Iranian Constitutional Revolution

Iranian Constitutional Revolution

The Iranian Constitutional Revolution (also known as the Persian Constitutional Revolution or Constitutional Revolution of Iran) took place between 1905 and 1911. The revolution led to the establishment of a parliament in Iran.

The Iranian Constitutional Revolution was the first event of its kind in the Middle East. The Revolution opened the way for cataclysmic change in Persia, heralding the modern era. It saw a period of unprecedented debate in a burgeoning press. The revolution created new opportunities and opened up seemingly boundless possibilities for Persia’s future. Many different groups fought to shape the course of the Revolution, and all sections of society were ultimately to be in some way changed by it. The old order, which Nasser-al-Din Shah Qajar had struggled for so long to sustain, finally died, to be replaced by new institutions, new forms of expression, and a new social and political order.

The system of constitutional monarchy created by the decree of Mozzafar-al-Din Shah that was established in Persia as a result of the Revolution ultimately came to an end in 1925 with the dissolution of the Qajar dynasty and the ascension of Reza Shah Pahlavi to the throne.

It should be noted that the movement, however, did not end with the Revolution and was followed by the Constitutionalist movement of Gilan.


In 1905, Iran was still under the rule of the Qajar Dynasty who had ruled Persia since 1781. Over the duration of Qajar rule, Persia had gradually become a victim of Russian and British imperial policies in The Great Game. This international rivalry had caused successive central governments to become increasingly weak and corrupt. The country's management was often handled by powerful regional nobles who paid their token respects to the monarchy. In effect, this resulted in the central government relying on these nobles for income, justice, and security.

This was particularly true of the brief reign of Mozzafar-al-Din Shah (1896-1908), during whose rule the Constitutional Revolution began. Mozzafar-al-Din Shah often relied on his chancellor to manage his decentralized state, he had also taken out several major loans from Russia and Britain to pay for his extravagant lifestyle and the costs of the central government. Despite some attempts to reform the central treasury during his reign he was continually undermined by both Russia and Britain. His dire financial situation caused him to sign many concessions to foreign powers, an example being the D'arcy oil concession which provided oil to Britain for 60 years at an extremely low price.

As concessions were granted with increasing frequency on an expanding list of trade items ranging from weapons to tobacco, the established noble classes, religious authorities, and educated elite began to demand a curb on royal authority and the establishment of the rule of law as their concern over foreign, and especially Russian, influence grew [1] .

Note: One should keep in mind that Britain did not technically engage in imperialist policies during the Qajar era. According to established historical doctrine within the Iranian mindset, the zenith of British imperialism was summed up in the Reuter contract, where the governing chancellor, Sepahsalar, conceded unlimited access to Iran's mines in exchange for building a railway network in Iran. The contract was subsequently cancelled as Reuter had failed to carry out his promises according to the contract.

Reuter was in fact a Jewish German entrepenuer who resided in London at the time of Sepahsalar's quest for building a railway in Iran.

A huge motive for Sepahsalar in negotiating this deal was for the same exact reason the British government had in derailing it. Twenty years prior to the famous deal, Iran had lost some 17 major cities to Russia, and the looming threat of another invasion was omnipresent in all ranks of Iranian society. Other than wanting to establish a railway in Iran, which naturally had its advantages in stimulating the economy and industry, the reasoning of Sepahsalar as well as Naseredeen Shah was that if they attracted a significant amount of British capital, the Russians would think twice before invading Iran again. As stated before, the deal was eventually cancelled, based on Reuter's failure to carry out his obligations, but also based on the fact that there was an overwhelming amount of domestic opposition most notably amongst tribal leaders and the clergy. [Dr. Sadegh Zeebakalam, "Sonnat va Moderneete"]

The same British policy was more or less maintained during the Qajar era. The point is that the statement of Iran being subject to British imperialism is highly questionable and can be attributed to the heavy neo-marxist influence that has inflitrated Iranian intellectualism as well as belief in the latter half of the 20th Century up until the present.


(October 7, 1906 — June 23, 1908). The central photograph is that of Mortezā Qoli Khan Sani od-Dauleh, the first Chairman of the First Majlis.]

