Lois Beck, The Qashqa’i of Iran (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986).
The Qashqa’is are a confederation of Turkic-speaking tribes dispersed in the three southwestern Iranian provinces of Fars, Isfahan, and Bushehr. Historically, they have been one of the most important tribal groups in the country. Nevertheless, little is known about them due to the lack of critical research. Lois Beck’s pioneering work successfully familiarizes the reader with the political dynamics of the Qashqa’is.
Although Beck is an anthropologist, she skillfully integrates historical, political, and economic data to present an overview of the Qashqa’i confederacy. The emphasis of her detailed account is on the ruling Shahilu lineage, which rose to political prominence during the eighteenth century and consolidated its authority over the confederacy in the nineteenth century. Her documented analysis of the complex relationship between the Shahilu family and the Qajar dynasty is essential for understanding the formation of the unique Qashqa’i confederacy. Beck examines all political issues, including the confederacy leaders’ management of the separate tribal components of the Qashqa’is, their relations with other tribal confederacies, their role in Iranian politics, and their relations with foreign governments. An important part of Beck’s book deals with the methods that Reza Shah and his son Muhammad Reza Shah undertook to try to destroy the political power of the Qashqa’is between 1930 and 1979. These included the forcible settlement of most of the component tribes, the expropriation of pasture lands, the exile of the leaders, and the supervision of tribal affairs by the army.
One of the strengths of Beck’s book is her description of the economic role of the Qashqa’is. According to the author, the Qashqa’is controlled routes and trade between Fars province and the Persian Gulf throughout much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They also controlled extensive pastures, and this led to frequent clashes over land and water use with other tribal confederacies, especially the Khamseh.
The last part of the book discusses the return from foreign exile of the three Qashqa’i leaders, Nasser, Khosrow and Abdallah, following the 1979 revolution. Like the Bourbons who returned to France in 1815 after a 25-year exile, the Qashqa’i leaders were confronted with socioeconomic and political changes for which they were unprepared. The three leaders tried different strategies to deal with the new conditions. Khosrow, for example, attempted to integrate the Qashqa’is into national politics. Abdallah was more concerned about protecting the status of the Qashqa’is in Fars, while Nasser remained a charismatic tribal leader with traditional values. These leaders formed a tribal encampment which the central government perceived as a threat. Several non-Qashqa’i tribes and groups supported the encampment, including the Turkic-speaking Abivardis of Shiraz (whom Beck erroneously identifies as urban Qashqa’is, but who actually are descended from a settled group that came to Fars from Abivard in Khorasan in the eighteenth century to govern the province for Nader Shah). Clashes eventually occurred with the Revolutionary Guards. Beck acknowledges her difficulty in obtaining accurate information about these clashes due to the paucity of communication between Iran and much of the world throughout 1980. The eventual results of the fighting, however, are known: The government forces crushed the encampment by 1982 and the Qashqa’i leaders were forced to flee; Khosrow was arrested and executed; Abdallah died of an apparent heart attack while in hiding; and Nasser escaped to Turkey.