Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani: Persian Fire and Steel

The project for the book “Persian Fire and Steel: Historical Firearms of Iran” came about from Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani’s desire to share with the world the beauty and the sophistication of historical Persian firearms, and his respect for the skill of the craftsmen who made and decorated them, the ingenuity of the engineers who designed them, and the bravery of the people who used them.

Book cover of “Persian Fire and Steel: Historical Firearms of Iran“; for more information contact: info@mmkhorasani.com. 

Like his previous book, Arms and Armour from Iran, the aim of Persian Fire and Steel is to give the reader a view of these artifacts not only as instruments of war, but also as objects of art and great beauty.

Sample page from the textPersian Fire and Steel: Historical Firearms of Iran“.

This book is the result of several years of research and translation by Dr. Khorasani in several collections and archives in different countries. It is his hope that lovers of art, history, and weaponry all find in it something that speaks to them.

With over four hundred pages and hundreds of high quality photographs and illustrations describing over , Persian Fire and Steel represents one of the most comprehensive insights into the world of historical Persian firearms ever written.

Ranging from small arms to artillery, it covers everything on the subject from their manufacture to their deployment in battle as described in contemporary treatises. Many of these texts are included in this book, where they have been translated to English for the first time.

Short video by Dr. Khorasani’s on his project and text “Persian Fire and Steel: Historical Firearms of Iran“; to support Dr. Khorasani’s pledge and reward campaign kindly click this link here …

Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani: Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran

Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani has published a book in 2013 entitled:

Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran


  • Title: Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran
  • Author: Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani
  • Publisher: Niloufar Books, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
  • Number of pages: 392
  • Date of Publication: 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-3-00-039054-8

The book Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran is  a reference manual on the historical Iranian martial arts in application. The martial arts have influenced all aspects of the ten thousand year history, language and culture of the Iranian people, and remain to this day integral to the Iranian national identity as clearly demonstrated in the Persian epic the Book of Kings.

A unique martial culture has permeated all of the most important artifacts of ancient (bronze- and iron age Luristan and Marlik sites), classical (Achemenid, Parthian and Sassanids), medieval (Samanids) and early modern and modern Iran (Safavid, Afsharid, Zand and Qajar periods), in its art and archaeology, literature, physical culture and national outlook.


Helmets and shields (Courtesy of M. Khorasani Consulting).

It is, without doubt, a martial tradition whose lineage extends back in time to the ancient period, as evidenced by production of large numbers of copper, bronze and iron swords and other weapons made of same materials, and which subsisted in Iran through the classical period (iron and steel weapons), and culminated in the production of the magnificent crucible steel during medieval and modern periods despite all of the historical changes that Iran underwent at a political level. Accordingly, research into the martial arts of Iran has, until now, demanded an intimate familiarity with a vast range of diverse materials that deal with the subject either directly or indirectly, including direct access to rare manuscripts, manuals, arms and armor that can only be found in Iranian museums itself. With this book, that situation has now changed. The present book deals with the revival of Persian swordsmanship and the traditional martial arts of Iran. Within these pages there are no unprovenanced claims to knowledge. Everything is meticulously referenced.


Close-quarter blade combat techniques (Courtesy of M. Khorasani Consulting).

The Iranian martial arts do not depend solely on an “oral tradition” for their lineage as well as their transmission from teacher to student, although the actual instruction is imparted from teacher to student. Rather, with regard to the lineage, every technique, every tactical advice and every method of training and application presented herein is properly provenanced with reference to at least one historical documentary source. Documentary evidence of specific techniques and training methods, taken from primary sources, fully supports every photographic and textual presentation of such techniques and methods shown in a vast number of miniatures and paintings and presented in this book. Didactic literary descriptions of martial arts, which might be likened to combat manuals, have a long history in Iran, and this book continues that tradition and showcases a number of complete and annotated manuascripts on archery, spear and lance fighting, war wrestling, etc. The Iranian martial arts presented in this book therefore hold up to a standard of academic scrutiny that will serve as a basis both for their introduction to the enthusiast or novice as well as a highly credible reference source to researchers.


Miniature Persian arts and poetry depicting close-quarter cavalry combat (Courtesy of M. Khorasani Consulting).

The book Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran presents in clearly tabulated descriptions, accompanied by photographic depictions as well as depictions in antique miniature illustrations, combat techniques both on horseback and on foot, and both armed with traditional Iranian weapons and unarmed. The first chapter of this book, “code of chivalry and warrior codex” deals with the warrior codex and the principles of Persian chivalry. This chapter also analyzes the training methods of the varzeš-e pahlavāni (champion sport). This traditional martial art still harbors many legacies from the training of ancient Iranian champions by, for example, using many tools that resemble historical battlefield weapons. The function of these weapons was certainly to train and prepare warriors for the upcoming battles.


Close-quarter blade combat techniques (Courtesy of M. Khorasani Consulting).

The next chapter deals with the history, principles and techniques of archery in Iran based on different Persian manuscripts. The next part of the chapter deals with principles of archery as described in different Persian manuscripts such as the archery part in the book Nŏruznāme [The Book of Nŏruz] attributed to Omar ben Ebrāhim Xayyām-e Neyšāburi, a complete, translated and annotated translation of a Safavid period manuscript written by Šarif Mohammad the son of Ahmad Mehdi Hosseyni on archery, lance fighting, wrestling, spear fighting and sword sharpening and etching. The next archery manual presented in this book is Jāme al-Hadāyat fi Elm al-Romāyat [Complete Guide about the Science of Archery] by Nezāmeldin Ahmad ben Mohammad ben Ahmad Šojāeldin Dorudbāši Beyhaqi from the Safavid period. Another archery manuscript offered in the book is titled Resāle-ye Kamāndāri [Archery Manuscript]. The third chapter of the book discusses “mounted combat and horse classification in Persian manuscripts”.The chapter deals with the these topics presenting a number of Persian manuscripts in this respect. The next chapter deals with combat with spears and lances in Iranian history. The chapter describes spears and lances and their typologies and then expands on different attack techniques with a lance/spear such as attacking different parts of the body with a spear/lance such as the eye, the neck, the throat, the mouth, the face, the arm/forearm, the chest, the abdomen, the navel, the shoulder, the side of the body, the back, the groin, the legs, the lower part of the spear/lance and cutting the armor straps of the opponent and many other techniques.


Axe-heads for close-quarter combat (Courtesy of M. Khorasani Consulting).

The next chapter discusses the techniques of swordsmanship based on a number of Persian manuscripts. Analyzing different Persian manuscripts such as epic tales and battle accounts, one notes a certain consistency in the recurrent allusion to certain techniques through the centuries. The next chapter analyzes the history of maces and axes in Iranian martial tradition.Similar to swords, the techniques of using axes and maces from various sources are analyzed and presented starting from epics from the tenth century C.E. up until relevant sources dating back to the end of the Qājār period. Another chapter provides information on combat with short edged weapons in Iran such as kārd (knife), xanjar (dagger) and pišqabz (S-shaped dagger).


Close-quarter combat blades (Courtesy of M. Khorasani Consulting).

The following chapter informs about combat with Persian short swords named qame and qaddāre in Iranian history. Those who are interested in wrestling will find this book indispensable as a reference source, as wrestling, of various types, has an extremely long history in Iran and is perhaps the most important foundation in the training of the Persian warrior archetype. Wrestling is highly systematized and there are prescribed criteria for graduation through various ranks of a wrestling school as well as detailed descriptions of wrestling techniques and sets of counters to every wrestling technique. Wrestling itself is also the basis of many techniques that are to be executed when armed with traditional weapons both long and short, as one of the most important objectives in Iranian martial arts is to take the opponent to the ground to finish him off (often with a dagger), and another is to use wrestling techniques in conjunction with a sword, or with a sword and shield in preparation to administer a finishing stroke.


Swords and blades of the straight type (Courtesy of M. Khorasani Consulting).

The wrestling chapter deals with wrestling which was an integral part of combat in Iran and includes the following sections: wrestling in Iranian history, techniques of wrestling on the battlefield (dealing with grabbing the sword hand or weapon hand of the opponent and throwing the opponent and using wrestling techniques on the battlefield).The chapter also offers the complete translated and annotated wrestling manuscripts. One of them is a wrestling manuscript written by Šarif Mohammad the son of Ahmad Mehdi Hosseyni from the period of Šāh Esmā’il Safavid. The chapter also offers a complete translated and annotated manuscript of the Tumār-e Puryā-ye Vali (Scroll of Puryā-ye Vali). The Safavid-period manuscript offers the names of many wrestling techniques. The chapter also presents a complete translated and annotated version of the Qājār-period poem Masnavi-ye Golkošti-ye Mirnejāt that deals with the topic of wrestling. The poem mentions a wide array of wrestling techniques.

