1921 Persian coup d'état

1921 Persian Coup
Date21 February 1921[1]

Persian Cossack Brigade victory

Government of Persia

Persian Cossack Brigade

Supported by:
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Fathollah Khan Akbar

Rezā Khan Mirpanj
Zia'eddin Tabatabaee
Ahmad Amir-Ahmadi

United Kingdom Edmund Ironside[2]
1,500 Persian Cossacks
Casualties and losses
several policemen killed or injured in Tehran during the coup

1921 Persian coup d'état, known in Iran as 3 Esfand 1299 coup d'état (Persian: کودتای ۳ اسفند ۱۲۹۹‎), refers to several major events in Persia in 1921, which eventually led to the establishment of the Pahlavi dynasty as the ruling house of the country in 1925.

The events began with a coup by the Persian Cossack Brigade headed by Reza Khan, and directed by the British,[1][citation needed] on 21 February 1921.[1] With this coup Zia'eddin Tabatabaee took over power and became Prime Minister. The coup was largely bloodless and faced little resistance. With his expanded forces and the Cossack Brigade, Reza Khan launched successful military actions to eliminate separatist and dissident movements in Tabriz, Mashhad and the Janglis in Gilan. The campaign against Simko and the Kurds was less successful and lasted well into 1922, though eventually concluding with Persian success.


In late 1920, the Persian Soviet Socialist Republic in Rasht was preparing to march on Tehran with "a guerrilla force of 1,500 Jangalis, Kurds, Armenians and Azerbaijanis", reinforced by the Bolsheviks' Red Army. This fact, along with various other disorders, mutinies and unrest in the country created "an acute political crisis in the capital."[3]

By 1921, the ruling Qajar dynasty of Persia had become corrupt and inefficient.[4] The oil-rich nation was somewhat reliant on the nations of Britain and Russia for military and economic support. Civil wars earlier in the decade had threatened the government, and the only regular military force at the time was the Cossack Brigade.[5]

The Qajar shah in 1921 was Ahmad, who had been crowned at the age of eleven. He was considered to be a weak, incompetent ruler,[6] especially after British, Russian and Ottoman occupations of Persia during World War I. In 1911, when the capital city, Tehran, had been seized by the Russians, armed Bakhtiaris tribesmen, rather than Iranian regular troops, expelled the invaders.[6] This further diminished the government's reputation, rendering it almost powerless in time of war.[citation needed]

Britain, which played a major role in Persia, was dismayed by the Qajar government's inability to rule efficiently.[4] This inefficiency was the background of a power struggle between Britain and Russia, each nation hoping to control Persia.[citation needed]

On 14 January 1921, the British General Ironside chose to promote Reza Khan, who had been leading the Tabriz battalion, to lead the entire brigade.[1] About a month later, under British direction, Reza Khan's 3,000-4,000 strong detachment of the Cossack Brigade reached Tehran.[citation needed]

The coup and subsequent events[edit]

Reza Khan seizes Tehran[edit]

On February 18, 1921, the Cossacks reached Tehran meeting little resistance.[5] On early morning of February 21, they entered the city.[7] Only several policemen, taken by surprise, are said to had been killed or wounded in the center of Tehran.[7] Backed by his troops, Reza Khan forced the government to dissolve and oversaw his own appointment as minister of war. Reza Khan also ensured that Ahmad, still ruling as shah, appoint Sayyed Ziaoddin Tabatabaee[4] as prime minister.

Treaty with the USSR[edit]

On February 26, the new government signed a treaty of friendship with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, formerly the Russian Empire. As a result of the treaty, the Soviet Union gave up some of its former Russian facilities in Iran, although the Soviet diplomats ensured that their nation was allowed to intervene with its military in Iran, as long as the intervention was "self-defense".[4] The USSR also gave up any Russian-owned railroads and ports in Iran.[citation needed]

Change of prime ministers[edit]

Prior to the coup, Ahmad Qavam, governor of Khorasan, had asserted his loyalty to the Qajar regime. When he refused to recognize the government installed by Reza Khan,[4] he was jailed in Tehran. During his imprisonment, Gavam nurtured a hatred of the man who had arrested him, Colonel Mohammad Taghi Pessian, now the gendarmerie chief.[citation needed]

Sayyed Ziaoddin Tabatabaee, who had been installed as prime minister, was removed from office on May 25, by Shah Ahmad's decree. Shortly afterward, Qavam was released from prison and given Tabatabaee's former post.[citation needed] Colonel Pessian refused to accept this betrayal of the coup's ideals of a democratic Iran and began to gather popular support and many tribes flocked to make up his formidable force.

