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The Persian Treaty

Karl Marx
London, June 12, 1857

Some time ago, when a question respecting the Persian war was addressed to Lord Palmerston in his own House of Commons, he tauntingly replied: "As soon as the is ratified the House may express its opinions on the war"[a]. The treaty of peace signed at Paris, March 4, 1857, and ratified at Bagdad, May 2, 1857, has now been- laid before the House. It consists of fifteen Articles, eight of them being freighted with the usual treaty-of-peace ballast. Article V. stipulates that the Persian troops are to withdraw from the territory and city of Herat, and from every part of Afghanistan, within three months, from the date of the exchange of the ratifications of the treaty. By Art. XIV the British Government, on its part, engages, so soon as the above stipulation be carried into effect, "to withdraw without delay the British troops from all ports, places and islands belonging to Persia".[b]

Now it should be recollected that the evacuation of Herat by the Persian troops was spontaneously offered by Feroukh Khan, the Persian Ambassador, during his protracted conferences at Constantinople with Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, and before the capture of Bushire had yet occurred. The only new profit accruing to England from this stipulation is, therefore, limited to the privilege of enchaining, during the most unhealthy season, her troops to the most pestilential spot of the Persian Empire. The terrible ravages the sun and swamps and the sea inflict during the summer months, even on the native population of Bushire and Mohammerah, are chronicled by old and modern writers; but why refer to them, since a few weeks ago, Sir Henry Rawlinson, a very competent judge, and a Palmerstonian too, publicly declared that the Anglo-Indian troops were sure to sink under the horrors of the climate?[c] The London Times, on receiving the news of the Mohammerah victory, proclaimed at once the necessity of advancing despite the treaty of peace to Shiraz, in order to save the troops[d]. The suicides, too, of the British Admiral and General[e], placed at the head of the expedition, were due to their profound anxiety as to the probable fate of the troops, whom, by Governmental instruction, they were not to push beyond Mohammerah. A Crimean catastrophe on a smaller scale may thus be safely expected; this time proceeding neither from the necessities of war, nor from the blunders of the Administration, but from a treaty written with the sword of the victor. There occurs one phrase in the articles quoted which, if it suit Palmerston, may be worked into "a small bone of contention."

Art. XIV. stipulates the "withdrawal of the British troops from all ports, places and islands belonging to Persia." Now it is a controversial matter whether or not the town of Mohammerah does belong to Persia. The Turks have never renounced their claims to that place, which, situated on the Delta of the Euphrates, was their only seaport on that river always accessible, the port of Bassora, being at 'certain seasons too shallow for ships of large burden. Thus, if Palmerston pleases, he may hold Mohammerah on the pretext of its not "belonging" to Persia, and of waiting for the final settlement of the boundary question between Turkey and Persia.

Art. VI. stipulates that Persia agrees to

"relinquish all claims to sovereignty over the territory and city of Herat and the countries of Afghanistan;" to "abstain from all interference with the internal affairs of Afghanistan;" to "recognize the independence of Herat and the whole of Afghanistan, and never to attempt to interfere with the independence of those States;" to refer, in case of differences with Herat and Afghanistan, "for adjustment to the friendly offices of the British Government, and not to take up arms unless these friendly offices fail of effect."

The British Government, on their part, engage

"at all times to exert their influence with the States of Afghanistan to prevent any causes of umbrage being given by them," and "to use their best endeavors to compose differences in a manner just and honorable to Persia."

Now, if this article is stripped of its red tape, it means nothing beyond the acknowledgment by Persia of the independence of Herat, a concession to make which Feroukh Khan had declared himself ready at the Constantinople conferences. It is true that, by virtue of this - article, the British Government is appointed the official intermeddler between Persia and Afghanistan, but that part it was, since the commencement of this century, always acting. Whether it be able or not to continue it, is a question, not of right, but of might. Besides if the Shah[f] harbors at the 'Court of Teheran any Hugo Grotius, - the latter will point out that any stipulation by which an independent State gives a foreign Government the right of interfering with its international relations is null and void according to the jus gentiu[g], and that the stipulation with England is the more so, since it converts Afghanistan, a merely poetical term for various tribes and States, into a real country. The country of Afghanistan exists, in a diplomatic sense, no more than the country of Panslavia.

Art. VII., which stipulates that, in case of any violation of the Persian frontier by the Afghan States,

"the Persian Government shall have the right [...] to undertake military operations for the repression and punishment of the aggressors," but "must retire within its own territory so soon as its object is accomplished,"

is but a literal repetition of just that clause of the treaty of 1852[h] which gave the immediate occasion for the Bushire expedition.

