News ID: 89159
Published: 0819 GMT January 10, 2015

Amir Kabir; Modernizer, innovator

Amir Kabir; Modernizer, innovator

Amir Kabir (1807–10 January 1852), also known as Mirza Taqi Khan Amir Nezam and Atabak, was chief minister to Nassereddin Shah Qajar in the first three years of his reign.

He served as prime minister of Iran and was one of the most capable and innovative figures to appear in the whole Qajar period.

He is considered by some to be "Iran's first reformer" and a modernizer who was "unjustly struck down" attempted to bring "gradual reform" to Iran, reported.

Amir Kabir was born into a poor household at Hezaveh in Markazi province. His father, Karbalai Qorban, entered the service of Mirza Abolqasem Farahani as a cook, and when Mirza Bozorg was appointed chief minister to Abbas Mirza, the crown prince in Tabriz, Karbalai Qorban accompanied him there, taking his son with him.

Amir Kabir first assisted his father in performing domestic duties in the household of Mirza Bozorg, who saw signs of unusual talent in him and had him study with his own children. After he had learned reading, writing and some mathematics, Amir Kabir, still an adolescent, was appointed by Mirza Bozorg to supervise his stables.

After Mirza Bozorg’s death in 1822, he was succeeded in the post of minister to the crown prince by his son, Mirza Abolqasem Qaem-Maqam.

Under his aegis, Amir Kabir entered government service, being appointed first to the post of military registrar for the army of Azarbaijan.

In 1835, he became responsible for supervising the finances of the army of Azarbaijan. Several years later, he was put in charge of the same army’s provisions, financing and organization.

During his tenure, Amir Kabir participated in many missions abroad, spending almost four years in Erzurum, participating in the work of a commission to delineate the Ottoman-Iranian frontier and settling other differences between the two states.

Acting almost independently, he resisted attempts to exclude Khorramshahr from Iranian sovereignty and to make Iran pay compensation for its military incursions into the area of Soleymanieh.

During his tenure in Ottoman Turkey, he studied their progress toward modernization.

Amir Kabir returned to Tabriz in 1847. A year later, he was appointed chief tutor to crown prince Nassereddin, who was still only 15 years old.

Soon after, Mohammad Shah died and Nassereddin had to proceed to Tehran and assume the throne. Nassereddin Shah awarded Amir Kabir with full responsibility for the whole Iranian army.

After arriving in Tehran, he also appointed him chief minister. His appointment as the chief minister aroused resentment in various individuals who thought themselves more deserving and resented Amir Kabir’s proud and self-confident bearing and his clampdown on their excess spending and allowances.

In 1846, Hassan Khan Salar, with the help of some local chieftains, had rebelled against the central government.

Amir Kabir sent two armies against Hassan Khan, defeated his forces and captured him. He had him executed in 1850, together with one of his sons and one of his brothers, a clear sign of Amir Kabir’s intention to assert the prerogatives of the state.

With order reestablished in the provinces, Amir Kabir turned to a wide variety of administrative, cultural and economic reforms that were the major achievement of his brief ministry.

His most immediate success was the vaccination of Iranians against smallpox.

Faced with an empty treasury, he first set about balancing the state budget by setting up a budgetary committee and attempting to increase the sources of revenue and to decrease state expenditure.

He decided to drastically reduce the salaries of the civil service, often by half, and to eliminate a large number of stipends paid to pensioners who did little or no government work.

This measure increased his unpopularity with many influential figures and contributed to his ultimate downfall and death.

Amir Kabir also strove to collect overdue taxes from provincial governors and tribal chieftains by dispatching assessors and collectors to every province.

The collection of customs duties, previously farmed out to individuals, was now made the direct responsibility of the central government.

Caspian fisheries, an important source of revenue, were removed from Russian monopoly and contracted out to Iranians. Yield and productivity, not area, were established as the basis of tax assessment for other lands, and previously dead lands were brought under cultivation.

These measures for the encouragement of agriculture and industry also benefited the treasury by raising the level of national prosperity and hence taxability.

He introduced the planting of sugarcane in Khuzestan province, built Nasseri Dam on Karkheh River and a bridge at Shushtar, and laid plans for the development of Khuzestan.