The book Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran also offers a fully colored catalog of a number of historical Persian arms and armor at the end of the book with detailed descriptions and measurements.  Additionally the book has many miniatures depicting different war scenes from a number of Persian manuscripts.



            1.1 Warrior behavior, ceremony and respect

            1.2 The principles of javānmardi and ayyārān

            1.3 Preparation and training of warriors

            1.4 Physical exercises and training tools in the zurxāne                       

            1.5 Conclusion


            2.1 Archery in Iranian history

            2.2 Composite bow

            2.3 Bow and its typologies

            2.4 Arrow

            2.5 Thumb protector

            2.6 Bowstring

            2.7 The quiver and the bow case

            2.8 Arrow guide

            2.9 Principles of archery

            2.10 Target areas for archery                     

            2.11 Persian manuscripts on archery                       

            2.12 Conclusion


            3.1 Fighting with the lance on horseback

            3.2 Fighting with the mace and axe on horseback

            3.3 Sword drawing and swordfighting on horseback

            3.4 Grabbing, grappling and wrestling techniques on horseback

            3.5 Techniques and weapons for attacking a horse or an elephant

            3.6 A manuscript on lance combat by Šarif Mohammad the son of Ahmad

            Mehdi Hosseyni from the period of Šāh Esmā’il Safavid.

            3.7 Using lasso on horseback

            3.8 Horse classification in Persian manuscripts


            4.1 Spears and lances in Iranian history

            4.2 Spear/lance and its typologies

            4.3 Attack techniques with a lance/spear                       

            4.4 Feinting techniques with a lance/spear                     

            4.5 Defense techniques with a spear/lance                  

            4.6 Combinations of lance/spear techniques

4.7 A manuscript on spear combat by Šarif Mohammad the son of Ahmad

            Mehdi Hosseyni from the period of Šāh Esmā’il Safavid                       

            4.8 Spear in combination with the shield

            4.9 Conclusion


            5.1 Carrying, sheathing, and unsheathing the sword

            5.2 Carrying the shield

            5.3  Attacking techniques

            5.4 Feinting Techniques

            5.5  Combinations

            5.6 Defensive techniques

            5.7 Possible combinations of the attack and defense techniques with a šamšir

(sword) and a separ (shield) in Persian swordsmanship                       

            5.8 A manuscript on swords by Šarif Mohammad the son of Ahmad Mehdi

            Hosseyni from the period of Šāh Esmā’il Safavid (1502-1524 C.E.)

            5.9  Conclusion


            6.1 Maces in Iranian history

            6.2  Mace and its typologies

            6.3 Weight and impact  force of the mace

            6.4 Carrying the mace

            6.5 Techniques of mace attacks           

            6.6 Defensive techniques with a mace

            6.7 Combinations of fighting techniques with the mace

6.8 General aspects about the axe

6.9 Techniques of attack with an axe

6.10 Combinations with an axe

6.11 Conclusion


            7.1 Definition of kārd (knife)

            7.2 Kārd in  Persian manuscripts

            7.3 Carrying and unsheathing a knife

            7.4 Techniques of attack using a knife

            7.5 Combination of techniques in fighting with a knife

            7.6 Definition of xanjar

            7.7 Xanjar in Persian manuscripts

            7.8 Carrying and unsheathing the dagger

            7.9 Techniques of attack with a dagger

            7.10 Combinations of fighting techniques with the dagger

            7.11 Definition of pišqabz

            7.12 Conclusion


            8.1 Attack techniques with a qaddāre

            8.2 Possible combinations with a qaddāre

            8.3 Attack techniques with a qame


            9.1 Wrestling in Iranian history

            9.2 Techniques of wrestling on the battlefield

             9.3 Wrestling manuscript by Šarif Mohammad the son of Ahmad Mehdi Hosseyni from the period of Šāh Esmā’il Safavid

             9.4 A comparative analysis of the techniques mentioned in the Safavid period wrestling manuscript

             9.5 The manuscript of the Tumār-e Puryā-ye Vali (Scroll of Puryā-ye Vali)

             9.6 A comparative analysis of the techniques mentioned in the manuscript Tumār-e Puryā-ye Vali

            9.7 The manuscript Masnavi-ye Golkošti-ye Mirnejāt

            9.8 A comparative analysis of the techniques mentioned in the Mirnejāt manuscript

            9.9 Conclusion

10. References

12. Catalog

Some facts and statistics on the book Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran

Number of pages: 392 pages

Endnotes: 2189

Weight of the book: 2400 grams

Size: 30,5 cm x 22,5 cm

Total number of pictures: 2095

1) Pictures of techniques: 1564 total

64 pictures of dagger techniques

64 pictures of knife techniques

145 pictures of qame and qaddare techniques

232 pictures of spear techniques

322 pictures of sword and shield, two swords, two handed sword techniques

149 pctures mace and axe techniques

460 pictures of wrestling techniques

128 pictures of varzesh- pahlavani techniques

2) Miniatures: 313 total

303 miniatures within the text

Full-page colored miniatures in th catalog: 10

3) Artifacts 218 total

Number of artifacts in the catalog: 40

Full-colored pictures of artifacts in the catalog: 178

Organization of the Iranian Army in 1921-1941

When Reza Shah engaged in his Tehran coup in early 1921, there was no unitary Iranian army. Instead, there are a number of independent “official” forces composed of the following:

This left Iran with a minuscule force of 22,800 men. These were not a unitary force with the gendarmerie being the best trained and organized of all the above forces. The Qajar units (3800 troops in total) were wholly ineffective with the Persian Cossack brigade being first a Russian instrument and after the Bolshevik takeover, under the British influence. There were also the pro-British South Persia Rifles (S.P.R.) that had been formed during the First World War as noted again below.

Iranian Gendarmes-75 mm guns[Click to Enlarge] The most effective force of the Iranian military prior to and during World war One: the Gendarmerie – above are Iranian Gendarmerie posing with two 75mm (Shneider-Cruesot?) in Tehran prior to World War One (Source: Morgan Shuster, The Strangling of Persia, T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1913, pp. 144, 152). Despite being a para-military force, the Iranian Gendarmes fought very well against opponents who enjoyed superiority in numbers and military equipment. For more on the Iranian Gendarmerie, consult Professor Stephanie Cronin’s article originally posted in the Encylopedia Iranica.

In the first serious step towards restoring a unified army for Iran, Reza Shah ordered on December 6, 1921 for the Gendarmerie and the Persian Cossacks to be unified into a single military force. The South Persia Rifles (S.P.R.) created by the British during World War One had already been disbanded two months previous in October 1921. Numbers of the former S.P.R.’s Iranian officers and troops entered service into the new Iranian army. The formation of a single unified Iranian army beholden to the state (not foreign interests) had fulfilled one of the primary objectives of the early twentieth century Constitutionalist movement. Despite this achievement and others cited in this article, the new Iranian army had several challenges to face when the Anglo-Soviet invasion struck Iran on August 25, 1941.

2-Farrokh-Family-Photo-Reza-Shah-Coronation-1926[CLICK TO ENLARGE] A photo taken in 1926 of a military assembly in Tehran (book cover for Iran at War: 1500-1988). This was the Iranian Army headquarters at the time and is today the Iranian University of the Arts (محوطه ساختمانی که قبلا ستاد ارتش بوده و الان دانشکده هنر است ). Note the diverse nature of the Iranian troops – reminiscent of the armies of Iran since antiquity: one can see Kurds, Azaris, Lurs, Baluchis, Qashqais, Persians, etc. partaking in the assembly.  Note that Colonel Haji Khan (far left – hand on sword hilt) and the officer to the right are members of the Gendarmerie para-military forces. Haji Khan died just a year later when fighting as a colonel with the Iranian army against Bolshevik/Communist and Russian troops attempting to overrun northern Iran after World War One.

