Sayyed Hasan Taqizadeh: Three Lives in a Lifetime

Homa Katouzian

Published in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 32, 1, April 2012

Sayyed Hasan Taqizadeh was a revolutionary leader, a politician, an intellectual journalist, a diplomat, a university teacher and a scholar of Persian classics both in history and literature. Through a long and often turbulent career which he described as “tempestuous”, he was also a man of various seasons, beginning his career as a radical revolutionary and ending it as a mature public figure who was opposed to all forms of extremism in every social and intellectual field. In his memoirs he used the term “tufani” in describing his own life, and that is how it appeared in the title of the posthumous publication (Afshar, 1993).

Indeed one can identify three fairly distinct periods in his life which mark his political development: 1878-1911; 1911-1934; 1934-1970. Yet despite the great increase in his political wisdom and maturity, he always remained faithful to his basic hopes and aspirations for his country. In other words, the continuing rise in his political and intellectual wisdom was more in regard to the means of attaining long-term progress and stability in Iran rather than with respect to the ends themselves.
His father was a leading mojtahed in Tabriz. But unlike many others of his kind he did not hold court and, far from it, led an extremely pious and ascetic life. He was so wary of association with the famous and powerful that Mozaffar-al-Din Mirza, the heir-designate and governor-general of Azebaijan, once had to arrange to meet him at his modest home.
Taqizadeh was something of a child prodigy. Having finished reading the whole of the Qur’an by the time he was five, he then began to study the traditional sciences, Persian, Arabic, history and religion. At fourteen he became interested in natural and mathematical sciences and had begun to study the main traditional sources in these subjects. Soon afterwards he began to read, first traditional, then modern medicine, in the course of which he learnt physics, chemistry, biology and the French language. By seventeen he was avidly reading French, Ottoman and Egyptian books on modern subjects, and a couple of years later began to learn English at the American missionary school in Tabriz. Already, the works of the leading constitutionalist thinkers and theorists, but especially Malkam Khan, had made a great impression on his attitude to social and political questions.
At twenty he began to teach modern subjects such as physic, geometry and geography at Dar-al-Fonun and Loqmaniyeh schools in Tabriz. He also became partner in establishing a modern pharmacy, which imported modern medicines from Germany. The bookshop that he and three like-minded friends had founded shortly before was not only the leading modern bookshop which even sold imported books in French, but became a meeting place for the freedom-loving and progressive intellectuals of Tabriz. That was why the heir-designate and governor-general Mohammad Ali Mirza (later to succeed to the throne and fall foul of the Constitutionalists) posted agents to report on the activities of the bookshop.
In the meantime Taqizadeh was busy writing and translating books, some of which were published, and those which were not were still taught for sometime at Tabriz schools. They included an Arabic grammar, and the translations from the French of Camille Flammarion’s Les Merveilles Celest on astronomy, and Gustave Le Bon’s Les Premières Civilisations on the history of civilizations. Thus by the time he was twenty-five Taqizadeh was already an accomplished modern scholar and intellectual while at the same time – in the opinion of a leading expert in Islamic Studies – he had virtually reached the rank of a mojtahed in religious sciences (Mohaqqeq, p.141). It was then that he wrote his long letter – which incidentally is proof of his perfect command over the formal Persian prose style at the time – to the Iranian merchant and philanthropist Hajj Zeyn al-‘Abedin Taqiyef and applied for a scholarship grant.
Meanwhile, Taqizadeh had developed a serious interest in political activity, in his own words, “in secret and as much as possible”. In 1904 he and his close friend Mirza Mohammad Ali Khan (later Tarbiyat) went for a tour of the more modern parts of the Middle East at the time, which took them over a year to complete. They spent most of the time in Istanbul, but the journey took them to various towns in the Caucasus as well as Cairo, Beirut and Damascus. On return to Tabriz in 1905, Taqizadeh became a leading figure among the town’s revolutionaries just as the constitutionalist campaigns broke out into the open both in Tehran and Tabriz.
In 1906 a constitution laid down the rules and procedures for government based in law. It was the first time in Iranian history that government was “conditioned” (mashrut) to a set of fundamental laws which defined the limits of executive power, and detailed the rights and obligations of the state and society. No such revolution had ever happened in Europe, because – as a rule – there had always been legal limits to the exercise of power in European societies, however powerful the government might be, and however narrow, limited and unequal the scope of the law in defining the relationship between the state and society, and among the social classes. In Europe, the law had often been unequal, and unfair to the majority of the people. But, even in the four centuries of absolutism or despotism which reigned over the continent from England to Russia – although absolutism survived for so long only in Russia – there had been limits to exercise of state power, although they were considerably less in Russia than in the West. Revolts and revolutions in Europe had never been fought for law as such, but for changing the existing law to increase its scope of application, or to make it fairer.
In December 1905 the arbitrary punishment of the sugar merchants by the governor of Tehran led to the departure of many ulama, students, merchants, etc., led by Seyyed Abdollah Behbahani and Seyyed Mohammad Tabataba’i, to the shrine of Hazrat-e Abdol’azim, in a traditional demonstration of putting in doubt the legitimacy of the government. By January 1906 the protesters had returned from their bast to Tehran on the shah’s agreement to meet their demands, including the central one of instituting independent judicial courts. The triumphal return of the bastis strengthened the cause of the campaigners for constitution, but the government kept stalling the establishment of independent law courts. It was early in July that the arrest of a leading constitutionalist preacher ended up in confrontation and bloodshed.
There was a big ‘migration’, this time to Qom, followed by the bast of 2000 people in the British legation compound in Tehran. At the same time, Mohammad Ali Mirza, the heir-designate seated in Tabriz where Taqizadeh was a leading activist, encouraged that city’s religious dignitaries to appeal to the shah, attacking ‘arbitrary’ and ‘traitorous’ ministers, and supporting the cause of the ulama of Tehran, simply because he opposed the chief minister Eyn al-Dawleh for personal reasons. The pressure was such that the shah, who personally had no stomach at all for the prolongation of the conflict, agreed both to the demand – this time clearly – for a constitution creating an independent legislature, and for the dismissal of the chief minister.
They began to draft the constitution in great hurry to ensure that it would be ready in time to be signed by the shah as well as the heir-designate: the former was unwell and they wished to commit the latter to the constitution while he was still heir-designate. This was September 1906. Taqizadeh, then 28, had already arrived in Tehran. So worried were they that the shah would die before signing the constitution that – as he was later to tell Seyyed Mohammad Ali Jamalzadeh – Taqizadeh and another young intellectual met the shah’s Scottish physician and begged him to try and keep him alive for another few months (Katouzian, 2003a, p. 25). The shah signed the constitution late in December and died five days later. He was succeeded by his son, whom certainly the younger, radical and modernist intellectuals of the movement including Taqizadeh both disliked and distrusted.
In the first Majlis which met in 1907 and in which he was a deputy from Tabriz, Taqizadeh quickly emerged as the leading modern intellectual and leader of Democrat deputies. He was a radical but, unlike many of the others, not a reckless revolutionary. He was also widely popular among various groups in Tabriz as well as Tehran. For some time, he regularly led the evening prayers at the Sayyed Nasr al-Din Mosque at the south eastern corner of the great bazaar and was subject of adulation by his well-wishers. Jamalzadeh relates that on one occasion one of his admirers offered an expensive rug to him as a gift. He said he did not accept gifts but was prepared to buy it from him. The man offered it for 20 tomans and Taqizadeh said that he would pay him the next day. The following evening he returned the rug to its owner saying that he had priced it in the bazaar and it was worth 60 tomans. No amount of insistence by his admirer could help to persuade him to take it for 20 tomans.
