Soltan Ahmad Shah and the Coup of 1925-26


When Soltan Ahmad Shah went to Europe in 1923, leaving his country for the last time, it was with a kind of premonition that he would not return to his country unless he was able to make his mark conclusively with the British that he not only was the legitimate ruler of Persia, but that he also was the only political alternative there. He knew, better than anybody else, that the British had decided that his continuance on the throne was contingent upon his acceptance of the humiliation of the 1919 Anglo-Persian Agreement. He also knew that accepting that agreement as binding upon the Persian people and their king would be tantamount to selling the country to the British outright. He decided that he would rather be the last Qajar (Kadjar) shah than to live with the dishonour of having sold his country. This decision, however, was not a fatalistic one. He came to Europe not as a weak king seeking protection for his own continuance on the throne; he came as the legitimate constitutional monarch of Persia to make his case in the court of public opinion, and to put to shame the British who were about to unseat him.

Needless to say, his gamble did not work. The British had already decided that Soltan Ahmad Shah, and the Qajars (Kadjars) in general, were too troublesome. They had chosen the next caretakers from among a new breed with no political past. By owing them everything, so the British mind argued, the new rulers would abide by anything their masters would demand. And thus they wrote off Soltan Ahmad Shah and the Qajars (Kadjars), and cast their lot with Seyyed Zia-ed-Din Tabatabai and Reza Khan.

Upon hearing of the coup government's action, Soltan Ahmad Shah, from Paris, makes the following proclamation:

"At this tragic moment when the future of my country is at risk, all my thoughts are with my people, to whom I address this declaration: The coup d'etat just committed by Reza Khan against the constitution and my dynasty, was committed through the force of bayonets. It contravenes the most sacred laws and fatally leads my people into great calamities and undeserved sufferance. I strongly raise my voice in protest against this coup d'etat. Now and in the future, I consider null and void all acts emanating from such a government and committed under its rule. I am and remain the legitimate and constitutional sovereign of Persia, and I await the hour of my return to my country to continue serving my people."(Soltan Ali Kadjar, 322-333)

(Attached are pages in Soltan Ahmad Shah's hand, addressed to Reza Khan Sardar Sepah, responding to the very events that ultimately led Reza Khan to take matters into his own hands. To view them, click here.)

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In 1925, Reza Khan Sardar Sepah forces the Madjles to vote to depose Soltan Ahmad Shah and declare the end of the Qajar (Kadjar) dynasty. The move was clearly unconstitutional. The constituent assembly had no legal authority to do so. Reza Khan and his allies knew this only too well. In the haste with which this was achieved, one crucial matter had been overlooked, the matter of Soltan Ahmad Shah's resignation. The new government had forgotten to ask Ahmad Shah to sing a formal resignation. He thus was still king and the coup government illegitimate.

To remedy this situation promptly, Reza Khan sent Zoka'-ol-Molk Foroughi, his trusted advisor, to Paris with the order to convince Soltan Ahmad Shah that a resignation is necessary, and, to sweeten the deal, Reza Khan ordered Foroughi to offer one million pound sterling to Soltan Ahmad Shah in return for his resignation. Soltan Ahmad did not sign and dispatched Zoka'-ol-Molk back to his new master with the following message, but otherwise empty handed.

Being presented with the offer by his former courtier, Soltan Ahmad Shah replies: "I am not willing to sell [my resignation] for a thousand fold the amount you offer. Tell your master from me that this is wishful thinking on his part. I can hold my head high before future generations of Iran and before my own conscience, that I have even been willing to be deposed rather than to betray, and that I have done nothing but to carry out the duties that had been bestowed upon me, and that history will judge that I have been deposed against the will of the people of Iran. My resignation would be interpreted as an act of assent and an agreement on my part that rulership was not mine by right. For these reasons even if you had offered me the whole world I would not resign." (Makki 245-246)

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Though the British had settled matters as far as they were concerned in Persia with the installation of the new government, and the abolition of the Qajar (Kadjar) dynasty, history afforded the Qajars (Kadjars) still several opportunities to retain the throne, both during Soltan Ahmad Shah's own life and thereafter. Three episodes are of particular note. The first is that of Mustafa Kemal's (Ataturk) invitation to Soltan Ahmad Shah, to restore him to the throne of Persia with the support of Turkish troops to be put at Soltan Ahmad Shah's personal service and disposal. The second is the attempt by Soltan Ahmad Shah's mother, Malekeh Jahan, to regain the throne for her son and for the dynasty in 1925-26. The third is the negotiations that ensued in 1941, when Reza Shah Pahlavi was deposed by the British in turn.

