Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tehran, Iran, January 23, 2016. (AP)

By Camelia Entekhabifard

July 14, 2020

In the past week, what was said and heard of the so-called “25-year strategic partnership between China and Iran” was mainly the comparison made between this deal and the Torkamanchay treaty of the 1828 between Iran and Russia.

It is most unfortunate that Iranian history has always written to the pleasure of the rulers of the time.

However, from the ordinary Iranian in the street to the intellectual and well-read, without exception, they all call the Torkamanchay treaty disgraceful and treacherous. Were the treaties of Gulistan (also known as Golestan) in 1813 and Torkamanchay in 1828 a betrayal to the people of Iran?

Iran of post Karim Khan Zand (the last shah of the Zand dynasty before the Qajars who preceded the Pahlavi) was in the grip of unrest. From the time he assumed power in 1796 to the time of his death a year later, Aqa Mohammad Khan, the first ruler of the Qajar dynasty, galloped his army to every corner of the country from Qarabagh and Tbilisi in the east to Khorasan in the west, where he fought off warlords and tribal kings.

Whether his motive was to unite the county as Sultan Hamid Mirza, the grandson of the last Qajar king said in an interview, or consolidating Qajar’s pillars of power over Iran, he managed to form a strong central government.

The first Iranian modern army was established during the time of Regent Abbas Mirza, and the first group of Iranian students was sent to the West on scholarship from the government.

Aqa Mohamad Khan’s attack on Tbilisi, which consolidated Iranian rule over that land, gave Russians the excuse to bring in their army to Iran’s periphery lands and in particular, exert their influence in the Caucasus.

What has never been spoken about in good will was Iranian army’s inability and its lack of skills and modern arms to face and defeat Russia’s might. In contrast to the Russian army that was equipped with cannon and all the modern armaments of the time, Iranians had gone to war with sword, bow and arrow, and most probably, mounted donkeys and horses.

Iran’s army faced a crushing defeat for it did not have the strength to fight with Russia. Abbaa Mirza gave his all, from his life to his wealth (gave away part of Nader Shah’s treasures) to salvage at least the main parts of Azerbaijan for the motherland.

Further resistance by the Iranian army could have inflicted more damage to the country. The first war between the two countries, which lead to the signing of the Golestan treaty, had been enticed by Russians in order to annex Georgia to their territory. The second war was initiated by Iranians with the help of a fatwa with the aim of recapturing their lost lands. They faced yet again a crushing defeat and the Torkamanchay treaty was imposed on them.

Iranians’ deep sense of loss for their lost land has been kept fresh in their minds for two centuries, but the fact remains that the two wars were imposed on Iran and in the face of military defeat, Iranians were forced to accept such humiliating and unfair treaties.

I remember my reaction well, crying at elementary school when I learned the northern part of Iran separated in the early 19th century when Iran was defeated by Russia. Iran lost half of the northern Azerbaijan and part of Ghorjistan and Armenia by signing two-peace treaties: Golestan and Torkamanchay.

Defeat in the 19th century where powerful countries were expanding their territory meant losing land. In modern times, two centuries after signing the Golestan and Torkamanchay treaties, there is no need for humiliating or exploiting a country or a nation.

The Qajars whom we look down upon did not make a gift of Iran’s territory to Russians. If they were forced to hand over parts of Iranian lands to the aggressions of a super power, now the Islamic Republic is auctioning Iran’s waters and soil voluntarily and without war for the sheer sake of prolonging its own survival.

Only a year ago, we witnessed the signing of the Caspian Treaty which despite loud noises and demands in Iranian media, the Iranian government has never revealed the true share of Iran in this infamous agreement.

According to this treaty which was signed and sealed last summer, Kazakhstan’s share of the Caspian Sea was agreed to be 30%, Turkmenistan 21%, Russia and Azerbaijan each 19%, and Iran with the least share at 11%, and Russia alone will have the right of military presence in the entirety of the Caspian Sea.

Mohamad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, two former Iranian presidents refused to sign the draft version of the Caspian Treaty, but Hassan Rouhani finally signed it off to oblige Khamenei’s orders.

Now, in his last year of presidency and under pressure from Khamenei, Rouhani is set to give in to signing yet another shameful agreement according to which Iran’s oil, gas and resources in the Gulf will be handed over to the Chinese for the duration of a quarter of a century.

The Iranian administration has given in to the humiliation of selling off the north and the south of the country at any cost in order to defy the US and to prolong its survival. And this is while the treaties of Golestan and Torkamanchay have been signed only as a result of defeat in war and inability of the army to fight off the enemy.

Even the carefully selected members of the sham of the Iranian parliament protest this all exploiting treaty and yet the voice of the nation has fallen on deaf ears. What has been put on sale will never be returned to Iran and it is the national wealth of the people that is being plundered in the north and the south.

Two centuries after the signing of the Golestan and Torkamanchay treaties, Azerbaijan could have reunited with the motherland after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 if the Pahlavis had still been in charge of the country.

But the Iran that was busy exporting its revolution and expand Shiism, was not the same mother to embrace its lost child. This historic opportunity was lost as a result of the incompetence of the Islamic Republic.

Even after the collapse of the Tsarist Russia and the end of the WWI in 1918, there was an opportunity for Iran to claim its occupied lands in the Paris Peace Conference. At the time, a great number of telegraphs and letters were sent to Tehran and Paris by the peoples who had been separated from Iran by the Golestan and Torkamanchay treaties asking for the treaties to be declared null and void and Iran’s territories with its people to be repatriated to the motherland.

Had there been a capable and competent administration governing Iran, the country’s lost lands could have been given back to its people, but tragically, the Islamic republic is only after prolonging its survival even if it is at the cost of the destruction of Iran’s irreplaceable natural resources and wealth.

The details of the points agreed in Golestan and Torkamanchay treaties were clear and open to public. The details of the Caspian Convention and the 25-year agreement with China should be made public so the country’s policies in protecting of Iran’s sovereignty and safeguarding its national interests could be assessed and judged.

Asharq Al-Awsat

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.