Friday, July 1, 2011

Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy

Chapter 5: The Fall of the Safavids, Nader Shah, the Eighteenth-Century Interregnum, and the Early Years of the Qajar Dynasty

  • "The prime agent of the Safavid dynasty's destruction was an Afghan of the Ghilzai tribe, from Kandahar, Mir Veis." - 148
  • "Like most Pashtun-speaking Afghans, Mir Veis was a Sunni Muslim." - 149
  • October 23, 1722: Shah Sultan Hosein "surrendered the city [of Isfahan] and the [Safavid] throne to Mahmud Ghilzai", son of Mir Veis - 150
  • 1729: "Nader [Qoli, also Tahmasp Qoli Khan, meaning slave of Tahmasp]'s army had defeated the Afghans in three battles and had retaken Isfahan." - 153
  • "Within Persia, Nader sought only to amend religious practices -- not to impose Sunnism wholesale. But outside Persia he presented himself and the country as converts to Sunnism" partly to compete with the Sunni Ottoman Empire for influence over the Islamic world - 157
  • "Using the excuse that the Moghul authorities had given refuge to Afghan fugitives, Nader crossed the old frontier between the Persian and Moghul empires, took Kabul, and marched on toward Delhi." - 157
  • "Nader's annexation of Moghul territory west of the Indus, removing the geographical barrier of the Afghan mountains, was one indicator that his regime, had it endured, might have expanded further into India." - 159
  • "On his arrival in Kandahar, Ahmad [Khan Abdali, commander of the Afghans under Nader Shah] was elected to be the first shah of the Durrani dynasty, founding a state based on Kandahar, Herat, and Kabul that was to become modern Afghanistan." - 165-6
  • "Agha Mohammad [Khan, first Qajar ruler] marched on to Isfahan, taking it in the early part of 1785. He was then duly accepted into Tehran in March 1786....From then on it became clear that he intended to establish himself as ruler of the whole country, and Tehran has been the capital since that time." - 169
  • "The Akhbaris asserted that ordinary Muslims should read and interpret the holy texts for themselves, without the need for intermediaries. The traditions (hadith) -- especially the traditions of the Shi'a Emams -- were the best guide. The Usulis rejected this doctrine, saying that authoritative interpretation (ijtihad) on the basis of reason was necessary and required extended scholarly training" - 172
  • "This dispute [between Akhbaris and Usulis] was not fully resolve until the early Qajar period...: each Shi'a Muslim had to have a marja-e taqlid, an 'object of emulation' or religious role model. This had to be a living person, a mojtahed [ a specially talented scholar in the ulema], which in practice meant only one or two of just a few mojtaheds in each generation. As some were thus elevated, a hierarchy of mojtaheds came to be created." - 173
  • during Fath Ali Shah's reign, "Europeans suddenly began travelling to and reporting back from Persia in large numbers, both as tourists and as state representatives operating out of diplomatic missions. This was because Fath Ali Shah's reign coincided with the revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and the European powers were reaching out in competition with one another to find new allies." - 176
  • "After Agha Mohammad's massacre at Tbilisi [capital of modern-day Georgia] in 1795, the Russians established a protectorate in Georgia, stationed troops there in 1799, and later abolished the Georgian monarchy after the death of its king -- effectively annexing the territory." - 178
  • "although the British encouraged Fath Ali Shah to continue the costly war with the Russians, when Napoleon attacked Russia in 1812 Britain and Russia again became allies, and Britain's enthusiasm for helping Persia against the Russians evaporated." - 180

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