Nadir Shahs Quest for Legitimacy in Post-Safavid Iran
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Nader Shah has been described as "the last great Asiatic military conqueror". Nader Shah was born in the fortress of Dastgerd  into the Qereqlu clan of the Afshars , a semi- nomadic Turkic Qizilbash pastoralist tribe settled in the northern valleys of Khorasan , a province in the northeast of the Iranian Empire. Nader was a long-waited son in his family. At the age of 13, his father died and Nader had to find a way to support himself and his mother.
He had no source of income other than the sticks he gathered for firewood, which he transported to the market.
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Many years later, when he was returning in triumph from his conquest of Delhi , he led the army to his birthplace and made a speech to his generals about his early life of deprivation. He said, "You now see to what height it has pleased the Almighty to exalt me; from hence, learn not to despise men of low estate. Throughout his career, he was only interested in his own advancement. Legend has it that in , when he was about 17, a band of marauding Uzbek Tartars invaded the province of Khorasan, where Nader lived with his mother. They killed many peasants.
Nader and his mother were among those who were carried off into slavery. His mother died in captivity. According to another story, Nader managed to convince turkmens promising help in future, Nader returned to the province of Khorasan in .
Nader grew up during the final years of the Safavid dynasty which had ruled Iran since At its peak, under such figures as Abbas the Great , Safavid Iran had been a powerful empire, but by the early 18th century the state was in serious decline and the reigning shah, Sultan Husayn , was a weak ruler. Under their leader Mahmud Hotaki , the rebellious Afghans moved westwards against the shah himself and in they defeated a force at the Battle of Gulnabad and then besieged the capital, Isfahan.
In Khorasan, Nader at first submitted to the local Afghan governor of Mashhad , Malek Mahmud, but then rebelled and built up his own small army. Sultan Husayn's son had declared himself Shah Tahmasp II , but found little support and fled to the Qajar tribe , who offered to back him. Meanwhile, Iran's imperial neighboring rivals, the Ottomans and the Russians , took advantage of the chaos in the country to seize and divide territory for themselves.
This included mainly, but was not limited to, the losses of Dagestan including its principal city of Derbent , Baku , Gilan , Mazandaran , and Astrabad. The regions to the west of that, mainly Iranian territories in Georgia , Iranian Azerbaijan , and Armenia , were taken by the Ottomans. The newly gained Russian and Turkish possessions were confirmed and further divided amongst themselves in the Treaty of Constantinople He agreed and thus became a figure of national importance. When Nader discovered that Fath Ali Khan was in treacherous correspondence with Malek Mahmud and revealed this to the shah, Tahmasp executed him and made Nader the chief of his army instead.
Nader subsequently took on the title Tahmasp Qoli Servant of Tahmasp. In late , Nader recaptured Mashhad. Nader chose not to march directly on Isfahan. First, in May , he defeated the Abdali Afghans near Herat. Many of the Abdali Afghans subsequently joined his army. The new shah of the Ghilzai Afghans, Ashraf , decided to move against Nader but in September , Nader defeated him at the Battle of Damghan and again decisively in November at Murchakhort, banishing the Afghans from Iranian soil forever.
Ashraf fled and Nader finally entered Isfahan, handing it over to Tahmasp in December. The citizens' rejoicing was cut short when Nader plundered them to pay his army.
Tahmasp made Nader governor over many eastern provinces, including his native Khorasan, and married him to his sister. Nader pursued and defeated Ashraf, who was murdered by his own followers. He built a new city near Kandahar, which he named " Naderabad ". In the spring of , Nader attacked Iran's archrival the Ottomans and regained most of the territory lost during the recent chaos.
At the same time, the Abdali Afghans rebelled and besieged Mashhad, forcing Nader to suspend his campaign and save his brother, Ebrahim. It took Nader fourteen months to crush this uprising. Relations between Nader and the Shah had declined as the latter grew jealous of his general's military successes.
While Nader was absent in the east, Tahmasp tried to assert himself by launching a foolhardy campaign to recapture Yerevan. He ended up losing all of Nader's recent gains to the Ottomans, and signed a treaty ceding Georgia and Armenia in exchange for Tabriz. Nader, furious, saw that the moment had come to ease Tahmasp from power. He denounced the treaty, seeking popular support for a war against the Ottomans. In Isfahan, Nader got Tahmasp drunk then showed him to the courtiers asking if a man in such a state was fit to rule.
Nader decided, as he continued the war , that he could win back the territory in Armenia and Georgia by seizing Ottoman Baghdad and then offering it in exchange for the lost provinces, but his plan went badly amiss when his army was routed by the Ottoman general Topal Osman Pasha near the city in This was the only time that he was ever defeated in battle.
Nader decided he needed to regain the initiative as soon as possible to save his position because revolts were already breaking out in Iran. He faced Topal again with a larger force and defeated and killed him. He then besieged Baghdad, as well as Ganja in the northern provinces, earning a Russian alliance against the Ottomans. Nader scored a great victory over a superior Ottoman force at Baghavard and by the summer of , Iranian Armenia and Georgia were his again.