By Art. IX. Persia admits the establishment and recognition of British Consul-General, Consuls, Vice-Consuls, and Consular Agents, to be placed on the footing of the most favorite neon; but by Art. XII. the British Government renounces

"the right of protecting hereafter any Persian subject not actually in the employment of the British mission or of British Consuls-General, Consuls, Vice-Consuls and Consular Agents."

The establishment of British Consulates in Persia being agreed to by Feroukh Khan before the commencement of the war, the

present treaty adds only the renunciation, on the part of England, of her right of protectorate over Persian subjects, which right formed one of the ostensible causes of the war[346]. Austria, France and other States have obtained the establishment of Consulates in Persia without recurring to any piratical expeditions.

Lastly, the treaty forces Mr. Murray back on the Court of Teheran, and prescribes the apology to be made to that gentleman, for being characterized in a letter addressed to Sadir Azim[i] by the Shah, as a "stupid, ignorant and insane man," as a "simpleton," and as the author of a "rude, unmeaning and disgusting document"[j]. The apology to be made to Mr.- Murray was likewise offered by Feroukh Khan, but then declined by the British Government, who insisted upon the dismissal of Sadir Azim, and Mr. Murray's solemn entry into Teheran "to the sound of cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all manner of music"[k]. By accepting, as Consul-General in Egypt, personal favors from Mons, Barrot; by sending, on his first landing at Bushire, the tobacco then presented to him in the Shah's name to the bazaars, there to be publicly sold; by acting the knight-errant of a Persian lady of dubious virtue, Mr. Murray has failed to impress on the oriental mind very high notions of British integrity or dignity. His forced readmission at the Persian Court must, therefore, be considered a rather questionable success. On the whole, the treaty contains, beyond the offers Feroukh Khan made before the outbreak of the war, no stipulations worth the paper they are written upon, and still less the treasure spent and the blood shed. The clear profits of the Persian expedition may be summed up in the odium incurred by Great Britain throughout Central Asia; the disaffection of India, increased by the withdraw-al of Indian troops, and the new burdens thrown on the Indian Exchequer; the almost inevitable recurrence of another Crimean catastrophe; the acknowledgment of Bonaparte's official mediation between England and Asiatic States; lastly, the acquisition by Russia of two strips of land of great importance-the one on the Caspian, the other on the north-coast frontier of Persia.

Written on June 12, 1857
First published unsigned in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5048, June 24, 1857


[a] Palmerston's speech in the House of Commons on May 18, 1857, The Times, No. 22684, May 19, 1857.—Ed.

[b] Here and below see "Treaty of Peace between Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and His Majesty the Shah of Persia", The Times, No. 22704, June 11, 1857.—Ed.

[c] H. C. Rawlinson's speech at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society on May 11, 1857, The Times, No. 22679, May 13, 1857.—Ed.

[d] The Times, No. 22681, May 15, 1857, leading article.—Ed.

[e] Etheridge and Stalker.—Ed.

[f] Nasr-ed-Din.—Ed.

[g] International law.—Ed.

[h] A reference to Articles convenus entree la Grande-Bretagne et la Perse relatifs à I'indépendance de la Ville de Herat; signés à Téhéran, le 25 janvier 1853.—Ed.

[i] Prime Minister Mirza Aga Khan.—Ed.

[j] Nasr-ed-Din's letter to Sadir Azim of December 1855, The Times, No. 22704, June 11, 1857, "The Peace with Persia".—Ed.

[k] Daniel 3:10.—Ed.

[346] A reference to the Anglo-Persian war of 1856-57 (see Note 252↓). The official cause for England and Persia breaking off diplomatic relations at the end of 1855 was a conflict between the British envoy to Teheran and the Persian Sadir Asam (Prime Minister): Mirza Hashim, secretary of the British mission who was a Persian subject, was accused of spying for England.

[252] The object of the Anglo-Persian war of 1856-57 was to establish British influence in Persia, pave the way for further colonial expansion in the Middle East and Central Asia and prevent the Shah of Persia from establishing his power over the independent principality of Herat. When Persian troops occupied Herat in October 1856, Britain used this as a pretext to open hostilities. The war took an unfavourable turn for Persia. However, the national liberation uprising that flared up in India in 1857 and continued up to 1859 compelled Britain to conclude a peace treaty with Persia in all haste. Under the terms of the treaty, signed in Paris in March 1857, Persia repudiated her claims to Herat, which, in 1863, was incorporated into the possessions of the Afghan Emir.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 15 (pp.293-296), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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