The British Role in Iran’s Constitutional Revolution

By the turn of the twentieth-century, Great Britain's apprehension over Germany's rising global ambitions resulted in an important shift in British imperial policy, especially vis-à-vis Russia. Traditional British fear of Russian designs in India and the continuation of the Great Game over influence in Central Asia gave way to a desire to form warm relations with Russia in order to counter Germany. One arena in which this transformation had noticeable consequences was Persia.

The 1905 Constitution Revolution in Persia was opposed by Russia and the Russian delegation increased its transparent support for the anti-revolutionary camp when Muhammad Ali Shah gained the throne in 1907. British acquiescence to Russia's continuing meddling in Persian affairs was contrary to its long-standing strategy and was vociferously attacked by groups both outside and inside Britain. British Foreign Secretary Grey, however, remained steadfast in his quest to avoid antagonizing a potential ally against Germany and his efforts culminated in the famous 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention. This agreement formalized Anglo-Russian cooperation and provided for a Russian zone of influence in the north of Iran, a British zone of influence in the south, and a narrow band of neutrality in the middle. Though 1918 saw a successful royalist coup d'etat, Revolutionary forces were able to take back the capital and force the abdication of Mohammad-Ali Shah on July 14, 1909. The legacy of the change in British foreign policy remained, however, with Russian military presence in the north continuing unabated.

Mansour Bonakdarian
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