The incident is noteworthy because a man in Taqizadeh’s position could amass a large fortune at the time even without indulging in regular corruption – in which many, including some revolutionary leaders, took part – or giving up his basic principles. All his life he remained incorruptible despite holding high office on many occasions. Virtually everyone who had known him has testified to his conspicuously modest living even when he was chairman of the Senate in his old age. His wife died in 1982 in Bournemouth, England, in great financial austerity. She was German but upon marriage to Taqizadeh became a naturalized Iranian citizen, converting to Islam, and changing her name, Edith, to Atiyeh. When in 1979 the revolutionary regime decided not to pay the pensions of state employees – in this case Taqizadeh’s pension which by law had been inherited by his wife – to the pensioners who did not live in Iran, Jamalzadeh and I were involved both in arranging the extension of her Iranian passport and in attempts to have her pension restored. We failed in the latter case because the law that prohibited payment of pensions to pensioners resident abroad was universal.
The revolution did not result in constitutional, let alone democratic, government either then or later when Mohammad Ali was deposed in 1909. The fall of an arbitrary state in Iran always led to chaos until a strong man emerged and established a new absolute and arbitrary regime. Throughout Iranian history there had persisted a fundamental conflict between state and society. Unlike European societies, Iranian society did not regard the state as legitimate except in very short periods following the change of a shah, regime or dynasty; therefore, the state ruled not with the society’s consent but by force. The state-society conflict and confrontation was inevitably covert or partial when the state was strong, but it burst out into the open, either partially or totally, whenever there was an opportunity for rebellion.
The constitutional revolution did not, perhaps could not, change that habit. Once the constitution was granted and the Majlis elected, the confrontation was transferred from the streets, mosques and madresehs, sacred shrines and foreign legations to the meetings of the first Majlis. There still was no politics and therefore no room to compromise. Or in other words politics was still not much more than what this author has, in several places, described as ‘the politics of elimination’. The Majlis was divided among many irreconcilable trends and tendencies whose only common cause was to try and stop the shah’s efforts to contain it.
The assassination of Atabak (Amin al-Soltan) is perhaps the clearest example of the refusal of the radicals of both sides to compromise, that is, not to be satisfied with any outcome other than the complete elimination of the other side as a political force. Like similar events in Iranian and other history, the plot to assassinate Atabak will perhaps never be fully uncovered. Both the revolutionary radicals and the shah’s men were around in and out of the Majlis on that fateful night. The balance of probability is that Abbas Aqa – the agent of the revolutionary Secret Committee (komiteh-ye geaybi) – fired at the chief minister. But there can be little doubt that both parties wanted Amin-al-Soltan out of the way because any settlement reached by him – which was likely to have the backing of both Russia and Britain – would have been short of the maximum demands of both parties. Atabak was tainted as a chief minister of the arbitrary period and was unpopular with most of the constitutionalists although he had the backing of Seyyed Abdollah Behbahani, the able and popular religious leader in Tehran. But even the efforts of moderate constitutionalists such as Naser al-Molk, Mokhber al-Saltaneh, Mostawfi al-Mamalek, etc., at forging a compromise were frustrated by the radicals of both sides.
Of the contemporary sources, Mokhber-al-Saltaneh believed that Atabak had been murdered by the shah’s hatchet men – Movaqqar-al-Saltaneh, Mafakher-al-Molk and Modabber al-Soltan – who were certainly around when the Majlis adjourned on that fateful night; Dawlat-Abadi points out that the shah did not want Atabak and hints that he may have been planning to have him assassinated, but still believes that Abbas Aqa was the sole assailant; Nazem-al-Islam, too says that Arshad al-Dawleh was intent on arranging Atabak’s assassination on behalf of the shah when Abbas Aqa relieved him of the task. Of the later historians, Ahmad Kasravi insists that it was the work of the young revolutionary and none other, although he too is aware of the shah’s hostility towards Atabak; Javad Sheykholesalmi also believes that it was the work of the young man and the secret committee behind him but emphasizes – along Nazem al-Islam’s lines – that the shah, too, was intent on ridding himself of Atabak.
At the time it was strongly believed that Taqizadeh was a member of the Secret Committee and had been involved in the plot to assassinate Atabak. Decades later the matter came out in the open in academic historiography such that both Sheykholeslami and Mehdi Bamdad claimed that he had been privy to the assassination , he emphatically denied any participation in, or prior knowledge, of the incident. In his memoirs Taqizadeh is adamant that Abbas Aqa had been the sole assailant, although he agrees that the shah did not want Atabak. It has been doubted if the Secret Committee was an organized body, but its elements were certainly active, and its leading light perhaps was Heydar Khan Amu-ughlu, whom Taqizadeh mentioned (Referring to him as Heydar Khan the Caucasian) as very likely to have been involved in Atabak’s assassination. Not long afterwards Heydar Khan was blamed for throwing a bomb at the shah’s carriage, though the intervention of the Majlis saved him from prosecution. In 1910 he was arrested on charge of involvement in the assassination of Behbahani, and was likewise saved from prosecution by his powerful Democrat friends.
Taqizadeh’s denial of involvement in Atabak’s assassination must be believed, although his further assertion that he had been saddened by it is less easy to envisage. He himself says in his memoirs that he was vehemently opposed to Atabak’s government from the moment of its inception:
I was very radial, to the point of extreme. I was opposed to him [Atabak]. He for his part had many agents. He was rich…Apart from that he established close ties with Seyyed Abdollah Behbahani who was the pillar of the movement. Seyyed Abdollah was a man of courage, and the Majlis listened to him. Gradually Atabak brought the Majlis under his own influence… Mostashar-al-Dawleh [II, later Sadeq Sadeq] tried very hard to arrange a meeting between us, but I always refused since I was opposed to Atabak. Whenever he spoke in the Majlis I used to speak against him.
In June 1908 the shah finally ordered the bombardment of the Majils. Many were arrested, some were murdered in Bagh-e Shah, Behbahani and Tabatab’i were driven out of town with great humiliation. The shah had a deep grudge against four men in particular, Taqizadeh, Malek-al-Motekallemin, Jahangir Khan Shriazi and Sayyed Jamal Isfahani, the last three of whom were found and put to death. Taqizadeh who had been in and around the Majlis during the coup managed to contact Captain Claude B. Stokes, the British military attaché and the only diplomat who was in the British legation’s city compound, the others having evacuated to their summer residence in Qolhak. British diplomats had been instructed not to intervene in the conflict, but Stokes had a great deal of sympathy for the constitutionalists, and when Taqziadeh sent word to him for help, he allowed him, Ali Akbar Dehkhoda and a few others to take refuge in the legation compound. This saved their lives. Shortly afterwards the legation obtained safe conduct for them to leave the country, though Taqizadeh refused the government’s offer of financial help for his journey abroad. Decades later when Taqizadeh had become an unpopular figure he was criticized for saving his life by taking refuge in the legation compound.
