Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How Freedom Came to Iran

Featuring W. Morgan Shuster

Introduction to our series The Strangling of Persia:
This story originated in Hearst’s Magazine shortly after the events narrated here. Both the story and the introduction below show the attitudes towards Iran a century ago. One cannot help but be struck by the quaint attitude towards Iran Americans had back then, particularly the claim that the Iranians (Persians) appealed to the U.S. government to send an administrator to guide them and President of the United States sent them one. How differently the intervening century treated U.S. – Iranian relations!

Introduction by Charles F. Horne from the volume “Recent Days”

Persia in the year 1905 began a struggle for freedom from autocratic rule. This she finally achieved in decisive fashion and set up a parliamentary government. Her career of liberty seemed fairly assured. She had against her, however, an irresistible force. England and Russia had long been encroaching upon Persian territory. Russia, in especial, had snatched away province after province in the north. Of course Persia's revival would mean that these territorial seizures would be stopped. Hence Russia almost openly opposed each step in Persia's progress. In 1907, Russia and England entered into an agreement by which each, without consulting Persia, recognized that the other held some sort of rights over a part of Persian territory: a "sphere of Russian influence" was thus established in the north, and of British in the southeast.

The climax to this antagonism against Persia came in 1911. The desperate Persians appealed to the United States Government to send them an honest administrator to guide them, and President Taft recommended Mr. Shuster for the task. The work of Mr. Shuster soon won him the enthusiastic confidence and devotion of the Persians themselves. But in proportion as his reforms seemed more and more to strengthen the parliamentary government and bring hope to Persia, he found himself more and more opposed by the Russian officials. Finally Russia made his mere presence in the land an excuse for sending her armies to assault the Persians. Seldom has the murderous attack of a strong country upon a weak one been so open, brazen, and void of all moral justification. Thousands of Persians were slain by the Russian troops, and many more have since been executed for "rebellion" against the Russian authorities. The parliamentary government of Persia was completely destroyed; it finally disappeared in tumult and dismay on December 24, 1911. The country was reduced to helpless submission to the Russian armies. Mr. Shuster's own account of the tragedy follows. He called it "The Strangling of Persia." And now, W. Morgan Shuster.

Time: 1911
Place: Teheran

Iran's Parliament 1906

Of the many changing scenes during the eight months of my recent experiences in Persia, two pictures stand out in such sharp contrast as to deserve special mention.

The first is a small party of Americans, of which the writer was one, seated with their families in ancient post-chaises rumbling along the tiresome road from Enzeli, the Persian port on the Caspian Sea, toward Teheran. It was in the early days of May, 1911, and from these medieval vehicles, drawn by four ratlike ponies, in heat and dust, we gained our first physical impressions of the land where we had come to live for some years--to mend the broken finances of the descendants of Cyrus and Darius. We were fired with the ambition to succeed in our work, and, viewed through such eyes, the physical discomforts became unimportant. Hope sang loud in our hearts as the carriages crawled on through two hundred and twenty miles of alternate mountain and desert scenery.

The second picture is eight months later, almost to the day. On January 11, 1912, I stood in a circle of gloomy American and Persian friends in front of the Atabak palace where we had been living, about to step into the automobile that was to bear us back over the same road to Enzeli. The mountains behind Teheran were white with snow, the sun shone brightly in a clear blue sky, there was life-tonic in the air, but none in our hearts, for our work in Persia, hardly begun, had come to a sudden end.

Between the two dates some things had happened--things that may be written down, but will probably never be undone - and the hopes of a patient, long-exploited people of reclaiming their position in the world had been stamped out ruthlessly and unjustly by the armies of a so-called Christian and civilized nation.

Prior to 1906, the masses of the Persians had suffered in comparative silence from the ever-growing tyranny and betrayal of successive despots, the last of whom, Muhammad Ali Shah, a vice-sodden monster of the most perverted type, openly avowed himself the tool of Russia. The people, finally stung to a blind desperation and exhorted by their priests, rose in the summer of 1906, and by purely passive measures - such as taking sanctuary, or bast, in large numbers in sacred places and in the grounds of the British Legation at Teheran--succeeded in obtaining from Muzaffarn'd Din Shah, the father of Muhammad Ali, a constitution which he granted some six months before his death.

The pledge given in this document his son and successor swore to fulfil and then violated a dozen or more times, until the long-suffering constitutionalists, who called themselves "nationalists," finally compelled him, despite the intrigues and armed resistance of Russian agents and officers, to abdicate in favor of his young son, Sultan Ahmad Shah, the present constitutional monarch. This was in July, 1909.

It was this constitutional government, recognized as sovereign by the Powers, that had determined to set its house in order, and in practice to replace absolute monarchy with something approaching democracy. Whence the Persians, a strictly Oriental people, had derived their strange confidence in the potency of a democratic form of government to mitigate or cure their ills, no one can say. We might ask the Hindus of India, or the "Young Turks," or to-day the "Young Chinese" the same question. The fact is that the past ten years have witnessed a truly marvelous transformation in the ideas of Oriental peoples, and the East, in its capacity to assimilate Western theories of government, and in its willingness to fight for them against everything that tradition makes sacred, has of late years shown a phase heretofore almost unknown.

Persia has given a most perfect example of this struggle toward democracy, and, considering the odds against the nationalist element, the results accomplished have been little short of amazing.

Continued on Sunday, September 14th.

More information here.

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