Lotf Ali Khan-e Zand

May 20, 2021

Reading Time: 3 Minutes

The young king sits in a corner, shoulders squared, mouth set in a defiant line. He hears the Eunuch’s footsteps even before he enters the cell. In the dark, pale fingers reach for his throat. He cannot see them coming. There are empty sockets where the king’s beautiful eyes used to be.

After all, to be born a prince is to be the subject of desire. To be born a handsome prince is to be the target of envy.

Lotf Ali Khan-e Zand

THE EUNUCH AND THE PRINCE

The young king sits in a corner, shoulders squared, mouth set in a defiant line. He hears the Eunuch’s footsteps even before he enters the cell. In the dark, pale fingers reach for his throat. He cannot see them coming. There are empty sockets where the king’s beautiful eyes used to be.

After all, to be born a prince is to be the subject of desire. To be born a handsome prince is to be the target of envy.

Lotf Ali Khan-e Zand came to power after fighting among a succession of violent Zand chiefs, following the death of the dynasty's founder, Karim Khan Zand in 1779. They failed to agree on a successor and to rule with the identical benevolence as Karim Khan had, who’d been beloved both among the public and the Zands. As a result, an increasing number of local and regional leaders began aligning themselves with the eunuch Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar, who sought to defeat and succeed the Zands.

Lotf Ali Khan, the son of Jafar Khan, claimed the throne in 1789 after the death of his father. Jafar Khan had been poisoned by a slave bribed by a rival family member, Sayed Morad Khan Zand. On hearing of his father's murder, Lotf Ali Khan marched to the Zand capital of Shiraz. Sayed Morad Khan was forced to surrender and was executed.

Soon after assuming his title, Lotf Ali Khan's principal rival, Agha Mohammad Khan of the Qajar dynasty, marched south to Shiraz. Their two armies met outside of town in a brutal battle during which Agha Mohammad Khan prevailed, using camels to scare the Zand horses on the battlefield. Despite this defeat, the Zand leader was ready to hold Shiraz until the Qajar forces withdrew to Tehran.

The following year, 1790, Lotf Ali Khan led his forces against the Governor of Kerman, who had refused to acknowledge him as the Zand leader. This campaign failed because of harsh winter conditions which led to the loss of an oversized number of men.

In 1791, Lotf Ali Khan marched to reestablish his control over Isfahan. He had grown increasingly suspicious of the loyalties of Haji Ibrahim Kalantar, the Sherriff of Shiraz. As a result, he took the Kalantar's son into his own custody. Once the Zand army had left the city, Haji Ibrahim had the remaining Zand officers arrested and sent word to his brother, a member of Lotf Ali's army, that the city was now under his control. A mutiny ensued and Lotf Ali and several hundred loyal soldiers fled back to Shiraz, where they found the gates barred against them. Fearing reprisals against their families locked within the gates, most of Lotf Ali's men deserted him.

With only a handful of followers remaining, the Zand ruler then fled to Bushehr. Here, too, he encountered a hostile local leader. However, with the help of a sympathetic governor in the port city of Bandar Rig, Lotf Ali Khan managed to raise a small army made up of sympathetic locals. With their help, Lotf Ali defeated an attack from Bushire and Kazerun. The governor of Kazerun was captured and blinded, an impulsive act by Lotf Ali Khan that "weakened the sympathy which his youth, his courage, and his misfortunes were so calculated to incite."

Emboldened, Lotf Ali Khan returned to Shiraz, which Haji Ibrahim had offered to Agha Mohammad Khan. There, he defeated an army led by Mostafa Qoli Khan Qajar. Lotf Ali Khan's smaller force also succeeded in repelling the attack of a second Qajar force. At this point, Agha Mohammad Khan himself led over 30 thousand men against the much smaller Zand army.

THE BATTLE BETWEEN LOTF ALI KHAN AND AGHA MOHAMMAD KHAN QAJAR

In a pivotal battle near Persepolis whose outcome would determine the leadership of the nation, Lotf Ali Khan gained the upper hand over the much larger Qajar army, launching a nighttime raid on the main camp of Agha Mohammad Khan. As the Qajar soldiers scattered, Lotf Ali assumed Agha Mohammad Khan had fled with them and that the camp was secured. He forbade his men from plundering the camp and withdrew to wait for sunrise. But Agha Mohammad Khan had remained hidden in the royal pavilion. At dawn, the call to prayer signaled that the Qajar army had regrouped. Lotf Ali Khan had no choice but to retreat. (An alternate version of this story suggests that Lotf Ali Khan was tricked into waiting until daybreak to enter the enemy camp on the advice of a Qajar spy named Mirza Fathollah-e Ardelani).

He and his followers fled to Kerman (1792), but with the Qajars in pursuit, they were forced to Tabas. With the aid of a sympathetic governor in Tabas, Lotf Ali attempted without success to retake Shiraz. At this time, the former Zand capital was firmly under the control of Agha Mohammad Khan. In July 1792, the Qajar shah ordered the family and harem of Lotf Ali Khan and other Zand nobles and their families sent to his new capital, Tehran.

Lotf-Ali Khan was imprisoned and tortured in Tehran and Agha Mohammad Khan removed his eyes before choking him to death in late 1794.

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