Lecture delivered by Mr. G.D. Turner, Hon. Secretary to the Society,
before members of the Persia Society at
22 Albemarle Street, W., on October 17th 1913
Sir THOMAS BARCLAY, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have attempted nothing more in this paper than to give the main events which have concerned Persia during the last twelve months. News from Persia is extraordinarily scarce, even from the large centres, while of what is happening in remote districts little is ever heard.
I am indebted to Mr. Newell, our Hon. Treasurer, for certain facts bearing on the finance of Persia, to Professor Browne, who has been good enough to go through some of the Persian newspapers with me, and to the Persian Minister, who very kindly filled up some of the gaps in my information.
It is the misfortune of Persia that the course of her history is determined far more by events and personalities outside than by happenings within. The erratic outbursts of a Salar ud Dowleh have much less influence on her affairs than, for instance, the after-
dinner conversation of two gentlemen in a remote Scottish glen, or the eccentricities of the Sultan of Morocco, or the resolutions of a meeting of a Russian Board of Directors. Cabinets come and go, heroic deeds of battle are accomplished, vast sums of money are borrowed, stolen, squandered; but the destiny of the people is affected most of all by things outside all that comes to pass within the nation.
The most important event concerning Persia of last autumn was the conference of Sir Edward Grey with M. Sazonoff at Balmoral. The result of this meeting was awaited with eagerness and not a little anxiety in Persia, and by the friends of Persia in this country. A pronouncement of great importance was expected to follow this long special journey of M. Sazonoff. Considerable surprise and not a little disappointment were felt when the only announcement was a reiteration of the old formulas of the Convention of 1907, and a renewed assurance that the Russian troops were to be withdrawn as soon as possible.
In confirmation of this announcement on the 2nd of October, Sir Edward Grey denied that he had any knowledge of Russian troops being despatched to Persia. Nine days later, however, the newspapers reported that six battalions, numbering 3,000 men, and some guns were being sent into Azerbaijan from the Caucasus.
This news was absolutely staggering, and one began to wonder whether any confidence at all could be placed in any statements in regard to Persia of either Sir Edward Grey or M. Sazonoff, or of the two together. Confidence was still more disturbed when on the 31st of October it was announced that Saad ud Dowleh, a notorious reactionary and one of the ministers of the ex-Shah, had been invited to return to Teheran to become either Prime Minister or actually Regent. Very real indignation was aroused by the admission of Sir Edward Grey on November 27th that he had instructed the British Minister at Teheran to press for the invitation. The Persia Committee met and
sent a letter to the press protesting against the recall of Saad ud Dowleh, pointing out the extraordinary variance of Sir Edward Greys admission from his own statement on October 31st, that he had no reason to suppose that the appointment of Saad ud Dowleh as Regent was contemplated. Saad ud Dowleh did come to Teheran, but feeling against him was too strong for him to find office; his influence, of which much had been spoken, did not manifest itself for good, and early in January Sir Edward Grey admitted that his return to Persia had not led to any marked improvement.
During October and November a certain amount of interest in Persia was rekindled by the publication of Professor Brownes pamphlet on the Tragedy of Tabriz, and by a remarkable series of articles by Mr. M. P. Price in the Manchester Guardian and other papers on his journey through North-west Persia. The substance of these articles was afterwards delivered as a lecture to this Society, which forms now one of the most interesting of our publications.
Unfortunately, however, all interest at the time was centred on the Balkan War, and the problems of Persia suffered a temporary eclipse.
Early in October the irritating figure of Salar ud Dowleh again floated on to the horizon. He gave a considerable amount of trouble in a will-o-the-wisp campaign, but was temporarily crushed in the middle of November.
December was marked by several very unpleasant incidents, the murder of M. Dumez, the British Minister of Commerce, near Urumiah, of Captain Eckford, of the 39th Central India Horse, near Shiraz. Demands were made for the punishment of the murderer of the latter, in some quarters it being insisted that if the Persian Government were unable to take adequate steps, a punitive expedition should be sent from India. Sir Edward Grey, however, adhered firmly to the policy which he had formerly laid down of noninterference, and nothing very serious was ever undertaken. On the 25th a party of Bakhtiaris insulted
M. Mornard in the house of the Persian Premier, who two days later tendered his resignation. On the same day reactionary Mullahs at Tabriz formulated a demand that Saad ud Dowleh should be proclaimed Regent. The year thus ended in storm with every symptom of impending disaster.
In the meantime Abdul Baha was charming audiences in London with his lectures on Universal Peace and Brotherhood, and exciting a great deal more interest in himself than in the unfortunate country to which he belonged.
Further resignations led to the formation of a new Cabinet under Ala-el-Sultaneh, composed of
Vossukh ud Dowleh Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Prince Ain ud Dowleh Minister for Interior.
Mustawfil Mamalek Minister for War.
Kawám el Sultaneh Minister for Finance.
Motamin el Mulk Minister for Commerce.
Musteshár ud Dowleh Minister for Posts and Telegraphs.
Mushir ud Dowleh Minister for Education.
Momtaz ud Dowleh Minister for Justice.
The majority of the Cabinet were men of tried capacity, and general confidence in their ability to deal with the situation was established. Their first business was to carry through certain negotiations for concessions and for loans. On the 31st of January a concession was granted to a Russian company for a railway on the Russian gauge from Julfa to Tabriz and Urumiah for a period of 75 years, with the preferential right of an extension to Teheran. The exclusive right was also granted to the railway to work all minerals in a zone 35 miles wide on either side of the railway. The share capital of the company is
4,690,200 roubles, and shares can be held only by Russian and Persian subjects.
In February a two-years option for the Mohammerah Khorammabad railway was offered to a British syndicate on condition that after survey of the line, the Persian Government should have the right either to grant a concession for the railway or to build it themselves as a State railway, in which case the contract for construction should be given to the Syndicate. Four English engineers arrived in Teheran in April to make the preliminary survey.
In the same month on account of a more than usually ,serious outbreak of highway robberies, Great Britain offered the Persian Government a loan of
£100,000 for the up-keep of Gendarmerie in Fars; this offer was accepted after some consideration and the last available news from that region states that order is being restored.
On the 4th of April Russia obtained the contract for a service of motors till the end of 1919 on the roads from Resht to Kasvin, from Kasvin to Teheran, and Kasvin to Hamadan.
On the 7th of January Sir Edward Grey made another pronouncement as to the policy of Russia and Great Britain in Persia. He stated that the Russian and British Governments were mainly directing their attention towards the formation of a strong and stable Government in Persia.
In the month of March there was a good deal of trouble in and around the Persian Gulf. Plague broke out and was especially bad in Bushir where there were 965 cases with 729 deaths. Over 4,000 people were inoculated with very satisfactory results.
Early in the month the wife of M. Constant, the Belgian Director of Customs at Bushir, was killed by a Persian who shot at and wounded her husband, from the street as they were driving in a carriage. The unfortunate affair turned out to be the outcome of the private revenge of a dismissed servant and had no political significance. A few days later Bundar Abbas was threatened by a gang of Bahárloo raiders, from whom a British survey party narrowly escaped. A force of bluejackets had to be landed to protect the town and disperse the raiders.