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The Role of the ‘Rebels’ in the Constitutional Movement in Iran

  • Asghar Fathi (a1)


The purpose of this paper is to analyze the role of a group of‘rebels’ (in Iran they are called looties) who made significant contributions to the Iranian Constitutional Movement in 1908–1909. A discussion of the norms and values of this group and the way they fit the social situationand events of that period in Iran, serves to explain their involvement in the Constitutional Movement.



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Author's Note: I have discussed this paper with Dean E. Frease, Harry H. Hiller Kazuo Kusano, and Harvey Rich, my colleagues from the University of Calgary. I am also grateful to Henry Zentner who criticized the paper and helped editorially.

1 For further information on this extraordinary and controversial person who stirred many people in various countries see, among others,Edward, G. Browne, Persian Revolution of1905–1909 (Cambridge, 1950), pp. 150; and Nikki, R. Keddie, An Islamic Response to Imperialism(California, 1968).

2 For reports on the Constitutional Movement in Iran in Persian see, among others, Ahmad, Kasravi, Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān (The History of the Constitutional Movement in Iran) (6th ptg., Tehran, 1965);Idem., Tārīkh-e Hijdah Sāle-yeāzarbāiyjān (An Eighteen Year History ofāzarbāiyjān) (5th ptg.; Tehran, 1971); and Idem.Nāzem-ol-Eslām Kermānī, Tārikh-e Bīdāri-ye Irāniān (The History of the Awakening of the Iranians) (3 vols.; Tehran, 1967). In Englishsee Browne, Persian Revolution. In this paper, however, we draw extensivelyon the works of Kasravi for two reasons. First, his is the major source as far as theevents in the city of Tabriz are concerned, and the subject of this paper is related to that particular city. Second, Kasravi pays special attention to the role of the people with lower status including the group which is of interest to this paper.

3 Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, pp. 127128.

4 Ibid., p. 21.

5 Ibid., p. 751.

6 Karim, Tāher ZādehBehzād, Qiyām āzarbāiyjān DarInqilāb Mashrutīayat-e Irān (The Uprising ofāzarbāiyjān during the Constitutional Movement in Iran) (Tebran, n.d.) has short biographies of Sattār Khān, Bāgher Khān, Husein-e Bāghebān, and some otherprominent Constitutionalists from Tabriz. This source, although disorganized andsometimes unintelligible, contains some valuable information because the author hadbeen one of the armed defenders of Tabriz against the Royalists.

7 Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, pp. 726729 and other places in the same source. See also Behzād, Qiyāmāzarbāiyjān. The Iranian Social Democrats in Caucasia should not be mistaken for the Russian Social Democrats who were the underground enemies of the tsar and who were also sympathetic to the Constitutional Movement in Iran. Because of the close cooperation between Iranian Social Democrats and Tabrizi Constitutionalists the two sometimes become indistinguishable.

8 Kasravi, , Tārikh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, pp. 5, 685, 691–696, 783, and 788.

9 For instance, see Mehdi, MalekZādeh, Tārikh-e Inqilāb Mashrutīyat-eIrān (The History of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution) (Tehran, n.d.), V, 1617. See alsoBehzād, , Qiyām Azarbāiyjān, pp.327 and 499–501. In English see Richard, W.Cottam, Nationalism in Iran, (Pittsburgh:University of Pittsburgh Press, 1967), pp.120121.

10 Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, pp. 492494 and 532–538.

11 Kasravi, , Tārikh-e Hijdah, Sāle-ye āzarbāiyjān, pp. 134 and 137–146. Kasravi believes that there were intrigues involved in the clashesbetween the government troops and the Tabrizi armed irregulars in this case. But healso reports that many of these men did not want to disband. Others complained that if they were discharged they could not revert to their civilian occupations easily.

12 For a brief report on looties during the latter part of the nineteenth century see Abdullā, Mostowfī, SharheZendegānī-ye Man (The Story of My Life) (2d ptg.;Tehran n.d.), I, 303315.

13 Ibid.; see also Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, pp. 535536.

14 The origin of Heidarī and Nematī religious factions is not known. For a brief discussion that distinguishes between Shaikhīand Motasharra (or, orthodox Shia see Edward, G. Browne, ed.,Kitāb-i Nuq-tatul-Kāf (London, 1910)pp. xx–xxiii. For a report on interdistrict conflicts based on religious factionalism in various cities of Iran see Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, pp. 196197, 131–133.

