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Eprem Khan: a Story of an Armenian who Became the Leader of the Persian Revolution

Eprem Khan: a Story of an Armenian who Became the Leader of the Persian Revolution

Roots of the relations between Armenia and Iran go deeper into the history: the nations, living side by side, have seriously impacted each other. The Armenian nation, deprived of statehood for centuries, started to establish a community in that country over time. The community already exists for 400 years. It is not surprising that, when in the beginning of the 20th  century,  a revolution against the monarchy and actions for the equal and fair laws started, the Armenians became direct participants of the revolution. Eprem David Davtyan’s brilliant name (Eprem khan) stands out among legendary heroes of the Persian revolution(1905-1911).  In the Soviet historiography, his activity was described too politicized and Eprem’s merit had been ignored. The Soviet time historians used to defame his reputation of the “distinguished warrior and commander”. The first work, which was truly about Eprem khan, was written by the candidate of historical sciences Roman Baghdasaryan, published in his book “Eprem khan Sardar”, under a pseudonym Artavazd Bagratid.

The Armenians’ involvement in the Persian revolution 

“Besides being good neighbors, any Armenian living in Persia or travelling there will still feel the climate of respect which was created by Eprem, Qeri and other Armenian members of the liberation struggle” (Historian and traveller Levon Mesrop).

Since the early days, Armenians ( Armenians living in Iran and those who came there from the South Caucasus and Western Armenia) have been supporting the Iranian nation in making the revolution. 

At the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century the national identity feeling of Armenians living in Iran strengthens: they open Armenian schools, theatres, publish journals and magazines in Armenian, create political organizations. Like the French schools, the Armenian schools in Iran soon became centers of enlightenment. Moreover, they were drastically differing with their European view and culture. 

The party “Dashnaktsutyun” did play primary role in the population’s activization and coordination for the struggle. The party had its central committee in Tehran. Still at the beginning of the revolutionary events the members of the party decided to take part in the liberation struggle of the neighbor country. These were the reasons that contributed to that decision: 1. A large number of Armenians were living in Iran. Armenians, living in the region of Atropatene, bordering directly on the Ottoman Empire, were in imminent danger. Hence, the Dashnaks were feeling a responsibility to provide assistance to the constitutional government of Iran in case of the Turkish invasion. 2. The Constitutional Government of Iran (opposition, which was against the Shah) had an authority to enhance the rights of the Armenian population of Iran and to facilitate the life of the Armenian peasant class and refugees from Turkey. The Dashnaks had a lot of experience in organizing revolutionary struggles , they had military power and perfect organizational skills, about which the Mejlis (the Iranian parliament) was well aware of. Following agreements were concluded at the meeting between the Armenian side and the Iranian government. 

 The Dashnaks were obliged: 

 ● To defend the court of Persia with the aid of their contacts in Europe, providing the western media with the appropriate information. 

 ● To provide military assistance to Iran in the struggle against foreign occupiers, which were aiming at seize of border areas of the country. 

 ● To supply the constitutional (revolutionary) government with experienced officers, military specialists and explosives.   

The Revolutionary Government was obliged to:

● To protect the rights of Armenians living in Persia. 

● To provide the Armenian refugees from Turkey with the land. 

● To guarantee free movement of Dashnak militant groups within the country. 

 ● To ensure the security and to facilitate the delivery of weapons and ammunition to Persia from abroad.  

After the agreements reached, Eprem Davtyan - the member of the party Dashnaktsutyun, the future “dictator of Iran” – arrives in Iran. He creates an Armenian-Persian committee and de facto sets off a new era – the heroic era of Eprem khan and becomes the main hero of the Persian revolution. His fantastic victories make him one of the prominent figures of the 20th century. More about that a bit later on.

In the Persian revolution, aimed at elimination of monarchy and establishment of the constitutional democratic system, were participating volunteers of different nationalities such as Armenians, Georgians and Russians. They were sure that they were on a historic mission meant for the sake of Iranian people, and Armenians did  play one of the major roles in that mission.

