1900-1919 | Iran

British attempt to buy hegemony over Persia fails

Lord Curzon: ‘I don’t at all mind their noses being rubbed in the dust.’ –
Photo – Library of Congress – via Wikimedia.

9 August 1919

On 9 August 1919, after six months of secret negotiations between Sir Percy Cox, the acting British Minister in Tehran, and three leading Persian politicians, Prime Minister Vusuq ul-Dawleh, Foreign Minister Prince Farooz and Finance Minister, Sarem ul-Dawleh, the Anglo-Persian Agreement was announced. If it had been subsequently ratified by the Persian parliament it would have represented a huge victory for British imperial ambition. Persia was to be granted what amounted to a mere protectorate status. The accord not only guaranteed the British access to Persian oil fields but it also allowed them to take over all military and financial institutions.

To secure such a surrender of sovereignty, the three Persian politicians were given a generous advance on a promised loan worth £130,000, with which they which they were expected to bribe potential opponents. They were also promised they would be granted asylum should it end badly. It did.  When Persians read about the details of the treaty, they immediately knew that the three ministers had tried to sell their country to the British.  Opposition quickly escalated. Vusuq ul-Dawleh, who tried vainly to quell the protests was toppled from power and any chance for the agreement’s ratification vanished.  Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, reacted furiously. ‘These people  have got to be taught,’ he wrote, ‘at whatever cost to them, that they cannot get on without us. I don’t at all mind their noses being rubbed in the dust.’1


  1. Cited in Christopher De Bellaigue, Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup, Vintage Books, London, 2013, p. 53.

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