15 Ibid., p. 808; Mostowfī, , SharheZendegānī-ye Man, p. 305.

16 Behzād reports that a Constitutional leader was gunned down by a drunk proConstitutional looty (Qiyāmāzarbāiyjīn, p. 233). Also seeKasravi, , Tārikh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, p. 739.

17 For instance, it is reported that Sattār Khānand Hosein-e Bāghebān, two prominent pro-Constitutionallooties in Tabriz, had clashed with deadly weapons in the years before the Constitutional Movement (Behzād, , Qiyāmāzarbāiyjān, p. 445). Also, in a well-known Persian short story there is a graphic description of such a ‘duel’ between the main character Dāsh ā Kal and another looty (Sādegh-e, Hedāyat, Se Qatra Khoon[Three Drops of Blood] [8th ptg.; Tehran, 1965]).

18 Kasravi, , Tārikh-e Mashrute-yeIrān, p. 491. Some looties, recognized for their physical prowessand courage, were hired by the wealthy for protecting their property or as bodyguards. These were called tofangchis (gunmen). It was not unusual for an importantman to be surrounded by his to fangchis at his home in time of danger (Ibid., pp. 762 and 242–243).

19 The marginal position of a looty in Iranian society isreflected in the double meaning of the word looty as an adjective in Persian. It canmean being very generous and considerate toward others, or being of a very low status, boisterous and morally lax.

20 Some Iranian scholars believe that looties are related to ay-yārs, a well-knownfraternity of daring men who have taken part inmany important events throughout the post-Islamic period in Iran. For instance, seeHosein-e, Kāshefīi-ye Sabzevāri, Fotowvat Nāmé-ye Soltāni, ed. Mohammed, JafarMohjoob (Tehran, 1971); and Parviz, Nātel-eKhānlarī, ‘āiyn-e Ayāri’,Sokhan, 18 and 19, 1968–1969).

21 Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, pp. 149151 and 167.

22 Ibid., pp. 467–469, 167, 183, 391. See alsoBehzād, , Qiyāmāzarbāiyjān, pp. 452456, 44–49, and 63–66.

23 Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, pp. 194 and 391.

24 Ibid., pp. 234–235; and Behzād, , Qiyām āzarbāiyjān, p. 134. The roleof the preacher in the Constitutional Movement in Iran was a very significant one inthose pre mass media days. Informing, agitating, and guiding the illiterate masses wasan integral and an indispensable part of the movement. Seyyed JāmalIsfahānī and Malek-ul-Motakalemin were highly influential pro-Constitutional preachers in Tehran. Similarly in Tabriz, and especially during the resistance against the Royalists, Mirza Hosein-e Vāez, Sheikh Salīm, and Hāji Sheikh Ali Asghar, among others, were instrumental in the effective leadership of the Secret Center (Kasravi, , Tārikh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, p. 583). For more information on these andother pro-Constitutional preachers see Behzād, Qiyāmāzarbāiyjān.

25 Ibid., pp. 235–236.

26 Ibid., pp. 489–492.

27 Behzād reports the desire of SattārKhān for participation in the ‘military training’ and the author's first encounter with Bāgher Khān in one of these training fields during a target practice (Ibid., pp. 443 and 398).

28 Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, pp. 167, 175, 183, and 235. For a sketchy biography of Ali Mosīo, a relatively unknown butvery important figure during the Tabriz resistance, see Behzād, , Qiyām āzarbāiyjān, pp. 452457. Formore information on the Secret Center see Ibid., pp. 44–49 and 63–64.

29 At the beginning each mojāhid had his own gun and bought his own ammunition. Later, when their number increased and fighting with the Royalists intensified, the Provincial Assembly, which had the arsenalin the city under its control, supplied the ammunition and provided some sort of asalary for the mojāhids by taxing the well-to-do (Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, pp.710711).

30 Ibid., pp. 393–399. The interdistrict rivalry between looties never really ceased although in the Constitutionalist camp the Secret Center kept it under control. Even in the heat of the battle with the Royalists the pro-Constitutionalist looties showed rivalry with one another and thus sometime shampered the cause of the Constitutionalists (Ibid., p. 702).

