Nader Gholi Afshar Gharakhlou, son of a cloak tailor from the Khorasan province in the north east of Iran, was born on 1688 in Daregaz. His father died when Nader was very young and the young boy had to support his mom. He was once kidnapped by Uzbek bandits along with his Brother Ebrahim and his mother. Nader spent four years in the Uzbeks jail, but he escaped with his brother when their mother died on captivity.
Nader began his career by joining the army of Baba Ali Beyg Koose Ahmadlou Afshar. In his army, Nader started showing his military abilities and was soon promoted as a general and married Goharshad, Baba Ali's daughter. He took over the power and wealth of Ali Beyg Koose after he passed away. At this time, Shah Tahmasp II Safavi, who declared himself king after the defeat of Afghans, heard of Nader's growing power and decided to take advantage of this new power. He sent Hossein-Ali Beyg Bastamy to invite Nader to join his army. Nader saw the opportunity and joined Tahmasp II's growing number of commanders.
Very soon nader became the second most powerful person in Tahmasp II's court, and he soon decided that he has to get rid of the most powerful person, Fath-Ali Khan Qajar Qovanlou. Fath-Ali Khan, who was older and more experienced than Nader, felt the danger and started his struggle to escape Nader's trap, but he lost the game to him and was killed soon after.
Shah Tahmasp II, weak and careless like his father and grandfather, was happy with the peace in his court and did not care about who really controls his divided and anarchic country. When Nader became the ultimate strong man, Tahmasp awarded him with the title of “Tahmaspgholi Khan”, meaning “The Servant of Tahmasp”. A title with which Nader was known until his election as king.
At this time, the country was under chaos. Afghans, headed by Ashraf, controlled the eastern and central parts of the country, Tahmasp II was just claiming the country, without any actual territories. Ottomans, taking advantage of this situation, attacked and invaded the western sections of the country and captured Hamedan. Nader, both for his own ambitions and also patriotism, decided to throw the enemies out of the country.
For the beginning, he faced Ashraf and his Afghans twice, once in Mehmandoost near Semnan, and then in Moorche-Khort on north of Esphahan. Both times Ashraf was defeated and pushed back to Shiraz, there, in a final battle, Nader destroyed Ashraf’s army. Ashraf, escaping to Laarestan, was killed by a servant of his cousin, Mir Hossein, and his head was sent to Nader.
After finishing the Afghan business, Nader looked to the west (1733). In several battles with Ottoman’s, Nader defeated Ottomans and pushed them back to the older boundaries. Then he continued his attacks on Mesopotamia. He conquered Soleymania, Samera, and Karkouk, but was defeated behind the walls of Baghdad when Toupal Osman Pasha sent more forces to support Ahmad Pasha, the Ottoman governor of the city. Nader did not give up and came back with greater forces and this time put Ottomans under such pressure that they agreed to give the cities on the west of Aras river to Iran, in addition to Karbala and Basra on southern Mesopotamia. At this time, Russians, also getting afraid of this new strong man, gave back the cities of Yervan and Tephlis that they had taken away during the time of chaos.
When Nader went back to the now safe capital of Esphahan in 1736, he saw the weak Safavi king living in wealth and comfort and enjoying the goods of life. Nader, being aware of kings behavior, planned a trap for the king so that courtiers can see kings behavior with their own eyes, then he started a plot to depose Tahmasp and elect his 9 months old son, Abbas as Shah Abbas III. Nader became the sole ruler of the country, but finally he invited all of the governors of different provinces to a council in Moghan, north east of Azerbaijan.
In the council of Moghan, pressured by Nader’s army, but also deciding partly on their own observations, the nobles unanimously chose Nader as the new king. Abandoning his “Tahmasp-Gholi Khan” title, Nader crowned as Nadershah I.
When Nader became king, his first action was to pursue his ultimate goal of gaining more money and more territories. He turned to the sure place, India! For the start, he had to secure his back, thus still operating from Esphahan, Nader headed for Ghandehar and Haraat, the eastern most parts of the country. He invaded Ghandehar and Haraat just opened the gates to the ruthless warrior. Nader’s eldest son, Reza Gholi, captured Balkh, then with the support of Balkh’s governor, Nader conquered Bokhara, Samarghand, and then the rest of the Transoxania.