Organization of the Unitary Iranian Army

As soon as he had seized power, Reza Shah proceeded to modernize and expand Iran’s newly formed unitary forces, known at this time as the Imperial Iranian Armed Services (IIAS). Reza Shah ordered the formation of five Lashgars on January 5, 1922, each to be composed of 10,000 men. These were as follows:

  • First (Central) Division: based in Tehran
  • Second (Northwest) Division: based in Tabriz
  • Third (Western) Division: based in Hamedan
  • Fourth (Southern) Division: based in Isfahan
  • Fifth (Khorasan) Division: based in Mashad

This five-division system was then used organize the defense of the country into five military regions:

  • North (Gilan, Mazandaran, Semnan, Tehran)
  • Northwest (Azerbaijan)
  • West (Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Luristan)
  • South-southwest (Fars, Khuzestan, the Persian Gulf coast, Seistan-Baluchistan)
  • Northeast (mainly Khorasan and environs to its south and west)

Iranian army troops 1930s or early 1940sMarch-past of Iranian army troops in the 1930s or early 1940s (Source: lead-adventure.de).

By 1930 the Iranian government had allocated up to 50 percent of Iran’s GNP (gross national product) for the Iranian military for the following tasks:

  • Creation and expansion of a Ministry of War
  • Acquisition of modern combat vehicles, aircraft, and naval vessels
  • Creation of an indigenous armaments industry the building of armaments factories
  • Formation of effective security forces for the country
  • Allocation of scholarships for military cadets to be send abroad for study in European military academies

Below is a comparison of the numbers of rifles, machine guns and artillery in 1922 and 1941:

  • 1922: rifles [37,325], machine guns [66], artillery [86]
  • 1941: rifles [507,587], machine guns [8158 ], artillery [874]

Berno-13-Kootah-FullThe Berno e Kootah (the short Berno) (Picture Source: Aliparsa.com). The required machinery and training for producing the Berno (Brno) rifles was provided by the Czech powerhouse firm, Škoda, which has had long-standing ties with the Iranian industrial sector. For more on the Berno (Brno) in Iranian army service see here

In less than two decades Iran’s inventory of rifles and cannon had increased ten-fold with its machine gun stocks having expanded 120-fold. During that period Iran had ordered approximately 300,000 rifles, 350 cannon (mainly light and medium calibers – some of these motorized) along with 6000 heavy and light machine guns. This meant that by the Second World War most units of the Iranian army were equipped with modern rifles and machine guns.

It is notable that while Iran did order much of its equipment from abroad, the military sector’s buildup of rifles, machine guns and artillery had been significantly assisted by the newly established Iranian armaments industries during 1922-1941.

Iranian Army-75mm AAA-Bofors[Click to Enlarge] Iranian artillery unit of 75mm Bofors anti-aircraft artillery (Picture Source:Network54). At least another twenty of these which had been on order were never delivered to Iran.

All of this was a remarkable achievement for a country that had been on the brink of chaos in the early 20th century. Under the Qajar administration, Iran had lacked a true national army capable of defending its borders against invasions and political interference.

Despite their achievements, the Iranian army was beset with one big liability: the artillery corps still deployed obsolete equipment such as the 75mm Bofors mountain guns and the Shneider-Cruezot 75-mm cannon. These types of equipment had been in use during the Constitutional revolution in the early 20th century. This was a serious liability, a fact demonstrated when the Anglo-Soviet invasion struck Iran in August 1941.

Bofors-75 mmAn old undated photo of an Iranian Swedish made Bofors 75mm mountain gun. These had seen service with the Iranian army since the early 20th century. Four of these have survived to this day, now on display at the gates of the Gilan barracks in northern Iran (Source: Matofi, A., 1999, Tarikh-e-Chahar Hezar Sal-e Artesh-e Iran: Az Tamadon-e Elam ta 1320 Khorsheedi, Jang-e- Iran va Araqh [The 4000 Year History of the Army of Iran: From the Elamite Civilization to 1941, the Iran-Iraq War]. Tehran:Entesharat-e Iman, p. 1043).

Iran in the 1922-1941 period succeeded in building up armored forces composed of  tanks and combat vehicles. The first tanks to arrive into Iran were the French FT-17 light tanks in 1925. These were armed with the 7.92 mm machine gun. After the FT-17 light tanks came the US-made Marmon Herrington which was also armed with machine guns. Interestingly, the Marmon Herrington company was to also deliver numbers of trucks for the Iranian army prior to 1941.

1-Citroen-half TrackIranian army personnel on maneuvers with what appear to be French made Citroen half-tracks. According to Matofi, these were the first half-tracks to enter service with the Iranian army in 1925 (Picture Source: Matofi, A., 1999, Tarikh-e-Chahar Hezar Sal-e Artesh-e Iran: Az Tamadon-e Elam ta 1320 Khorsheedi, Jang-e- Iran va Araqh [The 4000 Year History of the Army of Iran: From the Elamite Civilization to 1941, the Iran-Iraq War]. Tehran:Entesharat-e Iman, p.1045).

By the onset of the Anglo-Soviet invasion in August 25, 1941, Iran had a modest force of just 200 tanks. The most modern tanks in the Iranian inventory at the time were the Czech built AH–IV and TNH light tanks armed with the 37mm gun. The TNH rapidly gained popularity in Iran’s military and public circles. Iran had 300 more of these but none of these were to be delivered due to the Anglo-Soviet invasion in August 1941.

6-TNH light tankThe TNH light tank of the Iranian army first delivered in 1937. Note the Sherman tank (delivered to Iran after World War Two) behind the TNH (Photo Source: (Picture Source: Matofi, A., 1999, Tarikh-e-Chahar Hezar Sal-e Artesh-e Iran: Az Tamadon-e Elam ta 1320 Khorsheedi, Jang-e- Iran va Araqh [The 4000 Year History of the Army of Iran: From the Elamite Civilization to 1941, the Iran-Iraq War]. Tehran:Entesharat-e Iman, p.1134).

By the onset of the Second World War Iran also fielded 102 non-tank armored vehicles, including the British Rolls Royce India (1921) Pattern armored cars armed with Vickers machine guns alongside more powerful vehicles such as the American made LaFrance TK-6 armored car which was armed with a 37cm main gun and two machine guns.

7-AH-IV-TanketteAn AH-IV tankette engaged in practice drills in a Tehran barracks in the 1930s. Note the TNH light tank in the background (Photo Source: FSU.edu).

Despite the creation of the armored corps, the Iranian army still relied upon its cavalry for rapid attack and maneuver. The primary reason for this was because the Iranian armored corps had yet to master such operations at the battlefield level. To implement an armored force capable of rapid and coordinated battle maneuvers, the Iranian army had to create and organize a professional officer cadre trained in the latest methods of European armored warfare. In practice, Iran did have numbers of highly trained officers schooled in the European tradition of armored warfare, but these often were barred from advancing to  higher ranks due to endemic corruption within higher levels of command.

A serious problem that had not been addressed was the Iranian army’s conscription system. Despite advancements in several areas, conscription continued to rely upon the antiquated Qajar-era Bunichah system. Put simply, in this system:

  1. Each district was called upon for providing recruits for the regular army.
  2. Numbers summoned was based on calculations of that particular region’s amount of cultivated land.

Iranian Cavalry 1930sIranian cavalry in the 1930s (Source: lead-adventure.de). Despite the procurement of armored vehicles and their integration into the Iranian army, cavalry remained Iran’s prime asset for rapid strikes, shock and maneuver on the battlefield (Ward, 2009, p.142). One of the few successes scored by the Iranian army against the Anglo-Soviet invasion of late August 1941, was when an Iranian cavalry patrol forced back an advancing British force near the Paltak pass (in the Kermanshah area, western Iran) on August 27, and took numbers of them prisoner.

The inefficient Bunichah system of recruitment helps explain why each of the army’s five divisions failed to reach its target strength of 10,000 men. Even by 1926, the army still had a small force of just 40,000 troops. Realizing the problem, the Iranian army implemented a more modern mass conscription system. This finally allowed the Iranian army to expand the size of its personnel. By 1930 the army had a complement of 85,000 men. These were supported by the newly established (or re-established) Gendarmerie service, known as the Amnieh: these stood at-12,000 men. By 1937 the army had expanded its forces to 105,000 troops by 1937. By the onset of World War Two, the Iranian army fielded a total of 16 divisions composed of 126,000 men.

Stephanie Cronin: A short History of the Iranian Gendarmerie

The article below by Stephanie Cronin on the Iranian Gendarmerie first appeared in the Encyclopedia Iranica in December 15, 2000 and was last updated on February 7, 2012. The article is also available in print (Vol. X, Fasc. 4, pp. 398-405).

