Mirza Taqi Khan Amir-e Kabir (ca. 1806-1852) was the greatest prime minister of the Qajar dynasty. In just 3 years he accomplished more than the combined efforts of the other chief ministers of the dynasty and laid the foundations of modernization in Iran.
Karbalayi Mohammad Qorban, the father of Taqi, was a cook and later a steward in the household of Qa'em Maqam, who later became the chief minister of Mohammad Shah. It is said that when the tutor came to teach the children of Qa'em Maqam, the boy Taqi, in his eagerness to learn, would try to listen from behind the closed door of the private classroom. When Qa'em Maqam heard of this, he allowed the boy to become a regular member of the class. Later Taqi was employed as one of the secretaries, and because of his genius and capacity for work he was given positions of responsibility. He became known as Mirza (secretary) Taqi Khan Farahani (denoting his birthplace).
When the head of a Russian mission to Iran was murdered in 1829, the distraught Fath Ali Shah, fearing war, sent his grandson Khosro Mirza to St. Petersburg. Mirza Taqi Khan went as the prince's secretary and had an opportunity to observe the life and institutions of Russia. Ten years later he accompanied young Naser al-Din, the crown prince, to Russia. At this time Mirza Taqi Khan was the chief secretary and tutor of the prince, with the title of Amir-e Nezam (commander of the army). He impressed the Czar with his knowledge of Russian and arranged to see schools, factories, hospitals, and other establishments in the country.
In 1842 Taqi Khan headed the Persian delegation to the Erzerum conference for the settlement of the Irano-Turkish border dispute. His performance there was so outstanding that the British representative, Robert Curzon, wrote that Mirza Taqi Khan was "beyond all comparison the most interesting person among the commissioners of Turkey, Persia, Russia, and Great Britain who were there assembled at Erzerum." This was the period of Tanzimat reforms in the Ottoman Empire, and the significance of these reforms did not escape the discerning eyes of the young commander.
In 1848, when Naser al-Din became shah of Iran, he chose Mirza Taqi Khan Amir-e Nezam as his chief minister, with the appropriate title of Atabak-e A'zam. Mirza Taqi Khan, however, preferred to use his old and more humble title. The people gradually changed the title to Amir-e Kabir (great commander). He was now in a position to implement the reforms which he must have been planning in his mind for a long time.
This indefatigable worker began at once, and no aspect of the life of the country escaped his scrutiny. Amir-e Kabir built factories, facilitated commerce, established the first modern institution of learning, employed teachers and technicians from Europe, inaugurated a modern postal system, set up a translation bureau and a modern press, founded the first newspaper, reorganized the judicial system, did away with the sale of office, and prevented the clergy from interfering with the affairs of government.
These and many other activities aroused the anger of courtiers, landlords, and clergy, whose sources of income and power were threatened by the reforms. His greatest enemy was his own mother-in-law, the queen mother. In 1851 the Shah very reluctantly dismissed him and sent him to Kashan. A few months later the queen mother tricked her son into signing Amir-e Kabir's death warrant and hurried executioners to Kashan. They found him in the bathhouse and killed him by opening his veins.
There is no English-language book in print which gives the full life of Mirza Taqi Khan. Short sketches are found in Percy Sykes, A History of Persia, vol. 2 (1915; 3d ed. 1930); Edward G. Browne, A Literary History of Persia, vol. 4 (1924); and Peter Avery, Modern Iran (1965).