Now, being sure that his northern neighbors would not have the power to rise against him, Nader turned his attention to Kabul, then part of Mongol Empire of India. Nader invaded Kabul and did not waste anytime to continue to the south, he invaded Lahour and Karachi, and reached the gates of Delhi (then Shah Jahan Abad) in 1738. Mohammad Shah, taken by storm, was incapable of defending his falling empire, so he just opened the doors of the city. Indians, upset by their kings weak reaction, started killing Nader’s soldiers, despite the orders to stop the fight. Nader, always fast tempered, ordered massacre of residents and only stopped after Mohammad Shah’s request and offers of money.
After emptying Mohammad Shah’s treasury from all of the precious stones and money, Nader spoke in public and expressed his support for the reign of Mohammad Shah and ordered the coins with his name to be changed back to Mohammad Shah’s name. Then he made a deal with the emperor to provide him with a hefty amount of money each year and promise of support and help. Next, Nader turned back home, this time looking for a good place to store the treasures. He found the perfect place in Kalat mountains, just north of his birthplace in Dareggaz. Then he changed the capital from Esphahan to Mashhad, the biggest city in Khorasan.
From then he started again to conquer Transoxania, he killed the king of Kharazam and appointed Khan of Bokhara as the ruler of all of Transoxania. Then he decided to go to Mesopotamia and conquer that section, but he got the news of his brothers death in Caucasia in the hand of Lezgi (present day Daghestani) tribes. Nader reached Caucasia in 1741, and fought with Lezgis, with no real results, this war ended in peace and a treaty of cease-fire. This was the place that Nader first meat Dr. Bazin, a French friar who became his personal physician.
Next, Nader headed to Mesopotamia and fought with Ottomans and in a treaty agreed to occupy Najaf and leave the rest of the Mesopotamia alone. He then went to Shiraz and then back to Mashahad. For some times, he lived in peace, but once again he had to head out to war with some tribes that rebelled. One night, in 1747, near Damghan in north east of the country, two of Naders commanders decided to kill Nader, so they entered his tent and cut his head with a sword, this was the end of life one of Iran’s greatest and cruelest kings.
Although a great conqueror, Nader can not be considered as a good or wise king. He did nothing to organize the war stricken country. He did not consider will of the people in his reign. All of the money that he gained from his conquest, he put on a treasure in Kalat. At the end of his life, he grew so suspicious of others that he even blinded his own son Reza Gholi Mirza in charge of treason. Nobody was safe from his anger. His death was both bitter and sweet. It marked the end of a period of golden conquests and national pride, but it also was full of murder and suspicion. All in all, Nader is considered as a great and influential king, but never reaching the level of Kourosh with his unusual open minuends or Shah Abbas for his creation of a united and powerful country.
Almost immediately after Nader’s murder in Damghan, the country fell into anarchy. All of Nader’s commanders started collecting forces and declaring themselves kings. The first one was Ahmad Khan Ebdali, one of Nader’s Afghan commanders. Ahmad Khan invaded Kabul, Ghandehar and Mazarsharif and declared himself king of Afghanistan, he later captured Harat for a short period of time.
At the same time, Nader’s nephew, Ali Khan declared himself king as Adel Shah (the Just King). The first action of this “Just” ruler was t kill all of his cousins! He killed reza Gholi Mirza, Emam Gholi Mirza and all of other descendants of Nader who could be a problem for him. As you can expect, he did not enjoy his “just!” actions for a long time and was soon killed by his own brother who became Ebrahim Shah. Ebrahim Shah also gave his place to other adventurers.
Next, the nobles elected Shahrokh, the teenage son of Reza Gholi Mirza, Nader’s blind son, as the new king, but it was not long until a new person came along, Shah Soleyman III. This man, originally called Mirza Mohammad, was the son of Shah Soleyman I Safavis daughter and a clergy man in Mashhad. Encouraged by some nobles, he called himself the true heir to the throne and captured and blinded Shahrokh. In his own term, he did not last a long time (1749-1750). He was captured and blinded, and Shahrokh returned to the throne, with blind eyes! His “reign” continued 1796, when he was imprisoned by Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar (see next chapter).