Kindly note that the pictures and captions featured below do not appear in the original article in the Encyclopedia Iranica.


Gendarmerie, the first modern highway patrol and rural police force in Persia. It was established in 1910 by the Persian government with the help of Swedish officers and continued its services into the Pahlavi era. This article discusses the history of the Gendarmerie during two periods: (1) the Swedish period, 1910-1921, and (2) the Pahlavi period, 1921-79.

The Swedish Period

The Government Gendarmerie (Žāndārmerī-e dawlatī) was established in 1910 by the second Majles and proved the most enduring in a series of official projects for the modernization of the armed forces under the leadership of foreign officers. Military modernization had been a central objective of Persian reformers for most of the 19th century. By the early 20th century the Persian government was also coming under pressure from Britain, which demanded, more insistently as disorder in the provinces increased, the establishment of some sort of force which could guarantee security for trade, particularly in the south of the country (Cronin, 1997a, p. 18). Although little was accomplished by the first Majles, the increased prominence of state-building as a constitutionalist objective during the second phase of the revolution, 1909-1911, produced effective legislation. In July 1910 the Democrats came to power and, as part of their ambitious program of modernization, took steps towards the organization of the Government Gendarmerie. Although with the suppression of the Majles in 1911 efforts at reform and state-building were abandoned, the Gendarmerie had acquired sufficient vitality to survive and continue as a focus for radical modernizers.

Gendarmerie-Swedish periodHjalmar O. Hjalmarson (center) and officers of the Gendarmerie (Source: Encyclopedia Iranica; After M. Sepehr, Īrān dar jang-e bozorg, Tehran, 1336 Š./1957, p. 106).

In August 1911 a Swedish military mission led by Major Hjalmar O. Hjalmarson arrived in Tehran, the Persian government’s original choice of an Italian mission having been vetoed by Russia and Britain as Italy ranked among the major powers. The Swedish mission’s task was to provide officers to instruct a gendarmerie, with the primary duty of maintaining security on the highways and roads, under the Persian Ministry of the Interior (Cronin, 1997a, p. 19).

The Persian officer corps and the rank and file of the Government Gendarmerie were initially composed of the officers and men of Morgan Shuster’s Treasury Gendarmerie. Morgan Shuster had been appointed to the post of treasurer-general as part of the same program of reform. During 1911 he had begun to organize a gendarmerie to be under his own direct orders which was to assist the civilian officers of the Treasury in the collection of revenue throughout the country (Shuster, pp. 69-70). When, on Shuster’s dismissal, the Treasury Gendarmerie was dissolved, its officers and men were transferred to the Government Gendarmerie, giving the latter force much impetus and stamping it indelibly with a pro-Democrat, nationalist and anti-Russian character.

morganshusterWilliam Morgan Shuster (1877-1962) whose writings about the exploits of Iranian women and their importance in ensuring that the ideals of the Constitutional Movement remained alive in Iran; for more, see here…

With the transfer to his fledgling force of more than 1,000 Treasury gendarmes, including 35 officers, Hjalmarson, now with the rank of colonel, acquired the raw material he needed and was able to begin work in earnest. Over the next two years his force made steady progress, gradually consolidating its position and extending its influence over an ever widening radius from Tehran. Numerical and organizational growth were consistent. At the end of 1912 the Government Gendarmerie numbered 21 Swedes and nearly 3,000 Persian officers and men while by the end of the following year the number of Swedish officers had risen to 36 and the Persian component had doubled to nearly 6,000 (Public Records Office, Kew, U.K., F.O. 371, General Correspondence Political Persia, 1728/15876, Annual Report, 1912, Townley to Gray, 18 March 1913; F.O. 371/2073/10393, Annual Report, 1913, Townley to Gray, 18 February 1914). By 1914 seven regiments had been established, two with headquarters at Tehran, the remainder at Shiraz, Kermān, Qazvīn, Isfahan, and Borūjerd, and the men had gained a good deal of practical experience in operations. The Gendarmerie’s budget requirements grew accordingly and were met, in this period, largely out of loans from Britain and Russia.

Berno-15-M<ashrooteh-MausersPrelude to the Iranian Gendarmes: An excellent photo of Iranian Constitutional Fighters armed with the Mauser (Picture Source: Aliparsa.com). This weapon was to be later introduced on a much larger scale as the Iranian army manufactured this under license from the from the Czechoslovak Zbrojovka Brno Company; for more on this topic, see here…

British financial and political support was initially vital to the Gendarmerie and the major provincial effort of the force in its early years was directed, under British pressure, towards the south, to the towns and roads of Fārs and Kermān. As the Gendarmerie developed, however, it attempted to expand into areas considered part of the Russian zone under the terms of the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 (q.v.), provoking increasing Russian hostility and opposition, and it was not in fact until after the October Revolution that the Gendarmerie was able to implant itself in places such as Tabrīz, Rašt, and Mašhad.

Nonetheless by 1914 the Gendarmerie already constituted a wholly new development in Persian military and political experience. It was particularly successful in assembling and consolidating a Persian officer corps, drawing personnel not only from the Treasury Gendarmerie, but also attracting a section of officers who transferred from the Ministry of War and a number of individuals who had obtained training in European and Ottoman military schools on their own initiative. The Gendarmerie’s own schools were particularly successful in producing officers who were later to reach high rank in the Pahlavi army (Afsar, pp. 74-76). The Persian gendarme officers were drawn from relatively high social strata (Nyström, pp. 27-28) and were, on the whole, well-educated. Many spoke a foreign language, usually French. Such an officer corps had considerable prestige within the wider society, morale was high, and an esprit de corps well established (Arfa, pp. 51-52).

20 Mark-5 TomanThe overprinted regular German 20 Mark banknote is dated from 19 February 1914 (Source [description and figure]: Fravahar.org). Note the Persian overprint (in red): ۵ پنج تومان (Five Tomans).

The outbreak of the First World War, with its radical political realignments and polarization, marked a watershed in the development of the Gendarmerie. The Government Gendarmerie made a highly significant contribution to the advancement of nationalist activity in Persia which took place during the years of the Great War. Furthermore its experiences during these years transformed the Gendarmerie. By their participation in the Mohājarat (during the Constitutional Revolution) the gendarme officers were propelled to a position of national leadership, spearheading the struggle against foreign intervention, and, from 1917, the force was able to claim a central role in the various strategies, imperial and domestic, put forward to reverse Persia’s accelerating political chaos and disintegration.

Although Persia declared its neutrality, the circumstances of the early years of the war had a profound effect on the force, both organizationally and politically. Firstly, the Swedish government recalled all its officers who were still on the active list of the Swedish army. This produced a serious weakening of the Swedish command structure of the force but allowed the senior Persian officers to assume greater responsibility and authority. A second important effect of the war was financial. With the cessation of foreign loans, the almost bankrupt Persian government was quite unable to fund the force and the Gendarmerie turned to German sources for money (Cronin, 1997a, p. 30).

However perhaps the most significant effect of the war may be found in the growing politicization of the Persian officer corps of the force and in its new activism in cooperation with the Democrats and nationalists in the arena of national politics. Notwithstanding its patronage by Britain and the suspicion which this engendered in certain nationalist circles, the Gendarmerie had, from its birth, always been clearly identified with Persian constitutionalism and the struggle for national unity and independence. During the early months of the war the Gendarmerie decisively shook off its association with Britain and, as a result of the new international situation, became drawn, with its Democrat partners, into an alliance with Germany, the reservations of nationalist elements regarding the force quickly evaporating. Persian nationalism had been trying for some time to enlist the intervention of a third power in Persian affairs as a counter-balance to Britain and Russia. America had been tried without success, but now the war presented the possibility that Germany might play that role (Olson, p. 29). Persian nationalists became interested in a German victory in so far as it would restrain Russia and Britain and promote the cause of Persia’s independence. Democrat and nationalist sympathies and a tactical alliance with Germany explain the political orientation of the Persian gendarmes. For the Swedish officers however, who shared this orientation, it seems that genuine admiration and respect for Germany was an important factor in determining their allegiance.

Dagobert von Mikusch-Wassmuss Deustsche LawrenceGerman language textbook by Dagobert von Mikusch on the exploits of Wilhelm Wassmuss (Source: Wiedler). The title reads “Wassmuss: Der Deutsche Lawrence” Wassmuss: [The German Lawrence] (Berlin: Büchergilde Gutenberg, 1938), in reference to the latter’s exploits in mobilizing the Arabs against the Ottoman Empire.

