The stamp set of 1935
The most ambitious effort to turn postage stamps into an instrument of official propaganda, and to disseminate the ideology of the Pahlavi state, formed the already mentioned set of nine denominations that was issued in 1314/1935 in celebration of the tenth anniversary of Reza Shah’s coronation. These stamps are especially remarkable not only due to the fact that here, for the first time, an attempt was made to deliver a coherent iconographic program, but also because the administrative background of their publication is documented. According to a note kept in the National Archives,68 the edition of these stamps, with the intention to celebrate “the progresses that had been achieved in the country”,69 had been decided during a cabinet session on 4 Farvardin 1313/24 March 1934, upon an initiative that emanated from Mohammad ‘Ali Dowlatshahi, then acting minister of post and telegraph.70 The early date of this decision, almost a year before the actual issue date on 3 Esfand 1314/22 February 1935 (which as the anniversary of Reza Khan’s coup d’etat was celebrated as the actual beginning of the Pahlavi era), could be explained by the anxiety to have the stamps available in time. Just like the coronation stamps of 1914, the printing of this prestigious set had been assigned to Enschede and Sons in Haarlem.71 Furthermore, they were the last Iranian stamps that bore in Latin the inscription “Postes Persanes” before the country’s designation as “Iran”; “Postes Iraniennes” became obligatory from the beginning of the year 13 1 4/193 5.72 The significance that was attributed to this set as an instrument of official selfrepresentation could be judged from the high triage of altogether 2,750,000 stamps, a number that was equivalent to the annual need for stamps of the Iranian postal administration.73 The highest numbers - 1,000,000, 500,000 and 300,000 stamps respectively - were printed of the three lowest denominations.74
Given the occasion of their issue, the most striking feature of this set was the fact that Reza Shah, i.e. the man to whom those achievements were attributed and whose portrait had been dominating the design of Iran’s stamps for almost a decade, did not appear on any of these stamps. In a symbolic way, however, he was present in all the illustrations.
The respective motifs of the nine denominations of this set depicted, framed by elements of Achamaenid architecture, allegories of justice (5 Dinar)75 and education (15 Dinar);76 a view of the Apadana in Persepolis (10 Dinar);77 the
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Tehran aerodrome (30 Dinar);78 the sanatorium at Sakhtsar (Mazandaran) (45 Dinar);79 the cement factory at Shah ‘Abd al-Azim (75 Dinar);80 a gunboat of the Iranian navy (90 Dinar);81 the railroad bridge over the Karun River at Ahvaz (1 Rial);82 and the general post and customs office in Tehran (1.50 Rial).83
The achievements of Reza Shah’s rule that were glorified on these stamps could be divided into several topics. These were social and political reform, exemplified by the reform of the judicial and education system, the creation of a modern communication system (airfield and railroad), industrialization, social welfare and, finally, military and financial sovereignty. In short, the topics of these stamps cover the central features that Ervand Abrahamian has identified as the pillars of Reza Shah’s rule: the military, communication and taxation.84
To begin with the first topic, the two stamps dedicated to the reorganization of the legal system and education differed distinctively from the other denominations, with their naturalistic depictions of buildings and industrial plants, both by their smaller format as well as by their design, with their allegorical representations of Justitia (Figure 7.4) and Prudentia (Figure 7.5).
Figure 7.4 1935 commemoration set, 5 Dinar, allegory of education. Source: Author’s collection.
Figure 7.5 1935 commemoration set, 15 Dinar, allegory of justice. Source: Author’s collection.
Depicting power: the commemorative stamp set of 1935 159
Their high triage, on the other hand, indicated the significance that was attributed to the establishment of a new education and legal system according to Western patterns as two of the most important and lasting political and social reforms implemented under Reza Shah. Another reason may have been that education and legal reform had been the field of activity of two of the most prominent cabinet members, Prime Minister Mohammad ‘Ali Forughi (1294-1421/1875-1942) and ‘Ali Akbar Davar (1276-1316/1883-1937).
