Sunday, August 14, 2005


A tribal confederacy in Fars province. As Vladimir Minorsky pointed out, the leadership of a tribal confederacy is "either taken by the dominant family of one of the clans, or may be supplied by some enterprising group coming from outside" (Minorsky, p. 391). The Khamsa tribal confederacy is a typical case of the latter.

In the 19th century, the Qashqai (Qashqai) tribal confederacy was so powerful that, at times, it was able to defy the authority of the central government. The Qashqai also represented a constant threat to law and order by their widespread raids in southern Fars. Moreover, one of their chief sources of revenue was the imposition of tolls on passing caravans, especially along the Shiraz-Bushehr road, which was a vital artery of trade with the outside world. These raids and tolls (which included the rahdari, a kind of protection racket, and the olufa, the traditional levy for fodder) were a perpetual irritant to British and Persian merchants. Thus, the Persian government was under unrelenting pressure from the British consuls in Shiraz, as well as by Shirazi merchants, to provide a solution to the problem.

In 1861/62, the governor-general of Fars, SoltÂan-Morad Mirza, tried to curb the power of the Qashqai by founding a rival tribal confederacy in Fars. Five large tribes which had been loosely associated with the Qashqai tribal confederacy and which raided less important routes, were grouped together in a confederacy called Ilat-e Khamsa, or Five Tribes (khamsa meaning "five" in Arabic). They were then made wards of the Qawami, the richest merchant family in Shiraz, whose heads were the hereditary kalantars (mayors) of Shiraz and bore the title of Qawam-al-Molk. Therefore, the creation of the new confederacy also substantially increased the strength of the Shirazi merchants. The first hakem (chief) of the Khamsa tribal confederacy was Mirza Ali-Mohammad Khan, a grandson of the famous statesman Hajji Ebrahim Khan Etemad-al-Dowla (q.v.). He was also made governor of Darab (Fasai, I, p 320; II, pp. 47, 51, 201).

The five Khamsa tribes were the Baharlu, Aynallu, Baseri, Nafar, and Arab tribes. The ethnic origins and the census figures for 1932 for each tribe (Kayhan, II, p. 86-87) are as follows: The Baharlu (q.v.; Turkic; some 8,000 families); the Aynallu, or Inanlu (Turkic; some 5,000 families); The Baseri (q.v.; mixed Persian, Turkic, and Arabic; some 3,000 families); The Nafar (Turkic; some 3,500 families); The Arab tribe (SEE ARAB IV. ARAB TRIBES OF IRAN, and as the name suggests, of Arabic origin; some 13,000 families).

Unlike the Qashqai ilkHanis, who generally lived with their tribes and wielded absolute power, the Qawami were sophisticated urbanites from Shiraz, who usually contented themselves with making an annual tour of their realm for the purposes of inspection and punishment (for a description of such a tour, see Norden, pp. 155-57). Otherwise, they ruled indirectly, the allegiance of the tribal chieftains being encouraged by gifts of arms and protection against the encroachments of the provincial governors and other officials of the central government. Thus, as Fredrik Barth noted, "the confederacy seems to have been without any specific administrative apparatus" (p. 88). This system made it nearly impossible for the Qawami to impose any kind of discipline upon their tribal warriors, who continued their widespread depredations. Nonetheless, the acquisition of a tribal army by the Qawami did much to change the balance of powers in Fars province.

From the point of view of the central government, creating the Khamsa tribal confederacy paid off handsomely, for, during the following century, the two rival confederacies were to be locked in a continuous and mutually debilitating struggle for supremacy in Fars, which had the salutary effect of preventing the Qashqai from unifying all the tribes in the province and establishing a stranglehold on Shiraz. But it did little to alleviate brigandage and extortion on the vital Shiraz-Bushehr road.

Because the Qawami's business interests coincided with those of Great Britain, the Khamsa tribal confederacy generally supported British aims in southern Persia. When the Persian Revolution of 1906-1911 started, the official anjoman, or revolutionary committee (SEE ANJOMAN I.) in Shiraz, which was dominated by religious elements, turned against the Qawami because the latter were too closely identified with the old regime and were regarded as stooges of the British. Taking advantage of this situation, Sowlat-al-Dowla, the Qashqai ilkHani, threw in his lot with the revolutionary forces. He thus gained a valuable political foothold in the provincial capital, the traditional Qawami stronghold, and, several times, his tribesmen marched into the city, where the populace gave them an ovation. In March 1908, the whole province was thrown into turmoil by the assassination of Mohammad-Rezµa Khan Qawam-al-Molk, the Qawami leader, and by an attempt on the life of his eldest son, Habib-Allah Khan (Oberling, 1974, pp. 77-81).