At the other side of the country, three local chiefs tried to gain the power. They were Ali Morad Khan Bakhtiari, Karim Khan Zand, and Abolfath Khan Haft Lang. They found a grandson of Shah Soltan Hossein and called him Ismail III. Under the name of protecting the “rightful” king, these three gained power. Abolfath Khan became the Prime Minister, Karim Khan got the job of the army chief commander and Ali Morad Khan became the regent. The three friends, as they came to be known, conquered all of the country with the exemptions of Azerbaijan (ruled by Azad Khan Afghan), Mazandaran (controlled by Mohammad Hassan Khan Qajar) and Khorasan (still under the power of Shahrokh). Then, as long as some people are smarter than others, Karim Khan and Ali Morad Khan got rid of Abolfath Khan, and then Karim Khan just illuminated Ali Morad Khan! In the process, “Shah” Ismail III just was not important any more!!! So, Karim Khan, becoming the only “regent”, decided to do the better thing and called himself, well, not king, rather “The Servant of the People” (Vakil Al-Melleh).
Kareem Khan, chief of Zands, a tribe of Lors in western Iran, was only known as Khaloo Kareem before becoming an important figure in the country’s politics. When Kareem Khan was young, Nadershah moved the Zand tribe form their home in Lorestan to the eastern steppes of Khorasan. After Nader’s death, the Zand tribe, under the guidance of Kareem, went back to their original land.
Kareem Khan, who was a very sharp and wise person with nationalist ideas, decided to organize the country after the civil wars that was caused by Nader’s assassination. As we said before, He and two other local tribes chose a grandson of Shah Soltan Hossein as Shah Esmail III and began to rule under his name, after a while, Kareem Khan managed to become the only ruler. He was not very much interested in the royal costumes and unnecessary court etiquette’s, so he did not accept the title of king and only called himself “Vakil Ol Melle”(Agent/Deputy of the People).
When Kareem Khan managed to conquer and organize the central parts of the country, he appointed Shiraz as his capital. At this time, Kareem Khan’s biggest opponents were Azad Khan-e Afghan in Azerbaijan, Shahrokh Shah in Khorasan, and Mohammad Hassan Khan Qajar in Mazandaran. Kareem Khan did not try to depose Sharokh Shah out of respect for Nader. Azad Khan was a strong and wise opponent, he had a strong military and also some popular support. Kareem Khan sent his greatest commanders, Ali Mardan Khan and Allah Gholi Khan Zand to invade Azerbaijan, those two, after several battles and some occasional defeats, finally managed to capture Azad Khan and bring him to Shiraz. Kareem Khan made him promise to be loyal and then set him free and gave a him a government job. Azad Khan, a man of his word, stayed loyal and lived in Shiraz until he died.
The strongest and biggest enemy of Kareem Khan was Mohammad Hassan Khan. Mohammad Hassan Khan Qajar Ghovanlou was son of Fath-Ali Khan, commander and regent of Shah Tahmasp II who was executed after Nader’s rise to power. In the period of anarchy, Mohammad Hassan Khan decided to restore the power that Nader took away from his father, so he gathered a relatively large army and invaded Mazandaran, Eastern Khorasan, Gilan and even Tehran (then only a small town). By growth of his power, Kareem Khan became rightly worried, because soon Mohammad Hassan Khan declared his desire to conquer Esphahan and possibly Shiraz. Kareem Khan once again sent his commanders, but the Qajar Khan was far more experienced than Azad Khan. So the Zand army was defeated , and Mohammad Hassan Khan came closer to Kareem Khan’s territory. Finally, after several years of battles, in one battle near Gonbad, one of Mohammad Hassan Khan’s commanders betrayed him. Mohammad Hassan Khan was killed and his family were captured. His head was sent to Kareem Khan along with two of his eldest children, Agha Mohammad Khan and Hossein Gholi Khan as hostages. The rest of the Kareem Khan’s reign was spent ina relatively peaceful state. The only war after the defeat of Qajar Khan was a battle with Ottomans in which Kareem Khan invaded Basra, a city in south eastern Mesopotamia. Kareem Khan started construction works in his capital of Shiraz and founded Vakil Bazar, Vakil Public Bath, and several Vakil palaces in different cities, all named after the title “Vakil Ol- Melle”.