Taqizadeh made his way to England and, with the help of Edward Browne, tried to organize support for the constitutionalist cause both inside and outside the British parliament. When the resistance in his native Tabriz persisted and the siege of the town lifted, he went there and became a leading figure among the revolutionary activists. And when in 1909 Tehran fell to the revolutionary forces, he became a member of the committee which negotiated with the shah the terms of his deposition and exile from Iran. Before the fall of Tehran the shah had pleaded with the revolutionaries to open the Majlis and resume constitutional government but such was the personal hatred of him that his pleas were ignored. It is unlikely that at that moment a compromise would have been possible, but Taqizadeh later regretted the fact that he had refused to consider the shah’s offer. Indeed in the twilight of his life he had told Iraj Afshar (who in turn told this author) that he believed all his sufferings in later life were punishment for his refusal to compromise at that time. Yet even in the period 1907-1910 when he was a leading radical, he did not act with the callousness that many other of his colleagues behaved, publishing the vilest personal abuse against the shah, and even resorting to assassination. At one stage during the first the Majlis the people were demanding that Rahim Khan Chalpiyanlu, a notorious and criminal counterrevolutionary, be turned over to them to be lynched, and it was Taqizadeh who told them that, instead, he must be put on trial. However Taqizadeh’s later regret for rejecting the shah’s offer of compromise must have been due to his discovery from 1911 onwards of the necessity of compromise in advanced politics, from the absence of which he was personally to suffer for much of his later life.
In 1910 four or five men of the type of the afore-mentioned Secret Committee went to Behbahani’s house and gunned him down. As mentioned, Heydar Amu-ughlu was arrested as a suspect but was released through the Democrats’ influence. A young revolutionary zealot Ali Mohammad Tarbiyat – a distant relative and an admirer of Taqizadeh who was wrongly believed to be his nephew – was likewise suspected, and was shot dead in the street by unknown assailants. During Behbahani’s funeral procession the crowd were shouting: ‘The jurist on whom Islam was leaning / Taqizadeh ordered and shaqizadeh assassinated’. Taqizadeh has vehemently denied this charge as well and must be believed, though once again his assertion that he had been saddened by Behbahani’s death is harder to contemplate. Behbahani was the doyen of the Moderate party and as such was both feared and hated by the Democrats, especially as he was both a fearless and a very able politician. The fact that he was suspected of illicit financial involvements was neither exclusive to him nor to the ulama nor to the leaders of the Moderate party.
Taqizadeh’s later judgment about Behbahani was extremely positive, although he still did hint at the illicit financial practices. For example:
Aqa Seyyed Abdollah was personally an extraordinary Iranian statesman. He combined unexampled leadership ability with unusual courage, unrivaled effort and perseverance, and above all, wisdom and maturity, and extraordinary staying-power and resilience as well as generosity and good sense in dealing with others. His eloquence and power of speech was unique. He was very strong, tough and able to put up with harshness, [and was] in fact the foundation of the revolution and its strong column and leading spirit. His only shortcoming was that some people believed that his court was not free of certain faults.
Before the murder of Behbahani, the Najaf ulama had issued a statement to the effect that Taqizadeh’s attitude was “opposed to the policy of Islam”, though the rumor that they had excommunicated him is incorrect. Behbahani had met him and tried to persuade him to go to Najaf for reconciliation, promising that he would give him full support. Taqizadeh had refused, asking if he believed the charge to be untrue –which Behbahani confirmed– and saying that he was not prepared to “beg”. Yet the reconciliation was about to take place in other ways when Behbahani’s murder cast a greater shadow on Taqizadeh’s situation. Politely, he was persuaded to leave Iran for a short period though in fact it took him fourteen years to return.
He must already have been revising his idealistic approach to Iranian politics when the Shuster crisis broke out on its continually darkening horizon. Morgan Shuster was a young and idealistic American liberal employed by no less than an act of the Majlis to run Iran’s finances as Treasurer General. Within a short period he both managed to anger the Russians who regarded themselves as the supreme imperial power in northern Iran, and to make powerful enemies among the Iranian plutocracy, although he retained the confidence of the Majlis and the public.
Shuster crossed the Russians over his confiscation of property owned by Sho’a’ al-Saltana, a brother of the deposed shah who had accompanied him in his unsuccessful bid to regain power by intruding into Iran from his place of exile in Russia. The Russians claimed that Sho’a‘’s property was collateral for his debt to the Russian Loan Bank and therefore could not be appropriated by the Iranian government. Britain might have stepped in to counterbalance or moderate the Russian pressure, but they felt bound by the terms of the Anglo-Russian convention of 1907 which had declared northern Iran the Russian sphere of influence. The Russians demanded the restoration of Sho’a’s property and a formal apology. The Majlis and the public rejected their demand in strongly passionate terms and ignored the government’s pleas for compliance. The Russians then moved their troops in the north with an explicit threat to occupy Tehran.
Taqziadeh was the only public figure with radical credentials that intervened to persuade the Majlis to change its mind and accommodate the Russians in the hope of avoiding catastrophe. He sent no less than 13 telegrams to the Majlis speaker, to Soleyman Mirza, leader of the Majlis Democrats, to Vosuq al-Dawleh, the foreign minister, and to other leading political figures, begging them to relent. For example, he wrote to Soleyman Mirza:
I am absolutely astonished at the attitude which the Majlis has adopted towards the question of the [Russian] ultimatum…At this moment, hostility and stubbornness would result in eternal damnation.
In a telegram to Mo’tamen al-Molk, the Majlis speaker and head of the legislature, he “beg[-ed him] in the name of the motherland to give courageous advice in this dangerous situation, so that the cabinet withdraws its resignation, the apology is made, and the motherland is saved from the danger of destruction”. And again:
The situation is acute…apologizing to Russia is in fact the very essence of patriotism…having considered and completely studied all aspects of the issue, I submit that the [political] parties must unite in one form or another and help the government. Otherwise it would be treasonable. The motherland is in danger.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the depth of feelings of anger and despair – fanned not least by Taqizadeh’s fellow Democrats – both in and out of the Majlis against the Russian ultimatum. This serves to explain both Taqizadeh’s sense of realism and shows the moral courage with which he intervened in a virtually hopeless situation. Despite his earlier radicalism, Taqizadeh had acted with tact and sobriety. But just as the Shuster affair – which ended up with the dismissal of Shuster and the Majliis at the same time – marked a watershed in the early history of Iranian constitutionalism, Taqizadeh’s highly unusual intervention heralded a new era in his political life. Although he still retained many of his political ideals, it was from this moment that he publicly abandoned his idealistic approach to politics.
Taqizadeh was in New York when World War I broke out. Iran declared herself neutral. The impression almost everywhere that the war would not last long proved to be mistaken. Russian troops had been in the province of Azerbaijan for a number of years, and when the Turks entered the war on the side of the German powers they sent troops to Iran citing the presence of Russian troops as proof of Iran’s lack of neutrality. The Iranian request that the Russians withdraw their troops was not granted. The third Majlis deputies who had been elected on the eve of the War were largely pro-German in their sentiments. Many Iranians believed that the Kaiser had converted to Islam and intended to liberate Muslim lands from colonial domination.
Far from withdrawing, the Russians moved their troops in Qazvin towards Tehran. There was serious discussion of moving the capital to Isfahan, and about half of the Majlis deputies moved to Qom, thus earning the title of ‘Migrants’ (Mohajerin), but the idea was abandoned when the Russians agreed to pull back in stages after two pro-Entente politicians were added to the cabinet. When Russian troops took Qom and the Mohajerin fell back on Kashan, then Isfahan, the governor-general of the south western provinces – Nezam al-Saltaneh Mafi – threw in his lot with them. He attacked and took Kermanshah and formed the pro-Central Provisional Government in which both Democrats and Moderates took part.
