Based on archive material from different private collections and public institutions (notably the India Office Library in London and the Institute of Political and International Studies of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran), this erudite though sometimes confuse work sheds light on the impact that was exerted on the delimitation of the international frontiers between Iran and Afghanistan, in the 1880s-90s, by the endemic rivalries between local ruling dynasties, the Khuzayma and the ‘Abdali appanages of, respectively, Iranian and Afghan Khurasan, for the control of Herat, Mashhad, and Baluchistan under and after Nadir Shah’s reign (1736-47). The Khuzayma appanages of Qaenat and Sistan—where Tsarist Russia maintained for long a consulate—, situated at the gateway of nineteenth-century British India, were of extreme importance to the British, whose main preoccupation was then to obstruct the spread of Russia’s or other European powers’ eastward influence. During the Qajar period the Khuzayma appanage, though officially a part of Khurasan province, had in practice nothing to do with Mashhad: It conducted its affairs independently and reported to Tehran on general principles, its foot soldiers and artillerymen being recruited from among the Azerbaijanis who had always enjoyed the reputation of being loyal and fine warriors.
Using his personal connections among the Khuzayma family, the author has tried to assess this lineage’s history—managing only to cast light on the dynasty’s present leaders’ denegation of any Arab origin and on their insistence on their belonging to Shiism, on their Iranian patriotism, and their refusal of any kind of regionalism of a separatist nature. Given the lack of evidence and of written materials, the dynasty’s history remains in the hands of its representatives, and so hardly separable from myth. (An interesting document emanating from the family’s sponsorship, the early twentieth-century “History of Qaenat [Ta’rikh-i Qayinat: Mir’at al-maknunat fi ta’rikh al-Qayinat]” by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Husayn Fanudi, has recently be published by the historian Mahmud Rafi‘i, Tehran: Hirmand, 1383/2004. It comprises substantial paragraphs and chapters on the unification of regional power of Khazim b. Khuzayma in the mid eighth century CE; on the history of the Isma‘iliyya in Quhistan under the Saljuqids and Mongols; and on the history of the region during the Safavid period.) Associated in the family’s memory and tradition with the coming to power of the Safavids on the Iranian plateau in the early sixteenth century, the Khuzayma’s fortune was confirmed in the 1740s by Nadir Shah with the nomination of Amir Isma‘il Khan Khuzayma as the Governor of Qaen, Farah, and Kuh-Giluya. It reached its peak under Isma‘il Khan’s successor Amir ‘Alam Khan i, when the appanage extended its limits far beyond the traditional territory of Qaenat and Sistan, notably towards Baluchistan. The author’s narrative continues in the book’s first chapter with short biographies of the dynasty’s leading figures from the the mid-eighteenth to the early twentieth century, focusing on the Khuzayma’s role in the limitation of Afghan influence and in the suppression of insurgencies in Khurasan, Sistan, and Baluchistan. Particular attention is devoted to Amir ‘Alam Khan iii (in charge from 1847 to 1891), and to the role that was to be played by this amir’s alliance—notably matrimonial—with the Baluch in the latter’s later attestation that their dominions belong to Iran, during the boundary arbitration between this country and Afghanistan. Interestingly also, the author evokes the foundation of the city of Nusratabad (renamed Zabol under Reza Shah) and its population by Qaeni settlers, whereas the old city was inhabited by Sistanis: a common practice in Iran’s borderlands, that was to be reiterated by Reza Shah himself in Zahedan one century later. (Much later under Reza Khan’s government, in 1921-2, Amir Shawkat al-Mulk was assigned to put down Dust-Muhammad’s insurgency, after which the regions of Sarhadd and Qal‘a-yi Khash—along the boundaries of the British Raj—were to remain for a short period of time under Khuzayma rule.) Reza Khan’s accession to the throne in 1925 however deeply changed the logic of the relations with the Iranian central state: The resignation of Shawkat al-Mulk’s nephew from his governorship of Qaen in 1937 officially brought the amirdom to its end, the Khuzayma being thereafter but a nominal entity. This did not prevent, however, prominent figures of the dynasty to play a significant role in regional affairs. Such was the case of Amir Husayn Khan Khuzayma ‘Alam, who was served during five years under Reza Shah as Governor of the newly founded region of Sistan and Baluchistan, helped by his double background as the descendant of a paternal family who had ruled the region for centuries, whereas on his father’s mother side he was a grandson of Sardar Sharif Khan Naruyi and was related to other prominent sardars of Sistan and Baluchistan.
