Etemad-al-Dawla, Aqa Khan Nuri
by Abbas Amanatpublished in Encyclopaedia Iranica
New York: Columbia University, 1998/2020
EʿTEMĀD-AL-DAWLA, ĀQĀ KHAN (originally Naṣr-Allāh) NŪRĪ, MĪRZĀ (1222-81/1807-65; Figure 1), prime minister (ṣadr-e aʿẓam) of Persia under Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah Qajar (1268-75/1851-58).
Āqā Khan Nūṟī was the second son of Mīrzā Asad-Allāh Nūrī, the chief army accountant (laškarnevīs-bāšī) under Āqā Moḥammad Khan and Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah. Part of the local nobility of the Nūr region in Māzandarān, the Nūrī family was prominent on the political scene as local governors of Nūr and as officials and army accountants since the middle of 18th century (for the genealogy of the Nūrīs see Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, 1349 Š./1970, p. 233; Qāʾem-maqāmī, 1968, p. 141; Malek Ḵosravī). Āqā Khan began his official career at the age of twenty as an army secretary. Capitalizing on his father’s proximity to the Qajar court (ʿAżod-al-Dawla, p. 72) and his own administrative skills, he was promoted to the newly created post of minister of the army (wazīr-e laškar) after his father’s retirement in 1245/1829. By the mid-1250s/1840s he ranked among the dignitaries of the state. In 1262/1845 Moḥammad Shah’s failing health, uncertainties over succession, and the weakening grip of the grand vizier Ḥājī Mīrzā Āqāsī (q.v.) over the administration encouraged Āqā Khan, like other contestants for the premiership, to search for political patronage and build new alliances outside his own family and his army base. He approached the young heir apparent, Nāṣer-al-Dīn Mīrzā, and his mother, Malek-Jahān Ḵānom Qovānlū, later the Mahd-e ʿOlyā (q.v.), to offer his services. In exchange for supporting them, and possibly for establishing secret contact with the British legation on their behalf, Āqā Khan received a written pledge from the prince promising him a high office once he acceded to the throne. After Moḥammad Shah’s recovery later that year, however, Āqāsī removed Āqā Khan from office on the charges of misappropriation, conspiracy, and secret contacts with the British legation in Tehran. He was arrested, bastinadoed, fined ten thousand tomans, and sent in exile to Kāšān, where he remained until the death of Moḥammad Shah.
Āqā Khan returned to Tehran in Ḏu’l-qaʿda 1265/late September 1848, after seeking the assistance of the British chargé d’affaires, Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Farrant. He was warmly received there by Mahd-e ʿOlyā, who invited him to reside in the royal citadel (arg) as her advisor. Āqā Khan’s return, however, was opposed by Mīrzā Taqī Khan Farāhānī, the new chief of the Azerbaijan army (amīr-e neẓām, q.v.) and the strong man in the Nāṣer al-Dīn Shah camp. He ordered Āqā Khan’s immediate return to Kāšān. In response Āqā Khan and his brother, Mīrzā Fażl-Allāh, sought refuge in the British legation where they were granted an informal protégé status and in effect removed from the jurisdiction of the Persian government (Watson, p. 411).
The promotion of Mīrzā Taqī Khan to the premiership with the title Amīr(-e) Kabīr (q.v.) dashed Āqā Khan’s hopes. Amīr Kabīr did bow to pressure from Mahd-e ʿOlyā and appointed Āqā Khan as his lieutenant but largely excluded him from state affairs. The mutiny of the Qahramānīya troops in Jomādā I 1866/March 1849, however, weakened Amīr Kabīr and brought Āqā Khan into the limelight. Amīr Kabīr had to take refuge in Āqā Khan’s residence and relied on his mediation for a peaceful ending to the dangerous mutiny. As a result the prestigious title of Eʿtemād-al-Dawla (q.v.), unused since 1216/1801, was conferred upon Āqā Khan, and he came to be recognized as the “second person” (šaḵṣ-e dovvom) below Amīr Kabīr.
By 1268/1851 the political base of Amīr Kabīr had eroded, ironically after he had managed to put down two major threats to Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah’s throne: the Sālār revolt (1264-68/1847-51) and the Babi insurrection (1265-68/1848-51; see BABISM). When Amīr Kabīr was removed from office in 1268/1851, Āqā Khan was offered the post. His appointment was made public on 22 Moḥarram 1268/17 November 1851, after he had unequivocally renounced his British protégé status. In consultation with Justin Sheil, the British envoy in Tehran, Āqā Khan gave his pledge that he was “under the protection of no state but that of the shadow of His Majesty the shah of Iran” (Ketāb-ḵāna-ye salṭanatī, album no. 249, cited in Qāʾem-maqāmī, 1968, p. 108).