In March , he signed a treaty with the Russians in Ganja by which the latter agreed to withdraw all of their troops from Iranian territory,   those which had not been ceded back by the Treaty of Resht yet, resulting in the reestablishment of Iranian rule over all of the Caucasus and northern mainland Iran again. Nader suggested to his closest intimates, after a great hunting party on the Moghan plains presently split between Azerbaijan and Iran , that he should be proclaimed the new king shah in place of the young Abbas III.
The Moghan plain was specifically chosen for its size and "abundance of fodder ". Nader was crowned Shah of Iran on March 8, , a date his astrologers had chosen as being especially propitious,  in attendance of an "exceptionally large assembly" composed of the military, religious and nobility of the nation, as well as the Ottoman ambassador Ali Pasha.
The Safavids had introduced Shi'a Islam as the state religion of Iran. Nader was probably brought up as a Shi'a  but later espoused the Sunni  faith as he gained power and began to push into the Ottoman Empire. His army was a mix of Shi'a and Sunni with a notable minority of Christians and included his own Qizilbash as well as Uzbeks , Afghans , Christian Georgians and Armenians ,   and others.
He wanted Iran to adopt a form of religion that would be more acceptable to Sunnis and suggested that Iran adopt a form of Shi'ism he called "Ja'fari", in honour of the sixth Shi'a imam Ja'far al-Sadiq. He banned certain Shi'a practices which were particularly offensive to Sunnis, such as the cursing of the first three caliphs. Personally, Nader is said to have been indifferent towards religion and the French Jesuit who served as his personal physician reported that it was difficult to know which religion he followed and that many who knew him best said that he had none.
In the subsequent peace negotiations, the Ottomans refused to acknowledge Ja'farism as a fifth mazhab but they did allow Iranian pilgrims to go on the hajj. Nader was interested in gaining rights for Iranians to go on the hajj in part because of revenues from the pilgrimage trade. He had the chief mullah of Iran strangled after he was heard expressing support for the Safavids. Among his reforms was the introduction of what came to be known as the kolah-e Naderi. This was a hat with four peaks which symbolised the first four caliphs.
His successful campaign and replenishment of funds meant that he could continue his wars against Iran's archrival and neighbour, the Ottoman Empire ,  as well as the campaigns in the North Caucasus. Nader also secured one of the Mughal emperor's daughters, Jahan Afruz Banu Begum, as a bride for his youngest son. The Indian campaign was the zenith of Nader's career. Afterwards he became increasingly despotic as his health declined markedly.
Nader had left his son Reza Qoli Mirza to rule Iran in his absence. Reza had behaved highhandedly and somewhat cruelly but he had kept the peace in Iran. Having heard rumours that his father had died, he had made preparations for assuming the crown.
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These included the murder of the former shah Tahmasp and his family, including the nine-year-old Abbas III. On hearing the news, Reza's wife, who was Tahmasp's sister, committed suicide. Nader was not impressed with his son's waywardness and reprimanded him, but he took him on his expedition to conquer territory in Transoxiana. In he conquered Khanate of Khiva.
After the Iranians had forced the Uzbek khanate of Bukhara to submit, Nader wanted Reza to marry the khan's elder daughter because she was a descendant of his hero Genghis Khan, but Reza flatly refused and Nader married the girl himself.
Nader now decided to punish Daghestan for the death of his brother Ebrahim Qoli on a campaign a few years earlier. In , while Nader was passing through the forest of Mazanderan on his way to fight the Daghestanis, an assassin took a shot at him but Nader was only lightly wounded. He began to suspect his son was behind the attempt and confined him to Tehran. Nader's increasing ill health made his temper ever worse. Perhaps it was his illness that made Nader lose the initiative in his war against the Lezgin tribes of Daghestan.
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Frustratingly for him, they resorted to guerrilla warfare and the Iranians could make little headway against them. During the same period, Nader accused his son of being behind the assassination attempt in Mazanderan.
Reza Qoli angrily protested his innocence, but Nader had him blinded as punishment, and ordered his eyes to be brought to him on a platter. When his orders had been carried out, however, Nader instantly regretted it, crying out to his courtiers, "What is a father? What is a son? In his last years, Nader became increasingly paranoid , ordering the assassination of large numbers of suspected enemies. With the wealth he gained, Nader started to build an Iranian navy. With lumber from Mazandaran , he built ships in Bushehr.
He also purchased thirty ships in India. In , he conquered Oman and its main capital Muscat. In , Nader started another war against the Ottoman Empire. Despite having a huge army at his disposal, in this campaign Nader showed little of his former military brilliance.
It ended in with the signing of a peace treaty, the Treaty of Kerden , in which the Ottomans agreed to let Nader occupy Najaf. Nader changed the Iranian coinage system. He minted silver coins, called Naderi , that were equal to the Mughal rupee. Nader Shah transformed the Shahsevan , a nomadic group living around Azerbaijan whose name literally means "shah lover", into a tribal confederacy which defended Iran against the neighbouring Ottomans and Russians. Nader became increasingly cruel as a result of his illness and his desire to extort more and more tax money to pay for his military campaigns.
New revolts broke out and Nader crushed them ruthlessly, building towers from his victims' skulls in imitation of his hero Timur. In , Nader set off for Khorasan, where he intended to punish Kurdish rebels. Some of his officers and courtiers feared he was about to execute them and plotted against him, including two of his relatives: Muhammad Quli Khan, the captain of the guards, and Salah Khan, the overseer of Nader's household.