31 Ibid., p. 165.

32 Ibid., pp. 492–493, 532–535 and pp. 628–629.

33 Ibid., pp. 492–493.

34 Ibid., pp. 789–791.

35 Ibid., p. 751.

36 Ibid., pp. 838 and 869.

37 Ibid., p. 823. The traditional norms and values among the looties also provided a mutually accepted ground upon which the looties from the opposite camps could maintain some relationship in spite of the ongoing war between them. For instance, the looties on the Constitutionalist side could send a message totheir ‘friends’ in the opposition camp inquiring about missing persons (Ibid., p. 788).

38 Ibid., p. 751.

39 Ibid. The same source also reports that fame and popularity had adversely affected Sattār Khān's character toward the end of the siege of Tabriz. Again, in a letter to E. G. Browne, SattārKhān is described as an ignorant brigand who robbed inoffensive citizens. See Browne, , Persian Revolution, pp.441442. Kasravi believes that the charges in this letter are based on jealousy and a desire to discredit the true leaders of the Tabriz resistance for political reasons (Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, pp. 808809, 847). Taghi Zādeh considers the charges without any foundation(Siyyed, Hassan Taghi Zādeh, Tārikh-eAvāel-e Inqilāb va Mashrutiyat-e Irān [The Historyof the Earlier Part of the Iranian Revolution and Constitutional Government][Tehran, 1959], pp. 120122).

40 Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, p. 491, and Behzād, , Qiyām Azarbāiyjān, pp. 7983.

41 Hobsbawm, E. J., Primitive Rebels (Manchester, 1963), and Idem, Bandits (London, 1969).

42 Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, p. 491.

43 Hobsbawm, Bandits.

44 Ibid., pp. 91–92. The bandits and looties should not be confused with what Karl Marx calls ‘Lumpenproletariat, which in all bigtowns forms a mass sharply differentiated from the industrial proletariat, a recruitingground for thieves and criminals of all kinds, living on the crumbs of the society, people without a definite trade, vagabonds, gens sans feu et sansavu…’ (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Selected Works [Moscow, 1962)], I, 155. The lumpenproletariat's potentiality for involvement in revolution isdiscussed in these terms: ‘The “dangerous class,” the socialscum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by proletariat revolution, its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of bribed tool of reactionary intrigue’ (Ibid., p. 44). Although the revolution under discussion in this paper is not proletariat in the Marxian sense, this type of person seems to have been involved during the Tabriz resistance, and Kasravi here and there hints at their participation (e.g., Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, p. 897). The bandit's characteristics according to Hobsbawm and those of the looties are definitely not similar to those of the Lumpenproletariat's.

45 For a discussion of the social—psychological andsocial processes involved in the development of a subculture see Albert, K. Cohen, Delinquent Boys (Glencoe, 1955), pp.4972.

46 A similar hypothesis appears in Robert, M. Haddad, Syrian Christians in Muslim Society (Princeton, 1970), p. 3.

47 Unlike the looties, the involvement of the Christian Armenians in the Constitutional Movement was planned and controlled by the Dāshnāk party which had very much influence among the Armenians inIran, Turkey, and Caucasia. A discussion of the significant contributions of the Armenians to the Iranian Constitutional Movement is beyond the scope of this paper. Yefrem Khān, who frequently led the Constitutional forces successfully against the Royalists and finally lost his life in one of these battles, was a member of the Dāshnāk party.

For reports on the involvement of the Armenians in the Tabriz resistance see Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Mashrute-ye Irān, pp. 842, 847, 871, and passim. See also Kasravi, , Tārīkh-e Hijdah Sāle-yeāzarbaiyjān, pp. 814, 22–27, 182–184, 517–527, and passim for other contributions of theArmenians. The active part played by the Dāshnāk party is also reportedby Kasravi in the above two sources on pp. 825 and 356, respectively. Unfortunately at the present time this author cannot give specific references to Yefrem Khān's diary (which has been translated into Persian) and other sourcesin the Armenian language.

The Role of the ‘Rebels’ in the Constitutional Movement in Iran

  • Asghar Fathi (a1)


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