Mohammad Vali Khan Tonekaboni

Sepahsalar-e Tonekaboni
سپهسالار تنکابنی
Prime Minister of Iran
In office
30 September 1909  25 July 1910
Monarch Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar
Preceded by Javad Sa'd al-Dowleh
Succeeded by Mostowfi ol-Mamalek
In office
12 March 1911  26 July 1911
Monarch Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar
Preceded by Mostowfi ol-Mamalek
Succeeded by Najaf-Qoli Samsam al-Saltaneh
In office
5 March 1916  29 August 1916
Monarch Ahmad Shah Qajar
Preceded by Abdol-Hossein Farmanfarma
Succeeded by Vosough od-Dowleh
Personal details
Born 1848
Tonekabon, Iran
Died 1926 (age 78)
Tehran, Iran
Religion Twelver Shi'a Islam

Mohammad-Vali Khan, Khalatbari Tonekāboni (Persian: محمدولی‌خان تنکابنی), (1848 in Tonekabon, Iran – 1926 in Tehran, Iran), known as Sepahdar A'zam was the leader of the constitutionalist revolutionary forces from Iran's Northern provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran and known as one of the greatest statesmen and military commanders of Persian history as well as its wealthiest nobleman.[1]


He served as colonel for ten years and became Minister of Post and Telegraph as well as Minister of Customs where he was in charge of all imports into and exports out of the Persian empire. Later he became Minister of Treasury where he was singlehandedly in charge of the entire country's coin issue. He also held the title of Minister of Defence and was Prime Minister for four terms. His highest military title was Commander in Chief. He was of the royal Khalatbari family.

As an ethnic Persian, Sepahsalar Khalatbari was the only leader who was able to restore security inside Persia by controlling the ethnic Turkomans inside the kingdom.[1] He was called upon many times by not only the various sectors of the Persian government but also by the Russians to suppress the Turkomans. His enormous wealth with income estimated at US$2 million/year in the early 1900s[1] (the equivalent of $530 million/year in 2000[2]) allowed him to be the chief financier of the Persian Empire where he would use his property as collateral for loans the kingdom obtained from Russia and Britain.

Commemorative poster (3 x 4 m2) pertaining to the conquest of Tehran by the Constitutional Revolutionaries in July 1909. The two men on horse are Mohammad Vali Khan (Sepahsālār-e A'zam-e Tankāboni), and Sardar Asad.

In 1909 he was given the title Sepahdar Azam and was sent by then King Mohammad Ali Shah to crush the Turkoman Azerbaijani constitutionalist uprising in the northwest headed by Baqer Khan and Sattar Khan. He arrived in Azerbaijan but refused to fight the constitutionalist forces deeming it "fratricide". Instead he returned to Tonekabon and due to his genius military skill and national democratic following became the leader of the constitutionalist and anti-royalist forces, the same forces he was sent to crush. As their new leader he first occupied the city of Qazvin and then marched onto Tehran.

During his march to Tehran the Russian foreign ministry in Saint Petersburg sent a telegram to the Russian Embassy in Tehran stating: "Please inform His Excellency Sepahdar Azam that if he and his army peacefully march on Tehran and then proceed to the house of Saad al Dowleh, then on the authority of this telegram, Sepahdar Azam and all his relatives and kin will be placed in the protection of the Tsarist government. The Tsarist government will pay him the equivalent of 6 million gold menats (approx US$500,000,000)."

Sepahdar Azam (Khalatbari Tonekaboni) wrote back "The Russian government believes I have done all this for my own personal gain. For Iran's freedom and independence I will sacrifice my life and property and those of my children."

Nikolai Baratov (right) Mohammad Vali Khan Tonekaboni (left) at the Caucasus front.

Rejecting the Tsarist government's request, he continued his march and forced the royalists in Tehran to surrender. King Mohammad Ali Shah fled and sought refuge in the Russian embassy, then left Persia altogether. With no king or ruler, parliament passed a resolution to crown Khalatbari Tonekaboni the new King of Persia. He refused this title and instead urged a constitutional democracy. Eventually he accepted the title of Sepahsalar (Commander in Chief). Sepahsalar-e Khalatbari Tonekaboni became Minister of Defence in the first constitutionalist government that followed dethroning of King Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar in 1909. He subsequently became Prime Minister of Iran four times. As the largest property owner in Persia his noble "Khan" status allowed him to rule several fiefdoms in Gilan and Mazandaran provinces, including the city and regions surrounding Tonekabon.

Sepahsalar Khalatbari Tonekaboni continued to fight the religious clerics' attempts to create a theocracy as well as the ruling establishments attempts to continue a monarchy. He took frequent trips to France to learn the French system of representative democracy.

With the advent of the Pahlavi dynasty and the Reza Khans, imposed by the British in the 1920s, Sepahsalar Khalatbari Tonekaboni was placed under increased political pressure.[3] Much of his property was seized by the new government in an attempt to control his wealth and his power. His favorite son, Colonel Ali Asghar Khan, was poisoned by agents of the Pahlavis. Sepahsalar had seen the new and first democratic constitutionalist government which he had created turn into an oppressive dictatorship plundered internally and controlled externally by the British.

On July 16, 1926, Sepahsalar Khalatbari Tonekaboni committed suicide. His last note, written to his eldest son Amir Asad, read: "Amir Asad, right away take my body to the shrine for cleansing and burial next to my son Saad al Dowleh. Do it now. For after living eighty years no mourning or tears are needed for me."

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Gholi Majd, Mohammad (2000), "Resistance to the Shah: Landowners and Ulama in Iran", University Press of Florida, pp. 45–46
  2. Purchasing Power of Money in the United States from 1774 to 2000
  3. Shuster, Morgan (1912) The Strangling of Persia, Unwin Publications


Political offices
Preceded by
Javad Sa'd al-Dowleh
Prime Minister of Iran
Succeeded by
Mostowfi ol-Mamalek
Preceded by
Mostowfi ol-Mamalek
Prime Minister of Iran
Succeeded by
Najaf-Qoli Samsam al-Saltaneh
Preceded by
Abdol-Hossein Farmanfarma
Prime Minister of Iran
Succeeded by
Vosough od-Dowleh
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