Long before this, in December 1914, the German consul in New York had contacted Taqizadeh and persuaded him to go to Germany and lead an anti-imperialist campaign against the Russians (and the British). “We felt a lot of enthusiasm for Germany”, he said in his memories, “Iranians thought of the Germans like a prophet, like King David, who had come as their savoir. We all beat our breasts for Germany.” Therefore Taqizadeh agreed to the German proposal, but on the condition that their movement should be independent, and not, as the Germans had suggested, a part of an anti-imperialist organization led by Indian nationalists in Germany. Thus, with the help of a number of scholars and intellectuals, including Mohammad Qazvini, Hoseyn Kazemzadeh, later known as Iranshahr, Sadeq Reza-Zadeh Shafaq, Ebrahim Purdavud and, not least, the young Mohammad Ali Jamalzadeh, set up the National Committee (Komiteh-ye Melliyun) in Berlin. They published the Persian political and cultural journal Kaveh, which, both in politics and culture, was to have a lasting impact on the minds of modern Iranian intellectuals, democrats and nationalists. They established regular contacts with Iranian activists both inside and outside Iran, and – perhaps most important of all – they sent Jamalzadeh to western and south western parts of Iran to liaise with the Provisional government in Kermanshah and try to mobilize support among the tribal chieftains of Loristan.
Relations with the German hosts were not always happy, since, not unnaturally, both sides had their own agenda in promoting their specific interests. For example Taqizadeh and his National Committee were wary of Turkish ambitions in bordering Iranian territories which the Germans were not prepared seriously to dispute; they were even unhappy about the German censors’ control of their mail, which often resulted in long delays in their delivery. Later in life Taqizadeh came close to the view that their policy of working with Germans was probably a mistake, even though they had acted from the highest patriotic and democratic motives.
If German defeat in the war is taken as the criterion, it was certainly a mistake to work closely with them. According to Jamalzadeh, at any rate, the National Committee members were summoned to the German foreign ministry and told that they should no longer expect any help, financial or otherwise, from them now that they had lost the war:
“They gave a certain sum of money to each of us and said that we were free to stay in Germany or leave” . Other members of the committee departed or stopped being active soon, but Taqizaadeh and Jamalzadeh were determined to continue the publication of (the second series of) Kaveh against all financial odds, including their own near subsistence living.
Eventually they had to give up. In 1922 Taqizadeh became Iran’s commercial representative in Moscow, a post which he kept for a year and a half. He then turned down the offer of Mostawfi al-Mamalek to join his cabinet as foreign minister, but agreed to go to London as the Iranian government’s special envoy for talks with the newly formed labor government of Ramsey Macdonald. Having been meanwhile elected to the fifth Majlis, in absentia, he returned to Iran to take up his seat in the new parliament.
Long before then the experience of constitutionalism had been declared a failure by many of its supporters and activists. Notwithstanding certain positive achievements, instead of constitutional, let alone democratic, government and society, it had resulted in increasing chaos both at the centre and in the provinces, such that the word mashruteh had become virtually synonymous with lawlessness. Vosuq al-Dawleh’s attempt to bring order through the 1919 agreement having failed, the 1921 coup of Reza Khan and Sayyed Zia had been greeted by many as the remedy for chaos and disintegration. By 1924, when Taqizadeh took his seat in the Majlis, it was fashionable among Iranian intellectuals and politicians, both inside and outside Iran, to boast in public about the virtues of dictatorship.
This was no news for Taqizadeh who through the pages of Kaveh, though not advocating a dictatorship, had strongly argued the need for discipline and order to enable the country to remain intact and embark on modernization and development. Yet by then, Taqizadeh who, during the Constitutional Revolution often signed his name as “devotee of the people” (fada’i-ye mellat) had become thoroughly disillusioned with his compatriots, such that he had written to a friend:
Most, in fact virtually all, Iranians are spineless, two-faced, sycophantic, liars, who play up to authority, hide their views…and each day, depending on their position, subscribe to the idea which happens to be in vogue…And they are constantly busy making plots and intrigues.
Still, he did not join the supporters of dictatorial government such as Ali Akbar Davar, Abdolhosayn Taymurtash, Firuz Mirza Firuz, Mohammad Ali Forughi, etc. Instead, he became an Independent (monfared) deputy along with Mostawfi-al-Mamalek, Mo’tamen al-Molk, Yahya Dawlat-Abadi, Moahmmad Mosaddeq, Hosyen Ala and others who did not permanently vote either with the government or the opposition. The Majlis Independents were not active in the unsuccessful campaign of March 1924 which aimed at declaring a republic and making Reza Khan president, nor did they oppose it as did the Majlis opposition led by Seyyed Hasan Modarres. Indeed, Mosaddeq was among the dignitaries who ceremoniously brought Reza Khan back to Tehran from his estate, where he had gone after his protest resignation as prime minister.
Shortly afterwards, Reza Khan set up an informal advisory group from the leading Independents, including Taqizadeh and Mosaddeq, who met him once a week and discussed major public issues. It was in one of these meetings that Reza Khan asked, and they agreed, to support his claim as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, which guaranteed its passage through the Majlis.
Yet when, in October 1925, Reza Khan and his supporters decided to depose the Qajars and establish the Phalavi dynasty, they did not take Taqizadeh and other Independents into their confidence, and surprised them with the move along with the dwindling opposition. Yet, apart from Modarres who left the Majlis shouting that the proceedings were illegal, it was four of the Independents, including Taqizadeh and Mosaddeq, who opposed the motion. All of them emphasized the importance to safeguard the constitution. Ina an often passionate speech, Mosaddeq said that he appreciated Reza Khan’s services in ending the chaos and would support him unreservedly as prime minister, but not as an executive shah. Taqizadeh’s view was basically the same except that he delivered it in a very conciliatory and highly dispassionate manner, emphasizing that he had Reza Khan’s best interest in mind. Gone were the days of Taqizadeh’s passionate radicalism. None the less he says that their homes began to be watched, and that Mosaddeq suggested to him and Ala to pay them their deputy’s salaries if they joined him to boycott the Majlis in protest against their election of Reza Khan as shah. They did not accept the offer and Mosaddeq himself did not boycott the Majlis.
Taqizadeh was elected to the sixth Majlis for Tehran shortly afterwards, but did not take up his seat, nor did he accept Mostawfi’s offer of the foreign ministry (yet again) in his government of reconciliation which the new shah, Mostawfi and Modarres had brought into being, although this did not last long.
He happened to be in Berlin at that time and accepted the mission to go to New York to open Iran’s stand in the international exhibition there. On return he gave up active politics and entered government service as governor-general of Khorasan. In a letter in the 1940s he wrote to his old friend Hoseyn Ala that, unlike Mosaddeq who had private means, he and Ala had had to enter government service at the time to be able to make a living, and so Mosaddeq “managed to have a cleaner record than me”. But it is unlikely that that was the main factor behind his decision. Had he still had his idealism of the constitutional period, he would have stuck to his guns and refused to compromise.
But by then experience had turned him into a more mature politician who, despite the country’s age-old tradition which is still largely intact, did not see the choice merely between martyrdom and subservience, and regarded principled compromise – which in Iranian politics is normally equated with sell-out – as a genuine choice. Besides, he too like many leading politicians such as Ali Akbar Davar, Mohammad Ali Forughi, Abdolhosyan Teymurtash, Firuz Firuz, etc., had come to the view that there had to be a strong central government – perhaps something akin to modern European dictatorships – in the interest of peace, security and development. Their optimism had reckoned without the prospect of dictatorship turning into the ancient Iranian arbitrary rule, which made any participation impossible and the very concepts of consultation and compromise meaningless. This at any rate was the first incident by which Taqizadeh’s popularity began to decline.