The nationalist and pro-German tendencies of the Gendarmerie had become more overt as the first year of the war had progressed. By early 1915 various units were accepting money from the Germans and were giving aid and encouragement to the small parties of Germans, such as those led by Erich Zugmayer and Oskar Niedermayer, who were traveling through Persia towards Afghanistan with the object of gathering support for the Central Powers, and to Wilhelm Wassmuss in his attempts to rouse the tribes of the Persian Gulf littoral against the British (see, inter alia, India Office Library, London, Departmental Papers: Political and Secret Separate Files, 1902-31, P&S/10/484, p. 1389, Sir P. Cox, Basra, to Govt. of India, 11 April 1915; P&S/10/484, p. 1434, O’Connor to Marling, 12 April 1915).

As 1915 progressed the struggle between the Allies and the Central Powers for control of the Persian government and the capital intensified. In November, in response to a Russian advance on Tehran, the nationalists fled the capital, intending to establish a new government beyond the reach of Russian military control. On the night of 11-12 November, the Mohājarat (emigration) began and large numbers of Majles deputies, government officials, nationalists and their armed supporters, together with officers and men of the Gendarmerie, and members of the German, Austrian, and Ottoman legations left Tehran. The Gendarmerie played an important role in organizing this emigration. As the Russians advanced, both Swedish and Persian gendarmes collected transport, assisted the Germans to send away their arms and ammunition, and facilitated the departure of some two hundred escapee Austrian prisoners of war. The Gendarmerie assumed control of the entire telephone system, commandeered all carriages, fodder and baggage animals, and caused all the toll stations on the road to Qom to be occupied and the tolls to be collected by gendarmes.

In Qom the nationalists set up a body known as the Komīta-ye defāʿ-e mellī (Committee of National Defense), a kind of provisional government, the core of its armed support consisting of the gendarmes and some nationalist volunteers. Meanwhile, the nationalists had also seized control of Shiraz in a coup organized by the Gendarmerie, under the command of Major ʿAlīqolī Khan Pesyān (Afsar, p. 98). He and his men took over the British Consulate, the Bank, the telegraph office, and other government offices and arrested the British residents of Shiraz. All the available notes and silver coin in the local branch of the Imperial Bank of Persia were seized. The British colony were taken south where the men were imprisoned by a Tangestānī khan. The Shiraz coup was quickly followed by similar action in other towns in southern and western Persia. The gendarmes came out in open revolt and took possession of Hamadān, Kermānšāh, Solṭānābād, Isfahan, Yazd, and Kermān, forcing Allied nationals to evacuate these places. In Hamadān, for example, the Gendarmerie, under the command of Major Moḥammad-Taqī Khan Pesyān, a cousin of Major ʿAlīqolī Khan Pesyān, took control after forcibly disarming the local Cossack detachment (Afsar, pp. 130-31).

Colonel Pesyan-Frpm Mehdi Farrokh memoirsColonel Taghi-Khan Pesyan (1891-1921) in Imperial Germany (note German officer to the left) during World War One (Picture from page 143, Mehdi Farrokh, “Khaterate Siyasiye Farrokh” [Political memoirs of Farrokh], Tehran: Amir Kabir Publications, 1968). Mehdi Farrokh noted that Pesyan was”Motehaver” [ultra-courageous]. Pesyan had in fact flown several combat missions for the German air force during World War One, reputedly shooting down up to 25 British aircraft. It is believed that Pesyan was decorated with the “Eisernes Kreuz” [Iron Cross] by the Germans for his daring exploits in air to air combat.

The Russian military advance continued and the nationalists were driven westwards; the gendarmes, although on the defensive, engaged the Russians in a number of battles. The Gendarmerie constituted the backbone of the national army set up under the auspices of Reżāqolī Khan Neẓām-al-Salṭana’s national government in Kermānšāh but could not prevent the nationalists finally being driven into Ottoman territory. By early 1917 the national government, having taken sanctuary deep in Iraq, was clearly a spent force and many of the Persian gendarme officers went into exile, some, such as Moḥammad-Taqī Khan Pesyān and Ḥabīb-Allāh Khan Šaybānī, to Germany but the majority to Istanbul where they joined the Ottoman army. Some gendarme officers with their men, however, began to filter back into Persia immediately. Initially dispersing to their homes, they soon found their way back into the newly-reorganized Government Gendarmerie.

In Fārs, the gendarmes had not moved westwards after the Mohājarat from Tehran, as had large sections of other regiments, but had remained at their posts in order to support the authority of the Committee of National Defense in Shiraz and to hold the province for the nationalists. However by the spring of 1916 financial difficulties, a general decline in popular support, and the demoralization among the nationalists caused by the reverses suffered in the west combined to produce a climate ripe for a pro-Allied counter-coup in Shiraz. The pro-British Ebrāhīm Khan Qawām-al-Molk, chief of the Ḵamsa tribe, with the help of the British Resident in the Persian Gulf, Sir Percy Cox (q.v.), assembled a tribal army and his son recaptured Shiraz for the Allies. Towards the end of 1916 Sir Percy Sykes arrived in Shiraz and incorporated the Fārs Gendarmerie into the new British-officered force, the South Persia Rifles, he was responsible for raising. Within this force, however, the elements from the former Gendarmerie continued to constitute a politically turbulent element (see FĀRS v).

Although the bulk of the Gendarmerie had come out in open support of the Committee of National Defense, a small percentage of the first and second regiments, with headquarters at Tehran, a few hundred men and a handful of Swedish officers, had preferred neutrality, remaining loyal in the capital to their pro-Allied Commandants. It was on this component of the Gendarmerie that attention was now focused again. All Persian governments throughout this period had remained committed to the principle of a Gendarmerie, and they possessed, in the Swedish and Persian gendarmes who had remained at Tehran, the core around which the force could be rebuilt. In August 1918, when Mīrzā Ḥasan Khan Woṯūq-al-Dawla formed a government, one of his projects was to re-form and re-arm the Government Gendarmerie and, by the late autumn, he was making plans for the restoration of order in the more accessible parts of the country using the force (Cronin, 1997a, pp. 42-43).

Iranian Gendarmes-75 mm gunsThe most effective force of the Iranian military prior to and during World war One: the Gendarmerie – above are Iranian Gendarmerie posing with two 75mm (Shneider-Cruesot?) in Tehran prior to World War One (Picture Source: Morgan Shuster, The Strangling of Persia, T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1913, pp. 144, 152). Despite being a para-military force, the Iranian Gendarmes fought very well against opponents who enjoyed superiority in numbers and military equipment.

The Gendarmerie’s growth during the next two years was rapid and extensive. By 1920 it numbered 3 Swedish officers, including the Commandant, 242 Persian officers and 8,158 men, and by the time of the 1921 coup its strength had reached nearly 10,000 (Cronin, 1997a, p. 43). In the newly-reorganized force the Persian officer corps had much greater responsibilities and they now had command of the regiments since only three Swedes remained.

In the years from its reorganization in 1917 to the coup d’état the Gendarmerie was undoubtedly the most significant military force at the service of the Persian government and spearheaded its attempt to arrest the centrifugal tendencies so dangerously aggravated by the Great War and to reestablish its authority throughout the country. The Gendarmerie participated, sometimes in cooperation with the Cossack Brigade (q.v.), in the campaigns of these years against the Jangalīs and the Bolsheviks in the Caspian provinces, against the Kurdish rebellion led by Esmāʿīl Āqā Semītqū (Sīmko) in Azerbaijan, as well as engaging in its traditional duties of guarding the roads and suppressing banditry.

However the Gendarmerie’s political significance was undoubtedly greater than its military role and it occupied a central place in the two most significant strategies adopted to halt the country’s political and territorial disintegration and to restructure and modernize the Persian state. These were, firstly, the proposals to rebuild the Persian state with British hegemony embodied in the Anglo-Persian Agreement of 1919 (q.v.), and, secondly, the movement which culminated in the coup d’état of February 1921 (q.v.).


