” in, Kedourie Elie and Haim Sylvia G., eds., Towards a Modern Iran, Studies in Thought, Politics and Society, (London, 1980), 137.

39 For a discussion of the reactions of the nizam troops to their conditions, see Martin Vanessa, The Qajar Pact: Bargaining, Protest and the State in Nineteenth-Century Persia (London, 2005), 133–49.

40 Amirahmadi Ahmad, Khatirat-i Nakhustin Sipahbud-i Iran, 2 vols. (Tehran, 1373), vol. 1, 47.

41 For a discussion of Sweden's motivation and role as a supplier of military advisers to foreign governments, including Iran, see Palmstierna Nils, “Swedish Army Officers in Africa and Asia,” Revue International d'Histoire Militaire 26 (1967): 4573. For the Swedish officers, see Ineichen, Die Schwedischen Offiziere. Two of the Swedish officers have left memoirs: Nyström P., Fem Ar i Persien som Gendarmofficer (Stockholm, 1925); and Pravitz Hjalmar, Frau Persien i Stiltje och Storm (Stockholm, 1918). For the Government Gendarmerie, see Cronin, The Army, 17–54, 89–95; Lt-Col. Afsar Parviz, Tarikh-i Zhandarmiri-yi Iran (Qum, 1332); Maqami Jahangir Qa'im, Tarikh-i Zhandarmiri-yi Iran (Tehran, 1355).

42 In the early twentieth century, oil joined Britain's older commercial and strategic interests in the area.

43 The Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 divided Iran into spheres of interest: Russian in the north, British in the southeast, and a neutral zone in the southwest.

44 See Atabaki Touraj, ed., Iran and the First World War: Battleground of the Great Powers (London and New York, 2006); Bast Oliver, ed., La Perse et la Grande Guerre (Tehran, 2002).

45 See Cronin, The Army; and also, “An Episode in Revolutionary Nationalism: The Rebellion of Colonel Pasyan in Mashhad, April–October 1921,” Middle Eastern Studies (Oct. 1997): 693–750.

46 The Agreement was named after the prime minister, Muhammad Vali Khan Sipahsalar, with whom it was drawn up.

47 Marling to FO, 21 Dec. 1917, FO371/2988/242011; Consul, Tabriz, to Marling, 20 Feb. 1918, FO371/3264/33414.

48 Major-Gen. Sir Ironside Edmund, High Road to Command: The Diaries of Major General Sir Edmund Ironside, 1920–22, Ironside Lord, ed. (London, 1972).

49 British officers were already commanding various small-scale levy corps in different provincial areas. See Dickson W.E.R., East Persia. A Backwater of the Great War (London, 1924); Dyer R.E.H., The Raiders of the Sarhad (London, 1921).

50 For the SPR, see Safiri Floreeda, The South Persia Rifles, Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1976; Olson W. J., Anglo-Iranian Relations during World War I (London, 1984), 153213.

51 Brig.-Gen. Sir Sykes Percy, A History of Persia, 2 vols. (London, 1921), vol. 2, 472.

52 Floreeda Safiri, The South Persia Rifles, 151.

53 On the Anglo-Iranian Military Commission, see Bayat Kavih, “Qarardad-i 1919 va Tashkil-i Qushun-i Muttahid al-Shikl dar Iran,” in, Tarikh-i Mu‘asir-i Iran, Majmu‘ah-i Maqalat, 5 vols. (Tehran, 1369), vol. 2, 125–40.

54 Report of the Anglo-Persian Military Commission, 1920, FO371/4911/C197/197/34.

55 See Katouzian Homa, State and Society in Iran: The Eclipse of the Qajars and the Emergence of the Pahlavis (London and New York, 2000), chs. 4, 5.

56 See, for example, the scheme outlined by the prime minister, Ala al-Saltanah, in July 1917. Memorandum from Ala-us-Saltaneh [sic] to Marling, 30 July 1917, FO371/2981/200656.

57 For wider background on the British and the coup, see especially Cronin Stephanie, “Britain, the Iranian Military and the Rise of Riza Khan,” in, Martin Vanessa, ed., Anglo-Iranian Relations since 1900 (London, 2005), 99127.

58 Norman to Curzon, 6 June 1921, FO371/6406/E9970/2/34.

59 See Tancoigne, A Narrative of a Journey into Persia, 245–49.

60 After 1941 U.S. missions came fast and furious. See Ricks Thomas M., “U.S. Military Missions to Iran, 1943–1978: The Political Economy of Military Assistance,” Iranian Studies 12, 3–4 (1979): 163–93.

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