NEẒĀM-AL-SALṬANA MĀFIḤ, osaynqoli Khan (1832-1908), governor, minister, and prime minister of the Nāṣeri and Moẓaffarid era. Ḥosaynqoli Khan was the son of Šarif Khan Māfi. The Māfis were a sub-branch of the Bāyervand tribe of Lorestān (Taḏkerat al-odabā). They were close to the Zand dynasty, but when the Zands were defeated by Āqā Moḥammad Khan Qajar they were relocated from Fars to Qazvin and the adjacent provinces.
Ḥosaynqoli Khan, his brother Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan and his nephew Reżāqoli Khan worked closely together. To safeguard their interests and counter plots designed to harm them, it was necessary that a member of the family or a trusted representative should always be in Tehran while the others served in the provinces. For this reason they often inter-changed posts and appointments.
Ḥosaynqoli Khan’s career followed the typical vicissitude of all the period’s government officials, of which there are numerous examples cited in his published letters and memoirs (Ḵaṭerāt va asnād). No post was obtained without haggling and bargaining, and none was retained without struggle. Flagrant nepotism and consecutive instances of offices being sold had a detrimental effect on the stability of all government appointments. The constant shifting of power disrupted any administrative continuity and often led to disgrace and financial ruin, as Ḥosaynqoli Khan himself experienced during his years in office.
In 1854 Ḥosaynqoli Khan began his career in the service of Ḥesām-al-Salṭana (Bāmdād, I, pp. 448-56; Afżal-al-Molk, pp. 245-48), Nāṣer-al-Din Shah’s uncle, and served with him in Khorasan (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, p. 856). In 1870 he became vizier (piškār) of Abu’l-Fatḥ Mirzā, the son of Ḥosām-al-Salṭana, who was later made governor of Isfahan. In 1874 he served as governor of Yazd and received the title of Saʿd-al-Molk (Ḵāṭerāt, I, p. 39). The following year he was made the vizier of Fars during the governorship of Moʿtamed-al-Dawla. In 1882 he became administrator of the ports and customs of the Persian Gulf (Ḵāṭerāt, I, p. 70). At this time, when the government was trying to take control of the administration of the islands and ports of the Persian Gulf (Voṯuqi, pp. 112-17), Ḥosaynqoli Khan, an efficient, honest, and tough administrator with a strong sense of patriotism, successfully imposed the government’s rule in the south.
In 1885 Ḥosaynqoli Khan was made governor of Ḵamsa (present day Zanjān), which he administered successfully and which earned him commendment from the Shah (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 84-89). At his own suggestion, he was made responsible for the sale of ḵaleṣeh or government lands. These were badly farmed and Ḥosaynqoli Khan thought that they would be better administered if they were privately owned (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 89-90).
In 1888 he was made governor of ʿArabestān (present day Ḵuzestān) and Baḵtiāri, and given the title of Neẓām-al-Salṭana (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, p. 562; Ḵāṭerāt, I, p. 94); this was an important post and he seems to have accepted it with enthusiasm and pleasure. He had to pass through very difficult terrain, and to defeat one of the Baḵtiāri Khans who had rebelled against the central government, before he could reach his post (Kāṭerāt, I, pp. 93-101). He was so successful that when he reached Dezful people were, according to him, “figures without souls” (Ḵāṭerāt, I, p. 109).
The most important duty of the governor was to impose stability by means of cajoling or force and the collection of taxes, which was often very difficult due to local rebellions and unrest. Hitherto the government had had little influence in Ḵuzestān and it fell to Ḥosaynqoli Khan to make the power of the central government felt among the unruly Arabs, Lors and Baḵtiāri tribes who coexisted on the frontiers of the province (“this far off province” ??). He recounts that twice on the occasion of the Shah’s birthday he organized celebrations with fireworks, which was unprecedented (in the area?) (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 119, 133). The collection of taxes was particularly erratic and difficult, and the collectors often fell behind, so on several occasions he had to use the army and artillery to help levy taxes (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 115, 119-20).
He was an indefatigable traveler, going back and forth with a large force to surprise the rebellious šayḵs and to impress them with a display of the central government’s power, as in the case of Shaikh Mozʿel, the Shaikh of Moḥammareh (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 115-19). He undertook to repair some of the derelict buildings of Šuštār, such as the ark or fort (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 112-13). He extended the telegraph line to Ahvāz, where he also built a port, naming it Nāṣeri in honor of the shah. He also encouraged Iranian merchants to organize a maritime company (Ḵāṭerāt, I, p. 127). In 1882 the government had sent Najm-al-Molk to build the dam, but he was unsuccessful, and the planned dam never materialized (Najm-al-Molk, pp. 50-51). Najm-al-Molk was sent once again to oversee the building of the dam, but Ḥosaynqoli Khan was against the project and wrote to Tehran that it would be a very costly undertaking, and that the Iranians were unable to build it without the help of European engineers (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 125-27); he did attempt to build a bridge in Šuštar, which was destroyed by rain and flood (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 128-31).
