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10-08-2015, 16:44


In the meantime, a similar process was under way in Persia. Under the Qajar dynasty (1794 –1925), the country had not been very successful in resisting Russian advances in the Caucasus or resolving its domestic problems. To secure themselves from foreign influence, the shahs moved the capital from Tabriz to Tehran, in a mountainous area just south of the Caspian Sea. During the mid-nineteenth century, one modernizing shah attempted to introduce political and economic reforms but was impeded by resistance from tribal and religious—predominantly Shi’ite —forces. To buttress its rule, the dynasty turned increasingly to Russia and Great Britain to protect itself from its own people. Eventually, the growing foreign presence led to the rise of an indigenous nationalist movement. Its efforts were largely directed against Russian advances in the northwest and growing European influence in the small modern industrial sector, the profits from which left the country or disappeared into the hands of the dynasty’s ruling elite. Supported actively by Shi’ite religious leaders, opposition to the regime rose steadily among both peasants and merchants in the cities, and in 1906, popular pressures forced the reigning shah to grant a constitution on the Western model. As in the Ottoman Empire and Qing China, however, the modernizers had moved before their power base was secure. With the support of the Russians and the British, the shah was able to retain control, and the two foreign powers began to divide the country into separate spheres of influence. One reason for the growing foreign presence in Persia was the discovery of oil reserves in the southern part of the country in 1908. Within a few years, oil exports increased rapidly, with the bulk of the profits going into the pockets of British investors. In 1921, a Persian army officer by the name of Reza Khan (1878–1944) led a mutiny that seized power in Tehran. The new ruler’s original intention had been to establish a republic, but resistance from traditional forces impeded his efforts, and in 1925, the new Pahlavi dynasty, with Reza Khan as shah, replaced the now defunct Qajar dynasty. During the next few years, Reza Khan attempted to follow the example of Mustapha Kemal Atatürk in Turkey, introducing a number of reforms to strengthen the central government, modernize the civilian and military bureaucracy, and establish a modern economic infrastructure. Unlike Atatürk, Reza Khan did not attempt to destroy the power of Islamic beliefs, but he did encourage the establishment of a Western-style educational system and forbade women to wear the veil in public. To strengthen the sense of nationalism and reduce the power of Islam, he restored the country’s ancient name, Iran, and attempted to popularize the symbols and beliefs of pre- Islamic times. Like his Qajar predecessors, however, Reza Khan was hindered by strong foreign influence. When the Soviet Union and Great Britain decided to send troops into the country during World War II, he resigned in protest and died three years later.