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Malkom Khān

By:
Gene R. Garthwaite
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The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Malkom Khān

Malkom Khān (1833/1834–1908), or Malkum Khān, was an enigmatic figure in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Iranian history. He was an advocate of progress and reform, but he was often motivated by self-aggrandizement and self-interest. He called for political and governmental changes as well as cultural ones that included Persian language and alphabet reform. As one of the first to write in a recognizably modern prose idiom and as an editor of Qānūn, his influential newspaper, Malkom Khān 's most important historical contribution is perhaps to be found here, even though he has not been regarded as a major literary figure or stylist. It was in Turkey rather than Iran that alphabet reform was achieved. The liberal political values expressed in Qānūn found expression in the Iranian Constitution of 1905–1906.

Malkom Khān was born into an Armenian family in Julfa Isfahan. Malkom, like his father, Yaʿkūb Khān, studied abroad, learned French, served as an interpreter and translator, established useful patronage links, and was a self-professed Muslim with interests in Freemasonry and an advocate of cultural change including alphabet reform. Malkom returned from Paris at the age of eighteen to work as an interpreter in Dār al-Funūn, the new college in Tehran, where he also taught geography and natural science. Five years later, through patronage ties with Nāṣir al-Dīn Shāh and his prime minister, Malkom returned to Europe as a member of a diplomatic mission to conclude peace with Britain. This was the beginning of his diplomatic career and European travel that convinced him of the superiority of European civilization and the value of westernization. In Paris, he was initiated into a Masonic lodge.

Malkom Khān returned to Iran in 1858, was involved with the introduction of the telegraph in Iran, and wrote his first treatise on political and administrative reform, which was influenced by Ottoman models. He advocated, among other general principles, the separation of the legislative from the executive branch, codification of law, equality before the law, and freedom of belief. In addition, he also spelled out specific recommendations for the implementation of these principles in Western-style ministries, comprehensive education, the development of roads, increased government revenues, a reformed military, and a national bank. He established a Freemasonry-type society and used it as a base for political action and reform. The shah forced the closure of his lodge because of its secrecy and membership that included potential rivals for the monarchy.

In late 1861 Malkom Khān was sent into exile, first in Baghdad and then Istanbul, where he was assigned as counselor at the Iranian embassy. In 1868 he was dismissed and given Ottoman nationality but was reappointed to his position in the Iranian embassy, which he held until 1871. From 1873 to 1889 he served as Iran 's minister in London. In 1889, he was involved in a financial scandal relating to a proposed national lottery in Iran, which resulted in his final dismissal and the loss of his titles. In 1890, he began publishing his influential newspaper, Qānūn, which attacked Qājār despotism, stressed westernization as the means for saving Iranian sovereignty, and called for a constitution and parliamentary government. Qānūn, influenced by Turkish newspapers in Istanbul, was printed in London and smuggled into Iran, where it was widely circulated and read by like-minded clerical and secular anti-Qājār reformers. It ceased publication in 1898. Malkom died on a visit to Switzerland in 1908.

See also IRAN and QāJāR DYNASTY.

Bibliography

  • Algar, Hamid. Mīrzā Malkum Khān: A Study in the History of Iranian Modernism. Berkeley, 1973.
  • Keddie, Nikki, and Mehrdad Amanat. “Iran under the Later Qājārs, 1848–1922.” In The Cambridge History of Iran, 7, From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic, edited by Peter Avery, Gavin Hambly, and Charles Melville, pp. 174–212. Cambridge, U.K., 1991.
  • Parsinejad, Iraj. A History of Literary Criticism in Iran, 1866–1951: Literary Criticism of the Works of Enlightened Thinkers of Iran. Bethesda, Md., 2002.
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