The previous title of Ḥosaynqoli Khan Saʿd-al-Molk was bestowed on his brother (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, p. 562) who was made administrator of the ports and islands of the Persian Gulf. In 1891 Ḥosaynqoli Khan replaced his brother, who went on leave to Tehran. He took the occasion to tour the islands and ports of the Persian Gulf, and to inspect the buildings he had built in the area. He left two vivid accounts of these little-known regions, incuding their flora and fauna, geographical positions and social conditions. He deplored the state of the government buildings compared to those of the British installations (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 137-43, 311-18).
Ḥosaynqoli Khan enjoyed the trust of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah, who consulted him on occasion (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, p. 995). This relationship incurred the animosity of the powerful Grand Vizier (Ṣadr Aʿẓam) Amin-al-Solṭān, who had ruled since 1884. The success or failure of any appointment depended on his good will, and he even had the temerity to oppose the orders of the shah by absenting himself on the excuse of sickness (Ettehadieh, I, pp. 148, 169). In 1892 the shah appointed Ḥosaynqoli Khan to Fars, for which he paid a considerable sum (of money?) (ʿAyn-al-Salṭana, I, pp. 518, 578). Fars was in turmoil and the rivalry between Ṣowlat-al-Dawla, the chief of the Qašqāʾi tribe, and Qawām-al-Molk, the head of the Ḵamsa tribal confederacy was a constant source of trouble (Oberling, pp. 73-76). The appointment of Ḥosaynqoli Khan did not meet with the approval of the Grand Vizier (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, p. 938), who had another candidate in mind. The Grand Vizier plotted with Qawām; a rebellion ensued, and Ḥosaynqoli Khan was dismissed (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 157-60; ʿAyn-al-Salṭana, I, p.530).
In 1895 Ḥosaynqoli Khan was made governor of ʿArabestān for the second time. This appointment included the governing of Lorestān, which he delegated to his nephew, and Baḵtiāri, to which he appointed his brother (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 175-78; Afżal-al-Molk, p. 77). On this point he wrote in his diary that the people of ʿArabestān knew him well and he therefore did not have to act as forcefully as before. The collection of taxes, however, remained a great difficulty (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 182-83). Ḥosaynqoli Khan, his brother and nephew were still at their posts when Nāṣer-al-Din Shah was assassinated in 1896. They were recalled a few months later (Afżal-al-Molk, p. 82).
While in ʿArabestān, Ḥosaynqoli Khan fell out of favor with the British. In fact, the distrust and antipathy he felt for the British officials was mutual (Curzon, II, pp. 353, 356, 380-81; Sykes, p. 287). Already during his first governorship he had opposed the concessions the government had made to the British. Seven years later he found them well established in areas in the south of the Persian Gulf and extending their influence on the coast of Iran in the north of the Persian Gulf (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 185-90). Ḥosaynqoli Khan, along with his brother and nephew, deplored Britain’s ascendency and tried to obstruct them, but they could do little because they did not have the support of their own government (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 185-86). This attitude, however, made them unpopular with the British, who asked that the government not give them employment in southern Iran for five years (Ḵāṭerāt, I, p. 220).
After the accession of Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah, Ḥosaynqoli Khan became involved in the plot to oust the unpopular Grand Vizier Amin-al-Solṭān (Malek-al-Movarreḵin, I, p. 383), who was considered responsible for all the concessions the government had made to Britain and Russia. He was replaced by Mirzā ʿAli Khan Amin-al-Dawla, who was known for his reformist ideas (Amin-al-Dawla, p. 247), and Ḥosaynqoli Khan was appointed Minister of Justice and Trade in the new administration (Afżal-al-Molk, p. 232) and was briefly Minister of Finance (Afżal-al-Molk, pp. 241-2; Malek-al-Movarreḵin, I, p. 762). At this time the finances of the country were in disarray and the treasury was empty (Kazemzadeh, pp. 80, 85). Amin-al-Dawla, having been unsuccessful in his attempts to obtain a loan from an international syndicate (Kazemzadeh, pp. 289-98), resigned, and when Amin-al-Solṭān returned to power in 1899 (Kazemzadeh, p. 301) Ḥosaynqoli Khan could not remain in Tehran (Malek-al-Movarreḵin, I, p. 325) and was made vizier of Moḥammad ʿAli Mirzā, the Crown Prince in Azerbaijan (Afżal-al-Molk, p. 354). He accepted reluctantly, especially as the Prince was not well disposed towards him (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 28-29).
Ḥosaynqoli Khan was in Tabriz when Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah passed through Azerbaijan on his trip to Europe. In his diary Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah praises the efforts Ḥosaynqoli Khan made to welcome him and his party (Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah, pp. 24, 26, 42, 241). Ḥosaynqoli Khan, on the other hand, was very critical of the shah. Azerbaijan was going through a period of great famine (Malek-al-Movarreḵin, I, p. 493), and Hosaynqoli Khan recounts the difficulty he had in providing the shah and his large retinue with food, lodging and forage for the animals (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 242-43). On the return of the shah he had to organize a state dinner for the Russian dignitaries who accompanied the shah, which turned into a fiasco when it rained heavily and the tents were flooded (Ḵāṭerāt, I, p. 249). He incurred a large debt due to the bleak conditions of Azerbaijan, which was only repaid in installments after he had complained bitterly on several occasions (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp. 253-62). He was recalled after the shah’s return and remained unemployed; he retired to his lands in Ḵamsa until the fall of Amin-al-Solṭān in 1903.
