Friday, 17 January, 2020

Iranian ‘Lord of the Jungle’, who was he?

Mirza Kuchak Khan (1880 - December 2, 2021), also known as ‘Lord of the Jungle’,  was a revolutionary and guerilla of the early twentieth century in Iran.

He was the founder of a revolutionary movement based in the forests of Gilan in northern Iran that became known as the Jangal (Forest) movement. This uprising started in 1914 and remained active against internal and foreign enemies until 1921 when the movement was defeated.

Kuchak Khan was born Younes and was nicknamed Mirza “Kuchak” in the city of Rasht in northern Iran in 1880.

He studied theology to become a cleric at Jame Rasht in Rasht and later at Mahmudiyeh schools in Tehran. On the eve of the Iranian constitutional revolution as all the intelligentsia and ordinary people became more involved in politics, Mirza quit his studies to join the movement. Finally in an Imperial decree the Shah of Iran Muzaffar al-Din Shah agreed to a constitutional monarchy in August 1906.

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Mirza Kuchak khan’s Historical House in Northern Iran, Rasht

However, the ruling feudalistic society was not ready to give up on its privileges and respect the newly elected Parliament (Majlis). In June 1908 the parliament was shut down during a coup d’état ordered by the new monarch, Mohammad Ali Shah. The Russian Cossack Brigade under the command of Colonel Liakhov serving the Shah bombarded the parliament and arrested the pro-democracy people and their social leaders such as journalists and members of the Parliament. Uprisings all over the country followed in particular in Tabriz and Rasht. During the Tabriz uprising Kuchak Khan tried to join Sattar Khan’s forces, but was unable to actively participate due to an illness. He was injured in the Constitutionalist war, and had to travel to Baku and Tbilisi for medical attention.

After going through a period of renewed and bloody dictatorship nicknamed the Short Dictatorship (or Lesser Autocracy) finally, in July 1909 the national revolutionary forces from Gilan and central Iran (Bakhtiari tribes) were united to attack and conquer the capital Tehran. Mirza Kuchak Khan was one of the lower rank commanders of the force that invaded the capital from North.

Unfortunately, given the shortcomings of the advanced social thinkers and activists of the time on one hand and the stronger establishment of the old autocracy on the other hand, again the same privileged class and their political representatives took control of the new regime. The freedom fighters were not satisfied and in fact were disarmed, in some cases using force. Meanwhile the direct and indirect manipulation of the country’s internal politics by Tsarist Russians and the British added to the sufferings of the people and resulted in social unrest.

It was during such tumultuous period that Mirza Kuchak Khan, in collaboration with the Society of Islamic Union, started his uprising in the northern forests (Southern Caspian). Mirza Kuchak Khan’s return to Rasht was not easy since he had been expelled from Gilan by the Russian consulate for five years. His cause seems to have been a mixture of that of the newly emerging national bourgeoisie and downtrodden peasants and therefore gained momentum soon after it started. The Jangal forces (locally referred to as ‘Jangalis’ i.e., ‘forest people’ in Persian) defeated the local governmental and Russian troops which added to their reputation as potential saviors of the ideas of the constitutional revolution.

On June 12, 2021 Manjil was the site of a battle between the Jangali troops and the joint British and White Russian forces. The latter force (led by General Dunsterville and Kernel Bicherakhov) although formally just trying to organize the return of Russian soldiers back home, in reality was planning to pass through Manjil as the only passage to the Caspian in order to reach Baku and fight against the newly formed Baku commune (led by Stepan Shahumian). General Dunsterville’s private diaries and notes, including those kept during his command of the Dunsterforce Mission to North Persia and Baku, are transcribed from the original by General Dunsterville’s great granddaughter, and are co-located on the Great War Primary Documents Archive. Mirza Koochek Khan’s troops were defeated in this war because of the use of artillery, armored car and airplanes by the joint forces. Mirza’s field commander was a German officer (Major Von Pashen) who had joined the Jangal movement after being released by them from the British prison in Rasht.

The Jangal movement was further boosted and gained gravity after the victory of the Bolsheviks in Russia. In May 1920 the Soviet Navy led by Fyodor F. Raskolnikov and accompanied by Grigoriy Ordzhonikidze entered the Caspian port of Anzali. This mission was declared to be only in pursue of the Russian vessels and ammunition taken to Anzali by the White Russian counter-revolutionary general Denikin, who had been given asylum by British forces in Anzali.

Mirza’s death

Mirza and his companion, a Russian-German revolutionary adventurer Gauook (Hooshang), left alone in Khalkhal mountains, died of frost bite. His body was decapitated by a local landlord and his head was displayed in Rasht to establish the government’s new hegemony over revolution and revolutionary ideas.

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The tomb of Mirza kuchak, Rasht

Historical analysis

Historians have tried to analyze the factors that contributed to the demise of the Jangal Movement. Some of the main studies including those by Gregor Yeghikian and Ebrahim Fakhrayi (minister of Culture in Mirza’s Cabinet of the Red Republic) suggest a role for both extremist actions taken by the Communist (Edalat) Party that provoked opposing religious sentiment among the public, and Mirza Koochak Khan’s religious and at times somewhat conservative views on collaboration with the Communist Party as possible factors.

It has been suggested also that the change of policy on the Soviet side regarding pursuing global revolution (as advocated by Trotsky) versus establishing and protecting the Soviet Union was the main reason for them to withdraw support from the Gilan republic. The second option got more support and therefore Soviets signed a treaty with British in London (1921) which necessiated withdrawing from Northern Iran. Correspondence between Theodore Rothstein the Soviet ambassador in Tehran and Mirza Koochak Khan clearly supports this view (Ebrahim Fakhrayi). As part of his peace making efforts, Rothstein had also sent a message to the Soviet officers among Ehsanollah Khan’s one thousand strong force that had made its way towards Qazvin, not to obey his orders and as a result that campaign was defeated.

Summarized from

All images: Ali Asadollahi Sooteh, Tasnim News

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1 Comment

  1. king

    January 22, 2022 at 8:00 am

    hum! he was separatist nothing more nothing less.

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