During the period of the Second Majles (Parliament, November 1909 to December 1911), the turbulence in Fars became even more intense, and the Qawami, with their poorly trained town militia and ragtag nomadic army, barely held their own against repeated Qashqai onslaughts. In August 1910, the Qawami leader, Habib-Allah Khan Qawam-al-Molk, was appointed acting governor-general of Fars. But he was not able to prevent Sowlat-al-Dowla from inciting a major riot in Shiraz in October of that year. The central government then decided to appoint Hosayn-Ali Khan Nezam-al-SaltÂana as governor-general of Fars because, as a man "with large interests in South-West Persia... it was hoped [that he] would be able to keep the balance between the contending factions" (Wilson, p. 27). However, it soon became obvious that he strongly favored Sowlat-al-Dowla, and, as soon as he reached Shiraz in January 1911, he became embroiled in a fierce controversy with the Qawami.

In April 1911, Nezam-al-SaltÂana arrested Habib-Allah Khan, his brother, Nasr-al-Dowla, and several other relatives. In May, after having been dissuaded by the central government from executing the Qawami leaders, Nezam-al-SaltÂana sent them into exile. But their caravan was attacked by Qashqai forces near Khana Zenian, on the road to Bushehr. In the ensuing struggle, Nasr-al-Dowla was slain. Eluding his would-be assassins, Habib-Allah Khan returned to Shiraz. There, he sought refuge in the British consulate and pleaded with the British to help him regain the upper hand in the province, and the British who, by then, were convinced that the defeat of the Qawami would usher in a period of unparalleled chaos in southern Persia, reluctantly obliged (in spite of the fact that, according to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 (q.v.), Shiraz was in the neutral zone). In July 1911, they gave Habib-Allah Khan a substantial sum of money with which to raise and arm a new force. They also threatened the Qashqai with direct military intervention if they did not withdraw from Shiraz. Finally, they were instrumental in setting up the Swedish-officered Gendarmerie (q.v.) to police the Shiraz-Bushehr road and other important arteries of trade (Oberling, 1970, pp. 50-79).
The rivalry between the Qawami and the Qashqai was further exacerbated by their choosing opposite sides in World War I. The British needed security in Fars to protect their oilfields in Khuzistan (Khuzestan) and the approaches to Mesopotamia, where an invading British force was marching up the Tigris. Therefore, they did everything in their power to back the Qawami. In fall 1915, they even succeeded in convincing the Persian government once more to appoint Habib-Allah Khan as acting governor-general of Fars. On the other hand, the Germans wanted to sow disorder in the province so as to threaten the British oilfields and pave the way for a possible Turkish invasion of Persia. Accordingly, they sent one of their ablest agents provocateurs, Wilhelm Wassmuss, to Shiraz to entice pro-German officers of the Gendarmerie and other dissident elements to revolt against the British. In November 1915, the Germans staged a coup in Shiraz, in the course of which the British consul and eleven other British subjects were taken into captivity.

However, Wassmuss's triumph was ephemeral, for his support came mostly from the coastal tribes of Dashtestan and Tangestan, which were too far from Shiraz to be of much assistance. Moreover, the insurgents had carelessly allowed Habib-Allah Khan to escape to Bushehr, where he had found a safe haven at the British consulate. In February 1916, the Qawami leader set out for Shiraz with a large, British-supplied private army. Although he was killed in a hunting accident on the way, Ebrahim Khan, his son and successor as Qawam-al-Molk and hakem of the Khamsa tribal confederacy, recaptured Shiraz. Ebrahim Khan was then appointed acting governor-general of the province, and a new, British-officered Persian force, the South Persia Rifles, was organized to prevent another German coup.
After that, Wassmuss directed most of his energies to forming an alliance with the Qashqai and other tribes in central Fars. Sowlat-al-Dowla was particularly susceptible to his appeal, for he still bore a grudge against the British for their support of the Qawami in 1911 and viewed the formation of the South Persia Rifles as a British scheme to solidify the power of the Qawami. But, by the time that he finally decided to take action in spring 1918, the war was nearly over and British forces in southern Persia were at the peak of their strength. As a consequence, his tribal army was utterly defeated (Sykes, II, pp. 499-517).
By the end of the war, the Qawami had become the dominant political force in Fars province. But, owing to their symbiotic relationship with the British, they were widely perceived as having betrayed the Persian nation, a sentiment which expressed in Abu'l-Fazµl Qasemi's highly polemical work TarikH-e siyah ya hokumat-e kHanvadaha dar Iran (I, pp. 28-33).

