Mirza Malkam Khan

The Persian diplomat Mirza Malkam Khan (1831-1908) was a forerunner of reform and modernization in Persia and an indefatigable propagandist for modern ideas and institutions.

Malkam Khan was born of Armenian parents in Esfahan and at an early age was sent to Paris to study. It was said that his father had become a Moslem. Malkam Khan, however, did not either profess or deny his faith in Islam. He returned to Persia when he was 18 and was employed as an interpreter by the famous reformer Prime Minister Tagi Khan Amir-e Kabir.

Sometime between 1855 and 1860 Malkam did two things which not only showed his restless character but also created enemies for him. One was the introduction of a Masonic lodge in Persia. He persuaded the Shah to grant permission for this novel idea and called it faramushkhaneh, or house of forgetfulness. Later the Shah became very suspicious when some of the members of the court whom he had encouraged to join would not divulge the "secret" of the lodge to him. About this time Malkam prepared a pamphlet called The Notebook of Order, which contained all sorts of reform programs, and showed it to the Shah. The Shah was displeased with both the lodge and the pamphlet and banished the young reformer from the country.

In 1870, when his friend Moshir al-Doleh became prime minister, Malkam went to Tehran as counselor in foreign affairs and received the title of Nazem al-Molk. In 1873, when the Shah went to Europe, Malkam went along and was appointed Persian minister in London. The 16 years during which he represented Persia were uneventful, except 1878, when he was a delegate to the Congress of Berlin, which dealt with the fate of the Ottoman Empire. Malkam Khan did such an outstanding job of advancing the interests of Persia that he received the title of Nazem al-Doleh and the very unusual title of prince. Notwithstanding the titles, he is known in Persia as Mirza Malkam Khan.

Interestingly, Malkam Khan's greatest period of literary activity on behalf of modernization began with a shady financial transaction in which he was involved. In 1889 he secured the signature of the Shah for a lottery concession in Persia. Later he sold the concession in London, knowing that the Shah, owing to religious objections to gambling, had asked him to cancel it. Partly because of this, Malkam was dismissed from his post and deprived of all his titles and privileges. It was then that he lashed out against his enemies in Persia and wrote pamphlets and letters demanding reform in all aspects of Persian life.

Malkam's main vehicle was the newspaper Qanun, which he published for nearly 3 years. It was banned in Persia and despised by the Shah, but it was smuggled in nevertheless. Malkam called for a rule of law and believed that Persia should accept the civilization of the West and change its attitudes and institutions accordingly. He wrote on a variety of subjects such as distribution of land, freedom of women, necessity of parliament, social justice, and even simplifying the Persian alphabet. He was a devout humanist and was rather successful in propagating humanism. Humanist societies were established in Persia and became centers of progressive thought in the country.

Malkam lived to see the establishment of a constitutional government in Persia. At the turn of the century the successor of Naser al-Din Shah restored all of Malkam's titles and privileges and appointed him minister to Italy.


Further Reading on Mirza Malkam Khan

A sketch in English of the thought of Malkam can be found in Edward Granville Browne, The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909 (1966).