2-Bofors-75 mmAn old undated photo of an Iranian Swedish made Bofors 75mm mountain gun. These had seen service with the Gendarmes (and later with the Iranian army) since the early 20th century. Four of these have survived to this day, now on display at the gates of the Gilan barracks in northern Iran (Picture Source: Matofi, A., 1999, Tarikh-e-Chahar Hezar Sal-e Artesh-e Iran: Az Tamadon-e Elam ta 1320 Khorsheedi, Jang-e- Iran va Araqh [The 4000 Year History of the Army of Iran: From the Elamite Civilization to 1941, the Iran-Iraq War]. Tehran:Entesharat-e Iman, p. 1043).

Despite the force’s nationalist identity, gendarme officers were centrally involved in the work of the Anglo-Persian Military Commission, which was set up under the terms of the intensely unpopular Anglo-Persian Agreement of 1919, although their political outlook inevitably affected their contribution to that body. The Commission was to report on Persia’s military needs and to make recommendations as to how best these needs might be met. The British component of the Commission was headed by Major-General W. E. R. Dickson and four of its nine Persian members were gendarme officers: Colonel Azīz-Allāh Khan Zarḡāmī, Lieutenant-Colonel Fażl-Allāh Khan Āqevlī, Captain ʿAlī Khan Rīāżī, and Doctor Amīr Aʿlam, doctor-in-chief of the Gendarmerie. The Commission assembled in January 1920 and at the beginning of April presented a report containing a comprehensive survey of the existing military forces and institutions and recommending the merging of these forces and the construction of a uniform national force under British officers (Cronin, 1997a, p. 50).

The involvement of the gendarme officers was necessary both because of their individual military expertise and because of the prestige of their corps, but they were unhappy with the work of the Commission and the nature of British proposals for building a new army, feeling that they damaged Persian independence and national dignity. When the Commission eventually produced its report only two of the four gendarme members, Żarḡāmī and Rīāżī, actually signed it. Āqevlī had, shortly before, committed suicide, an act which was widely interpreted in Persia as a protest against the agreement and the military subjection of the country.

The Gendarmerie now constituted a factor of considerable political importance in Persia and certain circles within the force were drawn into the coup preparations being made in late 1920-early 1921 by Sayyed Żīāʾ-al-Dīn Ṭabāṭabāʾī and Reżā Khan, the civilian and military heads of the movement respectively.

 Qajar Iranian Gendarmerie OfficerLate Qajar era Iranian Gendarmerie officer (circa 1920s) (Source: Booklet of 2,500 Year Celebrations in 1971 by the Iranian Army).

Sayyed Żīāʾ-al-Dīn had apparently been cultivating a relationship with individual gendarme officers for some time. He had defended the Gendarmerie in the pages of his newspaper, Raʿd, and was particularly close to the two officers, Captain Kāẓem Khan Sayyāḥ and Major Masʿūd Khan Kayhān, who were assisting the British officer, Colonel Smyth, in his reorganization of the Cossack division at Qazvīn, the Russian Cossack officers having been dismissed.

During 1919-20 the traditional hostility and rivalry between the Gendarmes and the Cossacks had been modified and even partially superseded by a recognition of common interest. It was their common opposition to British control, implied in the proposals of the Anglo-Persian Military Commission, which first forged political links. This was the first step on the road which led to successful collaboration in the execution of the coup and by the spring of 1920 active liaison between the cossacks and the gendarmes had been established.

Captain Sayyāḥ and Major Kayhān accompanied the Cossacks on their march from Qazvīn to Tehran and the presence of these officers helped ensure that the coup would take place without any dissent from the Gendarmerie in the capital. In fact there is some evidence which suggests that elements within the Gendarmerie, conscious of the seriousness of the impending political collapse in Tehran and the urgency of formulating a response to it, may have been planning a coup of their own which was only just pre-empted by the march from Qazvīn (Afsar, p. 272).


Qajar Iranian Gendarmerie Officer-2Late Qajar era Iranian Gendarmerie trooper (circa 1920s) (Source: Booklet of 2,500 Year Celebrations in 1971 by the Iranian Army).

 For the support which they had given to Sayyed Żīāʾ and the coup d’état, the Gendarmerie was rewarded with important posts in the new government and with considerable power in the provinces. The two gendarme officers who had played such an important role at Qazvīn and on the march to Tehran, Captain Sayyāḥ and Major Kayhān, were appointed military governor of Tehran and minister of war respectively. In the period following the coup d’état the Gendarmerie attained the zenith of its influence, occupying the commanding heights of political power in both the capital and the provinces, the gendarme officers’ perception of themselves, both collectively and individually, as capable of offering national leadership was particularly apparent in the regime headed by Colonel Moḥammed-Taqī Khan Pesyān and firmly entrenched in Mašhad (Cronin, 1997b). However by the end of 1921 the Gendarmerie had largely succumbed to the ascendancy of the Cossack Division within the structures of the new army, as a result of Reżā Khan’s twin tactics of cooption and repression.

The Pahlavi Period (1921-1979)

In December 1921 the Government Gendarmerie was amalgamated with the Iranian Cossack Division to form the new army. In the following March the Majles approved the establishment of a new force, to be entitled amnīya-ye koll-e mamlakatī (The State Gendarmerie) to take over the duties which had formerly been carried out by the Government Gendarmerie, particularly the protection of the main roads.

The first commander of the new amnīya was an ex-Cossack officer, General Sardār Refʿat Naqdī. His successor, appointed in 1925, was another ex-Cossack, General Aḥmad Āqā Khan Amīraḥmadī. However, many of the senior officers of the amnīyya in the Reżā Shah period, and also occasionally its commander, were ex-officers of the Government Gendarmerie. In 1930, for example, General ʿAzīz-Allāh Żarḡāmī was appointed commander (Afsar, p. 238).

2-Farrokh-Family-Photo-Reza-Shah-Coronation-1926Cover jacket of Iran at War: 1500-1988. A photo taken in 1926 of a military assembly in Tehran. The troops are about to pose for a military review. Standing at far left with hand resting on sword is Colonel Haji Khan Pirbastami (of Northern Iranian origin). Note the diverse nature of Iranian troops, reminiscent of the armies of Iran since antiquity. Kurds, Azaris, Lurs, Baluchis, Qashqais, Persians, all partake as one in the assembly.  Colonel Haji Khan and the officer to the right are members of the Gendarmerie para-military forces. Haji Khan died just a year later when fighting as a colonel with the Iranian army against Bolshevik/Communist and Russian troops attempting to overrun northern Iran after World War One.  

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the amnīyya remained a small and relatively weak force, scattered in small posts of three or four men at considerable intervals along the roads. Its main duty was to give warning of the existence of robbers and to identify the perpetrators of any robbery, generally leaving their pursuit and capture to the army. Amnīyya recruits usually served locally and this served to fix the responsibility for the safety of the road on to local villages, actually a continuation in new dress of the old system of village and tribal road guards. Yet this system meant that the local knowledge of the men of the force made them useful intelligence agents and guides for the regular army (Cronin, p. 137-38). In fact the broad responsibility for tribal pacification and rural control down to 1941 remained with the army.

Following the collapse of Iranian military forces after the Anglo-Russian invasion of 1941, discussions took place between the Persian government and the Allies about meeting Persia’s defense and internal security needs. Between May and November 1942 the Persian government and the United States Department of State reached a series of agreements for the provision of American advisers. Three U.S. missions arrived in Persia, that of Major-General Clarence S. Ridley as adviser to the Persian army; of Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf, with Lieutenant-Colonel Philip T. Boone and Captain William Preston, to the Imperial Iranian Gendarmerie, and of Arthur C. Millspaugh to the administration of finance.

On 27 November 1943 a formal agreement between Persia and the United States was signed, effective retrospectively as of 2 October 1942, under the terms of which the United States Army Military Mission with the Imperial Iranian Gendarmerie was established. The purpose of the mission, commonly known as GENMISH, was to advise and assist the Persian ministry of the interior in the reorganization and training of the Gendarmerie, with the American officers maintaining precedence over all Persian Gendarmerie officers of the same rank. According to the agreement, the interior minister was to appoint the chief of the mission as head of the Gendarmerie and, according to Article 20, the American chief of the mission was also granted the right to recommend to the interior minister the appointment, promotion, demotion, or dismissal of any employee of the Gendarmerie with no other authority having any right to interfere. Persia also agreed that no officers of other countries would serve in the Gendarmerie while members of the U.S. military mission were engaged (Ricks, p.168).

Parade of Qazvin Gendarmerie June Parade 1941A parade of the Iranian Gendarmerie in Qazvin, June 1941 (Source: Fouman).