However, the Soviet historians were preventing the mention of Armenians’  heroic actions , especially Eprem khan’s actions, bringing distorted facts about the Persian revolution. The Soviet Azerbaijani writers and historians especially had distinguished themselves.

In this regard, it should mentioned that the Armenians’ role in the revolution was exceptional… The Iranian historians Ahmed Kesravi and Ebrahim Safayi focused on the active participation of Armenians in the constitutional revolution. Armenians greatly assisted the Iranian workers to create political organizations.

Eprem khan Davtyan: where things came from

Eprem Asribekyan- Davtyan was born in 1868, in the village Barsum (the eastern edge of Great Armenia, currently Azerbaijan). As a child, the future hero was well aware of courage and heroism of his grandfather Asri, meliqs of Artsakh and their fight against foreigners.

When Eprem was a child, the Armenian patriots found schools in villages in order to educate the villagers and teach Armenian children the Armenian letters. Martiros Balabekov – a graduate from the Nersisyan college in Tbilisi – was among the founders, who opened the first state school in Barsum and Eprem was one of his first learners. Ten-twelve-year-old Eprem learns about feats of his grandfather and villagers and swears to devote his life to the liberation struggle of his nation.

The following years, Eprem keeps his eye on the political movements of late 1880s, especially the guerilla movement in Western Armenia. The advanced segments of Armenian society were realizing that the notorious 61st article of the declaration on rights of the Armenian population of Western Armenia, adopted at the Congress of Berlin and signed by the representatives of Turkey, wouldn’t have positive results, as the Turkish authorities, despite their promises and assurance, were not going to implement any reforms.

In that regard, Armenians started following the slogan “The liberation of an Armenian is only possible by its own efforts”. Many young men from Eastern Armenia started travelling to the Ottoman Empire in order to conduct educational and awareness-rising work among Armenians of western Armenia and to protect their brothers and sisters by force of arms.

Soon, seventeen-year-old Eprem, who graduated from the Nersisyan college in Tbilisi, decides to engage in patriotic activities with his compatriots. He joins the guerilla group which was operating in the surrounding area of the church St. Karapet in Mush. In 1889 he fights in heroic battles of Sasun, Van, Erzrum and other places. Here he gets familiar with legendary Andranik and they become friends by the end of their days. ..

In 1889 Eprem decides to move to Kars and join the troops of Sargis Kukunyan – an Armenian from the village Nijh, who was studying in Peterburg and wanted to cross the border with a large group of volunteers. The majority of the group were young men of 20-25 years old and most of them did not even know how to use weapons: leaving their schools and colleges, they were full of patriotism and were wishing to go to Western Armenia and make the Turkish authorities implement at least the 61st article of the Berlin agreement. There were only 110 men, for whom the Russian border troops were waiting at the border. The Armenian troops fell into their mites. Kukunyan, Eprem and his friend Movsisyan were arrested.  They honestly confessed  their goals during the interrogation and were hoping for the favor of  Russian authorities, however, they were put in prison, anyway. Kukunyan teaches his compatriots within the prison History of Armenian nation, Arithmetic, Grammar and Russian language.

Hard labor turned to be the most difficult moment when being in arrest: skinheads, chained from the right side, were being sent to Sakhalin for 8 years of hard labor. In  three years, a group of arrested, under Eprem’s leadership, manages to escape and flees to the unknown and dangerous taiga…

This journey becomes one of the most difficult trials of life for the twenty-year-old Armenian, who was also responsible for the fate of his four friends. They travelled through heavy smell of swamps and heavy rains, constant danger to meet wild animals, thirst and hunger , fear of the unknown.  By what they had to struggle for life was a rusty ax. Eventually, Eprem manages to survive and to save his friends. However, realizing that he cannot stay in Russia anymore, Eprem decides to go to Persia.

Eprem in Persia: the revolution of 1905-1911

Eprem manages to concentrate around him young Armenians almost in all towns of Iran. At the same time he does not forget about Iranian people emphasizing their disempowerment and grave condition and necessity in revolution. 

