Towards the end of 19th century, colonialism was at its peak in the Middle East. The Russians and the English were competing on every peace of land, over any treaty of natural resources, manpower and anything else which could be plundered. Iran was practically divided into two halves. The northern part was under the influence of the Russians. The Iranian army was run by the Russian officers called Persian Cossacks. They were in charge of the capital as well.
The southern part of the country was run by the English and they had their own military force called Southern Persia Police.
The southern Police force in a parade in Shiraz: the soldiers are all Indian.
The power of the Iranian king was limited to his own castle, and a few cities around Tehran. The British did not like the influence of the Russians on the Shah. They were afraid of a day that a person with some brains might become the king and threaten their interests in the Middle East and India.
The incident of the British tobacco company.
Naseraldin Shah Ghajar during his 40th year of his rule (20 Mar. 1890) granted a maddening concession to a British company. He gave a complete monopoly on the production, domestic sales, and export of tobacco. The Imperial Tobacco Corporation of Persia agreed to pay 25,000 pounds immediately for the concession and to provide an annual payment of 15,000 pounds to the Shah's treasury. The king would also get 25 percent share of the net profits. The arrangement was to be maintained for a period of fifty years.The British were famous for this type of treaties which usually was followed by similar treaties to come. Once this treaty was signed and implemented the British Company began to build a huge building in Tehran. Those looking at the building were of the opinion that the building was too large for its purpose, and that it was not just a headquarters of a tobacco company, but the headquarters of pirates.Meanwhile the Grand Ayatollah of the time, Ayatollah Mirza Shirazi was following these events diligently. He was powerful, popular and lived in the holy city of Najaf in Iraq.
Ayatollah Mirza Muhammad Hassan Shirazi
The Ayatollah was just fed up with Naseraldin Shah. He wrote an intimidating, one line, religious decree which read as "The use of all tobacco material is equivalent to declaration of war on the Messiah." Once the news was telegraphed to Tehran, the entire country quit smoking. People throw all of their tobacco, pipes, and all other smoking paraphernalia out of their houses. They set fire on all stores selling tobacco. Within about two days nobody could find any tobacco in the entire country. The crowds gathered by the king's palace and threw dirt and dog feces at his gates. They called the king and his soldiers names and demanded the revocation of the treaty. The soldiers shot a bunch of unarmed civilians. Naseraldin Shah was loosing control; the old dictator was not accustomed to such an unruly behavior from his subjects. The situation got so bad that the shah could not find any tobacco in his own palace. His favorite wife Anisodoleh refused to prepare his pipe. When the king chastised her, and asked her who is responsible for this madness, she replied it has been banned by the representative of the same god who authorized their marriage. In other words, she gave him the message that if he does not revoke the treaty, he might even lose her. The Shah who thought of himself as the shadow of the god had no other choice except to revoke the treaty. He abolished the concession completely and agreed to pay compensation to the families of those killed in demonstrations, and pardoned all leaders of the revolt and compensated the family of the dead. Ayatollah Shirazi telegraphed a few days later to say that Muslims could resume smoking. This event left a biter taste in the mouths of Naseraldin Shah and the British.
Mozafareldin Shah Ghajar (1896-1906)
Naseraldin Shah was assassinated on May 1, 1896 and his Crown Prince Mozafareldin Shah ascended to the throne on June 1896. The New Shah acquired the crown under unpleasant adversarial circumstances. His incompetence and expensive frequent tours of Europe added insult to injury. In 1905, protests broke out over the collection of Iranian tariffs to pay back the Russian loan for the royal tours. Two Iranian merchants were punished in Tehran for charging high prices In December 1905. They were caned in public, which caused an uprising of the merchants in Tehran. The clergy followed suit as a measure of alliance. The two protesting groups took sanctuary in a mosque in Tehran, but the government violated this sanctuary and entered the mosque and dispersed the group.