Karim Khan Zand: A History of Iran, 1747-1779

Karim Khan Zand: A History of Iran, 1747-1779

by John R. Perry

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A forward thinking and notably popular leader, Karim Khan Zand (1705-1779) was the founder of the Zand dynasty in Iran. In this insightful profile of a man before his time, esteemed academic John Perry shows how by opening up international trade, employing a fair fiscal system and showing respect for existing religious institutions, Karim Khan succeeded in creating a peaceful and prosperous state in a particularly turbulent epoch of history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226661025
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 05/14/2015
Series: Publications of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies , #12
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 347
File size: 5 MB

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Karim Khan Zand

A History of Iran, 1747â"1779

By John R. Perry

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 1979 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-66098-1


The Bakhtyari-Zand Regency


While the Afsharid kingdom lingered on in Khorasan, its self-inflicted agony in no way alleviated by the visitations of Ahmad Shah, new patterns of power were emerging in the remaining fragments of Nader's empire. At the height of the conqueror's rule, all of Iran's western provinces could justly be viewed as a series of segments radiating from Mashhad at their geographical and political apex: from Azerbaijan through Kurdistan, Luristan, Fars, Lar, and Sistan, the peripheral mountain provinces and their dependencies on the plains of both sides were linked through the Caspian littoral and Gorgan, the Tehran-Damghan-Sabzavar road, the Yazd-Tabas desert route and the Quhestan massif to Nader's capital, the qebla of their religious and national consciousness. The foundations of this alignment had been laid by the Safavid shahs themselves in their promotion of Mashhad as a primary center of Shi'i pilgrimage in compensation for the loss of Najaf and Karbala to the hostile Ottoman Turks. Nader's magnetism strengthened these bonds to such an extent that for several years after his death the western provinces remained oriented toward Mashhad in their involvement with the vacillating fortunes of his successors. Yet throughout this time there remained as a natural concomitant of the tenacious Safavid ethos an undercurrent of resistance to this innovation; and as it gradually became obvious that none of Nader's would-be successors possessed the same imperious magnetism, the western provinces sullenly shifted back into the old alignment—that of an axis running along the Zagros from Tabriz to Bandar 'Abbas, with its center of gravity at Isfahan, and already subject to the clockwise torque imparted by the future capitals of Shiraz and Tehran.

Of the provinces peripheral to this axis, Sistan had effectively fallen away from Iran under the Brahoi chief, Nasir Khan Baluch, to enjoy a considerable measure of independence in Ahmad Shah's sphere of influence. The vicissitudes of Kerman and Yazd, which have no direct bearing on the events to be recounted here, may be left to a later chapter, as also those of the Persian Gulf littoral and Khuzestan. At the other end of the country, Gilan and Mazandaran had fallen to Mohammad Hasan Khan Qajar, while the southern Caucasus and Azerbaijan furnish the background to the rise of Azad Khan Afghan, both of whom will be introduced in greater detail below. It was in the heartland of western Iran, the Zagros provinces of Persian Iraq between Kurdistan and Fars (the present day ostan-e panjom), where the struggle for mastery of the largest portion of Nader's empire began.

On Nader's death, the urban centers played a conservative, waiting game, as in Khorasan, resolved from behind closed gates to accord only nominal loyalty to the marauding elements of the Afsharid army until it should become clear who was to prevail. At any rate, the exhilaration produced by news of the tyrant's downfall meant that few towns could be held by an unpopular Naderite appointee. In Isfahan Mir Hasan Khan Khorasani, Nader's former quartermaster-general (darugha-ye bazar-e ordu), had recently been commissioned to wring more taxes from the province. On the news of his master's death he imprisoned the governor Mirza Sayyed Reza Khan (a marriage relation of Shah Soltan Hosayn Safavi) and secured the city with his own troops. He is depicted in the Gombroon Diary as drunken, arrogant, and extortionate and as aiming at the throne himself. He did, however, save the city from a horde of Afghans under Allahyar Khan.