GENMISH, and particularly its first chief, Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf, became the target of considerable nationalist opposition, both popular and organized. Furthermore, both the shah and the Persian army were unhappy with the arrangement. The shah was incensed at the very broad powers exercised by Schwarzkopf while many senior army officers, including General Faraj-Allāh Āqevlī, the Persian commander of the Gendarmerie, disliked the interior ministry’s control of the Gendarmerie and tried to have it placed under the authority of the military (Ricks, pp. 169-70).

GENMISH’s U.S. personnel comprised a total of eight officers (one of whom was from the Coast Guard), four warrant officers, and twelve enlisted men. From 1942 onwards GENMISH reorganized, trained, armed and commanded a twenty thousand strong rural police/paramilitary force. By 1944-45, GENMISH had achieved considerable success with its reorganization, recruitment and training programs and had gone some way towards re-establishing the central government’s authority in the countryside. By December 1944 the U.S. military attaché in Tehran believed that the army and the Gendarmerie had improved to the point where Allied troop withdrawals would not jeopardize the security of the central government (Ricks, p. 172). In 1946, the Gendarmerie supported the army in its military reconquest of the self-declared autonomous provinces of Kurdistan and Azerbaijan.

In May 1950, U.S. military assistance to Persia embarked on a massive expansion with the establishment of the Mutual Defense Assistance Program and it was decided to extend the maximum possible aid to the Gendarmerie (Iran Almanac, 1964, p. 174).

GENMISH became responsible for the planning, preparation, administration, and supervision of the U. S. Military Assistance Program for the Imperial Gendarmerie. The broad purpose of the Military Assistance Program was to increase the effectiveness of the Gendarmerie by improving its mobility, firepower, and communications. Major items provided from the beginning of the program included small arms, vehicles, medical equipment, radio equipment, and light aircraft. An important part of the program was the training of specialists in the United States. By 1964, over four hundred officers and men had received training in the U.S. services under this program (Iran Almanac, 1964, p. 157). Funds were also allocated to literacy programs for the gendarmes as this was essential if they were to use modern weapons. In 1953, illiteracy within the Gendarmerie was 75 per cent, but by 1957 this had fallen to 10 per cent (Iran Almanac, 1964, p. 174).

 Insignia-gendarmerieHat insignia of Gendarmerie officers in the 197os (Source: Polinsignia).

From the 1950s to the late 1970s the Gendarmerie was able to take over the task of maintaining law and order throughout the countryside, allowing the army to focus on its main task of national defense. During those decades only on rare occasions of major tribal unrest was the army called in to assist in re-establishing law and order. The Gendarmerie, together with the police, functioned under the interior ministry, although it was clearly a paramilitary force. Its officers were provided by the army and, as in the army, the shah personally approved all senior promotions. The other ranks were all volunteers. There was, however, great disparity between the Gendarmerie and more prestigious services such as the air force and navy in terms of pay and living conditions (General Maḥmūd Kay, 1985, quoted by Zabih, 1988, p. 89). While the police were responsible for law and order in the cities, the Gendarmerie remained the main instrument of rural control, responsible for half the population and over 80 per cent of Persia’s territory (Halliday, p. 77). Gendarmerie stations were located in villages, at the crossings of rural roads and at key points of the border areas. In 1963 the Gendarmerie took over border control, with the transfer to it from the Ministry of War of the Frontier Guards. The Gendarmerie was responsible for the administration of conscription and, in 1972, also assumed responsibility for the National Resistance Forces, a militia mobilized in time of war.

By 1957, the Gendarmerie consisted of about 24,000 gendarmes, 1,000 commissioned officers and 23,000 of all other ranks, spread throughout the country in over 2,000 outposts, most of which were small posts consisting of 8 to 35 men each. By this time they had at their disposal about two thousand jeeps, trucks, armored cars, motorcycles and bicycles. (Prior to the Military Assistance Program the gendarmes’ sole means of transport had been horses.) The Gendarmerie had also acquired thousands of miles of telephone lines for their communications (Iran Almanac, 1964, p. 174).

During the 1960s one of the major tasks of the Gendarmerie was still the suppression of tribal disorder. The first targets of the 1963 Fārs tribal rebellion were Gendarmerie outposts. It was after several of these had been overrun and disarmed that the army was called in. At one outpost, the entire garrison, including its commander, was massacred (Iran Almanac, 1964, p. 174). The rebellion was easily quelled by the army but the Gendarmerie casualty figures were never released. In 1967-68 the Gendarmerie was mostly occupied in attempting to pacify the Kurdistan area.

 Gendarmerie Music Band GendarmeA member of the Iranian Gendarmerie Music Band in 1971 (Source: Booklet of 2,500 Year Celebrations in 1917 by Iranian Army).

Another increasingly important function of the Gendarmerie was the suppression of smuggling, particularly the traffic in narcotics and opium smuggling from Turkey and Afghanistan.

With the launch of the guerrilla struggle in 1971, however, the Gendarmerie became primarily a counter-insurgency force (Halliday, p. 77). Just as the Gendarmerie, as the physical manifestation of the state in rural Persia, had been the first target of tribal rebellion, so the guerrilla struggle also began with an attack on the Gendarmerie post at Sīāhkal in Gīlān. In order to fulfill its new role the Gendarmerie was greatly expanded and further modernized. In the mid-sixties the Gendarmerie’s authorized strength had reached about 35,000 officers and men (Iran Almanac, 1964, p. 157); ten years later it had doubled to 70,000 (Halliday, p. 77). It had also become highly mechanized, with its own aircraft, helicopters, jeeps, and marine patrol craft (Halliday, p. 77). In 1976 alone the Gendarmerie established 130 new stations in remote parts of the country. In 1965 General Moẓaffar Malek had been replaced as commander by General Ḡolām-ʿAlī Oveyssī. In 1974 Oveyssī was in turn replaced by General ʿAbbās Qarabāḡī.

HH43F-Iran Gendarmerie-1969-IranianAviationReviewOne of three Iranian Gendarmerie HH-43 Huskie helicopters in 1969 (Source: H43-Huskie & Iranian Aviation Review); the above photo was taken in Kermanshah.

Although in general U.S. military assistance to Persia continued to increase, on 3 March 1976, on the shah’s orders, the U.S. military mission to the Gendarmerie came to an end, and Colonel John O. Batiste, the last head of GENMISH, and his men left the country.

After the Revolution of 1979 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Gendarmerie, along with other military institutions of the previous regime, was purged of its commanding officers and lost much of its power and influence. In 1990, the Gendarmerie, the police force (Šahrbānī), and the revolutionary committees (Komītahā-ye enqelāb-e eslāmī-e Īrān) were incorporated into the Security Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Nīrūhā-ye enteẓāmī-e jomhūrī-e eslāmī-e Īrān).


P. Afsar, Tārīḵ-e žāndārmerī-e Īrān, Qom, 1332 Š./1953.

A. Aḵgar, Zendagī-e man dar ṭūl-e haftād sāl tārīḵ-e moʿāṣer-e Īrān, Tehran, 1366 Š./1987.

B. ʿĀqelī, Reżā Šāh wa qošūn-e mo ttaḥed-al-šakl (1300-1320 Š.), Tehran, 1377 Š./1998.

H. Arfa, Under Five Shahs, London. 1964.

S. Cronin, The Army and the Creation of the Pahlavi State in Iran, 1910-1926, London and New York, 1997a.

Idem, “An Experiment in Revolutionary Nationalism: The Rebellion of Colonel Muhammad Taqi Khan Pasyan in Mashhad, April/October 1921,” Middle Eastern Studies 33, 1997b, pp. 693-750.

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Iran Almanac and Book of Facts and Who’s Who in Iran, Tehran, 1961-.

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The Iranian Army: 1900-1921

Prior to World War One (1914-1918; also known as the Great War) Iran lacked a single unified standing army capable of resisting military invasions, a situation that lasted until 1921.

When the Great War ended in 1918, Iran’s military situation was dire. There were now four distinct military forces, in which each acted according to different interests: (1) the Qajar government national army (2) the Persian Cossacks (3) the South Persia Rifles and (4) the Gendarmerie.