In December 1905, two Iranian merchants were punished in Tehran for charging exorbitant prices. They were bastinadoed (a humiliating punishment where the soles of one's feet are caned) in public. An uprising of the merchant class in Tehran ensued, the clergy following suit as a result of the alliance formed in the 1892 Tobacco Rebellion.

The two protesting groups sought sanctuary in a mosque in Tehran, but the government violated this sanctuary and entered the mosque and dispersed the group. This violation of the sanctity of the mosque created an even larger movement which sought refuge in a shrine outside Tehran. The Shah had no choice, and was forced to agree to the concessions demanded by this larger movement: a "House of Justice".

In a scuffle in early 1906 the Government killed a seyyed (descendant of the prophet Muhhamed), and a large number of clergy sought sanctuary in the holy city Qom. Many merchants went to the British embassy for refuge.

In the summer of 1906 approximately 12,000 men camped out in the gardens of the British Embassy. Many gave speeches, many more listened. It is here that the demand for a parliament was born, the goal of which was to limit the power of the Shah. In August 1906, Mozaffareddin Shah agreed to allow a parliament, and in the fall, the first elections were held. In all, 156 members were elected, with an overwhelming majority coming from Tehran and the merchant class.

October 1906 marked the first meeting of parliament, who immediately gave themselves the right to make a constitution, thereby becoming a Constitutional Assembly. The Shah was getting old and sick, however, and the his son, Muhammed Ali, was not privy to constitutionalism. Therefore they had to work fast, and by December 31, 1906 the Shah signed the constitution, modeled primarily from the Belgian Constitution. The Shah was from there on "under the rule of law, and the crown became a divine gift given to the Shah by the people. Mozafaredeen Shah died five days later.


Within the decade following the establishment of the new majles a number of critical events took place. Many of these events can be viewed as a continuation of the struggle between the constitutionalists and the Shahs of Persia, many of whom were backed by foreign powers against the majles.

In summary (to be expanded):

* Persia tried to keep free from Russian influence through resistance via the majles to the Shah's policies.
* Majles brought in Morgan Shuster to reform treasury against initial desires of Russia+Shah. Russia kicked him out.
* Russian & Bakhtiari troops landed and forced majles to temporarily cease when their plans did not come to fruition.
* Reza Shah seized power and curtailed the power of the majles. He effectively turned it into a rubber stamp organization.

Notable individuals


* Mirza Jahangir Khan, Founder and Editor of the "Sur-e Esrafil" newspaper.
* Malek al-Motakallemin (see Mirza Jahangir Khan for the time being)
* Seyed Jamal Vaez
* Sayyid hossein Ardabili,member of Demokrat party in Tehran and mashhad.
* Aref Ghazvini
* Mirza Ali Shirazi
* Ali Akbar Dehkhoda
* Obeid Zakani
* Sattar Khan - One of the main leaders of the revolutionary movement.
* Haj Baba Khan-e- Ardabili,Hero of Iranian Constitutional Revolution in Tehran & Tabriz & Ardabil.
* Bagher Khan
* Mirza Kuchak Khan - Founder of a revolutionary movement based in the forests of Gilan.
* Mirza Malkom Khan
* Yeprem Khan - Armenian Iranian revolutionary leader. Wounded Sattar Khan in the course of disarming the revolutionaries in Tehran as commander of Tehran's police force during the interim constitutionalist government.
* Sardar Assad - Bakhtiari tribal leader whose forces captured Tehran in 1909 for the constitutional movement.
* Bibi Khatoon Astarabadi, satirist, writer and one of the pioneers in Iranian women's movement.
* Ahmad Kasravi
* Mohammad Taghi Bahar
* Sayyed Hasan Taqizadeh
* Mirza Abdul'Rahim Talibov Tabrizi, intellectual and social reformer.
* Abdolhossein Teymourtash
* Mirza Ahmad Khan Motazed-Dowleh Vaziri
* Sepahsalar Tonekabony [] , leader of the constitutionalist revolutionary forces from the northern provinvces of Gilan and Mazandaran, was the first to arrive in Tehran and liberate the city from the Royalist forces and became the first leader of the constitutionalist government (see Haj Ali-Gholi Khan, Sardar Assad II for the time being)
* Howard Baskerville , Amercian Teacher who fought along side the Constitutionalists.