The prominent place that had been given to these two subjects on the stamps may be explained by the fact that since the days of the Constitutional Revolution the establishment of a secular legal and education system had been on the agenda of the radical nationalists, who saw both measures as a precondition for the creation of a modern national state in Iran,85 which thus would be able to enter into contention with Western powers and to regain and maintain Iran’s status as a self-conscious and independent state.86 Both reforms were also seen as necessary steps to destroy traditional (and especially tribal and clerical) structures, which were regarded as obstacles for the aspired national renaissance.87 Aside from social and cultural progress, the subjects gave an indirect indication of the principal objectives of those reforms: the training of loyal state servants,88 and the formation of a police state.89 The allegorical style of the illustrations on both stamps was strongly influenced by the iconography of the constitutionalist press of the Mashrutiyat period, in which the Iranian nation or abstract ideas such as justice and enlightenment were usually depicted by symbolical figures.90 A late echo of this symbolism could for instance be found in the title of the widely read newspaper Nahid,91 which had an angelic figure placed protectively against a sinister, devil-like creature before a blooming landscape with railroads and telegraph lines as a vision of Iran’s future.
To understand the message conveyed by these two stamps correctly, it is essential to regard their iconography in connection with the depiction of the ruins of Persepolis on the 10 Dinar-denomination (Figure 7.6).
The relics of Iran’s pre-Islamic past had already played an important role as symbols of national identity in the nationalist discourse, in which the
Figure 7.6 1935 commemoration set, 10 Dinar, ruins of Persepolis. Source: Author’s collection.
Iranian nation was not only defined by political borders, but also by the sum of monuments that could be found on her territory (as exemplified in the stamps of the ruler’s set).92 Consequently, the title heading of Iranshahr, one of the most influential political periodicals of the early 1920s, displayed, among others, the tomb of Cyrus the Great and the ruins of Persepolis and Ktesiphon.93 In contrast to the ruler’s set, the depiction of royal palaces had in consequence of the deposition of the Qajars given way to illustrations of factories, bridges and other modern buildings that played a similar role as symbols of modern Iran and the resurgent Iranian nation.94
In this context, the placement of the ruins of Persepolis on the 10-Dinar denomination, between those stamps with the allegories of justice and education, was certainly not a coincidence. On the visual level, the Achamaenid monuments, as an emblem of the glorious past, were framed by symbols of progress, modernity and Westernization - “the combination of practical needs and ancient virtues”95 typical for the ideology of the Pahlavi era. The message conveyed by these stamps could be described as the radical reshaping of administration and society that took place under Reza Shah, which was supposed to create the precondition for a national renaissance by which Iran would regain her former greatness.96 This strange conflation of past and future was not only limited to these stamps, but during that period could also be found in the architecture of the National Bank, with its copious stylistic borrowings from Achaemenid architecture,97 or the new Ministry of Justice, which displays even now on its facade reliefs with an allegory of justice and a depiction of the court of Khosrow Anushiravan.98
The presentation of architecture as a symbol of power gave a further indication of the radical change that took place at that time in urban planning, with the construction of new administrative areas in many major Iranian cities.99 In this context, apart from the need for an appropriate accommodation for the reformed and strengthened institutions, the construction of the new general post and customs office had been part of the architectonical re-planning of the city area around the Tupkhaneh Square and the Golestan Palace in Tehran with buildings that were intended to represent the new order.100
The topics and illustrations of the other stamps also mainly referred to the ideology and iconography of the constitutional movement, in which social and cultural development had been inseparable from technical progress. Such ideas were avidly propagated in the periodicals published by Iranian expats in Berlin during and after the First World War, i.e. by men who actively supported Reza Shah’s seizure of power and under his rule played an active role in the political and cultural life of Iran (such as Hasan Taqizadeh (1257-1348/ 1878-1969) and Mohammad ‘Ali Jamalzadeh (1274-1997/1895-1997)101). Apart from the creation of a strong centralized government, these intellectuals considered the acquisition of modern technology as a necessary precondition to enable Iran to withstand the challenges of modernity and the dominance of the imperialist powers, whose position of strength was generally attributed to their technological and scientific advance.102
Depicting power: the commemorative stamp set of 1935 161
Images of railroad bridges, airplanes and factories, which had represented the promise of the modern world in the days of the Constitutional Revolution, could be frequently found in the exile newspapers,103 which were widely read in Iran. Against this background, the picture of the cement factory at Rey (Figure 7.7) was for a contemporary viewer a familiar element of a well-known iconographical code.