The brock factory in Reshta (the Gilan province) where Eprem was working, becomes an assembly for revolutionary Armenians, Persians and Azerbaijanis. He earns a worthy reputation in the eyes of common people.

In 1908, a coup happens in Iran. It raises a revolutionary wave in the Gilan province. The activists of Reshta coordinate their actions against the regime of Mohammad Ali Shah. It became known that Eprem khan was keeping in touch with the social-democratic parties of Tiflis and Baku and was receiving weapons and volunteers from there, It should be mentioned that the majority of volunteers were non-party members and there were a lot of representatives of different nationalities.

An army was organized of these brave international fighters which then occupied Tehran and removed from power Mohammad Ali Shah.

At first the rebels manage to capture Gilan and organize there a provincial council. Muiz sultan was chosen as the policeman. Then, together with 12 brave soldiers Eprem attacks the town Enzeli and captures some weapons and ammunition. Eprem and Sardar Muiza’s heroic troops keep fighting in the village Asarak, in the ravines of Kerej and Shahbag and get close to the capital. Confused by the incredible win of revolutionary troops led by Eprem khan, the shah concentrates a large amount of troops on the outskirts of the capital under the command of colonel Lyakhov.

After three heavy battles, Lyakhov was convinced that the fighting back was senseless and gave up. Eprem khan won in the fatal battle.

Taking into consideration historical ties between Russians and Armenians, Eprem khan invited the Russian colonel Lyakhov to a friendly meeting in the building of Mejlis and the two commanders toasted peace. Lyakhov asked Eprem khan:

As a result of the victory, together with his troops from 300 soldiers , on 30 July, 1909 Eprem khan enters the capital Tehran and seizes power. Mohammad  Ali Shah was deposed and Eprem khan reestablished the authority of Mejlis. The constitution of 1906-1907 was restored. Eprem khan was appointed as the head of the Tehran police, de facto the commander of the  revolutionary army. He receives the title of Sardar (Marshal) for the military valour.

After the victory of the revolution, the majority of commanders of revolutionary troops were appointed to key public posts. The democratic elites of Iran remember Eprem Davtyan’s name with utmost appreciation. His indefatigable activity was praised not only by the Iranian but also by other sources.  And only in the Soviet literature you may find subjective information and unfair assessment of Armenian Garibaldi- Eprem khan. That is strange, at least.

After the revolution

It should be noted that the situation in the country remained the same even after the revolution. The major feudal Sepahdar , who came to power after the overthrow of the Shah, did not manage to change the dire economic situation in the country.

Despite anything, Eprem khan was still fighting with the enemies of the revolution, in hope to make drastic democratic changes in the beleaguered country. He was still protecting the democratic rights which had been achieved by the constitutional revolution. Together with his troops he again managed to win the adherent of monarchy – Rakhim khan, mullah Zanjhan- Mohammad – Ali and Jahangir Afgar khan.

Having returned to Tehran on July 1910, Eprem gets to know that by the decision of the head of the Interim Government, many former adherents of Mohammad Ali Shah have returned to their positions. He realizes that those enemies in the state apparatus are preparing to blow up the constitutional government inside and in that way bring back the Shah and establish a monarchy in the country.

Eprem stands against the policy of the government and demands to exclude the monarchists and the enemies of the constitution from the Government. Thanks to his reputation, he tries to clean up the apparatus of the Government , however meets strong resistance.

Eprem was deeply affected and was thinking about the future of the country and nation for which he had devoted all his life. Although the constitutional changes were not effective for the common people at all, he decided to continue the fights against enemies of the revolution and not to allow the reestablishment of monarchy in the country.

Together with his supporters, Mohammad Ali Shah coordinates his troops to attack Tehran. In this difficult situation, the most loyal men gather around Eprem khan. After several successful fights Eprem meets face-to face the opponent. Before the last battle Eprem promises to defeat the monarchists in 48 hours andto  return to the capital again. He kept his promise. Although the enemy had better positions, Eprem’s courage soldiers’ attack made them run away. There were a lot of dead on the battlefield left by the enemy. Mohammad Ali Shah backs down and leaves Iran, finding shelter in Russia.