Allahyar Khan had been attached to Amir Aslan Khan Qirqlu Afshar in Azerbaijan and was at Qazvin when news arrived of Nader's death. He decided to head for Kurdistan to join forces with the Afghans under Mirza Mohammad Taqi but was met en route by the same Afghans under Ashraf Soltan, who informed him that Mohammad Taqi had retired to Kermanshah and left them to make their own way home. By now all the townsmen who had suffered so long under Nader's alien garrisons were rising to wreak vengeance; Afghans in Hamadan, among other towns on their route, had already been slaughtered. Allahyar decided to retaliate and deliver a warning to others contemplating revenge. For three days his force of some ten thousand men besieged Hamadan, then stormed in on a Friday and slew, burned, and plundered for two days. They then continued to Isfahan, killing and looting on the way. Mir Hasan had only a hundred gholams with which to defend the city; but by collecting and firing off all available guns, accompanied by shouts, drums and trumpets, he scared off the invaders, who ravaged the outlying regions and went on to devastate Qom and Kashan. Soon afterwards, however, a popular rising in favor of 'Adel Shah eliminated Mir Hasan Khan and his accomplices, and by October Ebrahim Mirza had arrived to secure the city in his brother's name.

With two Afshar generals now in control of western Iran—Amir Aslan Khan Qirqlu at Tabriz and Ebrahim Mirza at Isfahan—their armies became a rallying point for the Afshar, Afghan, Uzbek, and Baluch troops left by Nader to garrison and ransack the region. From Fars came companies totalling seven thousand under Mohammad Reza Khan Qirqlu, Karam Khan Hotaki Afghan, and 'Ata'ollah Khan Uzbek to join Ebrahim at Isfahan; 'Ata'ollah left his forces there and himself rode post haste to Mazandaran to offer his services to 'Adel Shah. Meanwhile, as part of his policy of surreptitious opposition to his brother, Ebrahim canvassed local tribal support and when he openly rebelled in the spring of 1748 and marched on Azerbaijan, he left Abu'l-Fath Khan of the Haft Lang Bakhtyari as his viceroy in Isfahan. On the subsequent debacle of both 'Adel and Ebrahim, the Bakhtyari leader was confirmed in this post by Shahrokh Shah.

Another of Nader's officers, the minbashi Sarafraz Beg Khodabandalu, used his detachment of a thousand horse to secure Hamadan, and won over another three thousand Shahiseven tribesmen. After seven months of fruitless warfare against the Qaraguzlu in an attempt to extend his sway he was finally defeated, captured, and killed, and his army melted away. Borujerd was threatened by an obscure bandit called Ka'id Kalb 'Ali, who terrorized the countryside and collected an army of ten or twelve thousand before he met a like fate at the hands of Salim Khan Qirqlu Afshar, Ebrahim's sardar of Persian Iraq.


Kermanshah was second only to Isfahan as a political and military center because of the importance of its fortress. Situated at a distance of one farsakh from the town, this fortress had been Nader's outpost, arsenal, and supply depot on the western front and the base for his campaigns against the Turks; its stocks of ordnance and powder would be a godsend to any aspirant to power. Furthermore, its strategic site, at the intersection of the east-west route from the border of Arabian Iraq to the heart of Persian Iraq and of the north-south road from Azerbaijan through Sanandaj to Khorramabad and the Khuzestan plain, gave it an enviable command of communications throughout the area. On the death of Nader the town was seized by a court usher or marshal (chavosh-bashi), Hosayn Khan of the Hajj section of the Zangana tribe, who according to Golestana had already been blinded by Nader on suspicion of treason. Having raised an army of about fifteen thousand from his own and from the Vand tribes, confiscated the wealth of the town's merchants, and availed himself of the artillery, he made an abortive move on Hamadan and on his return to Kermanshah was faced with a new challenge.

Mirza Mohammad Taqi Khan, the uncle of our historian, was at Sanandaj with an escort of five thousand of Nader's Afghans, collecting taxes from his diplomatically cordial host Sobhan Verdi Khan, the hereditary governor (vail) of Ardalan, when the news arrived of his master's murder. Dismissing his now unreliable escort, he set off with his personal servants and baggage to Kermanshah, where he had formerly held the post of treasurer. He narrowly escaped an attack by a party of Zand tribesmen allegedly instigated by Sobhan Verdi and arrived at Kermanshah to a welcome of dubious sincerity from Hosayn Khan Zangana. When 'Adel Shah's appointed commandant of the fortress, Amir Khan Tupchi-bashi, was reported to have reached Bisutun with a force of eight thousand cavalry, he was eagerly welcomed by Mohammad Taqi, Hosayn Khan, whose seasonal army of hill tribesmen had now apparently demobilized themselves, took to flight and threw in his lot with Ebrahim Mirza at Isfahan, perhaps guessing the extent of this prince's ambitions. Having gained the appointment as governor of Kermanshah for a protégé kinsman, Hosayn Khan joined forces with some four or five thousand of his tribesmen at Hamadan and marched on Kermanshah again. Amir Khan sent seven thousand men with four guns to intercept him, but the Zangana army shut themselves in the fortress of Oshtoran near Hamadan and beat them off. Amir Khan was now joined by his grandson 'Abd ol-'Ali Khan, and with Mohammad Taqi they coordinated the town's defenses. To vindicate the claims of his Zangana nominees, Ebrahim Mirza sent a force that heavily defeated Amir Khan's troops and only withdrew after a three weeks' siege.

