DAWLATŠĀH, MOḤAMMAD-ʿALĪ MĪRZĀ (1203-37/1789-1821), eldest son of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah (1212-50/1797-1834) and powerful prince-governor of western provinces of Persia. He was born in the resort village of Navā in Māzandarān to Zībā-čehr Ḵānom, a Georgian (Čūš) slave girl of the Tzicara Chwili family owned by Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah, and was senior by seven months to ʿAbbās Mīrzā. Proximity in age between these and other princes later contributed to a prolonged succession crisis in the Qajar house.

Upon his father’s accession in 1212/1797 Mo-ḥammad-ʿAlī was appointed nominal governor of Fārs and soon after, at the age of twelve years, governor of Qazvīn, Ḵamsa, and Gīlān. His military gifts soon surfaced in confrontations with ʿAlī Pasha, the mamlūkwālī of Ottoman Iraq, whose appointment in 1220/1805 was made without Persian consent, which had customarily been sought by the Ottoman court (Bāb-e ʿālī). The new wālī’s hostile attitude encouraged the shah to give refuge to ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Khan Bābān of Šahrazūr, the most powerful Kurdish frontier chief, and his numerous tribesmen. ʿAlī Pasha viewed this move as a breach of frontier protocol and caused a rift in relations between the two powers. When, in 1221/1806, ʿAlī Pasha attacked ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Khan inside Persian territory Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā responded by crossing into Iraqi Kurdistan, accompanied by other military chiefs, and capturing Solaymānīya, taking prisoner the Ottoman governor and a large body of troops (Hedāyat, Rawżat al-ṣafā I, pp. 426-30; Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, Montaẓam-e nāṣerī III, pp. 1478-79, 1482-83; Ḵormūjī, p. 13-14). In this campaign the young prince revealed valor and political skill, but his success was also facilitated by the wālī’s retreat, in compliance with the Ottoman sultan’s desire to maintain peace with Persia in hopes of forging an alliance against the common Russian threat. ʿAlī Pasha dispatched the celebrated Arab Shiʿite jurist Shaikh Jaʿfar Najafī, author of Kašf al-ḡēṭāʾ, to negotiate with Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā in Kermānšāh; he persuaded the deeply religious prince to advise his father to cease hostilities and release the captured prisoners in exchange for reinstatement of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān in Šahrazūr.

Following the age-old tradition of assigning frontier provinces to senior sons, in 1224/1809 the shah formally appointed Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā governor-general (wālī) of the entire frontier region from Kermānšāh, Zohāb, and Sonqor to Hamadān, Lorestān, Baḵtīārī, and Ḵūzestān; he served in this post unchallenged for the rest of his life. He was also given the title dawlatšāh, which emboded a subtle reference to regal prospects. Assignment of so large a territory to Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā, who governed with a miniature version of the Tehran court, represented Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah’s policy of creating semiautonomous princely governorships in hopes of lessening rivalry among his sons; he supplemented the appointments with numerous gifts of concubines and jewelry. Governing a strategically important region on the Ottoman frontier posed fresh challenges to the ambitious Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā. The disputed sovereignty over the Kurdish frontier tribes was further complicated by the shifting loyalties of the Bābān chiefs, who tried to play the neighboring states off against each other. Moreover, the security of Persian pilgrims to the holy cities of Iraq, which was frequently violated, and obstacles to the flow of overland trade between Baghdad and Kermānšāh were thorny issues that prevented conclusion of a defensive treaty between the Persian and Ottoman empires against Russia, a treaty that Great Britain strongly favored. In 1227/1812 ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān was defeated in skirmishes with Ottoman troops of a new wālī in Iraq, ʿAbd-Allāh Pasha, and again took refuge with Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā, who then attacked Ottoman territory at the head of a large force, advancing to the vicinity of Baghdad. Mediation by Shaikh Jaʿfar Najafī put an end to Persian looting and destruction in exchange for reinstatement of the Bābān chief as governor of Šahrazūr. Despite the appointment in 1231/1816 of Dāwūd Pasha, a more forceful wālī of Baghdad, the Persians retained this advantage for nearly a decade (Hedāyat, Rawżat al-ṣafā I, pp. 481-82; Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, Montaẓam-e nāṣerī III, pp. 1504-05).

