EPʿREM KHAN (Pers. Yeprem/Efrem; 1868-1912), Armenian revolutionary and important military leader of the Constitutional Revolution (q.v.) (Figure 1). Epʿrem Dawtʿean (Asribēkean) was born of an Armenian family in Barsum village (Ganja province) in the Russian Caucasus. As a youth, he participated in Armenian nationalist groups and partisan activities in the Ottoman empire. He was arrested by Russian Cossacks in September 1890 while he was trying to cross the Russo-Ottoman frontier as a member of the Kukunean expedition. This guerilla force, composed of several hundred Armenian fighters, intended to instigate European intervention in favor of reforms for Ottoman Armenians by formenting disturbances. After spending several years in prison, Epʿrem was exiled to Siberia in 1892, but he managed to escaped to Tabrīz in October 1896 (Melikʿ, pp. 15-16; Movsisean, 1972; Varandean, I, pp. 76-77).
Epʿrem began working full-time for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), an Armenian nationalist and socialist political party whose activity in Persia was primarily directed against the Ottoman regime (see DAŠNAK). Epʿrem smuggled guns from the Caucasus, which often were later introduced into Ottoman territory; politically organized Armenians in Tabrīz and Qarādāḡ and taught in the Armenian schools of the village Aḡāḡān in Qarādāḡ. In August 1897 Epʿrem participated in an ARF punitory raid across the border against the Ottoman Kurdish Mazrik tribe, which had recently conducted a massacre of Armenians. Ottoman pressure on the Persian government to punish the Armenians involved led Epʿrem to take a refuge briefly in the Caucasus. In 1902, several years after his return to Persia, he married. He worked in road construction and then bought a brick factory in the Persian town of Rašt (Amurean, 1950, pp. 91, 97-100, 103-8; Ēlmar, pp. 205-16; Varandean, I, pp. 177-89).
By 1906, Epʿrem was a proponent of ARF participation in the Persian constitutional movement, which the party formally accepted in February 1907 (Ēlmar, p. 113; Amurean, 1950, p. 55). Moḥammad-ʿAlī Shah’s efforts to suppress the movement, especially the bombardment of the Persian parliament by Cossacks on 23 June 1908 and the disbanding of the Rašt anjoman, led Epʿrem, during the summer of 1908 when he was visiting Baku, to obtain arms and prepare for revolutionary activity. He helped establish the Sattār Committee (named after the revolutionary leader Sattār Khan), composed of Persians and Armenians, in Rašt; but, unhappy with its social democratic leanings, he founded in Anzalī Komīta-ye barq, which was more revolutionary in nature (Yeprem, pp. 23-25; Taqīzāda, p. 123; Faḵrāʾī, pp. 113-15; Amurean, 1950, pp. 109-11; Amurean, 1976-79, pp. 20-24; Ēlmar, pp. 218-24; Kasrawī, Aḏarbāyjān, p. 8; Rāʾīn, p. 64; Hayrik, p. 27).
Epʿrem was one of the leaders of the coalition of constitutionalist Armenians, Georgians, and Persians which occupied Rašt on 27 Moḥarram 1327/8 February 1909. Epʿrem and a small force then occupied Anzalī (Yeprem, pp. 26-27; Ēlmar, pp. 227-28, 232-34; Kasrawī, Aḏarbāyjān, p. 10; Hayrik, pp. 27-28; Malekzāda, 3rd ed., p. 1070; Faḵrāʾī, pp. 119-20; Amurean, 1976, pp. 25-27).
A commission of war to coordinate the fighting was created, with Epʿrem a member (Kasrawī, Āḏarbāyjān, p. 12; Malekzāda, 3rd ed., p. 1073). Epʿrem proceeded towards Qazvīn with Armenian and Georgian fighters, and after various battles along the way, they took the city on 14 Rabīʿ II/5 May. A few days later, a powerful landowner, Moḥammad-Walī Khan Sepahdār Tonokābonī came from Rašt, where the revolutionaries had made him governor-general of Gīlān, to join the fighters as their titular leader (Kasrawī, Aḏarbāyjān, p. 24; Yeprem, pp. 27-33; Hayrik, pp. 28-30; Tēr Daniēlean, Nov. 1924, pp. 65-67).
Epʿrem then took the initiative in organizing an expedition on Tehran, and his group formed the advance guard. A few days after its unsuccessful attempt to take Šāhābād on 4-5 July, Sepahdār and ʿAlī-Qolī Khan Sardār Asʿad Baḵtīārī (q.v.) with his Baḵtīārī cavalry joined their forces with Epʿrem’s. After fighting in nearby villages, Tehran was entered on 24 Jomādā II/13 July and quickly pacified (Kasrawī, Aḏarbāyjān, pp. 33-34, 51-58; Shuster, xlvi; Browne, Persian Revolution, pp. 438-40; Malekzāda, 3rd. ed., pp. 1162-234; Yeprem, pp. 40-58; Varandean, II, pp. 84-85; Hayrik, pp. 31-35; Tēr Daniēlean, November 1924, pp. 69-72; Melikʿ Andrēasean, I, II).
