Twentieth Century Iran
Twentieth Century Iran
The remarkable changes and developments that have occurred in Iran since the present Shah proclaimed the first Six Points of his reform programme in January 1963 need to be studied not only against the background of the innovations introduced by his father, Riza Shah Pahlavi, but also against the chaotic conditions which preceded the coup d'état of 21 February 1921. This dramatic episode marked the beginning of the end of the old Persia of the Qajar Shahs, though it was not until April 1926 that Riza Khan crowned himself Shahanshah, King of Kings, in the Gulestan Palace and thus founded a new dynasty in his country's long and chequered history.
If the Qajars had failed it was partly because during their reigns Iran lay isolated from the outside world by reason of geography and poor communications. Intermittent and limited contact with the West meant that there was little urge to abandon age-old Islamic ways in favour of the new ideas and inventions which had transformed the nations of Western Europe and placed power in their hands. None of the Qajar Shahs possessed the imagination or drive of a Peter the Great. Besides, the Qajars suffered from Anglo-Russian rivalry which tended to stifle any ideas which Iranian visionaries or European entrepreneurs might have for the economic development of Iran. There would have been railways in Iran long before 1927 but for this rivalry.
When Riza Khan seized power in 1921 he was determined to free his country from foreign tutelage. He also aimed to establish a strong central government backed by a national army and launch Iran on an industrial path. By the time of his abdication and exile at the end of 1941 he had largely succeeded in achieving his first two objectives but had only taken a few halting steps on the road towards industrialization. The Anglo-Russian occupation of Iran during the Second World War, subsequent Russian intrigues in Azarbaijan and Kordestan, and the chaotic aftermath of the war caused the most serious difficulties for the immature Iranian economy and confronted a young and inexperienced new Shah with daunting problems. For some years the country seemed to lose direction. Additionally the oil crisis, precipitated by Dr Musaddiq's nationalization of the oil industry, deprived Iran of much-needed oil . . .