The core of the book is made of a couple of chapters of the Khuzayma’s role in Iran’s foreign policy, in particular during the border dispute between Iran and Afghanistan about Sistan, arbitrated in 1871-2 by the British under General Frederick Godsmid. The author stresses the significance of the lasting personal rivalry between Amir ‘Alam Khan iii Khuzayma and Shir ‘Ali Khan of Afghanistan, expressed notably by Khuzayma support to the Afghan ruler’s rebellious son Ya‘qub Khan. A key consequence of the Godsmid arbitration was to put an end to the direct relations, hostile as they were, between the Khuzayma appanage and the Afghan rulers, while it marked the beginning of a new and direct political relation between the appanage on the one hand and the British and Russians on the other. A new phase begun after Amir ‘Alam Khan iii’s death in 1891, in which the two mutually rival Khuzayma amirs of Qaenat changed sides frequently in their relations with foreign powers. One of the direct consequences of the new situation was a spectacular increase of brabery rates for governorships. A major factor of this evolution was the fact that the Qajar court in Tehran realised that Great Britain and Russia, at the height of their rivalry in Central Eurasia, were competing seriously over the issue of the governorship of Sistan and Qaenat, each determined to secure the strategically sensitive position for its respective Khuzayma friend. In the first decades of the Pahlavi regime until the aftermath of wwii Anglo-soviet rivalries in eastern Iran gave a new dimension to the ‘Great Game’. Whence the Soviet Consulate in Zabol (Sistan) was closed in 1930 on Reza Shah’s order, the British Consulate remained operational because of the presence in the province of a sizeable amount of British Indian subjects. The Soviets, at this time, were still firmy established in the northern Iranian provinces, including Khurasan. The Soviet-backed Tudeh party’s branch at Birjand (southern Khurasan) entered local politics, strongly opposing the British and the Khuzayma family. Many nobles of the old order, including Qajar princes, deprived of their power and privileges were to be found among the early Tudeh members. In Sistan as well, it is no surprise that Tudeh sympathy came from government officials, from landlords, and from merchants and clerics. The evolution of Sistan’s boundaries between Iran and Afghanistan is evoked through a narrative that encompasses, through a wide set of secondary sources, the successive divisions of the Hirmand basin in the nineteenth century, and the recurring water disputes of the twentieth.
The book constantly oscillates between apology of Greater Khurasan and a more moderate stance, revealing the difficulties that the publisher probably had with its author. Innumerable inaccuracies and factual mistakes must be deplored (dates of Shah Tahmaps i’s reign [p. 49], Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar’s assassination being several times located in 1979 instead of 1799 , “Finken Stain” instead of “Finkenstein”, “Gardan” instead of “Gardane” ), etc.), including an amount unusual at Routledge of orthographic and grammatical mistakes, sometimes the result of a distracted use of computers’ automatic correction system (e.g., “Alarm Khan” instead of “‘Alam Khan” [p. 93]; “The [Khuzayma] amirdoms [. . .] was of extreme importance ;” “A major factor [. . .] have been the fact ,” etc.). Otherwise, the author too often satisfies himself with suppositions and products of his imagination. The oral assertions of his Khuzayma informants and the data conveyed by the family-sponsored historiography are rarely, if ever, critically discussed and even less often confronted with materials of other kinds and origins, which drives this book closer to traditional historiography than to modern historical research—in connection with the predominantly apologetic practice of local and regional history in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Beside the good-quality maps and the well-chosen illustrations (most of the latter coming from the private archive of the Khuzayma family), a genealogical table with indication of the respective appanages of the Khuzayma’s varied branches would have proved extremely useful, especially in the maze of endemic rivalries between the two separate but interdependent amirdoms of Qaenat and Sistan between 1891 and 1937 (most fiercely during the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-11). Such shortcomings are very regrettable, given the originality and significance of the subject dealt with in this captivating monograph.