* Mozaffar al-Din Shah Qajar - Shah of Persia who signed the constitution, thereby creating a constitutional monarchy.
* Mohammad Ali Shah - Son of Mozaffar al-Din Shah. Attempted to crush the constitution.
*Sheikh Fazlollah Nuri - a cleric who backed the king and stood against the constitutional revolution. After the victory of the ICM he was hanged.
*Vladimir Liakhov - a Russian colonel and Commander of the Persian Cossack Brigade during the rule of Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar. He shelled and subsequently laid siege to the seat of the Majlis of Iran.
*Arfa' al-Dawlah
*Hossein Qoli Khan (Hedayat), Mokhber-ol Douleh II. (1848 - 1916); elder brother of the constitutionalists Morteza Qoli Khan, Sani-ol Douleh (1856-1911), Mehdi Qoli Khan, Mokhber-ol Saltaneh (1864-1955) and Mohammed Qoli Khan, Mokhber-ol Molk (1865-1950)
*Ein al-Dawlah

Religious figures

* Mohammad Kazem Khorasani, constitutionalist.
* Sayyed Jamal ad-Din Esfahani ( [
] ), constitutionalist (see Mohammad-Ali Jamalzadeh).
* Malek al-Motakallemin ( [] ), constitutionalist (see Mirza Jahangir Khan and Mohammad-Ali Jamalzadeh).
* Sayyed Abdullah Behbahani ( [
] ), constitutionalist (see Sayyed Hasan Taqizadeh).
* Sayyed Mohammad Tabataba'i ( [
] ), constitutionalist (see Sayyed Hasan Taqizadeh).
* Mirza Hosein Na'ini, constitutionalist.

* Sayyed Mohammad Kazem Yazdi, anti-constitutionalist.
* Sheikh Fazlollah Nuri, anti-constitutionalist.


* Ahmad Kasravi, "Tārikh-e Mashruteh-ye Iran" (تاریخ مشروطهٔ ایران) (History of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution), in Persian, 951 p. (Negāh Publications, Tehran, 2003), ISBN 9643511383. Note: This book is also available in two volumes, published by "Amir Kabir Publications" in 1984. "Amir Kabir's" 1961 edition is in one volume, 934 pages.
* Ahmad Kasravi, "History of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution: Tarikh-e Mashrute-ye Iran", Volume I, translated into English by Evan Siegel, 347 p. (Mazda Publications, Costa Mesa, California, 2006). ISBN 1568591977
* Mehdi Malekzādeh, "Tārikh-e Enqelāb-e Mashrutyyat-e Iran" (تاريخ انقلاب مشروطيت ايران) (The History of the Constitutional Revolution of Iran), in 7 volumes, published in 3 volumes, 1697 p. (Sokhan Publications, Tehran, 2004 — 1383 AH). ISBN 964-372-095-0

Further reading

* Mangol Bayat, "Iran’s First Revolution: Shi’ism and the Constitutional Revolution of 1905 – 1909", Studies in Middle Eastern History, 336 p. (Oxford University Press, 1991). ISBN 019506822X
* Browne, Edward G., "The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909", Mage Publishers (July 1995). ISBN 0-934211-45-0
* Afary, Janet, "The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1906-1911", Columbia University Press. 1996. ISBN 0-231-10351-4
* Foran, John. "The Strengths and Weaknesses of Iran’s Populist Alliance: A Class Analysis of the Constitutional Revolution of 1905 - 1911", "Theory and Society", Vol. 20, No. 6 (Dec 1991), pp. 795-823. [ JSTOR]

ee also

* Constitutionalist movement of Gilan
* Intellectual Movements in Iran
* "History of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution" by Ahmad Kasravi
* Persian Tobacco Movement
* Iranian Revolution of 1979
* White Revolution
* History of Iran
* Morgan Shuster

External links

* Reza Jamāli in conversation with [ Dr Abbās Amānat] , Professor of History and International and Area Studies at University of Yale, in Persian, Radio Zamaneh, August 7, 2008, [] . Audio recording: [] .
* Shokā Sahrāi, "Photographs of the Constitutional Revolution of Iran", in Persian, Jadid Online, 2007, [] .
"Slide Show, narrated by Dr Bāqer Āqeli", Jadid Online, 2007: [] (4 min 30 sec).

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