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.
Hjalmar 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.
William 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.
Prelude 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).
The 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.
German 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 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).
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 (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.).
An 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.
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).
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).
Cover 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).
A 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).
Hat 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.
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.
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).
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