Kareem Khan lacked the futuristic view of educating a good heir. When he died in 1779, he was succeeded by his eldest son, Abol Fath Khan. This son was not a sharp and courageous ruler like his father, but rather lazy and weak. His whole reign was over shadowed by his powerful uncle, Zakki Khan. Zakki Khan, half brother of Kareem Khan, was a symbol of corruption and political mischief. His administration as the chancellor of the And territories led to the anarchy of next 20 years.
Abol Fath Khan died of a heart attack. He was succeeded by three of his cousins and also his brother. These four rulers governed the country on and off for twenty years. It seemed almost like the Zand dynasty has ran out of brave and wise rulers, until Lotf Ali Khan came along.
Lotf Ali Khan, grandson of Kareem Khan’s youngest brother, Sadegh Khan, was a very brave, patriotic and handsome warrior. There are countless number of accounts about his looks. He was also very brave and master of fighting arts. One thing that he lacked was political knowledge. Unlike his granduncle, he did not became the ruler as a result of his own hard work, he just inherited it! He was brave, but he did not know how to get close to his subjects and be friendly to them, a gift that Kareem Khan was master of.
Lotf Ali Khan faced a great problem when he became Vakil Ol Melle. This problem was called Agha Mohammad Khan. It was not a form of rare disease like cancer, or any kind of epidemic, but it was equally life threatening. Agha Mohammad Khan was the eldest son of Mohammad Hassan Khan Qajar, murdered chief of Qajars and Kareem Khan’s sweared enemy. When his father died, he and his younger brother Hossein Gholi Khan were sent to Kareem Khan’s court as hostages to ensure peace. Agha Mohammad Khan was castrated when he was very young, possibly by Aadel Shah Afshar, who was of course mad! In that time, seemed like he has no chance of re-gaining his fathers lands, but Agha Mohammad Khan never stopped planning. He counted seconds for the time of Kareem Khan’s death, and when he died, he fled Shiraz and did not stop until he reached Estar-Aabad, his birth place and traditional seat of Qajars. His brother, Hossein Gholi Khan was murdered earlier when he was sent to Ghoochan as the governor.
When Agha Mohammad Khan got to his hometown, the first thing he did was to gather all of his brothers (there were quite a few of them) and the remainder of his father’s army. Qajars were so excited that they did not notice Agha Mohammad Khan’s lack of, well...manhood! He invaded Mazandaran in the first month of his arrival, then continued to the south and captured Qazvin and Tehran. His brother, Abbas Gholi Khan conquered Gilan, and this was when he noticed the obvious, why not he himself as the chief? Why should it be Agha Mohammad Khan? He began a rebellion against his older brother, and god knows that Agha Mohammad Khan never wasted anytime in calming rebellions. The result of this “calming” was around 50 corpses, one of them Abbas Gholi khan’s. With the help of his now faithful remaining brothers, notably Jafar Gholi Khan, a tall, fierce, and dumb commander who was famous for cutting horses in half! Agha Mohammad Khan conquered most of northern Iran and came as far south as Isphahan.
This was where he faced Lotf Ali Khan. They fought, as you can say, not once, but close to ten battles. The last of them just outside the gates of Shiraz. Here, Lotf Ali Khan got the dagger in the back. He did not make sure of whom he is living in charge inside the city, and the person he left was not a big icon of faithfulness. This person, called Ebrahim Khan Kalantar, drew the conclusion that his master would loose the battle to the Qajar Khan, so he just did not open the gates when Lotf Ali Khan tried to come back to the city to get re-enforcement. Lotf Ali Khan did not have time to fight two enemies, so he and twenty of his followers went to Kerman, around 300 Km east of Shiraz. Agha Mohammad Khan of course followed him, and when he captured Kerman, he did some of the cruelest things in the history of humankind. He arrested the Zand Khan, after several street fights in which all of Lotf Ali Khan’s followers got killed. He ordered some unspeakable things to be done to him, and then he killed him. After this, he ordered each of his soldiers to bring him the eyeballs of twenty Kermani citizens. With this, he put his name up in the list with some of other famous evil guys such as Ghenghis Khan, Teymour, and Alexander. Kerman was known four years as the city of blinds.