Amir Kabir also took steps to promote the planting of cotton near Tehran and Orumieh. He is also credited with the foundation of the Dar-ol-Fonoun in Tehran with possibly the most lasting effects.

Decades later, many parts of this establishment were turned into the University of Tehran, with the remaining becoming Dar-ol-Fonoun Secondary School.

The purpose of the institution was to train officers and civil servants to pursue the regeneration of the state that Amir Kabir had begun.

Among the subjects taught were medicine, surgery, pharmacology, natural history, mathematics, geology and natural science. The instructors were for the most part Austrians recruited in Vienna.

Amir Kabir made a second indirect contribution to the elaboration of Persian as a modern medium with his foundation of the newspaper Vaqayeh Ettefaqiyeh, which survived under different titles until the reign of Mozaffareddin Shah.

A minimum circulation was ensured by requiring every official earning more than 2,000 rials a year to subscribe. In founding the journal, Amir Kabir hoped to give greater effect to government decrees by bringing them to public attention.

He also wished to educate its readers in the world’s political and scientific developments.

All of the measures enumerated so far had as their purpose the creation of a well-ordered and prosperous country, with undisputed authority exercised by the central government.

He took stringent measures against judges found guilty of bribery or dishonesty.

Amir Kabir took a benevolent interest in the non-Muslim minorities of Iran. He exempted the priests of all denominations from taxation and gave material support to Christian schools in Azarbaijan and Isfahan.

In addition, he established a close relationship with the Zoroastrians of Yazd and gave strict orders to the governor of the city that they not be abused or subjected to arbitrary taxes.

The foreign policy of Amir Kabir was as strikingly innovative as his internal policies. He has been credited with originating the policy of negative equilibrium, i.e., refusing concessions to both of the rival powers pressing on Iran, namely Britain and Russia, and avoiding alignment with either of them.

He attempted to put an end to the Russian occupation of Ashouradeh, an island in the southeastern corner of Caspian Sea, as well as the anchorage rights enjoyed by Russian ships in the lagoon of Anzali.

In the south of Iran, he made similar efforts to restrict British influence in the Persian Gulf and denied Britain the right to stop Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf on the pretext of looking for slaves.

In order to counteract British and Russian influence, he sought to establish relations with powers without direct interests in Iran, notably Austria and the United States.

From the get-go, Amir Kabir’s policies incited animosity within the influential circles of Iranian elite – most notably being the inner circle of the monarchy whose pensions and incomes were slashed by his financial reforms.

He was also later opposed by those who envied him for his numerous posts.

They regarded him as a threat to their interests and formed a coalition against him in which Nassereddin Shah’s mother was active, in spite of him being married to her daughter.

She convinced the young shah that Amir Kabir wanted to usurp the throne. In October 1851, the shah dismissed him and exiled him to Kashan where he was kept in isolation by the shah's decree.

His execution was ordered six weeks later after the shah’s mother and his executioner, Ali Khan Farashbashi, convinced the king that Amir Kabir would soon be granted immunity by the Russians, allowing him to make an attempt to regain control of the government with force.

In the end, Amir Kabir was murdered in Fin Garden in Kashan on January 10, 1852. By his wife's request, Amir Kabir's body was later taken to Karbala in present-day Iraq where he was laid to rest.

With him, many believe, died the earliest prospect of an independent Iran lead by meritocracy rather than nepotism.

Following his death, Amir Kabir received praise from several poets of the age, but his services to Iran remained generally unappreciated in the Qajar period.

Modern Iranian historiography has done him more justice, depicting him as one of the few capable and honest statesmen to emerge in the Qajar period and the progenitor of various political and social changes that came about half a century later.

Tehran Polytechnic University, established during the Pahlavi dynasty in 1958, was renamed Amir Kabir University of Technology after him in 1979.

Amir Kabir Dam was constructed on Karaj River and was the first multi-purpose dam in Iran. In 2010, a bronze sculpture of Amir Kabir, created by Abolhassan Seddiqi in Italy, was flown to Iran and found its final home at Tehran’s Mellat Park.

The death anniversary of Amir Kabir is marked on Jan. 10.

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