At this crucial point Amir Khan's colleagues realized that they might irrevocably forfeit their future prospects, if not their lives, should they omit to go over to Ebrahim now that he seemed to have every chance of deposing his brother 'Adel. Accordingly, Amir Khan was reluctantly persuaded to make obeissance at Isfahan. Ironically enough, his fellow officers bound him as their prisoner as soon as they set off, in order to present their own case in a more favorable light; but Ebrahim knew Amir Khan's value and employed him as his artillery officer for the march on 'Adel Shah. Defenseless Kermanshah was, of course, occupied immediately by the Zangana chief. He maintained a friendly demeanor toward the two wardens of the qal'a but Mohammad Taqi, evidently fearing the consequences if Ebrahim Mirza should in fact win the empire, fled his post under the pretext of escorting a prominent Razavi sayyed, who was returning from the pilgrimage, to his home town of Hamadan. Plying his spurs, Mohammad Taqi bypassed Hamadan and made directly for Isfahan, where through the intercession of his old friend Salim Khan Qirqlu, fresh from his victory over Ka'id Kalb 'Ali, he complained of Hosayn Khan's misdeeds and persuaded Ebrahim to authorize him together with Salim Khan to oust the Zangana from Kermanshah.

The last act of this almost Mashhad-like comedy of musical chairs was soon over: Hosayn Khan advanced to meet Salim Khan with a force of five or six thousand men, but the Afshar general eluded him and occupied Kermanshah behind him. He then tricked the Zangana chief into returning, assuring him that he was still in Ebrahim's good graces, cajoled him into a false sense of security, and, when his tribesmen had departed, treacherously killed him and reinstated Mohammad Taqi Khan. Here the latter remained with 'Abd ol-'Ali Khan into the reign of Shahrokh Shah, when all links with Khorasan had been broken and a more determined local enemy was to demand control of the Kermanshah fortress.


The active element in the chaos of the first few years after Nader's death was embodied in the various sections of his army of Khabushan and the forces employed in garrison duty in the provinces or in frontier defense. Their confidence, cohesion, and indeed their very raison d'etre went with their master; suspicious of their former comrades-in-arms who were now equally conscious of their ethnic or tribal identities and denied entry to the towns by a justifiably nervous urban populace to whom Nader's army had become no more than an organization for terror and extortion, these units formed tight little bands around their own trusted leaders and headed homeward to seek their fortunes in a more familiar and friendly environment. Such were the Abdali of Ahmad Shah and the Bakhtyari of 'Ali Mardan Khan, whose exodus from Khorasan has already been noted.

Such, too, was the Zand tribe, a minor pastoral people of the Zagros foothills centered on the villages of Pari and Kamazan, in the vicinity of Malayer. They are generally said to be a branch of the Lak tribes, which also include the Kalhor, Zangana, Mafi, and Bajlan, and like their neighbors have been classed by Persian and by foreign writers both as Kurds and as Lurs. The reason for this confusion is evidently the position of the Zand home, at the eastern limit of the line through Kermanshah that traditionally divides Luristan from Kurdistan and where in practice Kurdish and Luri customs and dialects are intermingled. The narrative sources clearly imply, however, that the Zands regarded themselves, or at least were regarded, as quite distinct from their neighbors the Fayli Lurs on the one hand and the Kurds of Ardalan on the other. The Lak tribes, whose dialect shows characteristics of Kurdish rather than Luri, were apparently immigrants into this northernmost zone of Luristan, or were settled there by Shah 'Abbas. In the later Safavid period, the Zands are mentioned together with the Laks as Lurs.

