Cultural Impact of the Constitutional Period

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals


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The year 2016 marks the 110th anniversary of the Constitutional Revolution and the 60th anniversary of the death of Ali-Akbar Dehkhodā (d. 1956). Dehkhodā was a journalist contributing to the weekly social democratic paper Sur-e Esrāfil (henceforth SE) in 1907-1908. He published a series of satirical columns under the title Charand-o-parand and several editorials. SE adopted an uncompromising anti-colonialist position and routinely exposed the machinations of Western diplomats in Iran, specifically those of Russia and Great Britain. The paper was critical of the new monarch Mohammad‐Ali Shah, who began a relentless battle against the new constitutional order. SE was also heavily influenced by Enlightenment ideas and dabbled in contemporary European discussions on social democracy. But by far the paper’s harshest criticisms were reserved for the clerical establishment, those from the lowest ranking members of the caste of mullas, who were blamed for propagating superstition, and those belonging to the highest echelons (mojtaheds) such as Shaykh Fazlollāh Nuri, who had openly sided with the anti‐constitutionalist faction.
What is very little discussed about this classic work of Persian literature is that SE also initiated a new discourse on religious reform in a series of editorials written by Dehkhodā that called for the establishment of a rationalist Islam based primarily on the Qur’an and the legacies of early Islam. These editorials continued the work of the freethinker Sheikh Hadi Najmabadi in the late nineteenth century. SE’s criticism of the religious establishment centered on the argument that popular and ritualistic Shi’ism, which focused on veneration of the imams, was anathema to both early Islamic principles and the requirements of a modern rational religion. A close reading indicates that Dehkhodā was undermining three central pillars of Shi’ism – the notions of khātamiyat (the idea that prophecy ended with Muhammad, which he reinterpreted in a creative way by suggesting that each individual must take responsibility for his actions), shafā‘at (intercession, especially that of Shi’i imams), and mahdaviya (the reemergence of the Twelfth Imam). This line of argument was later continued by Shariat Sangelaji in the 1930s-1940s and ultimately was incorporated into Kasravi’s Pak Dini in the 1940s. This paper is based on a new translation of Charand-o-parand by Afary and John R. Perry (Yale UP, 2016) and Afary’s work-in-progress on the rationalist school of reform in modern Iran.

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The Making of a Modern Iranian Artist: Hoseyn Taherzadeh Behzad and the Illustrated Constitutional Era Press

Layla S. Diba

Hoseyn Taherzadeh Behzad (1889-1962) is less well-known than his contemporary Hoseyn Behzad (1894-1968), yet he was arguably one of the transformative figures of the 20th century Iranian art and culture. His remarkable career spanned over half a century and a range of media, professions, patrons and political engagement. Taherzadeh Behzad’s formation as an artist was cosmopolitan: in the first two decades of the 20th century he studied in his birthplace Tabriz, continued his education in Tbilisi and Istanbul, and later was employed in Berlin, Istanbul and Tehran. He was a multifaceted artist: cartoonist, educator and scholar, contributor to the Survey of Persian Art, carpet designer, mural painter, and interior designer. Recent evidence has identified him as the principal architect of early Pahlavi modern art. This paper will focus on his early years as a cartoonist and political reformist working for illustrated newspapers of the Constitutional era. According to sources, he provided illustrations for Azarbaijan, Molla Nasreddin and Hasharat al Arz. His most significant contribution in this medium appears to have been the cartoons for Shayda, a fortnightly paper published in Istanbul in 1911. Taherzadeh Behzad was its only illustrator for the five issues which are known to have been printed, with approximately ten cartoons to his credit. In order to discuss the question of Taherzadeh’s emerging identity as an artist, this paper will focus on the political and social contexts of early 20th century Tabriz, Tbilisi and Istanbul and consider the illustrations and text of Shayda in light of the political events described therein and in comparison with other newspapers of the era.

WC 261

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The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have long been recognized as having constituted a time of transformation, not only in terms of events but also mindset and society. In addition to political milestones like the constitutional revolution in the first decade of the twentieth century, which in turn laid the grounds for a new political and cultural discourse, much has also been written about how the years between the 1870s and 1920s witnessed tremendous changes like the introduction of new communication networks such as the telegraph, printing-houses and newspapers, each of which helped expose the towns and cities of Iran increasingly to the wider world. However, rarely has detailed attention been paid to another major change as part of the developments of this period, namely the emergence and shaping of a public sphere in the sense of a space where broader publics could interact and/or effectively discuss issues of common and shared interest. This paper will therefore attempt to address this lacunae by focusing on two public and interrelated spaces, namely anjomans or political clubs, and the press in early twentieth century Iran. We know, for example, that newspapers were read in anjomans, and that some anjomans produced their own newspapers or pamphlets. By looking at the relationship between the press and the anjomans more closely, this paper will consider the role that newspapers (and at times shabnamehs) played in enabling anjomans to broaden the parameters of discussion and debate, engage a wider public in a newly-emerging political and civic discourse, and give shape to a new kind of political activism. To this end, this paper will use as source a selection of early twentieth century Persian newspapers as well as memoirs and journals of the time.

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Seyyed Hassan Taqizadeh has been a controversial figure in the contemporary history of Iran for a number of reasons. At various points throughout his life, his ideas and activities lead to accusations of him being, among other things, a secret agent, a freemason and a Babi. During the early periods of the Constitutional Revolution, namely the First Parliament and the aftermath of the bombardment of the parliament, the Constitutionalists were often referred to as ‘Babis’ by their political opponents and thus stigmatized. Taqizadeh, as one of the leading figures of the Constitutional Revolution, was certainly no exception.

The aim of this paper is to explore some of the reasons that, despite not all being ‘Babis’, the majority of the Constitutionalists were accused of being so whether in fact they were or not. The motives behind this accusation will be discussed. After an overview of the social and political setting in which the Constitutionalists were acting which lead to such accusations, this paper will then focus on Taqizadeh and his ideas of this period which may have reinforced the image of him as a ‘Babi’.

Taqizadeh’s ideas during this period expressed in his writings and talks will be discussed as a source in order to attempt to show the similarities between his ideas and beliefs and those of Babiism which could be considered justification for these accusations.