The Persian Tobacco Protest (Persian: نهضت تنباکو nehzat-e tanbāku), was a Shi'a revolt in Iran against an 1890 tobacco concession granted by Nasir al-Din Shah of Persia to Great Britain, granting British control over growth, sale and export of tobacco. The protest was held by Tehran merchants in solidarity with the clerics. It climaxed in a widely obeyed December 1891 fatwa against tobacco use supposedly issued by Grand Ayatollah Mirza Hassan Shirazi.
Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is one of the Western Iranian languages within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is a pluricentric language primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and some other regions which historically were Persianate societies and considered part of Greater Iran. It is written right to left in the Persian alphabet, a modified variant of the Arabic script.
A concession or concession agreement is a grant of rights, land or property by a government, local authority, corporation, individual or other legal entity.
In the Western world, Persia was historically the common name for Iran. On the Nowruz of 1935, Reza Shah Pahlavi asked foreign delegates to use the term Iran, the endonym of the country, in formal correspondence. Since then, in the Western World, the use of the word "Iran" has become more common. This also changed the usage of the terms for Iranian nationality, and the common adjective for citizens of Iran changed from "Persian" to "Iranian". In 1959, the government of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Reza Shah Pahlavi's son, announced that both "Persia" and "Iran" could officially be used interchangeably. However the issue is still debated today.
Beginning in the 19th century, the Qajar dynasty found itself in a precarious situation due to an increasing foreign presence within Iran. Reeling from devastating losses against the Russian Empire in 1813 and 1828 as well as the British Empire in 1857, not only was the Qajar government forced to grant countless concessions to these foreign powers, but Iranian bazaaris (merchants) were left in a highly vulnerable position as they couldn't compete with the numerous economic advantages gained by merchants from Europe.According to the accounts of foreigners living in Iran at the time, the Qajar dynasty was highly unpopular among the populace and was perceived as having little concern for the welfare of its residents. Later accounts by British eyewitnesses suggest that the reason why the dynasty had not been overthrown sooner in the face of widespread discontent was due to British and Russian intervention that essentially propped up the shah.
The Qajar Empire, also referred to as Qajar Iran, officially the Sublime State of Persia, was the state ruled by the Qajar dynasty, an Iranian royal dynasty of Turkic origin, specifically from the Qajar tribe, from 1789 to 1925. The Qajar family took full control of Iran in 1794, deposing Lotf 'Ali Khan, the last Shah of the Zand dynasty, and re-asserted Iranian sovereignty over large parts of the Caucasus. In 1796, Mohammad Khan Qajar seized Mashhad with ease, putting an end to the Afsharid dynasty, and Mohammad Khan was formally crowned as Shah after his punitive campaign against Iran's Georgian subjects. In the Caucasus, the Qajar dynasty permanently lost many of Iran's integral areas to the Russians over the course of the 19th century, comprising modern-day Georgia, Dagestan, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Iran, also called Persia, and officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in Western Asia. With over 81 million inhabitants, Iran is the world's 18th most populous country. Its territory spans 1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi), making it the second largest country in the Middle East and the 17th largest in the world. Iran is bordered to the northwest by Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, to the north by the Caspian Sea, to the northeast by Turkmenistan, to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and to the west by Turkey and Iraq. Its central location in Eurasia and Western Asia, and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, give it geostrategic importance. Tehran is the capital, largest city, and leading economic and cultural center.
The Russian Empire, also known as Imperial Russia or simply Russia, was an empire that existed across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.
In 1872, Nasir al-Din Shah negotiated a concession with Baron Julius de Reuter, a British citizen, granting him control over Persian roads, telegraphs, mills, factories, extraction of resources, and other public works in exchange for a stipulated sum for five years and 60% of all the net revenue for 20 years. The Reuter concession was met with not only domestic outrage in the form of local protests, but also opposition from the Russian government.Under immense pressure, Nasir al-Din Shah consequently canceled the agreement despite his deteriorating financial situation. While the concession lasted for approximately a year, the debacle set the foundation for the revolts against the tobacco concession in 1890 as it demonstrated that any attempt by a foreign power to infringe upon Iranian sovereignty would infuriate the local population as well as rival European powers.