The fall of Firuz in 1929 eventually led to Taqizadeh’s transfer from the ministry of roads and highways to the more important ministry of finance. But it was the fall and demise of Teymurtash, the powerful minister of the royal court, which in 1932 confirmed the re-emergence of arbitrary rule in a modern form. Teymurtash had initially led the official negotiations with the Anglo-Persian (later, Anglo-Iranian) Oil company for a better deal for Iran than the D’arcy concession which, they argued, had been granted in an age of “ignorance and arbitrary rule” (asr-e estebdad va bikhabari). Later, Reza Shah had brought others including Davar and Taqizadeh into the negotiations, thus weakening Teymurtash’s position vis-à-vis APOC. The fate of Teymurtash was somehow linked to the oil issue, but it was essentially consistent with those of able Iranian ministers throughout millennia, as were also those of Firuz, Sardar As’ad, Davar, and even Taqizadeh, although he was lucky enough to escape with his life.
In 1932 APOC declared Iran’s share of the oil revenues to be about a quarter of the previous year. The shah took this as a personal attack on himself and ordered the cabinet to cancel the D’Arcy concession. Britain took the matter to the League of Nations which suggested that Iran and APOC reach an agreement via direct negotiations. The APOC delegation led by its chairman Sir John (later Lord) Cadman negotiated with Taqizadeh, Davar, Forughi and Ala in Tehran. They had made good progress when in the last day the APOC delegation suddenly demanded the extension of the new concession by 30 years over the D’Arcy concession, such that the concessionary period would cover from 1933 to 1993. The Iranians declined the request. Cadman broke off the negotiations and decided to leave the next day.
The shah had been kept constantly informed of the negotiations, including the British demand for extension and the Iranian refusal. But when he heard that the British delegation was leaving, he asked them to have an audience with him and, under pressure, he agreed to the extension of the concessionary period. Subsequently it was universally believed that the whole thing had been a conscious plot by Britain, Reza Shah and Taqizadeh (as Britain’s “paid agents”) to cancel the D’Arcy concession precisely in order to extend the concessionary period in the new agreement. In fact, neither Reza Shah nor Taqizadeh was an agent of any power. If it had not been for the absolute and arbitrary nature of the state a better agreement could have been reached (see further below).
Taqizadeh was so unhappy at this result that the shah himself tried to console him. The cabinet of Mokhber-al-Saltaneh (Mehdiqoli Hedayat) fell soon afterwards and Forughi became prime minister. The fact that Taqizadeh lost his post may have been related to his attitude towards the new oil agreement, but it also reflected the shah’s policy of marginalizing men of substance who did not owe their career to him. Already, the shah had censored him a couple of times for sending bills to the Majlis without vetting them with the royal court first. Besides, as Davar had pointed out, the shah was much more at ease with making demands of him than of Taqizadeh:
And that is how it was. He could not ask me to do anything contrary to the law [such as] “appropriate so-and-so’s property”, but he could ask anything of [Davar] to do.
There even was a rumor that Taqizadeh was about to be arrested. In the end, his friend Baqer Kazemi (Mohazzeb al-Dawleh), the foreign minister, managed to get the shah’s agreement to send Taqizadeh to Paris as minister-counselor and head of Iran’s diplomatic legation. But the new arrangement did not last long. Shortly afterwards there was strong criticism of the shah’s rule in the French press. He demanded that it should cease and that the critics be punished. Having made some representation with the French government, Taqizadeh explained that not much could be done because of the freedom of the press in France. The shah was angry and even suspicious that Taqizadeh himself might have had a hand in encouraging the criticism.
Taqizadeh was sacked and went to Berlin. He was seeking treatment for a chronic illness, but clearly did not think it wise to return to Iran just yet. The rumor in Germany that the shah was angry with him tended to isolate him not only from the Iranian community but also from German individuals and institutions such that he was finding it difficult to work for a living. He wrote a couple of times to Hosayn Shokuh, the shah’s private secretary – “head of the special bureau” – who each time reassured him of the shah’s good will. But the attitude of friends and acquaintances in Germany remained unchanged. In the end he wrote to his old friend Forughi, the prime minister. His reply confirmed Taqizadeh’s worst fears, especially as the shah now had another cause to be angry with him. A newly established “academy” (farhangestan) had been charged with the coining of new terms of Persian origin to replace (mainly Arabic) loanwords in the Persian language.
Every time, the list of the new words had to be sent to the royal court for final approval. Not even members of the academy were happy with the enterprise, at least in the way it was conceived and carried out. This was also true of the then minister of culture and education, Ali Asghar Hekmat, who wrote to Taqizadeh and respectfully asked him to write an article for the newly-launched Journal of Education (Majalla-ye Ta’lim o Tarbiyat). Taqizadeh obliged and wrote a critique of farhangestan and the coining of new words. The minister was so delighted that he wrote and congratulated Taqizadeh for the article. He was lucky to be out of the country on an official mission when the shah’s wrath was unleashed on learning about the article. And so was Taqizadeh whom Forughi informed that the article had served to intensify the shah’s anger and suspicion of him. Thus Taqizadeh lost his illusions for the second time in his life.
There would have been a serious risk to his life if Taqizadeh had returned to Iran. In January 1936 he was offered a lectureship in London University’s School of Oriental Studies (SOS, later SOAS). There he lived a quiet academic life with his devoted German wife, and taught and studied until 1941 when war went to Iran and the shah abdicated. But before then, he had written a couple of letters to Reza Shah enquiring whether he could return, probably being worried that in the event of a successful German invasion of Britain, he would be in trouble, perhaps even his life would be in danger. Not surprisingly however he did not draw any response from the court.
In August 1941 Anglo-Russian forces invaded Iran. Three weeks later Reza Shah abdicated and left the country. Barely a couple of days later Ali Soheyli, the foreign minister, wrote to Taqizadeh and invited him to become minister-counselor and head of the Iranian diplomatic legation in London. At first he declined the offer but then he accepted upon insistence. He was to remain at the post until 1947, but in the meantime Anglo-Iranian diplomatic relations were upgraded, thus making Taqizadeh the first Iranian ambassador to the Court of St. James, and his counterpart, Sir Reader Bullard, the first British ambassador to Tehran.
The fall of Reza Shah had once again plunged the country into chaos, the onset of chaos typically following the fall of an absolute and arbitrary ruler throughout Iranian history. Just like the period 1909-1921, the chaos was not only in long distances, among nomads and in the provinces. It was also in the centre of politics, in the Majlis, between and within political parties and groups, in the press and among the habitually protesting urban crowds, consistent with “the politics of elimination” mentioned above (Bullard, 1942, 1943, 1991; Makki, 1991; Aqeli, 1997; Mehdi-Nia, 1996; Safari, 1992).
There were revolts in Azerbaijan, Kurdistan and among the southern nomads. Between 1941 and 1951, 17 cabinets came and went, unable to follow any long-term policy; they could not even pass an annual budget bill through the all-powerful as well as chaotic and uncooperative Majlis. All this was reflected in Taqizadeh’s activities, in part, in his diplomatic capacity, and in part in the informal advisory role which he assumed in order to describe and discuss the fundamental problems of Iranian society and politics (of which more below). Meanwhile he played an important diplomatic role in the Azerbaijan crisis (1946-47) both as ambassador to London and in the advice and assistance which he gave to his old friend Hoseyn Ala, Iranian chief delegate at the United Nations.