Ḥosaynqoli Khan was reappointed to Azerbaijan in 1904 when the shah went on his third journey to Europe and the Crown Prince was obliged to come to Tehran where the first signs of unrest portended the emergence of the Constitutional Revolution (Nāẓem al-Eslām, I, pp. 245-328). The situation was dire and Ḥosaynqoli Khan reluctantly accepted the post. The undercurrents of dissatisfaction and the mood of defiance that would soon lead to the revolution were also apparent in Tabriz (Kasravi, pp. 127-58). Ḥosaynqoli Khan worried about the radicalization of the movement and was unsure of where it would lead. He was skeptical about the ultimate outcomes of events he had witnessed, but admired that people of different denominations had united and abandoned sectarian politics (Ḵāṭerāt, III, pp. 402, 404). He was not optimistic, however, about the future of the country. He was a witness to Russia’s overwhelming presence and thought the loss of the country’s independence was only a matter of time (Ḵāṭerāt, III, p. 395). He was finally discharged of his duties in October 1906.
After two short spells as governor of Isfahan and Fars, Ḥosaynqoli Khan was appointed Prime Minister (Raʾis-al-Vozarā) in February 1908, but he was overwhelmed by the unprecedented events occurring around him (Ḵāṭerāt III, pp. 450-52). He was caught between Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah, who wished to overthrow the Majles (parliament), the courtiers who plotted his downfall (Moḡiṯ-al-Salṭana, p. 211), and the more radical deputies and revolutionary anjomans (societies), who found him too conservative. He resigned just before the bombardment of the Majles in June 1908. The last year of his life was marred by the loss of his only son (Moḡiṯ-al-Salṭana, p. 200). He died a few months later in August 1908.
Memoirs. Ḥosaynqoli Khan’s memoirs cover the years 1854 to 1903. These have been published together with his correspondences with his nephew, Reżāqoli Khan, from 1884 to 1908. This collection is an invaluable source of information on conditions during the reigns of the three monarchs he served and knew personally. He was no admirer of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah, but had a good relationship with him. However, he did not approve of the influence of Amin-al-Solṭān. He disapproved of the manner in which he conducted the state’s affairs and of his flagrant nepotism. He was also a vociferous critic of concessions made to foreign powers (Ḵāṭerāt, I, p. 199).
Ḥosaynqoli Khan found Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah inferior to his father and thought him weak, capricious and lacking in wisdom. He did not approve of his simple manners or his familiarity with his attendants (Ḵāṭerāt, I, p. 206, 245). He held his courtiers in low esteem, as did other observers (Amin-al-Dawla, p. 227; Nāẓem-al-Eslām, II, p. 129), and considered them corrupt and depraved (Ḵāṭerāt, I, pp 205,209). He thought Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah, whom he had come to know as Crown Prince, obnoxious. When he was going to be appointed to Azerbaijan for the second time, he wrote that even if they put him in chains he would not accept being associated with such a disreputable person (Ḵāṭerāt, III, p. 352); however, he had no choice in the matter.
In his memoirs and letters Ḥosaynqoli Khan expounds in detail on the political conditions of the time, the relationships of individual courtiers to one another, and the plots and alliances that he witnessed or participated in himself. He describes social issues, the economic and financial situation of the government, condition of the roads and modes of travel, the geographical topography of the country he traveled through, local affairs in the provinces where he served and many other topics. His memoirs and correspondences also provide a glimpse into his character. He was ambitious, hard-working and an honest administrator (Afżal-al-Molk, pp. 243-4). He had a deep faith in Islam and believed that everything worked according to God’s will. He was patriotic to a fanatical extent (Ḵāṭerāt, I, p. 188). Ḥosaynqoli Khan and his brother were neither admirers nor imitators of the European manners which were becoming fashionable. He was a strict employer and expected a high standard of behavior in his subordinates. Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, who was mainly critical of the courtiers of his day, approved of him (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, p. 856) He was a learned man, an adib (Afżal-al-Molk, p. 242) well versed in the classical literature of Iran, and his writing is punctuated with verses of poetry and aphorisms. He was also a patron of the poets Iraj Mirzā and Forṣat Širāzi.
Ḥosaynqoli Khan was a pragmatist and harbored no illusions. One remark in his diary may be said to epitomize his cynical view on life and his wry sense of humor. Upon visiting the ruins of the Sasanian city of Madāʾen, he referred to the well-known verse by the poet Ḵāqāni which addressed the onlooker to behold the ruins of Madāʾen and take heed. He wrote that “he did behold Madāʾen but took no heed.” (Ḵāṭerāt, I, p. 80)
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Originally Published: November 24, 2010