Reuter concession was a contract signed in 1872 between Baron Julius de Reuter, a British banker and businessman, and Nasir al-Din Shah, Qajar king of Persia. The concession gave him control over Persian roads, telegraphs, mills, factories, extraction of resources, and other public works in exchange for a stipulated sum for 5 years and 60% of all the net revenue for 20 years. The concession was so immense that even imperialists like Lord Curzon characterized it as the most complete grant ever made of control of resources by any country to a foreigner. Local clergy were outraged by the concession and flyers were distributed in Tehran proclaiming that a Jew, Baron Reuter, will be in charge of country's affairs and that he plans to pass the railroad through the holy shrine in south Tehran. Clergy believed that this railroad plan is the work of Satan and will bring corruption to the Muslim lands. The concession was met with not only domestic outrage in the form of local protests but the Russian government was also hostile towards the concession as well. Under immense pressure, Nasir al-Din Shah consequently canceled the agreement despite his deteriorating financial situation. The concession cancellation was also due to British government refusing to support Reuter's unrealistic ambitions. While the concession lasted for approximately a year, the entire debacle set the foundation for the revolts against the tobacco concession in 1890 as it demonstrated that any attempt by a foreign power to infringe upon Iranian sovereignty would infuriate the local population as well as rival European powers, in this case the Russian government, who had their own interests in the region.
Sovereignty is the full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any interference from outside sources or bodies. In political theory, sovereignty is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity.
On March 20, 1890, Nasir al-Din Shah granted a concession to Major G. F. Talbot for a full monopoly over the production, sale, and export of tobacco for fifty years. In exchange, Talbot paid the shah an annual sum of £15,000 (present-day £1.845 million; $2.35 million) in addition to a quarter of the yearly profits after the payment of all expenses and a dividend of 5 percent on the capital. By the fall of 1890 the concession had been sold to the Imperial Tobacco Corporation of Persia, a company that some have speculated was essentially Talbot himself as he heavily promoted shares in the corporation.At the time of the concession, the tobacco crop was valuable not only because of the domestic market but because Iranians cultivated a variety of tobacco "much prized in foreign markets" that was not grown elsewhere. A Tobacco Régie (monopoly) was subsequently established and all the producers and owners of tobacco in Persia were forced to sell their goods to agents of the Régie, who would then resell the purchased tobacco at a price that was mutually agreed upon by the company and the sellers with disputes settled by compulsory arbitration.
A monopoly exists when a specific person or enterprise is the only supplier of a particular commodity. This contrasts with a monopsony which relates to a single entity's control of a market to purchase a good or service, and with oligopoly which consists of a few sellers dominating a market. Monopolies are thus characterized by a lack of economic competition to produce the good or service, a lack of viable substitute goods, and the possibility of a high monopoly price well above the seller's marginal cost that leads to a high monopoly profit. The verb monopolise or monopolize refers to the process by which a company gains the ability to raise prices or exclude competitors. In economics, a monopoly is a single seller. In law, a monopoly is a business entity that has significant market power, that is, the power to charge overly high prices. Although monopolies may be big businesses, size is not a characteristic of a monopoly. A small business may still have the power to raise prices in a small industry.
Tobacco is a product prepared from the leaves of the tobacco plant by curing them. The plant is part of the genus Nicotiana and of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family. While more than 70 species of tobacco are known, the chief commercial crop is N. tabacum. The more potent variant N. rustica is also used around the world.
Shah is a title given to the emperors, kings, princes and lords of Iran. It was also adopted by the kings of Shirvan namely the Shirvanshahs. It was also used by Persianate societies such as the rulers and offspring of the Ottoman Empire, Mughal emperors of the Indian Subcontinent, the Bengal Sultanate, as well as in Afghanistan. In Iran the title was continuously used; rather than King in the European sense, each Persian ruler regarded himself as the Shahanshah or Padishah of the Persian Empire.
At the time the Persian tobacco industry employed over 200,000 people and therefore the concession represented a major blow to Persian farmers and bazaaris whose livelihoods were largely dependent on the lucrative tobacco business.Now they were forced to seek permits from the Tobacco Régie as well as required to inform the concessionaires of the amount of tobacco produced. In essence the concession not only violated the long-established relationship between Persian tobacco producers and tobacco sellers, but it also threatened the job security of a significant portion of the population.
In September 1890 the first resounding protest against the concession manifested, however it did not emerge from the Persian merchant class or ulema but rather from the Russian government who stated that the Tobacco Régie violated freedom of trade in the region as stipulated by the Treaty of Turkmanchai.Despite disapproval from the Russian Empire concerning the monopoly, Nasir al-Din Shah was intent on continuing on with the concession. In February 1891 Major G. F. Talbot traveled to Iran to install the Tobacco Régie and soon thereafter the shah made news of the concession public for the first time, sparking immediate disapproval throughout the country. Despite the rising tensions, director of the Tobacco Régie Julius Ornstein arrived in Tehran in April and was assured by Prime Minister Amin al-Sultan that the concession had the full support of the Qajar dynasty. In the meantime, anonymous letters were being sent to high members of the Qajar government while placards were circulating in cities such as Tehran and Tabriz, both displaying public anger towards the granting of concessions to foreigners.