Epʿrem was accorded the right to participate in the discussions and vote in the temporary Majles-e ʿālī (Supreme Assembly), which deposed Moḥammad-ʿAlī Shah in favor of his son and formed a new government. He was appointed chief of police for the city on 12 Rajab 1327/30 July 1909 by the latter body, and proceeded to restore order in Tehran (Kasrawī, Aḏarbāyjān, p. 62; Malekzāda, 3rd. ed., p. 1247; Yeprem, p. 60; Hayrik, p. 36). He reorganized the police force and formed a gendarmerie, introducing European uniforms and training. These reforms were paid through a new tax on alcoholic beverages, opium, and tobacco. By the fall of 1910, Epʿrem was appointed chief of police for all Persia (Ēlmar, 290-93; Varandean, II, pp. 85-86; Tēr Daniēlean, March 1925, pp. 108, 110; Rāʾīn, pp. 249, 265-67, 282-84; Faḵrāʾī, p. 258)
Epʿrem led a number of successful military campaigns against opponents of the constitutional regime. The devotion and respect of his men was so great that both Armenians and Persians called him “father.” On 2 Ḏu’l-Qaʿda 1327/15 November 1909 the combined forces of Epʿrem and Jaʿfar-Qolī Khan Baḵtīārī (q.v.), son of ʿAlī-Qolī Khan Sardār Asʿad, defeated Mollā Qorbān-ʿAlī in Zanjān. In December and January it defeated the forces of Raḥīm Khan Čalabīānlū and the other Khans of Qarādāḡ. In March 1910 Epʿrem persuaded Bāqer Khan and Sattār Khan to leave Tabrīz in order to avoid complications with Russian occupiers. In April, Epʿrem and the state troops defeated the Šāhsevan tribes (Ēlmar, 296-343; Kasrawī, Aḏarbāyjān, pp. 74-75, 102-12, 115-17; Malekzāda, 3rd. ed., pp. 1307-9, 1315-16; Tēr Daniēlean, December 1924, pp. 68-77, January 1925, pp. 131-37, February 1925, pp. 89-94; Shuster, pp. lii).
When the ex-shah landed on Persian soil on 17 July 1911, the most powerful of three armies sent against him was led by Epʿrem, with a core of 200 Armenian fighters, to Khorasan. A group the latter sent behind Moḥammad-ʿAlī’s forces in Māzandarān defeated them near Āmol. Epʿrem, with the help of Sardār Bahādor and Sardār Moḥtašam, won the crucial victory near Emāmzˊāda Jaʿfar on 11 Ramażan 1329/5 September 1911 against ʿAlī Khan Aršad-al-Dawla, the ex-Shah’s best general, who was marching on Tehran. The next day Aršad-al-Dawla was executed on orders from Tehran (Kasrawī, Aḏarbāyjān, pp. 168-69, 171-86; Malekzāda, 3rd. ed., pp. 1407, 1427-32; Tēr Daniēlean, March 1925, pp. 110-12; “Parskastan,” February 1912, pp. 26-27).
The Shah’s younger brother, Sālār-al-Dawla, was decisively defeated at the end of September 1911 at Sāva and Bāḡ-e Šāh southeast of Tehran by Epʿrem’s gendarmes, Armenian volunteers, and the Baḵtīārīs (Ēlmar, 480-93; Kasrawī, Aḏarbājān, pp. 192-93; Malekzāda, 3rd. ed., pp. 1436-42, 1315-16; Tēr Daniēlean, March 1925, pp. 112-16; “Parskastan,” April 1912, pp. 84-87). As a reward, the government presented Epʿrem with a gem-studded sword, a pension, and the title of Sardār (Shuster, p. 135; Kasrawī, Aḏarbāyjān, p. 186; Malekzāda, 3rd ed., p. 1438; Ēlmar, pp. 538-40).
A second expedition in 1912 was directed against the forces of the ex-Shah in the Šāhrūd and Dāmˊḡān region, and Sālār-al-Dawla in the Kermānšāh area. Thre groups of fighters were sent out against the ex-shah by Epʿrem forced the latter to leave Persia. However, on 2 Jomādā II 1330/19 May 1912, during a successful battle against Sālār-al-Dawla’s forces, Epʿrem was killed while trying to rescue the body of a comrade (Ēlmar, pp. 522-35; Kasrawī, Aḏarbāyjān, p. 518; Malekzāda, 3rd. ed., pp. 1480, 1518-21; Tēr Daniēlean, April 1925, pp. 89-93).
Epʿrem uneasily reconciled his revolutionary beliefs with his position as police chief, resigning and returning to office several times. Many, including ARF members, criticized him for following government orders, particularly on the following occasions: He helped organize the disarming of disaffected, disorderly former constitutionalist fighters, including Sattār Khan and Bāqer Khan, on 7 August 1910 in Atābak-e Aʿẓam Park, which led to a number of casualties. On 24 December 1911, Epʿrem shut down the parliament in order to comply with a Russian ultimatum, and this marked the close of Persia’s Constitutional Revolution (Kasrawī, Aḏarbāyjān, pp. 134-35, 256-58, 481, 492, 516-17; Malekzāda, 3rd. ed., pp. 1345-51, 1473-77, 1392; Ēlmar, pp. 504-7, 558-68; Shuster, pp. 200, 215; Amurean, 1976, pp. 167-71; Rāʾīn, pp. 343-72; Tēr Daniēlean, March 1925, pp. 108-10).
Epʿrem is generally evaluated positively as a leading figure in the Constitutional Revolution by historians favorable towards the latter, like Kasrawī, and disparaged by critics like Ṣafāʿī (Faḵrāʾī, pp. 258-60). Some Islamic Republic textbooks incorrectly ascribe to him membership in the court condemning Shaikh Faẓl-Allāh Nūrī to death (Abrahamian, 1993, p. 96).
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Originally Published: December 15, 1998
Last Updated: December 15, 2011
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Vol. VIII, Fasc. 5, pp. 513-515