In a similar way, the cement factory was a first manifest sign of Iran’s industrialization, which formed a key element of the modernization policy under Reza Shah that was gaining momentum at the time when this stamp was issued.104 In this respect, the factory did not only constitute a symbol of government politics under Pahlavi rule (in which the economy to a great extent was monopolized by the Shah himself),105 but did in addition serve as an example of the growing industrialization. As a sign of Iran’s waning dependency on imported foreign goods,106 it could also be interpreted as a symbol for the newly gained freedom of action.
The aerodrome in Tehran (Figure 7.8), and the railroad bridge at Ahvaz, together with the newly built general post and customs office, did in a similar way exemplify steps towards modernity and sovereignty.
Figure 7.7 1935 commemoration set, 75 Dinar, cement factory in Rey. Source: Author’s collection.
Figure 7.8 1935 commemoration set, 30 Dinar, Tehran airfield. Source: Author’s collection.
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On the other hand, they epitomized the nature of the modernization undertaken under Reza Shah, and the close interconnection of the central issues of Iranian politics during that period: nationalism, the adoption of modern technology and government control.
Knitting together the various regions and provinces of Iran by means of traffic and communication had been a key issue of the modernization of Iran and the creation of a powerful state since the early reforms of the nineteenth century.107 The nationwide postal and communication system established under Amir Kabir had formed a fundament on which his successors could build, making the postal system one of the important institutions of the Qajar period.108 The mail system owed its significance not least to the fact that the governmental monopoly over the flow of information could serve as an instrument of social control.109 This correlation between communication and power was also to be found in the two stamps that, in the shape of aviation and the Trans-Iranian Railroad, celebrated the newly created transportations systems. In addition, with the customs office in Tehran and the Imperial navy, the stamps celebrated two other symbols of regained sovereignty.
The image of the new building of the postal and customs administration (Figure 7.9) in Tehran served the same purpose.
During the Constitutional Revolution, a permanent issue in parliamentary politics had been the demand for the demission of the Belgian inspectors in the Financial Department, of which the customs office and (as far as the printing of stamps was concerned) the postal administration were a part.110 Not only was their presence seen as interference in the country’s financial affairs, some of the Belgians were accused of the embezzlement of national property by illegally selling postage stamps on their own account, which was considered a flagrant violation of Iran’s sovereignty.111 Therefore, one of the first measures of Reza Shah’s government after the 1921 coup had been the removal of the last remaining Belgians from the Finance and Customs Department.112 A similar political success had been the abrogation of the capitulations for foreigners113 and the restoration of government control over Iran’s customs administration in 1928.114 Furthermore, the industrialization
Figure 7.9 1935 commemoration set, 1.50 Rial, post and customs office in Tehran. Source: Author’s collection.
Depicting power: the commemorative stamp set of 1935 163
of Iran under Reza Shah was to a great extent bankrolled by a road tax levied on all imported goods.115 Against this background, the image of the general headquarters of the post and customs service not only depicted a symbol of the strong centralized government, but also of Iran’s newly won sovereignty over her financial and economical affairs.
The railroad bridge over Karun River (Figure 7.10) played a similar role in the official iconography of the early Pahlavi state.
The construction of the Trans-Iranian Railroad in the first place constituted the most spectacular part of the ongoing program of road building that was initiated in the 1930s116 and had been an important part of the modernization process insofar as it had made possible the industrialization of Iran.117 Even though the extent of the constructed motor roads exceeded that of the railroad by its expansiveness and economic importance,118 the railway played a special role in the public consciousness of the Pahlavi state. As an epitome of modern technology, illustrations of railroads and railroad installations had been a staple in the iconography of the constitutionalists and nationalists with their admiration for science and technology. This symbolic significance was still augmented by the fact that in the period before World War I the rivalry between Britain and Russia in Iran had prevented any attempt to build a railway in Iran (which may have given an advantage to the competitor), making railroads one of the symbols of the aspired economic and political independence. Furthermore, the fact that Iran had been able to venture the construction of the Trans-Iranian Railroad without taking up a foreign loan, but entirely with her own funds, made the railroad an example of autonomy and independence119 - even though, compared to motor roads, it proved to be a costly investment without much economical benefit.120 Having the construction of the first nationwide railway connection realized under his reign, and under the circumstances just mentioned, Reza Shah could claim to have finally realized the demand for modern technology as well as for political freedom of action.