A protest is an expression of bearing witness on behalf of an express cause by words or actions with regard to particular events, policies or situations. Protests can take many different forms, from individual statements to mass demonstrations. Protesters may organize a protest as a way of publicly making their opinions heard in an attempt to influence public opinion or government policy, or they may undertake direct action in an attempt to directly enact desired changes themselves. Where protests are part of a systematic and peaceful nonviolent campaign to achieve a particular objective, and involve the use of pressure as well as persuasion, they go beyond mere protest and may be better described as cases of civil resistance or nonviolent resistance.
Tehran is the capital of Iran and Tehran Province. With a population of around 8.7 million in the city and 15 million in the larger metropolitan area of Greater Tehran, Tehran is the most populous city in Iran and Western Asia, and has the second-largest metropolitan area in the Middle East. It is ranked 24th in the world by the population of its metropolitan area.
Tabriz (Persian: تبریز; is the most populated city in northwestern Iran, one of the historical capitals of Iran and the present capital of East Azerbaijan province. It is the sixth most populous city in Iran. Located in the Quru River valley, in Iran's historic Azerbaijan region, between long ridges of volcanic cones in the Sahand and Eynali mountains, Tabriz's elevation ranges between 1,350 and 1,600 metres above sea level. The valley opens up into a plain that gently slopes down to the eastern shores of Lake Urmia, 60 kilometres to the west. With cold winters and temperate summers, Tabriz is considered a summer resort. It was named World Carpet Weaving City by the World Crafts Council in October 2015 and Exemplary Tourist City of 2018 by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
During the spring of 1891 mass protests against the Régie began to emerge in major Iranian cities. Initially it was the bazaaris who led the opposition under the conviction that it was their income and livelihood which were at stake. Affluent merchants such as Hajj Mohammad Malek al-Tojjar played a vital role in the tobacco movement by organizing bazaari protests as well as appealing to well known mujtahids for their support in opposing the Régie.The ulema proved to be a highly valuable ally of the bazaari as key religious leaders sought to protect national interests from foreign domination. For centuries the ulema played a paramount role in Iranian society — they ran religious schools, maintained the charity of endowments, acted as arbiters and judges, and were seen as the intermediaries between God and Shia Muslims in the country. Hence if such exorbitant concessions were given to non-Muslim foreigners, the ulema believed that the national-religious community under their supervision would be severely threatened. Furthermore, the ulema had ties with various merchant families and guilds while holding an economic interest in tobacco that was grown on waqf land. Finally, as the clergy pointed out, the concession directly contradicted Islamic law because individuals were not allowed to purchase or sell tobacco under their own free will and were unable to go elsewhere for business. Later during the tobacco harvest season of 1891, tobacco cultivator Mahmud Zaim of the Kashan region coordinated with Iran's two other major tobacco cultivators a burning of their entire stock.
The cities of Shiraz, Tehran, and Tabriz would subsequently develop into the most prominent centers of opposition to the tobacco concession. In May 1891 Sayyed Ali Akbar, a prominent molla of Shiraz was removed from the city by orders of Nasir al-Din Shah due to his preaching against the concession. During his departure from Iran, Sayyed Ali Akbar met with prominent pan-Islamist activist Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and at Akbar's request Afghani wrote a letter to the leading Shia cleric Mirza Hasan Shirazi asking the mujtahid to "save and defend [the] country" from "this criminal who has offered the provinces of the land of Iran to auction amongst the Great Powers."Though Shirazi would later send a personal telegram to the shah warning the leader about the pitfalls of giving concessions to foreigners, this personal appeal did nothing to put an end to the Régie.
Government intervention may have helped in mitigating the hostilities in Shiraz following Akbar's removal however other regions of Iran still saw a proliferation in protests. Bazaaris in Tehran were among the first groups of people to protest against the concession by writing letters of disapproval to the shah even before the concession was publicly announced. It has been argued that this initial opposition stemmed from a Russian attempt to stir up frustration within the merchant community of Tehran.Although Azarbaijan, the north western region of Iran, was not a tobacco-growing area, it saw tremendous opposition to the concession due to the large concentration of local merchants and retail traders in the region. In Isfahan a boycott of the consumption of tobacco was implemented even prior to Shirazi's fatwa (discussed below) while in the city of Tabriz, the bazaar closed down and the ulema stopped teaching in the madrasas. The cities of Mashhad and Kirman also experienced demonstrations in opposition to the concession yet historian Mansoor Moaddel argues that these latter movements were relatively ineffective. Other cities around the country such as Qazvin, Yazd, and Kermanshah were also involved in opposing the shah and the Tobacco Régie.
