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Mohammad-Vali Khan, Khalatbari Tonekāboni (Persian: محمدولی‌خان تنکابنی‎; 1846 – 18 September 1926), 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]

Sepahsalar-e Tonekaboni
سپهسالار تنکابنی
Mohammad Vali Khan.jpg
9th Prime Minister of Iran
In office
30 September 1909 – 25 July 1910
MonarchAhmad Shah Qajar
Preceded byJavad Sa'd al-Dowleh
Succeeded byMostowfi ol-Mamalek
In office
12 March 1911 – 26 July 1911
MonarchAhmad Shah Qajar
Preceded byMostowfi ol-Mamalek
Succeeded byNajaf-Qoli Samsam al-Saltaneh
In office
5 March 1916 – 29 August 1916
MonarchAhmad Shah Qajar
Preceded byAbdol-Hossein Farmanfarma
Succeeded byVosough od-Dowleh
Personal details
Tonekabon, Iran
Died18 September 1926(1926-09-18) (aged 80)
Tehran, Iran
Political partyModerate Socialists Party


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 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

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."

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 and as a Shia Muslim I have to obey Najaf Religious leaders decree to help and support constitutionalist forces."

Nikolai Baratov (right) and 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. 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, killed suspiciously in Lashkarak Hunting-ground.

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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c 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


  • Cyrus Ghani: Iran and the rise of Reza Shah. From Qajar collapse to Pahlavi rule. I. B. Tauris, London u. a. 1998, ISBN 1-86064-258-6, S. 78.
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