In 1947, Taqizadeh’s long term of service at the embassy in London came to an end and he returned home, where, almost on arrival, he was elected from his hometown of Tabriz to the fifteenth Majlis. The Majils rejected the government bill that granted a concession for the exploitation of north Iranian oil to the Soviet Union, which had been negotiated by Qavam as the price for ending the Soviet occupation of Azerbaijan, and so, effectively, the Azerbaijan revolt. This was followed by the renegotiation of the 1933 oil concession by the Iranian government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company which led to the ill-fated Gass-Golsha’iyan, or Supplemental, Agreement.
It was during parliamentary debates and discussions regarding southern oil that Abbas Eskandari challenged Taqizadeh to explain how the 1933 agreement had been reached, and why it had extended the D’Arcy concession by 30 years. Taqizadeh obliged through a fairly comprehensive reply. He said that it was only on the last day of the negotiations, and after much had been agreed, that the APOC/AIOC representatives led by its chairman Cadman had suddenly demanded the extension of the concessionary period by 30 years. The Iranian negotiators, Taqizadeh, Davar, Forughi and Ala, had refused and the APOC representatives had decided to break off the negotiations and leave. He explained that, throughout the negotiations, the shah had been constantly informed of their progress, but when Cadman and his team decided to leave, he asked them to delay their departure and see him first in the palace. Pretending to be unaware of the problem, he asked why the negotiations had been broken off and was told that unless the Iranians agreed to the extension the British would have to stop the negotiations and return to London. The shah at first resisted the demand but in the end yielded:
On the last day of the negotiations the APOC delegates raised the extension issue with much insistence…threatening to break off the negotiations and immediately leave Iran, and so we ended up where we did; that is, us few [Iranian negotiators] who had no independent power of our own were not happy with it, and it made us terribly unhappy, especially me and, to a lesser extent, the late [Ali Akbar] Davar. But there was no choice and there is no point in explaining why there was no choice because… resisting the will of the then absolute ruler was neither possible nor of any use. He too was apparently concerned about the consequences…
And at this point he delivered a fatal blow to the legal validity of the 1933 agreement:
I had absolutely no role in this matter other than the fact that my signature is underneath the agreement. And even if I had refused to sign it, someone else would doubtlessly have signed it…and the refusal of one person – if such a refusal was at all possible – would not have had the slightest effect on the result.
He went on to explain that even Reza Shah himself was not happy with the extension but because of the mistake he had made by his unilateral cancellation of the D’Arcy concession he had left no room for himself to retreat:
I personally was unhappy with the extension and so were the other Iranian negotiators. And if there was a shortcoming or a mistake in this matter, it was not that of the instrument [alat-e fe‘l, i.e. himself] but the fault of the decision-taker [i.e. the shah] who unfortunately made a mistake and could not undo it. He was not happy about the extension either and at first, when the other side put it to him, said in anger and horror in front of them, ‘Remarkable! We have been condemning our predecessors [over the D’Arcy concession] for 30 year, and you expect us to be equally damned for another 50.’ But in the end he gave in.
This speech exploded like a bombshell. With it, Taqizadeh had explained how the 1933 agreement had been reached, had declared that he had been opposed to it but had had no choice but to sign it, had shown that there had been no conspiracy and that even the shah himself had been unhappy in accepting it, and – perhaps most important of all – had dealt a severe blow to the legality of the 1933 agreement. Mosaddeq whose relationship with Taqizadeh had ebbs and flows and who was not in the Majlis at the time and had declared his “retirement” from politics, referred in a message to the parliament to “the sincere statement of Mr. Taqizadeh.” Yet, in the longer run, this speech served little to negate the conspiracy theory that Taqizadeh and Reza Shah had cooperated to cancel the D’Arcy agreement, then enter the 1933 agreement simply to extend the concessionary period and serve “their English masters”. Till the end of his life Taqizadeh was often contemptuously referred to as “the instrument” (alat-e fe’l), alluding to his Majils speech where he had said if it there had been a mistake it must be the fault of the decision taker not the instrument.
Taqizadeh had entered the third phase of his life, career and attitude towards society and politics around the time when he had gone to teach in London. This is the last period of his life, when although remaining patriotic and concerned about his country, he had lost his idealism and illusions both about Iran and about his own role in effecting real and lasting social and cultural progress. And he did not appear to care much about being universally regarded an “instrument” in the 1933 agreement, a British agent, or a harbinger of “Weststruckness”.
In 1949 the life of the 15th Majlis came to an end. Almost at the same time the first Senate was established as the second chamber, Taqizadeh was elected to it and became its president, a position which he was to hold on and off for many more years. Also about the same time Mosaddeq and six other members of the National Front managed to be elected to the 16th Majils amid ballot rigging and public agitation. Taqizadeh supported both Mosaddeq and the nationalization of oil, but even when he became critical of Mosaddeq’s approach sometime later, he did not work against him. His summary view of Mosaddeq and oil nationalization which he expressed when Mosaddeq was officially regarded as a pariah was that:
Dr. Mosaddeq was an inflexible and stubborn man. I did not disagree with his policy and still do not. The things he did were not in my opinion wrong. It is just that they went a little too far.
And he went on to add:
In my view (which I should say absolutely truthfully) he is an honest, trustworthy and patriotic person…The actions he took against the AIOC, etc, etc., were not wrong. His fault was that he tended to go to extremes or, as they say in Iran, was a rabble-rouser…
As noted, Taqizadeh said in his Majlis speech that, during the oil negotiations in 1933, Cadman had suddenly thrown in the demand for the extension on the last day. Soon afterwards, it was shown in a book on the oil question that the Oil Company had been hoping for an extension of the concession since a few years before and that Taqizadeh had known about it. This led to the suspicion, first aired in the book itself, that Taqizadeh had not told the truth on the matter, and that, by implication, he must have been involved in a long term plot to help extend the concession. The suspicion was reflected in a gibe by Mosaddeq shortly afterwards. And despite his usually cool response to such remarks, Taqizadeh made a long and almost emotional statement in his own defense. What he meant, he explained, was not that the Oil Company had had no such aspirations before, but that, during the 1933 negotiations, they had said nothing about it until when they suddenly raised the issue on the last day and insisted on it. He wrote that if, despite these explanations, Mosaddeq still continued in expressing his doubts, he would remain silent and would refer the judgment to God:
And finally I must add that I bear him [Mosaddeq] no grudge despite his unfortunate mistakes [over this matter] and wish everyone to believe that this is also true.
Decades later, a study of the efforts of the British government to unseat Mosaddeq, by lawful means, in the first six months of his premiership demonstrated the truth of the above statement, refuting the popular belief that Taqizadeh had been working against Mosaddeq both because – they believed – he worked for Britain’s interest, and because he had a grudge over Mosaddeq’s charge of insincerity against him From the moment of Mosaddeq’s appointment as prime minister in May 1951, the British embassy in Tehran began a long and wide campaign to bring his government down, and contacted various influential people, including the shah, royal court officials and members of parliament in pursuit of that objective.
