The Qajar Empire, officially the Sublime State of Persia and also known then as the Guarded Domains of Persia, was an Iranian empire ruled by the Qajar dynasty, which was of Turkic origin, specifically from the Qajar tribe, from 1789 to 1925. The Qajar family took full control of Iran in 1794, deposing Lotf ‘Ali Khan, the last Shah of the Zand dynasty, and re-asserted Iranian sovereignty over large parts of the Caucasus. In 1796, Mohammad Khan Qajar seized Mashhad with ease, putting an end to the Afsharid dynasty, and Mohammad Khan was formally crowned as Shah after his punitive campaign against Iran’s Georgian subjects. In the Caucasus, the Qajar dynasty permanently lost many of Iran’s integral areas to the Russians over the course of the 19th century, comprising modern-day Georgia, Dagestan, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Like virtually every dynasty that ruled Persia since the 11th century, the Qajars came to power with the backing of Turkic tribal forces, while using educated Persians in their bureaucracy. In 1779 following the death of Karim Khan of the Zand dynasty, Mohammad Khan Qajar, the leader of the Qajars, set out to reunify Iran. Mohammad Khan was known as one of the cruellest kings, even by the standards of 18th-century Iran. In his quest for power, he razed cities, massacred entire populations, and blinded some 20,000 men in the city of Kerman because the local populace had chosen to defend the city against his siege.
The Qajar armies at that time were mostly composed of Turkomans and Georgian slaves. By 1794, Mohammad Khan had eliminated all his rivals, including Lotf Ali Khan, the last of the Zand dynasty. He reestablished Persian control over the territories in the entire Caucasus. Agha Mohammad established his capital at Tehran, a village near the ruins of the ancient city of Rayy. In 1796, he was formally crowned as shah. In 1797, Mohammad Khan Qajar was assassinated in Shusha, the capital of Karabakh Khanate, and was succeeded by his nephew, Fath-Ali Shah Qajar.
- 1794 : Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar Chooses Tehran as his capital city
- 1796 : Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar officially crowns as Shah
- 1803-1815 : Napoleonic wars
- 1813 : Treaty of Golestan
- 1819-1901 : The rule of Queen Victoria of Britain
- 1828 : The treaty of Turkmanchai
- 1844-1850 : Preaching of Bab, the prophet of Bahai religion
- 1861-1865 : The Amerian civil wars
- 1905 : Constitutional Revolution in Iran; First revolution in Russia
- 1906 : The first Iranian Constitution
- 1914-1918 : World War I
- 1917 : February and October Revolutions in Russia
- 1921 : Coup d’etat of Reza Khan
During Fath-Alu Shah reign, following Russo-Persian wars (1804-13 & 1826-28), vast parts of the Caucasus including the current states of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Dagestan were split from Iran and were annexed to Russia under Gulistan and Turkmenchay treaties of 1813 and 1828 respectively.
Fath Ali Shah’s reign saw increased diplomatic contacts with the West and the beginning of intense European diplomatic rivalries over Iran. His grandson Mohammad Shah, who fell under the Russian influence and made two unsuccessful attempts to capture Herat, succeeded him in 1834. When Mohammad Shah died in 1848 the succession passed to his son Nasser-e-Din, who proved to be the ablest and most successful of the Qajar sovereigns. He founded the first modern hospital in Iran.
During Nasser-e-Din Shah’s reign, Western science, technology, and educational methods were introduced into Persia and the country’s modernization was begun, mostly with efforts of Amir Kabir, the first prime-minister of Nasser-e-Din Sham, who was later murdered in 1852 as a result of a plot led by the Queen Mother. Nasser ed-Din Shah tried to exploit the mutual distrust between Great Britain and Russia to preserve Persia’s independence, but foreign interference and territorial encroachment increased under his rule. He was not able to prevent Britain and Russia from encroaching into regions of traditional Persian influence. In 1856, during the Anglo-Persian War, Britain prevented Persia from reasserting control over Herat. The city had been part of Persia in Safavid times, but Herat had been under the non-Persian rule since the mid-18th century. Britain also extended its control to other areas of the Persian Gulf during the 19th century. Meanwhile, by 1881, Russia had completed its conquest of present-day Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, bringing Russia’s frontier to Persia’s northeastern borders and severing historic Persian ties to the cities of Bukhara and Samarqand. Several trade concessions by the Persian government put economic affairs largely under British control. By the late 19th century, many Persians believed that their rulers were beholden to foreign interest.
Nasser-e-Din Shah was assassinated in 1896 and was succeeded by his son Mozaffar-e-din Shah, who was moderate, but incapable. Financial problems and political reforms around the world contributed to wide protests, now known as the Constitutional Revolution. The first parliament (Majles) was formed in October 1906. Mozaffar-e-din Shah signed the monarchy limiting constitution on December 30, 1906 and died 5 days later.
Mozaffar-e-din Shah’s son, Mohammad Ali Shah, attempted to rescind the constitution and abolish parliamentary government with Russian support. He bombed the parliament in June 1908 and closed it down. Resistance formed in Tabriz, Isfahan and Rasht. Constitutional forces marched from Rasht to Tehran in July 1909, deposed the Shah and re-established the constitution. Mohammad Ali Shah was sent to exile and the parliament voted to place Mohammad Ali Shah’s 11-year-old son, Ahmad Shah on the throne.
Despite the announcement of strict neutrality, Iran was occupied by Ottoman, Russian and British troops during World War I. In February 1921, Reza Khan, commander of the Persian Cossack Brigade, staged a coup d’état, becoming the effective ruler of Iran. In 1923, Ahmad Shah went into exile in Europe at the age of 25. Reza Khan induced the parliament to depose Ahmad Shah in October 1925, and to exclude the Qajar dynasty permanently.
- Agha Mohammad Khan (1796-1797)
- Fath-Ali-Shah (1797-1834)
- Mohammad Shah (1834-1848)
- Naser-al-Din Shah (1848-1896)
- Mozaffar-al-Din Shah (1896-1907)
- Mohammad Ali Shah (1907-1909)
- Ahmad Shah (1909-1925)