At first, Ebrahim Khan got along well with Rezµa Shah Pahlavi (r. 1925-1941). When Norden visited Fars in 1927, he was told that the Qawami leader "was the only overlord in Persia permitted to keep his rifles when the great order for disarmament was issued," and that he was "a close friend of Rezµa's" (pp. 153-54). But, shortly thereafter, he incurred the wrath of the sovereign, for the Khamsa tribes, in particular the Baharlu and Arab tribes, played a major role in the tribal rebellion of 1929-30 (see Oberling, 1974, pp. 160, 163, 166-67; Bayat, pp. 52-56, 71, 85-89). As a result, Ebrahim Khan was forced to reside permanently in Tehran, where he was a member of the Majles, and, in 1932, his ancestral domains in Shiraz were confiscated by the central government. The Khamsa tribes were violently repressed and their insurgent leaders put in chains. Additional hardship was inflicted upon the tribesmen when their migration routes were cut. When Oliver Garrod visited Fars in 1945, he observed that the Baharlu had "sadly degenerated from the effects of malaria and the diseases bred in the cumulative filth of their settlements," and that many clans of the Arab tribe were "in a miserable plight, having been reduced to a state of beggary and petty robbery" (p. 44).

Unlike the Qashqai, who, under the enlightened leadership of Sowlat-al-Dowla's four sons, were thoroughly revitalized after World War II, the Khamsa tribes never regained their former level of prosperity. When I interviewed Ebrahim Khan in 1957, he told me that his tribes had shrunk to a mere 10,000 to 12,000 families.

Selected Bibliography:
Iraj Afshar-Sistani, Ilha, ±adorneshinan wa tÂawayef-e ashayeri-e Iran, Tehran, 1987, pp. 669-74.
Mehdi Bamdad, Rejal-e Iran, I, pp. 28ff.
Fredrik Barth, Nomads of South Persia: The Basseri of the Khamseh Confederacy, Oslo, 1961. Kava Bayat, ˆuresh-e ashayeri-e Fars 1307-1309 h.sh., Tehran, 1987.
Lois Beck, The Qashqai of Iran, New Haven, 1986.
Gustave Demorgny, "les re‚formes administratives en Perse: les tribus du Fars," RMM 22, March 1913, pp. 85-150.
Hasan Fasai, Fars-nama-ye naseri, 2 vols. in 1,Tehran, 1895-96; repr. Tehran, n.d.
Oliver Garrod, "The Nomadic Tribes of Persia To-Day," Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society 33, 1946, pp. 32-46.
Masud Kayhan, Jografia-e mofassal-e Iran, 2 vols., Tehran, 1932-33.
Komisiun-e melli-e Yunesko (UNESCO) dar Iran, Iranshahr, Tehran, 1963-65, Vol. I, pp. 150-55.
Vladimir Minorsky, "The Clan of the Qara-Qoyunlu Rulers," in Osman Turan, ed., Fuad Köprülü Armag¡ani, Istanbul, 1953, pp. 391-95.
Hermann Norden, Under Persian Skies, London, 1928.
Pierre Oberling, "British Tribal Policy in Southern Persia 1906-1911," Journal of Asian History IV, no. 1, 1970, pp. 50-79.
Idem, The Qashqai Nomads of Fars, The Hague, 1974.
Abu al-Fazl Qasemi, TarikH-e siyah ya hokumat-e kHanvadaha dar Iran, Tehran, n.d.
Christopher Sykes, Wassmuss, "the German Lawrence," London, 1936.
Sir Percy Sykes, A History of Persia, 3rd ed., 2 vols., London, 1951.
Sir Arnold Talbot Wilson, Report on Fars, Simla, 1916.

March 19, 2004

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