In December 1891 a fatwa was issued by the most important religious authority in Iran, marja'-i taqlid Mirza Hasan Shirazi, declaring the use of tobacco to be tantamount to war against the Hidden Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi. The reference to the Hidden Imam, a critical person in Shia Islam, meant that Shirazi was using the strongest possible language to oppose the Régie. Initially there was skepticism over the legitimacy of the fatwa; however, Shirazi would later confirm the declaration.
Iranians in the capital of Tehran refused to smoke tobacco and this collective response spread to neighboring provinces.In a show of solidarity, Iranian merchants responded by shutting down the main bazaars throughout the country. As the tobacco boycott grew larger, Nasir al-Din Shah and Prime Minister Amin al-Sultan found themselves powerless to stop the popular movement fearing Russian intervention in case a civil war materialized.
Prior to the fatwa, tobacco consumption had been so prevalent in Iran that it was smoked everywhere, including inside mosques. European observers noted that "most Iranians would rather forego bread than tobacco, and the first thing they would do at the breaking of the fast during the month of Ramadan was to light their pipes."Despite the popularity of tobacco, the religious ban was so successful that it was said that women in the shah's harem quit smoking and his servants refused to prepare his water pipe.
By January 1892, when the shah saw that the British government "was waffling in its support for the Imperial Tobacco Company," he canceled the concession.The fatwa has been called a "stunning" demonstration of the power of the marja'-i taqlid, and the protest itself has been cited as one of the issues that led to the Constitutional Revolution a few years later.
Following the cancellation of the concession, there were still difficulties between the Qajar government and the Imperial Tobacco Corporation of Persia in terms of negotiating the amount of compensation that would be paid to the company. Eventually, it was decided that the sum was to be £500,000(£61,000,000 inflation-corrected to 2018 value, corresponds to $77,600,000). While Iranians basked in the glory of impeding foreign influence into their country, the tobacco movement had far greater implications than they would even realize. Historian Nikki Keddie notes that the movement was significant because "Iranians saw for the first time that it was possible to win out against the Shah and foreign interests… there is a direct line from the coalition which participated in the tobacco movement… culminating in the Constitutional Revolution" and arguably the 1979 Iranian Revolution as well.
For Nasir Al-Din Shah, the protest left him both financially handicapped and publicly humiliated. Iran was forced to contract a loan from Russia and became a debtor state. At the end of his rule, Nasir Al-Din became much more hostile towards the West, preventing any form of European education or travel.
Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar,, was the fifth Qajar king of Persia (Iran), reigning from 1896 until his death in 1907. He is often credited with the creation of the Persian constitution, which he approved of as one of his final actions of Shah.
Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, also Nassereddin Shah Qajar, was the King of Persia from 5 September 1848 to 1 May 1896 when he was assassinated. He was the son of Mohammad Shah Qajar and Malek Jahān Khānom and the third longest reigning monarch in Iranian history after Shapur II of the Sassanid dynasty and Tahmasp I of the Safavid Dynasty. Nasser al-Din Shah had sovereign power for close to 50 years and was also the first modern Iranian monarch to formally visit Europe.
Hadi Sabzavari or Hajj Molla Hadi Sabzavari (1797–1873) was a famous Iranian philosopher, mystic theologian and poet.
Qajar art refers to the art, architecture, and art-forms of the Qajar dynasty of the late Persian Empire, which lasted from 1781 to 1925 in Iran (Persia).
Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri was a prominent Shia Muslim cleric in Qajar Iran during the late 19th and early 20th century and founder of political Islam in Iran. Despite his sympathy with the Iranian Constitutional Revolution in the beginning for its opposition to tyranny and rule of law, he soon turned against it upon realizing that the movement established a Western-style government with secular law rather than a government with Islamic law. He was executed for treason by Constitutionalists as a result. Today he is considered a martyr (shahid) in the fight against democracy by Islamic conservatives in Iran.
Mirza Reza Kermani, born in Kerman, Iran and died on August 10, 1896 in Tehran, was an adherent of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and an Iranian revolutionary who assassinated the Shah of Persia Nasser-al-Din.