(1) The Qajar Government force. Nominally the “national army”, this was in fact a highly ineffective force. Military equipment (especially guns and cannon) were mostly outdated and of substandard quality. Iranian arsenals were also poorly managed. The last military acquisitions were Austrian artillery pieces that had been delivered to Iran in 1898 (negotiations for more purchases had been made in 1901). Iranian troops were still using obsolete percussion and matchlocks, but there were numbers of more modern Snider and Martini (single-shot breech-loading) rifles becoming available.

1-Qajar troops-Germanic helmetsVery interesting photo of an assembly of Qajar troops prior to World War One; these troops show marked imperial German influence as seen by a number of troops wearing “Germanic” type helmets. The backpacks of the above troops resemble those worn by imperial German and Austro-Hungarian troops (Source: Russian Guns.Ru website).

The Iranian military of the early 1900s was in a desperate state. While Iran had on paper a total of 150,000 troops at Mozzafar e Din Shah’s time, barely a fraction of such troops could be raised when World War One began in 1914. The few available troops were hardly effective as a fighting force. Farjollah Hosseini, the Chief Consul of Iran to England in the early 1900s summarized the desperate state of the Iranian military as follows:

“…the military office is nominally 70,000 men but is officially nil as numbers of our formations have never seen service…it would take six months to get our army to move if we were to mobilize available formations. We have no weapons, no ammunition reserves, no military schools…no military regulations, no factories and no battleships” [Unit for the Publication of Documents-Office of International Political Studies, 1991, pp. 92]

While Hosseini’s observations regarding military factories and schools were somewhat exaggerated, much of what he told the British was accurate. Many Iranian officers lacked knowledge of modern military doctrines, and most troops were poorly trained and disciplined, and morale was low.

Qajar TroopsA small Qajar army detachment prepares to march (Source: قشون‌ نظامی ایران در زمان قاجار and Public Domain). Note the slovenly state of their appearance, such as boots, gear on belts (or lack of), unkempt uniforms (note person in the rear with oversized military coat). Due in large part to the Qajar administration’s mis-management, cronyism and corruption, the Iranian army by the early 20th century was poorly equipped and trained to defend the country’s borders against Russian, Ottoman and British (or British-Indian) intrusions. 

By the onset of the First World War, the Qajar army had ceased to be an effective military force capable of combating and repelling invasions from modern and well-equipped foreign armies.

Qajar Army Music BandFrench postcard with photograph of a Qajar military band attired in red-blue uniforms (Source: Fouman).

A serious obstacle against serious military reform was corruption in just the militayr apparatus but the Qajar government and society as a whole. Put simply, corrupt officials in important posts (civilian and military) often placed their personal wealth, personal interests and status ahead of their country’s interests. As a result, regular army troops, conscripts and levies continued to suffer from arrears in pay. The army even failed to provide its troops with adequate food, housing and a whole host of other essential services. To make matters worse, these same troops would also often see their personal income pocketed by their corrupt officers. Forced to make ends meet, Iranian soldiers were thus forced to engage in low-level vocational services and odd-jobs in the civilian sector such as hard labour and gardening. All of this meant time taken away from regular military training and preparedness. All of this in turn translated to increasing anger and resentment among ordinary Iranian troops.

Selling bread Tehran qajar eraShopkeepers at a bread outlet in a Tehran street in the early 20th century (Source: Poolnews.ir). Due to arrears in payments or outright theft of monthly payments by their superior Qajar officers, many regular troops had to find other jobs just to make ends meet. 

The weaknesses of Qajar army forces allowed for foreign governments to invade Iran at will and to  sponsor breakaway movements on Iranian soil.

Tribal levies normally support the central government but increasing Qajar weakness and disorganization in Tehran meant that recruiting these troops for the regular army became increasingly difficult. Thus, while these warriors remained effective in combatting (though not stemming) foreign invaders, tribal warriors became increasingly beholden to the security issues of their respective local provinces rather than the country as a whole.

(2) The Persian Cossack Brigade. This was first formed in 1879, with the arrival of Colonel Alexei Ivanovich Dumantovich to Tehran with a Cossack contingent. The Persian Cossacks were essentially modeled and trained by Imperial Russia. These were essentially under Russian command and served imperial Russian interests in Iran.

1-Persian Cossack reviewElements of the Persian Cossack Brigade in Tehran sometime in the early 20th century, possibly in the 1910s prior to World War One; note the Persian sabres (Source: Russian Guns.Ru website).

The Persian Cossacks supported Czarist actions in suppressing the Constitutional Movement in Iran – notably the infamous bombing of Iran’s democratically elected Majlis (Parliament) by Colonel Vladimir Platonovitch Liakhov on June 23, 1908. The Persian Cossacks were finally disbanded on December 6, 1921.

(3) The South Persia Rifles (S.P.R.). This force had been formed by the British Empire by Fall 1916 on Iranian soil during World War One. Led mainly by British officers,  the S.P.R. worked to safeguard British interests (for the main part) in southern Iran, notably the Persian Gulf coastline and the new oil industry in Khuzestan province.

2-South Persian RiflesInteresting photograph (1917?) of British and Iranian officers of the South Persia Rifles (S.P.R.) of Shiraz, under the command of Lieut.-Col. W. A. K. Fraser, M.C., of the Central India Horse (Source: The Illustrated First World War). Note the description in the above photograph which clearly outlines the S.P.R.s objectives: “Guarding Our Interests in the Land of the Shah: officers of the South Persian Rifles”.

The S.P.R. had first recruited approximately 8000 Iranians and Indians into its force. Units of the S.P.R. were then stationed in Fars, Kerman and Bandar Abbas. The S.P.R. proved critical in suppressing anti-British revolts in the south during the war. At its height, this force was to have a maximum size of 11,000 thousand troops. Many Iranian politicians opposed the S.P.R., noting that this force was the British version of the Persian Cossack Brigade. London had assured that the S.P.R. would be turned over to Iranian control after the conclusion of the First World War. The force was finally disbanded in October 1921.

(4) The Gendarmerie. The Iranian parliament had voted as early as 1910 to hire officers from neutral countries with Sweden  soon chosen for the task. The Swedish mission led by Colonel H.O. Hjalmarsen arrived in Iran by May 1911 to quickly work towards building an indigenous Iranian gendarmerie. The mission proved successful.

Iranian Gendarmes-75 mm gunsThe most effective force of the Iranian military prior to and during World war One: the Gendarmerie – above are Iranian Gendarmerie posing with two 75mm (Shneider-Cruesot?) in Tehran prior to World War One (Picture Source: Morgan Shuster, The Strangling of Persia, T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1913, pp. 144, 152). Despite being a para-military force, the Iranian Gendarmes fought very well against opponents who enjoyed superiority in numbers and military equipment.  For more on the Iranian Gendarmerie, consult Stephanie Cronin’s article in the Encylopedia Iranica.

The Gendarmerie proved to be a highly motivated and relatively efficient force. These were the only forces loyal to the country and took no orders from Russia or Britain. They were however, a small force and despite their good training, lacked heavy weapons which prevented them from being able to repel foreign invasions.

Military Reform: Continuing Challenges until 1921

A serious problem for Iran was foreign, namely British and Russian interference: neither wished for Iran to have a strong, unified and modern national army. The British however, shifted their position, especially after the Bolsheviks overthrew the Czarist regime in Russia in 1917.

The Russians (Czarist and their Soviet successors) remained unfavourable to the notion of a modern, strong and militarily capable Iranian state. This is because if Iran were to possess a modern army, this would then be capable of repelling foreign invasions. Russia in particular was sensitive about this as it had conquered Iranian territory in the Caucasus and continued to harbour ambitions in not just northern Iran but all way towards the Persian Gulf. Despite having instituted a long-term and well-funded anti-Iranian cultural campaign in its conquered Caucasian territories, especially in the Arran-Shirvan region (Republic of Azerbaijan since May 1918), the Russians were deeply perturbed by the Caucasus’ historical ties with Iran. A reformed Iranian army and a strong national government in Tehran were seen as a threat by the Czarist regime in Moscow.

Early 19th century Map of IranMap of Iran in 1805 before the territorial losses to Russia of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Iran also lost important eastern territories such as Herat  which broke away with British support (Picture source: CAIS).

Following the end of the First World War, the importance of forming a unitary and modernized military was finally instituted. As noted previously, the disbanding of the pro-Russian Cossack brigade (now under British command following the overthrow of the Czars by the Bolsheviks in 1917) and the pro-British South Persia Rifles resulted in Iran finally having a unified national army, one of the chief aims of the Constitutional Movement of the Early Twentieth century.