To live a free life has been a constant desire of man throughout human history. Based on the prevailing socio-political situation, people of various strata in different countries have strived to express this inherently established desire in one way or another, which has been reacted differently in every country. This sense of living a life impregnated with freedom has been pursued from time immemorial, by the people of Iran on various occasions, sometimes under violent conditions in order to liberate themselves from the yoke of despotic regime in every juncture.
Liberation movements in different countries have taken momentum on various occasions, though claiming heavy lives. However the sweetness of victory over tyrant regimes have soon changed into gloomy era ,as divergence of views among strugglers have deviated them from the true path of victory instead of getting success to bridge their differences.
One such underlying situation which is considered as a turning point in the history of freedom-fighting movement of the Iranian people was the victory of the Constitutional Revolution a century ago. Tough this Revolution was later derailed from its true path, nevertheless it could set a clear example ahead of us conveying the fact that the desire for freedom should be paid its own cost even if no final victory is achieved.
Popular demand for establishment of a democratic system in the contemporary history of Iran dates back to over a century ago when widespread uprising brought the ruling shah as the "Shadow of God" to his knees. Until then, though it did not last long, people of Iran were deprived of the privileges of a democratic system as the country was under the reign of the despotic monarchial ruling which totally ignored the legitimate right of people.
Political Situation in Iran before the Victory of the Constitutional Revolution
The Iranian community fragmented and demoralized under the corrupt Qajar ruling regime, gradually surrendered to the colonial powers. After the Iran-Russia wars of 1813 and 1828, the unequal and imposed treaties of Gulestan and Turkomanchai, the eventful Anglo-Iranian war of 1856, and the unequal Treaty of Paris (1857), Iran lost its independence of all practical purposes and was gradually drawn into the arena of the Anglo-Russian power struggle. The transformation of Iran from an independent and cohesive Asian state into a buffer state was mainly due to the colonial penetration and rivalry between Great Britain and Tsarist Russia in Asia, especially during the last quarter of the 19th Century.
Anglo-Russian competition in Asia can be traced to Peter the Great and even earlier. This rivalry began in earnest from the 1780s onward with Catherine the Greats "partition fever" in regard to the Ottoman Lands on the one hand and Britains new commitment to an emerging British India and a "reformed" East India company on the other. The rivalry reached its peak after the aggressive Tsarist expansion into Central Asian and Chinese territories during the second half of the 19th Century. The British, viewing the domination of these Asian Lands as a serious threat to their colonial interest in India and the Persian Gulf made it clear that any further military expansion by the Russian into the Iranian lands would lead to a military confrontation with Britain. Although the top Tsarist strategists strongly advocated military expansion and predicted a successful incorporation of Russia into the Tsarist Empire, the Russians finally opted for the less dangerous path of socio-economic penetration in order not to risk a military confrontation with Britain.
Since neither imperialist power desired a military confrontation in Iran, competition to move into socio-political area of domination of the country continued more extensively. This new Anglo-Russian contention in Iran became what Keddie has aptly put it "concession hunting".
The peculiarity of this situation was due to the rivalry between the two imperialist powers in maintaining the collapse of political community in Iran. As a result, Iran was not conquered in a formal colony, but survived as a buffer state between the expanding Russian Colonialism towards the Persian Gulf and the British strategy of defending her own imperialist interests in India and the Persian Gulf.
The main strategy of Russian in this period was to expand as far as the Persian Gulf, while establishing colonial footholds for competition with the British in order to achieve commercial and political hegemony in Iran. To accomplish this goal, Russia quenched the pace of her penetration into Iran by using three colonial instruments:
1. Commercial monopolies
2. The Iranian Cossack Brigade
3. Finance capital
The Iranian Cossack Brigade was established in 1889 when Nasser-al-din Shah decided to employ Russian officers to protect his person and the Qajar court against the growing popular discontent. These officers, it is interesting to note, did not take their orders from any Iranian authority or even from the Shah, but communicated directly with the Ministry of War in St. Petersburg. The Brigade developed into a strong, relatively modern and reliable force in Iran and was the only military institution which received its full salary without the customary delay. This naturally made the Cossacks, though Iranian, loyal to the Russian officers, thereby making them an important instrument of Tsarist policies in Iran.