In September 1951, the British ambassador met Taqizadeh in his capacity as chairman of the Senate. He told him that their efforts to settle the oil dispute with Mosaddeq’s government had been unsuccessful, and that Mosaddeq would prepare the way for a communist take-over, thus wondering whether in Taqizadeh’s view a change of government would not be necessary. Taqizadeh replied that the ambassador’s statement contained three points. First, that Britain wanted to settle the oil dispute at two stages. In the first stage they would agree to the principle of nationalization on the condition that Iran enters a new agreement with a foreign company or consortium (as it eventually happened in 1954), followed by full nationalization at a later stage. To this Taqizadeh replied that Britain had “misunderstood” the position and that they had to work for the realization of the second stage, i.e. full nationalization. Secondly, in his opinion they should continue their negotiations with the present government and not lose patience. Thirdly, they should not contact people, campaigning for the removal of the government. Would any Iranian ambassador suggest a change of the British government to the King, he asked? And finally, when the ambassador asked him if in his opinion Mosaddeq’s government was not catastrophic for the country, he “demurred” and said that the only danger facing the country was communism and that the present government was able to deal with it. The ambassador ended his report by saying that at the time Taqizadeh had no intention of working for a government change and sincerely believed that they should once again try to negotiate with Mosaddeq.
As noted, Taqizadeh’s attitude became more critical of Mosaddeq, but still he did not work against the latter’s government. After the 1953 coup, when Mosaddeq was on trial, the military prosecutor visited Taqizadeh, asking for his help in preparing his case against Mosaddeq, but Taqizadeh refused. And when Mosaddeq died he wrote in a condolence letter that he was “so sad and upset that I am incapable of expressing it.”
Thus from 1949 when Taqizadeh was elected a senator until 1970 when he died at ninety-one, he chose to remain in the margins of politics, despite the fact that he continued to be a member of the Senate, sometimes as its chairman. Still there were a few occasions on which he came close to friction with the regime, for example when in the late 1950s he spoke in the Senate on Human Rights Day and criticized the practice of torture by the security police. In 1961 in an interview with an American journalist he had passed some moderately favorable comments on some of the leaders of the second National Front, and this led to a letter of complaint from the royal court saying that the shah had been “surprised by your comments on the ‘National Front’”.
Thus, and as noted, three phases may be distinguished in Taqizadeh’s long political career: 1900-1910, when he was a young leader of the Constitutional Revolution in Tabriz and Tehran; 1911-1933, when he first led the Iranian intellectual opposition in Europe and then returned to Iran to become a Majlis deputy and minister; 1934-1969, when he lost all his illusions and ceased to be an active reformer, although for much of this period he was still in politics as diplomat and parliamentarian. Throughout these three phases he remained true to his ideals of democratic government and social reform. And even in the first phase when he was a brilliant radical intellectual and political leader, his attitude and behavior had been significantly more reasonable and sober than most others of comparable age and position. Yet, a line of development towards political sophistication and maturity maybe clearly observed through the three phases. In other words, while Taqizadeh clearly had the substance of an exceptionally rational as well as progressive political leader, it was his rich and – to use his own term – “tempestuous” life experience that helped him to grow steadily towards a level of political maturity which increasingly helped to alienate him from mainstream Iranian politics of all kinds: conservative, radical, leftist, even democratic. From this point of view one can only think of one other Iranian politician of the 20th century, Khalil Maleki, who shared the same fate, although he remained active until the end.
From the six year period, 1941-47 when Taqizadeh headed Iran’s diplomatic legation in London, twenty-nine letters have been published which throw much light on Taqizadeh’s political wisdom and his awareness of the principal issues facing political development in Iran. It is worth noting that in the very last letter – ۲۲ March 1947 – addressed to Abdolhosayn Hazhir, minister of the royal court, he openly speaks of his financial worries:
I have no doubt at all about the fact that if my mission here comes to an end, my wife and I would have to return to Iran. The only thing is that from what I have heard about the high rents of accommodation [in Tehran] it will not be easy [for us] to enjoy even a moderate standard of living on our limited means…I hope you would regard such complaints as personal, private and sincere remarks, and so tear up this letter and throw it away.
The principal issues which Taqizadeh raises in the letters – although in a fairly haphazard and repetitive manner – may be described under the four main categories which, in his academic studies during the last forty years, this author has discussed as the fundamental problems of Iranian social and political development: the cycle of arbitrary rule-chaos-arbitrary rule; conspiracy theory; Aryanism or romantic nationalism; pseudo-modernism. Taqizadeh’s account lacks a theoretical framework, but acute observation from the outside results in his recognition of these fundamental issues and description of the means, however hopelessly, of realizing a reasonable, possible and enduring political system for the country.
As noted above, in the historical cycle of arbitrary rule-chaos-arbitrary rule, the 1940s made up a new period of chaos, inaugurated by the abdication of Reza Shah. The chaos was comparable to the post-revolutionary period of 1909-1921, although it was not quite as destructive as the earlier period, largely because of military occupation by – and later influence of – the Great Powers. Cabinets did not generally last more than a few months, and there were revolts in the provinces and destructive conflict within the Majlis itself. Governments were weak and lacked authority to deal with most ordinary affair.
Both Taqizadeh and a few other leading politicians were mindful of the chaotic situation in the centre of politics. Thus Mohammad Sa’ed complained in a letter to Taqizadeh:
The Majlis, too, has nothing else to do other than appointing a new prime minister every six months, and the sincere cooperation between government and parliament which at this moment is needed does not exist…such that I could say they [the Majlis deputies] do not leave a moment for the prime minister to try and see to the basic needs of the country.
In a letter which Taqizadeh addressed to the ministry of foreign affairs, he outlined his views on the principal problems facing the country. Emphasizing the need for stability, he pointed out:
The attainment of such stability is contingent on three factors. First is the complete stability, authority and durability of the central government; second, orderly and disciplined security forces…; third, a moderate amount of freedom and democracy, and their maintenance.
He adds that the second condition itself is dependent on the first and the third. That is, if an able and orderly democratic government is established, it would be possible to have an effective security force as well. He goes on to say that it is always possible to put down chaos and suppress freedom by a strong government, but this will not result in long term happiness and political development, since there is no guarantee that it would not lead to arbitrary rule.
On the other hand, if freedom and democracy were taken to mean chaos and lawlessness, it would be even worse, and the country would be threatened with disintegration:
If license is given rein in the name of democracy and…everybody objects to and opposes everything, and poor government officials, just like a cat cornered by a dog or a lion, try every minute to respond to criticism and defamation, then nothing will stand…and the country would certainly face destruction…The country may survive under an unjust and coercive ruler, but will certainly fall as a result of chaos, license or “extremism in freedom”.
And finally he points out that in a strong democratic state the army must not interfere in politics, and must blindly obey the orders of the legitimate central government.
In short, arbitrary rule, even if it may have certain benefits in the short run, will be damaging and destructive in the longer term. Chaos and disorder is even worse than that because it will be disruptive in the short term as well. Democracy is not a weak and licentious system. It is an able and strong government which runs the society’s affairs under the scrutiny of the people’s representatives. And these representatives cooperate with each other despite their differences, and do not see their function as merely attacking each other individually, and attacking the government as one body.
Next on Taqizadeh’s list of political calamities was the conspiracy theory, which was then, and is to a large extent even now, the most popular method by which Iranians, not least some of the most educated of them, viewed political leaders and events. In pointing out the folly and the damaging consequences of conspiracy theory, Taqizadeh was almost unique in his time and for a long time thereafter, putting aside the major exception of Khalil Maleki. They argued that conspiracy theory was wrong and dangerous because it led to misleading political analyses, actions and predictions; it enabled both the public and political leaders to shrug off responsibility and believe that nothing could be done unless it was approved by “others;” it made heads and leaders of the society, though they were not stooges of foreign powers, to feel to be dependents and clients of the Great Powers, thinking that any action would require their agreement and approval; and hence it enabled these powers to intervene and interfere in the country’s affairs more than it would otherwise have been possible. Thus Taqizadeh wrote in one of his letters to the ministry of foreign affairs:
I do not know why a general paranoia has inflicted many people of our country which is just like a melancholia epidemic. It is the general belief that the British are involved in every affair of the country just like fairies and genes (jinns) and – like kismet and destiny – all matters big and small, even the fate of individuals, the promotion of civil servants…and appointment of the mayor of Joshaqan are subject to their will, and run on the tip of their fingers.