The policy of backing Kurdish warlords against Baghdad as a guarantee for security of the Persian frontiers reached a climax in 1236/1821, when Dawlatšāh again attacked Baghdad on the pretext of protecting ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān’s son and successor, Maḥmūd Pasha Bābān, whom the Ottomans accused of disloyalty. Dawlatšāh’s operation was coordinated with a campaign by ʿAbbās Mīrzā, who, after being defeated in the first round of the Russo-Persian war (1220-28/1805-13), was seeking victory over the Ottomans on the Erzurum (Arz-e Rūm) front in Anatolia. Moḥammad-ʿAlī advanced deep into Iraq but was stopped by the formidable walls of Baghdad and dissuaded from taking the city by the intervention of Shaikh Mūsā Najafī, son of Shaikh Jaʿfar. This campaign ended abruptly, however, with the prince’s death from cholera at Ṭāq-e Garrā during his withdrawal. Dawlatšāh’s death led to a temporary lull in the troubled relations between Persia and the Ottoman empire; shortly afterward some of the disputed issues were partially settled in the treaty of Erzurum in 1238/1823 (Ḥedāyat, Rawżat al-ṣafā I, pp. 597-604).

Dawlatšāh’s military ventures were partly motivated by intense competition with ʿAbbās Mīrzā. The principles of Qajar succession had not yet been fully established, and the two brothers’ valor and military leadership seemed crucial to their nomination to the throne. Despite his seniority, Dawlatšāh’s descent from a slave was a fundamental obstacle. ʿAbbās Mīrzā was descended from the Qajar family on both sides, which favored his claim. Āqā Moḥammad Khan had supposedly named pure Qajar lineage as the prime prerequisite for succession, but it was resisted by royal princes who preferred either primogeniture or an open contest to determine the ablest candidate. Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā viewed the succession as his legitimate right and resented his exclusion, particularly as he possessed superior martial qualities, a record of repeated military victories, and a robust physique, in contrast to ʿAbbās Mīrzā, who had a weak constitution and had been defeated in the war with Russia. The shah’s efforts to preserve a balance of power among his sons were further complicated by the growing involvement of European powers and their support of rival candidates. Article 4 of the treaty of Golestān (1228/1813) left the door open for Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā’s succession. It required the tsar “to recognize the Prince who shall be nominated heir-apparent, and to afford him assistance in case he should require it to suppress any opposing party” (Hurewitz, p. 198). Not surprisingly, in 1233/1818 Prince Alexei Petrovich Ermolov, the Russian emissary to Persia, who was frustrated by ʿAbbās Mīrzā’s resistance to his territorial demands, began to court Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā and promised support for his claim to the succession (Atkin, p. 153; Algar, p. 83). Although this rapprochement brought no concrete results, it may have influenced Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā’s aggressive policy toward Ottoman Iraq. His death removed the most formidable challenge to ʿAbbās Mīrzā’s succession and reduced the intensity of the civil war fought in 1249-50/1834-35 between ʿAbbās Mīrzā’s son Moḥammad Shah (1250-64/1834-48) and the surviving senior sons of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah.

Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā’s impressive military record was not incongruent with a certain degree of cultural refinement and political competence. Under his rule Kermānšāh and the western provinces enjoyed an exceptional period of prosperity and social calm, enhanced by trade and pilgrim traffic, as well as by the expansion of the rich agricultural base. He also tolerated ethnic and religious diversity in the province. Large communities of the Kurdish Ahl-e Ḥaqq residing in the Kermānšāh region served in his army, and their chiefs benefited from the prince’s patronage. Although he showed respect for jurists like Shaikh Jaʿfar Najafī, the prince preferred the celebrated Arab theologian and philosopher Shaikh Aḥmad Aḥsāʾī, founder of Shaikhism; at the prince’s invitation and with his financial support the saintly Aḥsāʾī lived in Kermānšāh for eight years (1229-37/1814-21), providing a counterbalance to the stern legalism of the mojtaheds. At Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā’s request he wrote a number of treatises on theological subjects, including al-ʿEṣma wa’l-rajaʿa on corporeal resurrection. The prince’s interest in the hereafter went beyond eschatological conjecture, and he sought to guarantee his own salvation by convincing Aḥsāʾī to produce a testament, comparable to an indulgence, to his good conduct in this world. On his deathbed Dawlatšāh made sure that this testament would be placed in his coffin (Algar, pp. 68, 70).

Dawlatšāh’s religious outlook did not diminish his curiosity about the West. Āqā Sayyed Aḥmad Behbahānī, a relatively enlightened son of Āqā Moḥammad-ʿAlī and a resident of India, dedicated to the prince a voluminous tome on family history and an account of modern Europe and the New World entitled Merʾāt al-aḥwāl-e jahānnemā. One of the earliest such works in Persian, it seems to have been a source of Dawlatšāh’s knowledge of European history and contemporary affairs, which impressed the British envoy Sir Gore Ouseley when he met him in 1224/1809. Dawlatšāh’s erroneous insistence that the Portuguese, rather than the Spaniards, had been the first explorers of the New World incensed Ouseley, however. In keeping with the fashion in the time of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah, Dawlatšāh also composed poetry under the pen name (taḵalloṣ) Dawlat (Ḵayyāmpūr, Soḵanvarān, p. 213). In addition to his Dīvān, he also compiled a biographical dictionary of his own contemporaries, Maʿāṣer-e Dawlatšāh, which is unpublished. His interest in astronomy and occult sciences, history, and literary theory exemplifies the Qajar princes’ attachment to Persian high culture. He patronized buildings in Qazvīn, Šūštar, Dezfūl, and Kermānšāh, including the Gargar dam in Šūštar. In competition with ʿAbbās Mīrzā he also tried to modernize his army along European lines, first by employing French officers from the mission of General Alfred de Gardane to Persia in 1223/1808 and soon after by commissioning British instructors.

European observers judged Dawlatšāh differently. Some admired his robustness, articulacy, and assertiveness, whereas his critics judged him volatile and imperious. In 1226/1811 he allegedly threatened to stab himself if his father denied him permission to attack Baghdad (Atkin, p. 115). His bitterness at being denied the succession is clear from some anecdotes from his childhood (e.g., ʿAẓod-al-Dawla, pp. 122, 124).

Given the intense rivalry between ʿAbbās Mīrzā and Dawlatšāh, Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah’s anxiety over their simultaneous presence in the annual military review at Solṭānīya in 1223/1808 is comprehensible, as is his careful manipulation of protocol involving the two at the court in Tehran. The seat on his right during public audiences and on other occasions was awarded alternately to Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā and ʿAbbās Mīrzā, symbolizing the shah’s deliberate ambiguity over the final choice of his successor. His intense grief at Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā’s death may have reflected his loss not only of a capable son but also of a counterbalance in the complex princely politics of his kingdom.

Dawlatšāh was survived by twenty-four children, including seven adult sons, of whom the eldest, Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Mīrzā, succeeded him as governor of Kermānšāh and was himself succeeded by his brother Ṭahmāsb Mīrzā Moʾayyad-al-Dawla, known for both literary and technological pursuits. The governorship of Kermānšāh remained in Dawlatšāh’s house until the death of still another son, Emāmqolī Mīrzā ʿEmād-al-Dawla, in 1292/1875.



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(Abbas Amanat)

Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: November 18, 2011

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