Quelling local uprisings[edit]

Pessian's revolt[edit]

After Gavam was made prime minister, one of the coup leaders and now the gendarmerie chief Colonel Mohammad Taghi Pessian opposed the new order and erosion of the democratic principles for which he and many of his fellow Iranians had fought and so departed Tehran. Soon at the head of a rebel army, Pessian went to battle with the armies of several regional governors. However, the rebels were eventually defeated and Reza Khan ordered that Pessian be beheaded and that the head be returned to Tehran and put on display to prove that Pessian, now a national hero, was dead to quell further rebellions.[4] The Kurds of Khorasan also revolted in the same year.[8][verification needed]

Gilan campaign[edit]

The campaign on the Republic of Gilan was taken in early July 1921, by the main Cossack force, led by Vsevolod Starosselsky.[7] Following a gendarme operation, led by Habibollah Khan (Shiabani), they cleared up Mazandaran and moved into Gilan.[7] On August 20, ahead of the arrival of the Cossacks, the insurgents pulled out of Rasht, retreating towards Enzeli.[7] The Cossacks entered Rasht on August 24.[7] Though further pursuit after the revolutionaries turned successful at Khomam and Pirbazar, they have become heavily assaulted later on by the Soviet fleet, which bombed them by heavy artillery fire.[7] First, it had been believed that the entire force of 700 men, led by Reza Khan, became annihilated in this event, though later the actual casualty rate was determined to be about 10%, with the rest of them scattering upon the bombardment.[7] As a result, Starosselski ordered evacuation of Rasht.[7]

The Soviet Republic of Gilan officially came to an end in September 1921. Mirza and his German friend Gauook (Hooshang) were left alone in the Khalkhal Mountains, and died of frostbite.[citation needed]

Kurdish revolt[edit]


Reza Shah

In the aftermath of 1921 events, relations of Persian government with the Sheikhdom of Mohammerah had also become strained. In 1924, Sheikh Khazal rebellion[9] broke out in Khuzestan, being the first modern Arab nationalist uprising led by the Sheikh of Mohammerah Khaz'al al-Ka'bi. The rebellion was quickly and effectively suppressed with minimal casualties.

Rezā Khan was placed on the throne by constitutional assembly in 1925, and many of those involved in the coup were either killed or put in prison. One General, Sepahbod Amir Ahmadi, tried to stand up against the establishment of a new monarchy, but on a visit to his now imprisoned brother-in-law, General Heydargholi Pessian, who had been one of the leaders of the coup that defeated the Qajar dynasty, Amir Ahmadi confessed that his efforts to prevent Reza Khan being made Shah and the monarchy reinstated were being thwarted by the British. Reza Khan was finally declared Shah, taking the surname Pahlavi and thus founding the Pahlavi dynasty. The Pahlavis ruled in Iran until the revolution of 1979, when the government was toppled and replaced with that of the Islamic Republic of Iran, headed by Ruhollah Khomeini.[5] The day after the Shah left Iran, the revolutionary leaders declared Colonel Mohammad Taghi Pessian the first Martyr of the Revolution although Pessian was a Secularist.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Cyrus Ghani; Sīrūs Ghanī (6 January 2001). Iran and the Rise of the Reza Shah: From Qajar Collapse to Pahlavi Power. I.B.Tauris. pp. 147–. ISBN 978-1-86064-629-4.
  2. ^ ... as a result of his forcefulness and military achievements, had been chosen by Major General Edmund Ironside, head of Norperforce ... COUP D’ETAT OF 1299/1921
  3. ^ Abrahamian, Ervand (1982). Iran Between Two Revolutions. Princeton University Press. pp. 116–117. ISBN 0691053421.
  4. ^ a b c d e f The Iranian History 1921 AD
  5. ^ a b c History of Iran: Pahlavi Dynasty
  6. ^ a b History of Iran: Qajar Dynasty
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Katouzian, Homa (2006). "The 1921 Coup". State and Society in Iran: The Eclipse of the Qajars and the Emergence of the Pahlavis. London: Tauris. pp. 242–267. ISBN 1845112725.
  8. ^ Cottam, Richard W. (1979). Nationalism in Iran. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 0822952998.
  9. ^ Price, M. Iran`s diverse peoples: a reference sourcebook. p.159. "... and finally supporting a rebellion by Shaykh Khazal." CEIQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=sheikh%20khazal%20rebellion&f=false

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