Sunday, September 21, 2014

Iran’s Defiance; Russia’s Invasion

Featuring W. Morgan Shuster

Previously on The Strangling of Persia. And now W. Morgan Shuster.

Time: 1911
Place: Teheran

Iran's Parliament 1906
The Persian statesmen and chieftains who formed the cabinet at this time, whether because they perceived the gleaming, naked steel behind Russia's threats more clearly than their legislative compatriots of the Parliament or Medjlis, or whether they suffered from that abandon and tired feeling which comes from playing an unequal and always losing game, quickly decided that they would accept this second ultimatum with all its future oppression and cruelty for their people.

On December 1st, therefore, shortly before the time limit of forty-eight hours fixed by Russia for the acceptance of the terms had expired, the cabinet filed into the chamber of deputies to secure legislative approval of their intended course.

It was an hour before noon, and the Parliament grounds and buildings were filled with eager, excited throngs, while the galleries of the Medjlis chamber were packed with Persian notables of all ranks and with the representatives of many of the foreign legations. At noon the fate of Persia as a nation was to be known.

The cabinet, having made up its mind to yield, overlooked no point that would increase their chances of securing the approval of the Medjlis. Believing, evidently, that the ridiculously short time to elapse before the stroke of noon announced the expiration of the forty-eight-hour period would effectually prevent any mature consideration or discussion of their proposals, the premier, Samsamu's-Saltana, caused to be presented to the deputies a resolution authorizing the cabinet to accept Russia's demands.

The proposal was read amid a deep silence. At its conclusion, a hush fell upon the gathering. Seventy-six deputies, old men and young, priests, lawyers, doctors, merchants, and princes, sat tense in their seats.

A venerable priest of Islam arose. Time was slipping away and at noon the question would be beyond their vote to decide. This servant of God spoke briefly and to the point: "It may be the will of Allah that our liberty and our sovereignty shall be taken from us by force, but let us not sign them away with our own hands!" One gesture of appeal with his trembling hands, and he resumed his seat.

Simple words, these, yet winged ones. Easy to utter in academic discussions; hard, bitterly hard, to say under the eye of a cruel and overpowering tyrant whose emissaries watched the speaker from the galleries and mentally marked him down for future imprisonment, torture, exile, or worse.

Other deputies followed. In dignified appeals, brief because the time was short, they upheld their country's honor and proclaimed their hard-earned right to live and govern themselves.

A few minutes before noon the public vote was taken; one or two faint-hearted members sought a craven's refuge and slunk quietly from the chamber. As each name was called, the deputy rose in his place and gave his vote, there was no secret ballot here.

And when the roll-call was ended, every man, priest or layman, youth or octogenarian, had cast his own die of fate, had staked the safety of himself and family, and hurled back into the teeth of the great Bear from the north the unanimous answer of a desperate and downtrodden people who preferred a future of unknown terror to the voluntary sacrifice of their national dignity and of their recently earned right to work out their own salvation.

Amid tears and applause from the spectators, the crestfallen and frightened cabinet withdrew, while the deputies dispersed to ponder on the course which lay darkly before their people.

By this vote, the cabinet, according to the Persian constitution, ceased to exist as a legal entity.

Great crowds of people thronged the "Lalezar," one of the principal streets of Teheran, shouting death to the traitors and calling Allah to witness that they would give up their lives for their country.

A few days later, in a secret conference between the deputies of the Medjlis and the members of the deposed cabinet, a similar vote was given to reject the Russian demands. Meanwhile, thousands of Russian troops, with cossacks and artillery, were pouring into northern Persia, from Tiflis and Julfa by land and from Baku across the Caspian, to the Persian port of Enzeli, whence they took up their 220-mile march over the Elburz mountains toward Kasvin and Teheran.

In the government at Teheran, conference followed conference. Intrigues against the deputies gave way to threats. Through it all, with the increasing certainty of personal injury, the members of the Medjlis stood firmly by their vote.

It is impossible to describe within the limits of this article the days and nights of doubt, suspense, and anxiety that followed one another in the capital during this dark month of December. There was a lurking dread in the very air, and the snow-covered mountains themselves seemed afflicted with the mournful scenes through which the country was passing.

A boycott was proclaimed by the priests against Russian and English goods. In a day, the old-fashioned tramway of the city was deserted on the mere suspicion that it was owned in Russia, while an excited Belgian Minister rained protests and petitions on the Persian Foreign Office in an endeavor to show that the tramway was owned by his countrymen. Crowds of youths, students, and women filled the street, dragging absent-minded passengers from the cars, smashing the windows of shops that still displayed Russian goods, seeing that no one drank tea because it came from Russia, although produced in India, and going in processions before the gates of the foreign legations to demand justice of the representatives of the world powers for a people in the extremity of despair.

Continued on Monday, September 22nd.

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