The story of Malekeh Jahan's attempt is told in her grand-son's book on the Qajars (Kadjars), Les Rois oublies, pp. 323-329. It is told in these pages under the title: "Malekeh Jahan's Efforts Towards the Restoration of the Qajars (Kadjars)." (To read it, click here.) The story of Crown Prince (later Shah in exile) Mohammad Hassan Mirza's attempts to regain the throne from 1930 to his untimely death under suspicious circumstances in 1943, has not been told well yet either. An attempt will be made to tell that story in these pages soon under the title: "Mohammad Hassan Mirza's Hopes for a Qajar (Kadjar) Restoration."

Mustafa Kemal's offer of help to Soltan Ahmad Shah had been mentioned in Hossein Makki's book Zendegaani-e Siaassi-e Soltaan Ahmad Shaah, pp. 243-244, but recently our cousin, Ambassador Farhad Sepahbody-Qajar, son of H.E. Ambassador Anoushirvan Sepahbody-Qajar, Soltan Ahmad Shah's minister plenipotentiary in Turkey at the time, published pages of his father's memoirs, in his father's hand, that corroborated exactly what Makki mentioned in his book. The uniqueness of this historical document thus deserves full mention here, as there are very few people who are aware that such an encounter occured, let alone being aware of the substance of the exchange. (To view the pages in Ambassador Anoushirvan Sepahbody's hand, please click here to link to Ambassador Farhad Sepahbody's pages.)

Makki writes that Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), who had just gotten to power in Turkey and declared it a republic with himself as president, found it in his interest to offer assistance to Soltan Ahmad Shah, to facilitate the latter's return to Iran and thus achieve the restoration of the Qajars (Kadjars) on the throne of Persia. To that end he summoned Ambassador Anoushirvan Sepahbody to the presidential palace and instructed him to immediately intervene on his behalf with Soltan Ahmad Shah in Paris with the following offer of assistance: "The Turkish government, in pursuance of its own national interest and for reasons of friendship, goodwill, and a desire to assist Your Majesty, is willing to extend a formal invitation to Your Majesty, to travel to Turkey and hence, to offer the help of a sufficient number of Turkish troops for Your Majesty to be able to enter Persia from the West and regain his throne." (Makki, p. 244)

Makki states that Soltan Ahmad Shah, upon hearing of this offer from Ambassador Sepahbody, answers "Please offer my thanks." Makki states that Ambassador Sepahbody replies: "Your Majesty, your reply does not constitute an answer, does Your Majesty accept the offer or not?" Makki states that Soltan Ahmad Shah replied: "None of my ancestors in our dynasty gained their throne through the help of a foreign power to then pass on that shameful legacy and habit to us! Simply extend our gratitude for the offer, and say that we did not accept." It was only when Mustafa Kemal recieved this negative answer that he turned to Reza Khan to establish cordial relations with him.

Ambassador Farhad Sepahbody's discovery of his father's notes about that historic meeting further sheds light on the state of mind and reasoning of Soltan Ahmad at hearing of the offer by Mustafa Kemal. When informed by Ambassador Sepahbody that Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) had expressed his great desire to see Ahmad Shah return to Iran at the earliest possible opportunity, Soltan Ahmad Shah replied that he too had been of the same mind and that he was making preparations towards that end. Ambassador Sepahbody added that Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) was also eager to receive Soltan Ahmad Shah in Ankara, to which Soltan Ahmad Shah replied that he too would welcome that and return by way of Ankara. Then Ambassador Sepahbody mentioned the part of the message concerning Mustafa Kemal's offer of troops for the protection of Soltan Ahmad Shah and the defeat of anti-Qajar forces in Persia upon the shah's return. Up to that point the conversation had been in Turkish among all those present, as Turkish was also the language of the Qajars (Kadjars), but at that point Soltan Ahmad Shah requested that this part of the message be repeated in French, and upon hearing the message again, added, in effect, what Makki has reported above. It was at that juncture, Ambassador Anoushirvan Sepahbody adds, that Mustafa Kemal decided to send his now famous message in support of Reza Khan.

(To view Ambassador Farhad Sepahbody's page on Soltan Ahmad Shah, click here.)

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A lot has been written to discredit Soltan Ahmad Shah over the years. Under the Pahlavis, there was an almost visceral reaction to anything that might establish the true nature of this gallant last king of our dynasty. That same attitude was continued in two books published in 1989 and 1999 respectively, A Portrait of Ahmad Shah Qajar, by Mohammad Javad Sheikholesslami, and Iran and the Rise of Reza Shah: From Qajar Collapse to Pahlavi Power, by Cyrus Ghani, who relies heavily on the earlier book for his assertions on the Qajars (Kadjars) and Soltan Ahmad Shah in particular.

Let the above record therefore speak for itself in terms of Soltan Ahmad Shah's nobility and patriotism!



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