The nature of trade relations between Iran and Russia was the other important instrument of Tsarist political domination of Iran. The background for an expansion of commercial relations between the two countries had been set by the trade instrument appended to the tragedy of " Turkomanchai ( 1828)", which had deprived Iran of tariff autonomy and enabled Tsars to wrest concession and colonial privileges of all kinds from Irans venal and corrupt Kings. One of the factors that undoubtedly facilitated the increasing Tsarist monopoly of Iranian trade was the Trans-Caspian Railway. Constructed under the direction of General Annenkoff, this first Asia railway (1888) ran for nearly three hundred miles parallel to a very near the Iranian frontier. Since it was in its interest that no railway should be build in Iran, Tsarist Russian extracted from the King a formal agreement not to allow such construction for ten years (1890-1990), at the expiration of which the ban was extended for another decade.
Although British trade with Iran in this period did not exceed half of the Russo-Iranian trade, her principal objective was to establish British domination of Iran in order to defend her imperialist interests in India and the Persian Gulf. British attempts for the so-called" strengthening" of Iran were designed to enable her to resist the Russian drive toward the Persian Gulf and at the same time to dominate the Iranian economy.
Domestic Industrial Decay:
Russian and British socio-economic penetration into Iran, though productive in terms of British commercial activities in Iran, was disastrous for the independent economic development of Iranian society. This penetration, which was achieved through diplomacy and superior technology destroyed Irans vitally important factories during the eighteenth century. As a result, European manufactured goods superseded Iranian local products on the one hand, and the export of raw materials replaced that of manufactured materials on the other. The last quarter of the nineteenth century evidenced the decay of industrial activities in the cities of Isfahan, Kashan, Tabriz, Yazd, Kerman and Mashed.
Not only were the traditional factories destroyed, but also various attempts of the modern middle class to establish themselves failed partially because of the intervention of Russian and Great Britain in favor of their own overall aims.
The socio-economic domination of Iran by the imperialist powers and ineptitude of the Iranian rulers to cope with this foreign threat against Irans national independence finally gave rise to a sense of national humiliation. This in turn, led to public outrage and the alienation of the intelligentsia from the ruling oligarchy. Naser al-Din Shahs lust for unnecessary expensive trips abroad and the Monarchs lack of any feeling of responsibility toward his people was outrageously criticized by some outstanding Iranian critics. Foreign interferences, the rise of national conscience, the constant flow of social-democratic ideas from Russia into Iran, and general public discontents gave rise to a series of uprising, culminating in the Constitutional Revolution of 1906.
The Constitutional Revelation of 1905-1911 was a significant turning point in the history of the Iranian people. Although crushed by foreign forces, it initially ended the archaic system of government in which the Shah, as the" Shadow of God on Earth" ruled the people without any democratic basis. More significantly, the Revolution introduced the constitutional concept of government in which the people were sovereign, and their representatives were delegated to enact laws, to formulate planning, and to set up foreign policy directives.
Fruits of popular struggles for freedom:
Popular uprising reached at its peak made "Mozaffareddin Shah" to submit to the peoples demands. In September of 1906 Mozaffareddin Shah Qajar just a short time before his death accorded Iranians the rights of a constitution with a proper parliament and limitations on the power of monarch signed the Electoral Law of Iran. Then on December 30, 1906 a few days before his death, he signed the Fundamental Law of Iran, providing the country with a Constitution modeled on the Belgian and French examples. The 33 articles of the Electoral Law and the 51 articles of the Fundamental Law gave the country a bicameral legislature, separation of powers, checks and balances, an executive modeled on the French system with a monarch as the head of state and guarantees of fair representation and political rights for the people of Iran.