On 11 September, 1911 Eprem had to give one more fight with the Shah commander Salar-od- Dovle, who had occupied many regions in Persia. Eprem managed to defeat him and his 6000 troops. After the defeat the commander left for the Ottoman Empire.

After the exile of Shah and his brothers, Mejlis decided not to pay pensions the Shah anymore, and to confiscate the property of Salar-od-Dovle and other monarchists. This decision made crazy the czarist government in Russia. They sent a detachment of 4000 soldiers to Gilan from Baku, which occupied Resht and Kazvin.

Russia’s next step was the ultimatum to the new government: to disarm and to dissolve the volunteer  troops, to remove from the constitution the achievements of the revolution and reestablish the Shah regime. Then, the Russian agents tried to create artificial chaos and hunger in the city.

However, the revolutionary forces were at work: led by Eprem, they organize a demonstration against the Russian interference in the internal affairs of the country. The people demand the Mejlis to give absolute refusal to the Russian ultimatum.

Under the pressure of popular masses and Eprem khan, the Mejlis rejects the Russian ultimatum, after which Russia starts pursuing  tricky and “silent” policy. Englishmen as well were nor dormant. They were negotiating with the members of the Government and were persuading them to admit several points of the ultimatum. Soon, majority of the Government, under temptation of English-Russian bribery accept the demands of the Russian ultimatum.

Not reconciled with treason of the members of the parliament, Eprem gives up his mandate. The famous commander becomes the victim of Russian-English conspiracy and betrayal of the Mejlis.

After the acceptance of the Russian ultimatum, the situation within the country drastically changed. Iran appeared in a political and economic deadlock. The overthrown Mohammad Ali again invades Iran in hope to return the throne. This time he brings with him 3000 Caucasian highlanders and Turkmen monarchists of the country.

The threat of Shah’s invasion made the government make peace with Eprem. He becomes the commander again.  In 1912 the Interim Government  appoints him as the Ministry of Defense. However, Eprem’s state was too complex. Having just 1000 soldiers from Armenians and Persians, he had to fight on three fronts.  Despite difficulties, thanks to Eprem’s   perfect military tactics, the 20000 army of the Shah was defeated.  Having been defeated one more time, Mohammed Ali Shah leaves the country forever and goes to Baku.

The Armenian presence and participation in the Persian constitutional struggle had deep and long-lasting influence on the Persian people…Persians and Armenians, who used to live in peace, were perceiving each other as relatives. I am among those who considered the Armenian participation in the liberation struggle excessive. However, when I got to know Persia better, I realized that the physical existence of Armenians would be endangered without that. However, Armenians of Persia were lucky as they had Eprem beside them. His military professionalism and indomitable spirit saved the situation. Together with his small army he defeated the 10000 army of the enemy and those who were opposing him…"[1]

Eprem khan: after the death

Sardar Eprem khan, Eprem David Davtyan, dies in the battle against Shah’s army on 6 May, 1912.

Eprem’s body was transported to Tehran.  Thousands of people were mourning the death of the national hero.  Almost all the city, the representatives of revolutionary and diplomatic elites were going for Eprem khan’s coffin.

He was buried at the Haykazyan (now the school after Eprem khan Davtyan) schoolyard. The Armenian magazine “Mshak” writes: “ They inform from Paris that the committee of young Persians IS sure that Eprem khan was foully murdered”.

His death was a tragic loss for the constitutionalists. The government of Iran sends special circular to its diplomats and emphasizes that “Eprem khan’s death is the loss which can’t be replenished..”

The European, Armenian, Iranian, Azerbaijani, Georgian and Russian sources were mention about Eprem and his friends’ courage. The peoples were writing songs about brave Armenian soldiers.

“His homeland is Artsakh – the cradle of brave souls – which was always above the notion of “slavery”. That is the land of mountains and impassable paths, where the spirit of David- bek was wandering”. Avetik Isahakyan. [2]

  [1] Historian and traveller Levon Mesrop 

  [2] Soviet Armenian poet, public activist, novelist. 

Photo: Eprem Khan (sitting on the right) with comrades /


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