Thursday, June 15, 2023

Karim Khan Zand

Mohammad Karim Khan Zand (محمد کریم خان زند) was the founder of the Zand Dynasty, ruling from 1751 to 1779. He ruled all of Iran except for Khorasan. He also ruled over some of the Caucasian lands and occupied Basra for some years.

Karim Beg was born in ca. 1705 in the village of Pari, then part of the Safavid Empire. He belonged to the Zand tribe, a small and little-known tribe of Laks, a branch of Lurs who may have been originally Kurdish. In 1722, the Safavid Empire was on the verge of collapsing—Isfahan and most of central and east Iran had been seized by the Afghan Hotak dynasty, while the Russians had conquered many cities in northern Iran. Around the same time, the Ottoman Empire took advantage of Iran's decadence to conquer a large number of western frontier districts. In 1736, Nader Shah deposed the Safavid ruler Abbas III and ascended the throne, thus starting the Afsharid dynasty. Nader Shah moved the Zand tribe from their home in the Zagros mountains to the eastern steppes of Khorasan. Karim Beg, who was at this time in his thirties, served as a cavalryman and did not enjoy a high status in the army.

Nader Shah was later murdered in 1747 at the hands of his own men, which gave the Zands under Karim Khan the opportunity to return to their former lands in western Iran. After Adil Shah was made king, Karim Khan and his soldiers defected from the army and along with Ali Morad Khan Bakhtiari and Abolfath Khan Haft Lang, two other local chiefs, became a major contender but was challenged by several adversaries. Abolfath Khan was the Vizier, Karim Khan became the army chief commander and Ali Morad Khan became the regent. Karim Khan declared Shiraz his capital, and in 1778 Tehran became the second capital. He gained control of central and southern parts of Iran. In order to add legitimacy to his rule, Karim Khan placed the 17-year-old Shah Ismail III, the grandson of the last Safavid king, on the throne in 1757. Ismail was a figurehead king and real power was vested in Karim Khan. Soon enough Karim Khan managed to eliminate the puppet king and in 1760, founded his own dynasty. He refused to accept the title of the king and instead named himself Vakilol Ro'aya.

Karim Khan is often praised for his generosity, modesty and fairness more than other Iranian rulers although there are stories abound of his personal courage, sexual prowess, and enjoyment of wine and perhaps opium. While Karim was ruler, Persia recovered from the devastation of 40 years of war, providing the war-ravaged country with a renewed sense of tranquility, security, peace, and prosperity. During his reign, relations with Britain were restored, and he allowed the East India Company to have a trading post in southern Iran. He ordered the construction of several architectural projects in Shiraz and had many new buildings erected, such as the famous Arg of Karim Khan, Vakil Bazaar, and several mosques and gardens. Furthermore, he also had a new city wall, several baths, a caravanserai, and a bazaar built. He had the tombs of celebrated Persian poets Hafez and Saadi renovated. Arts and architecture flourished under Karim Khan's reign. The taxation system was reorganized in a way that taxes were levied fairly. The judicial system was fair and generally humane. Capital punishment was rarely implemented.

In 1762 Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar was captured by a rival tribe and sent to Shiraz as a prisoner to Karim Khan's court. During his stay Agha Mohammad Khan was treated kindly and honorably by Karim Khan, who made him convince his kinsmen to lay down their arms, which they did. Agha Mohammad was looked upon more as a respected guest in Karim Khan's court than a captive. Furthermore, Karim Khan also acknowledged Agha Mohammad Khan's political knowledge and asked his advice on interests of the state.

Mashhad, where the holy Imam Reza shrine was situated, was not under Zand control. This meant that free entry to the sanctuaries of Iraq, home to holy Shia places of Najaf and Karbala, was of more significance to Karim Khan than it had been to the Safavid and Afsharid shahs. The Zand forces under Ali-Morad Khan Zand and Nazar Ali Khan Zand shortly clashed with Ottomon forces in Kurdistan. Persian troops invaded southern Iraq and after besieging Basra for a year, took the city from the Ottomans in 1776. They held Basra until 1779 when the Ottomans, under Soleiman Agha, retook the city, following Karim Khan's death.

Karim Khan died on March 1st 1779, having been ill for six months, most likely due to tuberculosis. Following Karim Khan's death, civil war broke out once more, and none of his descendants was able to rule the country as effectively as he had. The last of these descendants, Lotf Ali Khan, was executed by Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar, who became the sole ruler of Iran while founding the Qajar Dynasty. While he was originally buried in Shiraz in the Nazar Garden, however, his remains were moved to Tehran by Agha Moḥammad Khan and reburied under the staircase of the Golestan Palace for the Qajar Shah to tread over them daily. Years later Reza Shah had the bones exhumed and reburied in Shiraz. In 2002 while Karim Khan's tomb was being excavated for repairs, parts of a corpse were discovered and later on the experts of the CHO established that they belonged to Karim Khan.


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