What takes place is sure to have been their desire, and what does not happen is because they do not wish it, and so they must be consulted and watched for their signs…Thus most officials of the state and government …must try to gain their approval…and even army generals…must also watch the movements of the eyebrows of such and such foreigners and regard them responsible for their own promotions and demotions.
Taqizadeh concludes with foreboding:
This contagious leprosy and fatal plague is one of the worst calamities that has afflicted Iran, and…few have remained immune to this paranoia…Such a strange social paranoia is apparently rare to find in human history and is a product of societal underdevelopment. There can be no doubt that this national sickness is definitely fatal, and unless it is cured there will be no hope for reform and development.
Later in another letter on this subject to Nasrollah Entezam, the foreign minister, he begs him not to mention his concern over this matter except to a few, because, he explains, they would then say “this too is what they [the British] have instructed our ambassador to write.”
The third fundamental subject which Taqizadeh discusses in his London letters is what this author has described as Aryanism or “romantic nationalism”. The appellation “romantic” is meant to distinguish this concept from the much wider idea and sentiment which is more correctly described as patriotism. The nationalism which Taqizadeh denounced is the ideology which claims inherent superiority for a race, nation and culture, and inevitably implies that if one nation’s nationalism is true, those of all the others must be false. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century this kind of nationalism began to enter the psyche of a limited number of Iranian intellectuals from its European sources, but spread among modern educated Iranians after World War I, and became the official creed in Pahlavi Iran.
Taqizadeh rejects this ideology everywhere on moral and historical ground. But in the case of Iran he is particularly concerned that the persistence of Pan-Persian nationalism would alienate the non-Persian ethnic groups, thus endangering the country’s multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic integrity.
In one of the letters he attacks Pan Turanian nationalism or “Pan Trukism”, mentioning “the extreme and aggressive cult of national worship, full of inflated self-appreciation with no regard to history and historical facts, and the interpretation of every issue in the world on the basis of one’s own cult of national worship, which is the attitude of some Turkish politics-mongers”.
In another letter he takes up the same issue in the case of Iran and says that if the country is ever “struck by the hand of God and falls prey to nationalist madness (jonun-e melli)” it must sever some of its regions which house various ethnic and linguistic groups, and even perhaps expel so many clans of mediaeval Arab descent. In yet another letter he comes back to the theme and refers to the nationalist ideology as “ignorant and stupid prejudice” and says that while he takes pride in being Iranian, he feels honored to be of Arab descent (i.e. a seyyed) and happy that his mother tongue is Turkish. He would not mind if they call him an Arab or a Turk, although nothing is dearer to him than Iran.
There remains the fourth and last major category of Taqizadeh’s concerns, the confusion of modernity with pseudo-modernism. The ideal of modernization like romantic nationalism emerged through the constitutional movement and by the end of World War I had captured the imagination of the intellectuals and modern educated elites. It was, like romantic nationalism, an emotional wish for sudden transformation into a western European prototype, and so led to aspirations and actions which this author has described as pseudo-modernism, especially once it too became a state ideology in the Pahlavi era.
In January 1920, in the first issue of the new series of Kaveh which he and Jamalzadeh published in Berlin, Taqizadeh wrote that “Iran must both in appearance and in reality, both physically and spiritually become Europeanized (farangi-ma’ab) and nothing else”. Taken out of context, these words do suggest pseudo-modernist thinking, although a study of other articles written mainly by Taqizadeh on the subject in Kaveh reflect a higher level of sophistication than shown by that sentence. At any rate, this was taken and repeated for sometime as the slogan of the young pseudo-modernist elite at the time. By the same token, when in the 1960s and 70s as a result of a backlash against pseudo-modernism there was an emotional and unrealistic rejection of the West and everything Western, Taqizadeh was singled out as the demonic harbinger of “Westsrtuckness”.
Long before the outburst against “Westsrtuckness”, Taqizadeh had argued that his view had been misunderstood and misinterpreted; although this involves some exaggeration and he himself did acknowledge once that earlier he might have gone a little too far in his zeal for promoting progress and development along European lines. The occasion on which he extensively and most emphatically disowned and denounced pseudo-modernism was in a correspondence with Abolhasan Ebtehaj the able and honest chairman of Bank Melli Iran (then a commercial bank as well as the central bank). Taqizadeh had criticized the Bank’s extravagance in building a lavishly modern new branch in the Tehran bazaar. In response, Ebtehaj wrote and reminded him of the famous sentence in the article in Kaveh twenty-seven years before. In his reply of January 1948 to Ebtehaj’s letter, Taqizadeh wrote that that sentence had been misunderstood, and that in a country which suffers from so much “misery, homelessness, hunger, nakedness, disease, illiteracy and filth” to construct “pharaohnic and Parisian buildings” in emulation of rich western countries is “the deadliest sin and tantamount to religious infidelity”:
And if, as you have pointed out, twenty seven years ago I encouraged the people to adopt “the European civilization both in appearance and in reality, both physically and spiritually”, my intention was never such mad and idiotic imitations of luxury. By apparent civilization I meant such things as clean clothes, adequate housing and public health…and good manners….and…valuing time. And regarding spiritual civilization, I meant science, scholarship, foundation of universities, publication of books, improvement of the situation of women…and removal of corruption and bribery and still thousands of other spiritual, legal, moral and behavioral matters which would take another ten pages to enumerate. ..
Unfortunately, we neither acquired the apparent civilization of Europe, nor its moral one. Of the apparent civilization, we did not learn anything except prostitution, gambling, sartorial aping and making ourselves up with imported material, and of real civilization, none other than rejecting the religions without having faith in any other moral idea or principle…
Therefore Taqizadeh was critical both of arbitrary rule and of chaos. He was a patriot, while he regarded Pan-Iranian nationalism wrong as well as dangerous. He was in favor of modernization and learning from the experiences of the West, but rejected pseudo-modernism as damaging and misleading. He also strongly rejected the conspiracy theory of politics. In sum, he believed in a strong and able democratic government, one like the British system which he admired, and progress and development rather than superficial aping and emulation of things European. No wonder that by the time he had reached the autumn of his life he had become almost completely alienated from his environment, such that he would not fit into any of the existing social or ideological frameworks, whether in government or opposition, and was therefore viewed by all of them at best with serious doubt and at worst with strong disdain and suspicion.
He was far too advanced for his time and place.

مطالب مرتبط

A Short Report on a Long Intellectual Journey

In October 2012, at a public ceremony held at Harvard University, Homa Katouzian was presented with SINA’s ‘Outstanding Achievement Award in Recognition of Exceptional Contributions to Humanities’. As part of the ceremony, he had been required to present a talk to the conference briefly describing the development of his academic [...]

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Literature and Politics in Iran: 1919–۱۹۲۵

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A Short Report on a Long Intellectual Journey

Delivered on 12 October 2013 at Harvard University on the occasion of receiving the Outstanding Achievement Award in Humanities from SINA Homa Katouzian I feel honoured by the honour that SINA has showered on us and proud that I have this opportunity to say a few words to this distinguished audience. The establishment of SINA is quite timely [...]

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