The Persian Constitutional Revolution, also known as the Constitutional Revolution of Iran, took place between 1905 and 1911. The revolution led to the establishment of a parliament in Persia (Iran) during the Qajar dynasty.
Sayyid Jamal al-Din "Va'iz" Esfahani was a popular pro-constitutional preacher and writer in Iran. He was one of the founders of a constitutional movement in Isfahan in 1890s. He wrote for the reformist newspapers - especially for Al Jamal. He wrote mostly about the economy and the financial autonomy of Persia, which he compared it to jihad.
The Persian Constitutional Revolution was a short-lived push for democratic rule in the form of a constitutional monarchy within a highly elitist yet decentralized society under the Qajars. The mounting disgust amidst the clergy, bazaaris, farmers, intellectuals, and other segments of the populace with respect to the Shah(s)’ policies during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century illustrates a classic example of an environment ripe for protest, as a wide array of people in society felt an increasing need to express their grievances with an oppressive and largely autocratic government.
Mohammad Tabatabai was one of the leaders of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution who played an important role in the establishment of democracy and rule of law in Iran. He was the son of Sayyed Sādegh Tabātabā'i, one of the influential clerics during the reign of Naser ad-Din Shah Qajar. His paternal grandfather, Sayyed Mehdi Tabātabā'i, was a reputed clergy in Hamedan. He is the father of Sayyed Sādegh Tabātabā'i editor of Ruznāmeh-ye Majles, the Majles newspaper.
Bazaari is the name given to the merchant class and workers of bazaars, the traditional marketplaces of Iran. Bazaari are involved in "petty trade of a traditional, or nearly traditional, kind, centered on the bazaar and its Islamic culture". They have been described as "the class of people who helped make the 1979 Iranian Revolution".
Mirza Abolhassan Khan Shirazi Ilchi Kabir was an Iranian statesman who served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1824 to 1834, and then again from 1838 until his death in 1846. He also served as the ambassador to Imperial Russia and Great Britain, and was the main Iranian delegate at the signing of the notorious Treaty of Gulistan (1813) with neighbouring Russia.
The Ghavam (Qavam)family was one of the most influential Iranian families in the Qajar era (1785–1925). They were descendants of Haj Ebrahim Khan Kalantar. Many sources such as British secret documents and Nasser Al Din Shah Qajar himself believed that the family was Jewish. The family was so powerful with wealth and political power that it was often said in Shiraz "Before Reza Shah, Qavams were Shah here." The surname Ghavam is borrowed from honorific title Ghavam-al-saltaneh from Qajar court which means pillar or continuation of Kingdom.
William Cormick, was a physician in Qajar Iran of British origin during the reigns of Mohammad Shah Qajar (1834–1848) and Naser al-Din Shah Qajar (1848–1896). He is noted for having played an important role in the diffusion of Western medicine into Iranian society. He is also noted as the only westerner to have met the Báb.
Muhammad Hasan Ashtiyani (~1832–~1901) was an Iranian Shia mujtahid, jurist and man of hadith. He played a role during the Tobacco protest against the Tobacco Régie.
The Shah Mosque, also known as the Soltāni Mosque meaning "royal", renamed the Imam Mosque, after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, is a principal mosque in the northern section of the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran.
Sayyid Mohammed Hassan Husayni Nouri Shirazi, commonly known as Mirza Shirazi, was an Iranian Shia marja'. He is known for his 1891 verdict against the usage of tobacco in what became known as the Tobacco Protest in the Qajar era.
Mulla Ali Kani (Persian: ملا علی کنی, was an Iranian Shia Muslim scholar and philosopher involved with the Iranian Constitutional Revolution. He was a pupil of Muhammad Hasan al-Najafi. Kani was in charge of religious affairs of Iran, and had a great influence on people and even on Naser al-Din Shah Qajar and his court. After the singing of the Reuter concession in 1873 which in practice made Iran a colony of Britain, Mulla Ali Kani wrote a letter to the King, Nasir al-Din Shah, and opposed this contract. He wrote that what Reuter gains through this contract is even more than what Britain gained in India. He also wrote that when there is a flaw in governmental affairs, it is religious scholars' duty to refer to it, regardless of whether the king favors this approach, or tries to correct it or not. He asked the king in strong terms to cancel the contract and dismiss the prime minister, who was behind the signing of the contract. As a result of these objections, as well as foreign objections to the contract, Nasir al-Din Shah eventually canceled the contract and removed the minister from the office. Kani died in Tehran in 1888 and was buried in the shrine of Shah-Abdol-Azim shrine in Rey.