Capitulation in Iran

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Enactment of Capitulation was proposed by the US embassy to Amir Assadollah Alam administration in the early days of 1962. The proposal was approved in the cabinet in October 1963, then in the Senate in August 1964 and finally in the National Consultative Assembly on 13 October 1964. Imam Khomeini harshly censured enactment of this legislation on October 26.

In May 1927, Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an announcement on revocation of capitulation in Iran. The announcement was released a year after Reza Shah’s coronation and a year later all treaties and agreements concluded during Qajar dynasty in which some concessions had been granted to foreign countries were revoked. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent some letters to embassies of some European countries in Iran inclusive of England, Germany, Netherland and Switzerland reverencing special rights and political, economic and judicial benefits of their respective governments. These letters and agreements which were requested by Minister Plenipotentiary of some European countries in favor of prestige and judicial freedoms of their nationals well reveals that Reza Khan’s purpose in revocation of capitulation was ostentatiously to depict an anti-colonial face of himself in Iran with the help of mass media and press. For example, on 10 May 1928 in which all concession treaties were officially annulled, Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to British Minister Plenipotentiary in Iran Robert Henry Clive assuring him of immunities of British nationals, as before.

The letter, containing 18 articles on Iranian Judiciary’s commitment on preserving the rights, freedoms and properties of Britishers, was sent to British Minister Plenipotentiary in Tehran. Iranian Foreign Ministry also sent another letter to Clive ensuring him of freedom of religious activities of British missioners. Similar letters were sent to the US ambassador and German Minister Plenipotentiary in the following days. Along these lines, separate agreements were concluded with France, Sweden, Denmark and other powerful European states of the time aiming to revive capitulation provisions. At the time Reza Khan was harshly loathed due to his anti-Islamic proceedings like suspension of religious preaching and sermoning and prohibition of teaching of Quran and religious courses in the schools. Protesting flight of clergies to Qom and taking of sanctuary in 1927 pointed to revulsion of Iranian society towards Reza Khan and his rule.

History of capitulation in Iran

Although observed as an unwritten law towards European merchants and nationals since Safavid dynasty, Capitulation was enforced as a law subsequent to Russo-Iran Wars during Qajars. It was first imposed on Iran by Tsarist Russia in 1828 and according to the Treaty of Turkmenchay. Thereafter, England and other European countries enjoyed the same right in Iran. Chapters 7, 8 and 9 of the Treaty of Turkmenchay which dealt with legal and criminal issues of Russian nationals in Iran were its main part; with enforcement of these chapters, capitulation regime was established in favor of the Russians. Although in 1921, a day prior to the coup conducted by Seyyed Zia, the Soviet Russia unilaterally cancelled capitulation as a Tsarist colonial institution, the capitulation treaty concluded with Tsars was valid for 99 years and Reza Khan’s decree on revocation of it (1927) was issued right at the end of treaty period.

Anyway, what was done subsequent to Reza Khan’s ostentatious revocation of capitulation had nothing of a true and honest struggle with this oppressive colonial phenomenon, especially that during his son’s reign longer steps towards revival of it were taken. Qavam al-Saltaneh was the main sponsor of American presence in Iran after the war and granting judicial and security concessions to them. The first group of American militaries entered Iran under the name of “military mission” in the late 1943- during Prime Ministership of Qavam al-Saltaneh- with judicial immunities. During Prime Ministership of Soheili, as well, some other agreements were concluded in regard to hire of American advisors for the alleged purpose of reforming administrative system of the army which included some privileges for families and relatives of American militaries. But grant of these privileges reached its culmination during administrations of Hassan-Ali Mansour and Amir Assadollah Alam. One of the biggest treacheries of Pahlavi dynasty after the Uprising of June 5, 1963, which prepared the ground for Imam Khomeini’s exile, was approval of capitulation bill in National Consultative Assembly.

The bill was raised in the Majlis after holding of the Shah’s referendum and enactment of State and Provincial association bill, both faced with Imam Khomeini’s firm stand against. Removal of legal obstacles before the presence of American forces in Iran and securing their security was of significance for the Shah, especially that he was under US pressure for immediate implementation of political-economic reforms favored by the White House. In such circumstances revival of capitulation system with the purpose of granting political and consular immunity to American nationals in Iran was put on the agenda of the cabinet. Enactment of Capitulation was proposed by the US embassy to Amir Assadollah Alam administration in the early days of 1962. The proposal was approved in the cabinet in October 1963, then in the Senate in August 1964 and finally in the National Consultative Assembly on 13 October 1964, under Hassan-Ali Mansour Prime Ministership. Imam Khomeini harshly censured enactment of this legislation on October 26. To prevent Imam from delivering any speech, the Shah dispatched an envoy to Qom, but Imam Khomeini rejected the envoy and delivered one of its most epochal lectures in the gathering of a large number of people and clergies. The lecture was as a trial of illegal interferences of American governors in domestic affairs of Islamic Iran.

The Imam’s speech was opened with the following sentences: “....Our honor has been trampled on, Iran’s grandeur is smeared. They took a law bill to the Majlis whereby we were joined up to the Vienna Pact....appointing all American military advisors and their families, their technical and administrative employees, and servants...are exempt from trial for any crime they commit in Iran... Gentlemen! I am warning. O Army of Iran, I declare danger. O Iranian politicians, I declare danger! By God, he who does not cry out, sins; he who does not cry out, commits cardinal sin. O heads of Islam, save Islam! O Ulema of Najaf, O Ulema of Qom, save Islam!!”

It was during the very same speech that Imam Khomeini delivered his famous statement as: “....America worse than England, England worse than the Soviet Union and the Soviet worse than both!! Each worse than the other; each fouler than the other... But today, we are engaged with them, with their impurities, with America. Let the U.S. President knows that he is the most hateful to our nation.... All of our troubles are from America, from this Israel, and Israel is from America!!

On the very same day (October 26, 1964) Imam Khomeini issued an announcement saying, "Let the world know that all the troubles of the Iranian and Muslim nations originate from the foreigners, from the America. The Islamic nations hate foreigners in general, and America in particular...”

Capitulation had been referred in this announcement as “a document pointing to slavery of Iranian nation”. With the victory of the Islamic Revolution, capitulation right and all its extensions were cancelled for ever, proposed by Council of Ministers of the Interim Government of Islamic Republic of Iran and ratified by Islamic Revolution Council, on May 13, 1979

Source: Islamic Revolution Document Center

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