British Institute of Persian Studies

Ann Lambton Memorial Lecture 2022

This presentation will offer an overview of the Russian and British leverage in Iran during the Qajar and early Pahlavi periods through unequal treaties as one channel of extending their imperial influence and counterbalancing each other’s rival presence. Although Iran was never directly colonized, its sovereignty was frequently compromised by competing foreign interests as reflected in several unequal treaties and concessionary agreements which, in effect, created a semicolonial situation for the country during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The paper will address certain aspects of these points in three interrelated sections. The first section will provide a general discussion on unequal treaties, notably the Golestan Treaty of 1813 and the Turkmenchay Treaty of 1828 between Russia and Iran, and their implications. Subsequently, the Qajar state’s traditional perspective on sovereignty, in terms of the guarded domain, and its ways of maintaining it and Iran’s semicolonial condition in the 19th and the early 20th centuries will be discussed in the second section. However, by building on modern requisites of sovereignty based on the paradigm of nation-state and introducing a set of corresponding legal and administrative reforms that were adopted in late 1920s and early 1930s, the early Pahlavi state set out to remove hitherto capitulatory agreements, a topic that will be addressed in the last section.

About the speaker:

Ali Gheissari studied Law and Political Science at Tehran University and History at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and teaches at the University of San Diego. He has written extensively in Persian and English on the intellectual history and politics of modern Iran. Professor Gheissari has served as the Editor-in-Chief of Iranian Studies; is a consulting editor and contributor to the Encyclopaedia Iranica; is on the Editorial Board of the Iran Studies book series (published by Brill); and is also on the Board of Directors of the Persian Heritage Foundation. His current research is on aspects of legal and constitutional history of modern Iran.