The influence of European models on nineteenth-and twentieth-century discourses of reform, state-building and modernization in Iran is universally acknowledged. This acknowledgement, however, often conceals a tendency, conscious or unconscious, towards conceptualizing Europe in an ideologically partisan way, a Europe defined by French or British templates, constitutional, liberal, secular, modern. But there were other European influences at work on modern Iran. Russian military successes in the eighteenth-century era of “enlightened absolutism” provided the early Qajar political elite with an example that was profoundly authoritarian, while Russian military assistance to the later Qajar shahs brought to Iran a political element, in the shape of a succession of Cossack officers, that was deeply and actively reactionary. Just as scholarship on Iran has tended to designate as “European” only those influences of which it approved, so it has imagined their transmission to be essentially an elite activity, operating, furthermore, in one direction only, from West to East. According to this view, the diffusion of “Europe” in Iran took place through the reception of ideas, cultural practices, technological innovations and so on by the shah himself, his ministers and officials, and the tiny literate classes. Subaltern, popular, dissident and non-literate exchanges are relegated to the margins, while any possibility of Iranian influence on the Europeans who lived and worked in the country, sometimes for very long periods, is quarantined within the phenomenon of “going native”. Finally, Europe is often posited as an unchanging and ahistorical entity, conceptualized in metaphysical terms, its impact on the wider world unrelated to and independent of the social, political and economic struggles and transformations convulsing individual European countries and the continent in general throughout the nineteenth century. Europe is, in this schema, divorced from time and space. In reality, of course, the Europe encountered by Qajar Iran was not only multifaceted but itself undergoing a continuous process of kaleidoscopic change, this process of change reproduced within and crucially determining the Iranian-Russian nexus. Thus, the impact of “Europe”, while always conceded, has often been left unproblematized. The discussion that follows, located within a narrative of the role played by the many Russian subjects who served in Qajar Iran, seeks to interrogate more closely the character of the role played Russia in Iran during

the long nineteenth century.1 In particular, it suggests the existence not of a unilinear and uncontested flow of ideas and practices from an active Europe to a passive Iran, but rather a range of contradictory and paradoxical interactions. It further indicates the extent to which these influences were not, as European influences are conventionally deemed to be, liberal and reformist but were rather, reflecting the realities of Russian politics, either authoritarian or revolutionary. Russians entered Iranian military service in two waves, each wave associated with and characterizing a specific period in Iranian-Russian relations. The first was subaltern in origin and came in the form of the deserters from the Russian imperial army who fled to Tabriz during the first three decades of the nineteenth century and who made a significant contribution to the efforts of Abbas Mirza to build a modern army. The second took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and, reflecting the political polarization at home, consisted of representatives of the Tsarist military elite, Russian Cossack officers, who moved to Iran between 1879 and 1920 and formed and led the Iranian Cossack Brigade, and their opposites, Caucasian revolutionaries who joined the Constitutional movement in order to continue their struggle against the Russian imperial regime. The narrative that follows raises a series of questions not only about the extent of Russian influence suggested by the presence of Russian soldiers, but also about its character. Why did Iran place such a high value on Russian military expertise? Who were the Russians who served in the Iranian military? From what kind of environment did they come and what ideas, knowledge, attitudes, habits and customs did they bring with them? How were they received in Iran and what effect did Iranian society exercise on them? Perhaps most importantly, to what extent and in what ways did the changes transforming Russia affect the roles they played in Iran? This chapter illustrates the difficulties of understanding the part played by successive generations of Russians in Iran unless some consideration of their own native environment is taken into account. Only fragmentary source material may be located concerning the deserters who served in Abbas Mirza’s new model regiments, the nizam-i jadid.2 Yet some light can be shed on their place in this reform effort by examining, in more general terms, the origins of such deserters and the typical formative experiences of the lower ranks within the Russian army from which they were drawn. Later in the century, the role of the Cossack officers in Iran may better be understood by contextualizing an account of their actions within an analysis of the changing circumstances of the Cossack Voiska (Hosts) within the Russian Empire. The Russian officers who moved to Iran after 1879 were themselves drawn not from a modern but from an archaic socio-military environment, that of the Cossack Voiska in the Caucasus, which was itself undergoing a process of enforced and rapid change. Polkovnik (Colonel) Vladimir Platonovich Liakhov’s successful transformation of the Iranian Cossack Brigade from a largely ceremonial bodyguard for the shah into an effective counter-revolutionary paramilitary police clearly derived from similar changes that were taking place among the Russian Cossacks. Similarly, the political intervention in Iran of General Vsevelod Dimitrievich Staroselsky,

Brigade commander during the chaotic post-war and pre-coup years, 1918-20, can be better understood when it is located not only within local and domestic Iranian politics but within the context of the broader struggle for power that had erupted in the Caucasus and across the former Russian Empire and beyond following the 1917 October Revolution. It may also be observed from the narrative which follows that Russian influence was often transmitted not through elite to elite channels but by the flight of subaltern elements engaged in active opposition to the existing imperial order. As military expansion brought the Tsarist armies to Iran’s northern borders, so it brought too the ex-serf soldiers who would desert and provide Abbas Mirza with his first practical knowledge of modern military organization and tactics. Later in the century, as the Russian imperial presence bore down on Iran ever more heavily and Russian Cossacks arrived to officer a bodyguard for the shah, so too were the Russian/Transcaucasian and Iranian revolutionary movements brought into ever closer and deeper contact, culminating in a confrontation in which the enemies who had recently faced each other in the Caucasus in 1905-6 renewed their battle on Iranian territory. Between 1908 and 1909, Iranian constitutionalists, heavily reinforced by Caucasian revolutionaries fleeing the Tsarist reaction, confronted a royalist regime defended by Russian Cossack officers also drawn from the Caucasus, who had recently suppressed the 1905 revolution in Georgia and elsewhere. The contradictory class impact of the Russian imperial advance is perfectly symbolized by the roles of Polkovnik Liakhov, the Cossack officer who imposed martial law on Tehran after his troops suppressed the Majlis (the National Assembly) in 1908, and his immediate successor, the RussianArmenian Yiprim Khan Davidian, who became chief of police in Tehran the following year after the restoration of the constitution. Finally, the narrative that follows examines not only the Russian impact on Iran but also the impact of their new environment on the Russians who entered Iranian military service. The deserters who served in Abbas Mirza’s new nizam-i jadid regiments adopted local customs and dress, sometimes undergoing a kind of conversion to Islam. Both the readiness with which the Russian deserters moved into and out of different identities and the easy acceptance they found in local environments hints at a subaltern tendency towards religious syncretism and cultural hybridization far from Orientalist assumptions about popular Muslim fanaticism and Iranian xenophobia. The Russian officers who came to Iran after 1879 also provided a paradoxical demonstration of the prevalence of cultural hybridization in the region, using Cossack uniforms for their new Iranian recruits to symbolize the Russian imperial presence, yet these uniforms themselves derived from the native dress of the recently conquered and still barely pacified Caucasus.