Tobacco Sanctions

Monday, October 31, 2011

Rozita Miri

The fourth king of Qajar dynasty, Nasseraddin Shah reigned nearly half a century from 13th September 1848 to 30th Avril 1896. The monarch was very interested in hunting, tourism and travel to different parts of the country. He had several short and long trip to Iran and abroad . He traveled to Europe three times and each time he granted numerous concessions to foreigners, especially in his third trip he gave the tobacco monopoly and Imperial Bank to the British government..

The Shah’s third trip to Europe in 1889, was on the occasion of the French president’s inviting him to visit the Paris International Exhibition. The Shah took the chancellor, Mirza AliAsghar khan Aminossoltan with himself.

Accompanied with other entourage, first they disembarked in London where they were welcomed by British authorities and they participated in formal receptions held in his honor. In one of these banquets which was held in Brighton, a friend of British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury called "Gerald Talbot" was introduced to the Shah.

Talbot had received some information about Iran’s tobacco from Aminossoltan, and with his cooperation he reached to an agreement with the Shah to receive the tobacco concession and export of tobacco. On the other hand, Queen Victoria had awarded the companions of the shah including Aminossoltan and Etemadassltaneh decorations and gifts to obtain more economic benefits. After the Shah’s return to Iran, Talbot came to Iran to found a tobacco company (Reggie company) to monopolize tobacco industry.

The chancellor, Aminossoltan told the Shah by signing the contract, he would receive five thousand pound reward, and further to it, he will receive a yearly reward of fifteen thousand lira. Meanwhile, the regent, Kamran Mirza and Aminossoltan took large amounts of bribes.

Accordingly on 9th March 1891, Iran’s Tobacco concession was granted to Talbot and his partners for fifty years. ... According to the contract: " A permission for any sale and trading of tobacco and smoking ... “ this is the exclusive right of the owners of this monopoly and no one except the owners of these patents have the right to issue such permission."

At that time, livelihoods of most people depended on the sale of tobacco. The farmer and businessman enjoyed no authority in producing and selling of this product. Thus gradually a wave of protests began in different parts of cities, especially Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz ...

Some merchants refused to sell their products. It is said that the province of Fars had the best quality tobacco. Some businessmen preferred to burn their products and not to hand over them to strangers.

After rising opposition and conflict, various sectors of society referred to religious leaders in different cities to ask their opinion; for example, in Isfahan, to Ayatollah Najafi Isfahani, in Shiraz, to Seyyed AliAkbar Fal Assiri; in Tehran to Sheikh Fazlollah Noori and MirzaHassan Ashtiani, and in Tabriz, to Mirza Javad Mojtahed Tabrizi .

Mirza Hassan Ashtiani corresponded with Ayatollah Mohammad Hassan Shirazi. First of all, Ayatollah Shirazi sent a letter to the Shah and Shah and warned him against giving the country in the hands of foreigners; however, his warnings had no impact on the Shah’s decision.

Subsequently, Ayatollah Shirazi issued the following sanctions for the use of tobacco:

"In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful, the tobacco use in any form is considered as a war against the 12th Imam, the Shiite absent Imam".

Regarding the depth of religious beliefs, the people alll different classes welcomed the ruling and even the courtiers especially, the women of the Shah’s harem observed the decree as an order to follow.

Thus the king decided to remove the interior monopoly. However, the people continued their campaign, until the king was forced to cancel the contract. This was a major victory for people supported by the clergy, and the Shah realized the importance of the clergy’s position among people. Henceforth people dared to get involved in determining their fate. This move paved the path for the subsequent movements particularly constitutionalism.

Source: The Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies (IICHS)