They first appear in an active role under Mahdi Khan Zand, one of the local bandits who surfaced when the Afghan invasion of the 1720s created a period of anarchy similar to this latest one consequent upon Nader's death. The Ottoman Turks had seized this opportunity to occupy Kermanshah, and Mahdi Khan, from the ancestral bases of Pari and Kamazan, waged a constant guerrilla war against them with seven hundred horsemen, retiring into the mountains when pursued. His depredations were, however, too indiscriminate to be attributed to disinterested patriotism, and in 1732 Nader Shah, after a punitive expedition against rebellious Bakhtyari at Kermanshah, determined to punish these brigands as well. Accordingly, he detailed a force under Baba Khan Chavoshlu (Chaposhlu), who gained the confidence of the Zand leaders by trickery, then put Mahdi Khan and four hundred tribesmen to the sword, destroyed all their tents and property, and transported the leaders and a considerable number of families to northern Khorasan. Here, at Abivard and Darra Gaz near Kalat, they remained in exile for the next fifteen years, bearing the brunt of Turkman raids while most of their fighting men probably accompanied Nader's army on its ceaseless marches over an area extending from Baghdad to Delhi.

At the time of Nader's murder the Zands in Darra Gaz comprised only some thirty to forty families. They had originally been led by two brothers—Inaq, the elder, father of Karim and Sadeq, and Budaq, father of Eskandar and Zaki. These patriarchs must now have been either dead or, as Nami asserts, living in their home area, for the leadership devolved upon their sons. Karim Beg, Inaq's eldest son, was accepted as paramount chief. Whether it was before or after this that the tribe returned home, and under what circumstances the move was effected, is not clear. It seems reasonable to suppose that some time within the first year after Nader's death, the Zand contingent had to make its way home in much the same way as had 'Ali Mardan's Bakhtyari, without 'Adel Shah's leave and in danger of reprisals for desertion, and furthermore that those who were to emerge as leaders in the next few years—notably Karim, his brother Sadeq, his half-brother Zaki, and his cousins Mohammad and Shaykh 'Ali—established their authority and, more important, the mutual trust that at first distinguished them in their relations one with another, during the stresses of this initial exploit.


Once home, Karim Beg lost no time in entering into competition with the other tribal heads of the district who were busy carving out their little empires with the encouragement of Ebrahim Mirza in Isfahan, who in turn had his own more grandiose schemes to further. Ebrahim is said to have authorized Karim to bring to heel the other leaders in his area and to have honored the Zand chieftain with the title of khan, though this may well have been, as Golestana claims, an unofficial courtesy title accorded him by his peers of the tribe. He was also called by the Luri epithet tushmal (Tushmal Karim), apparently a title for a minor or clan chieftain in use among the northern Lurs.

The first direct challenge to his expansion came from Mehr 'Ali Khan Tekelu, who had been appointed by Shahrokh to govern Hamadan and boasted an army approaching twelve thousand in number. His father, Nazar 'Ali Soltan, had enjoyed friendly relations with the Zands, and he began with overtures of alliance; Karim Khan's reply was to mutilate his messenger and return him empty-handed. When the furious Tekelu leader dispatched against him a force of some five thousand with artillery, this was defeated with the loss of three guns. Thus emboldened, the Zands marched against their rival to the south, Zakareya Khan, whose hold on Borujerd and Kazzaz threatened to encircle them—only to retire hastily in order to meet Mehr 'Ali Khan, who had again set out to teach them a lesson. Again he was routed and Karim blockaded him in his fortress of Valashgard. But Mehr 'Ali managed to send his brother 'Abd ol-Ghaffar to seek help from Hasan 'Ali Khan, the vali of Ardalan, and the Zands were obliged to raise the siege on the sudden approach of a strong Kurdish army.


Excerpted from Karim Khan Zand by John R. Perry. Copyright © 1979 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

Contents List of Illustrations Preface Abbreviations Explanatory Notes Prologue: The Historical Background Part One: The Struggle for Power in Western Iran, 1747 - 63 1. The Bakhtyari-Zand Regency 2. Karim Khan as Vakil 3. Azad Khan Afghan 4. Mohammad Hasan Khan Qajar 5. Afghans and Afshars Part Two: Consolidation and Expansion, 1763 - 79 6. Internal Dissension 7. Fars and the Central Provinces 8. Kerman and Yazd 9. The Qajar Revival 10. The Persian Gulf 11. The Siege of Basra 12. Kurdistan and the Occupation of Basra Part Three: Iran Under Karim Khan 13. Government, Land, and People 14. Administration, Revenue, and Society 15. Trade and Foreign Relations 16. The Vakil at Home Epilogue: Karim Khan's Successors Appendix: Survey and Assessment of the Sources Bibliography Index

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