In order to strengthen his own position in the administration and to relieve the shah’s anxieties, Āqā Khan encouraged the fallen Amīr Kabīr to accept a post outside the capital (the governorship of Kāšān) along with British and Russian guarantees of his personal safety. However, the Russian envoy Dmitri Dolgorukov unilaterally offered the protection of his imperial government to Amīr Kabīr and duly dispatched the legation’s guards to protect his residence. This action outraged Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah beyond measure and quickly turned Amīr Kabīr’s governorship of Kāšān into exile to the same town, where he was murdered on 17 Rabīʿ I 1268/9-10 January 1852 (Watson, pp. 400-404; Ādamīyāt, p. 707-26; see also AMĪR[-E] KABĪR, BĀḠ-E FĪN). More than one source implicated Āqā Khan in this secret execution (see, e.g., Watson, p. 399; cf. Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, 1349 Š./1970, pp. 236-37; Šīrāzī). There is little doubt that Āqā Khan was happy to see Amīr Kabīr dismissed and disgraced if not destroyed. Sheil, naming the instigators of Amīr Kabīr murder, concluded that he could not “exonerate” Āqā Khan from “connivance in the tragedy” since he had given his “implicit approval” at the final hour. Āqā Khan, denying any involvement, retorted that if he had attempted to interfere with the shah’s verdict his own life would have been in danger and he could not, therefore, do much beyond informing Sheil a few hours after the departure of the executioners to Kāšān (Amanat, 1997, pp. 162-63).
Conservative by temperament, Āqā Khan stood for most of what Amīr Kabīr had hoped to change. Though relatively young when he took office, he represented the old school of Qajar statecraft. His very appearance, with a long beard, ornamented robes, and lavish entourage, as well as his extensive household, love for extravagance, decorum, titles, decorations and other emblems of power, elaborate forms of address to himself and to others, and the protocol and observance of hierarchical order in the court and the government, all conjured up images of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah’s era. His marked humor, deceptive congeniality, and scheming mind sharpened the contrast with his predecessor. Most of Amīr Kabīr’s policies and administrative, military, and educational reforms were either abandoned or modified to the haphazard practices of Āqā Khan’s term of office. Yet both Dār al-fonūn (q.v.), the military polytechnic initiated by Amīr Kabīr, and Rūz-nāma-ye waqāyeʿ-e ettefāqīya, the official government gazette, continued to operate under Āqā Khan and came to leave their stamps on Qajar society during the Nāṣerī period and beyond.
Āqā Khan shared with Amīr Kabīr, however, a desire to maintain the independence of the office of the premiership (ṣedārat) from the court and, if possible, the shah himself, albeit in a different way. Whereas Amīr Kabīr tended to involve the shah in the day-to-day affairs of the government and endeavored to keep him away from court intrigue, Āqā Khan aimed to distract the shah’s attention from the government by busying him with women, entertainment, hunting, and excursions while carrying out his policies with soft words, persuasion, and flattery. Yet his success in monopolizing power did not rely solely on the shah’s trust. Upon his appointment to the office, he employed many of his dependents, including his brothers, sons, cousins, distant relatives, and fellow townsfolk, who bolstered his sway over the administration and the army. All through his term of office, the chronic ills of Qajar government were rampant: sale of offices, misappropriation of government funds, nepotism, and granting of huge salaries and land assignments to the premier and his aides. Soon after Āqā Khan’s appointment, Jules Richard, then a French teacher in the Dār al-fonūn, noted in his diary, “All governmental affairs have returned to the same state that they were under Ḥājī [Mīrzā Āqāsī]” (cited in Ṯaqafī, p. 86).
The first real crisis during Āqā Khan’s tenure came in Du’l-qaʿda 1268/August 1852, ten months after his appointment, when a group of Babis affiliated with Shaikh ʿAlī Toršīzī (ʿAẓīm) attempted to assassinate the shah outside Nīāvarān palace, in revenge for the execution of the Bāb two years earlier. The ensuing panic in the capital and fear of further attacks and uprisings prompted the shah to order a round-up of Babis, including at least six citizens of the Nūr region, of whom Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī Nūrī (later Bahāʾ-Allāh; q.v.), a distant relative of Āqā Khan, was the most prominent (Watson, pp. 407-10; Zarandi, pp. 595-602; Amanat, 1997, pp. 207-11). The alleged involvement of the Nūrī elements was a serious liability for Āqā Khan. Mahd-e ʿOlyā accused him of being an accomplice of Mīrzā Ḥosayn-ʿAlī and thus a party to the plot. His earlier inconclusive contacts with the Babis in Kāšān during his exile there and his advice against execution of the Bāb in 1265/1850 may also have been known to his enemies. To absolve himself and to prove his loyalty to the shah, Āqā Khan thus fully indulged the shah’s desire to inflict an exceptionally brutal punishment against the arrested Babis (Watson, p. 410). By allocating the victims for execution to government officials, notables, princes of the Qajar family, army officers and troops, royal guards, members of his own family, as well as the ulama, merchants, and the students of the newly established Dār al-fonūn, Āqā Khan turned the massacre into a collective act of retribution by blood (qeṣāṣ).
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