The gunboat depicted on the 90-Dinar denomination (Figure 7.11) in much the same way constituted an emblem of the resurgent nation.
Figure 7.10 1935 commemoration set, 1 Rial, railway bridge in Ahvaz. Source: Author’s collection.
Figure 7.11 1935 commemoration set, 90 Dinar, gunboat Palang. Source: Author’s collection.
Originally established for the prevention of smuggling tea and sugar (by whose taxation the construction of the railroad had been mainly financed),121 the navy had, from the outset, been much more than just a branch of the armed forces. Together with the necessity to defend the country’s territorial integrity, the control over the Persian Gulf became another issue of the nationalist discourse, not least due to the strong British presence in the Gulf and the imposed ban on Iran from maintaining her own naval forces in this area during the Qajar period.122 In the Caspian Sea Russia had enjoyed a similar position before and in fact also after World War I.123 Even though insignificant in strength (consisting of only half a dozen small vessels),124 the new navy had proven to be an effective instrument not only to police maritime trade and trafficking in Iranian waters, but also in order to exert an effective control over the local rulers in the coastal areas.125 For this reason, the navy had become an institution whose significance as a symbol of national sovereignty was not lesser than that of the Trans-Iranian Railroad. An early political triumph of Reza Shah had been the crushing of Sheykh Khaz’al’s rebellion in Khuzestan, which was celebrated as a successful effort of the central government to regain her complete control over the territory of Iran.126 The fact that Sheykh Khaz’al (1239-1315/1860-1936) had enjoyed British backing also gave the Shah the credit for having both successfully restored Iran’s territorial integrity and challenged British hegemony in the Persian Gulf.127 Already at that time, a caricature of Reza Shah entering Mohammareh aboard a warship128 emphasized not only the Shah’s efforts and achievements as the defender of national integrity who had restored the nation’s pride and dignity, but also the importance of the armed forces for the independence of Iran.129
This close relation of nationalism, modernization and a strong military, as emblematized in the motif of the gunboat, was also inherent in the motifs of other stamps of the set. At a closer look, the airplanes in the picture of the Tehran aerodrome could be easily identified as military aircraft. Thus, the image not only symbolizes the introduction of an up-to-date traffic system, or the integration of Iran into the worldwide system of air transport (which at that time still had been very rudimentary).130 It also gave a hint of the importance of the newly created air force as an instrument of efficient domination especially over those areas that had not been accessible, and therefore impossible to control, by regular military forces. In a similar way, the TransIranian Railroad, apart from its role as a national object of prestige, had been planned and built not so much under economical as under military aspects. Especially with its routing through the unruly tribal areas in the southwest of Iran, it enabled the government in Tehran quickly to employ a great number of troops from the capital to the rebellious provinces131 - one has to bear in mind that the Bakhtiyari uprising, a trial of strength between the Shah and the traditional elites, which had lasted several years and had led to the dismissal and arrest of Ja‘far Qoli Khan, was only subdued at the time when the issue of the jubilee stamp set was decided.132
This linkage between technology, modernization, administrative reform and Westernization was less apparent but nonetheless evident in the stamps in praise of education, legal reform or communication. The post and customs head office in Tehran for instance did exemplify the state’s claim for absolute control over its citizens by supervising the distribution of information and the traffic of goods, while the judicial reform and the new system of education in the last analysis would secure for the state the control over their bodies and minds. Apart from glorifying the progress Iran had made under the rule of Reza Shah, the stamp set also displayed the instruments of power of the new state, and gave a clear allusion to the true character of the Pahlavi state, which was in essence not more than a royal dictatorship that rested on the army’s bayonets, aided by “a state machine to destroy adversaries and establish despotic rule”.133
Thus, while praising the efforts of modernization, and the apparent achievements in this regard, the stamp set also constituted an unintended manifestation of the actual political situation in Iran under Reza Shah, which Mehrzad Boroujerdi has aptly defined as “Bonapartist etatism”.134 This raises the question of the cabinet’s motivation in issuing this set, and the political convictions and political backgrounds of those who had been involved in this decision.