II The Shah State politics and authoritarian modernization

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Archaeology and the Iranian National Museum

Qajar and early Pahlavi cultural policies*

Nader Nasiri-Moghaddam

On 18 October 1927, just two years after the accession of Reza Shah Pahlavi, the French archaeological privilege in Iran that had been granted 43 years earlier by Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, was abolished by a bilateral agreement. This exclusive privilege, which had become “perpetual” in 1900 with a renewed agreement signed by his successor Mozaffar al-Din Shah, had allowed France to establish a beautiful collection of antiquities, exhibited in the Louvre Museum. Nowadays, when we visit these antiquities, we wonder in which context such an archaeological monopoly had been granted and whether the Qajar monarchs, who signed it, had truly ignored the importance of Iran’s heritage? Or whether by granting such a monopoly to carry out excavations, maybe they also wanted their kingdom to benefit from its cultural treasures by exhibiting a part of the discoveries belonging to Iran in a National Museum of their own? In this regard, we wonder whether an archaeological museum did exist at all in Iran during the Qajar period or whether this institution had been created for the first time under Reza Shah Pahlavi.

The abolition of the French archaeological monopoly is generally considered as a hallmark of the cultural nationalism of the Iranian government during the reign of Reza Shah. However, if the purpose of this decision was to end the grip of France on Iranian heritage, how can we explain the appointment of a French archaeologist, Andre Godard (1881-1965), as the head of the General Antiquities Service of Iran (Edareh-ye Koll-e ‘Atiqat) and other Iranian archaeological institutions for more than twenty years?

On the other hand, we know that Iran’s international policy under Reza Shah was to look for a “third power” that could act as a counterweight to British and Soviet pressure. To this end, Iran developed closer relations with Germany. So, how did German archaeologists react to Godard’s nomination? What did this French archaeologist accomplish for Persian heritage in accordance with Reza Shah’s cultural policy?

These are the guiding questions to which this chapter tries to provide answers in the binary context of cultural and foreign policy. For this, we will first present briefly the history of French archaeology in Iran. Then, we will examine the Iranian archaeological institutions before the rise of Reza Shah.

Finally, we will discuss the abolition of the French monopoly and its impact on archaeology and archaeological institutions in Iran under the reign of Reza Shah, with a particular focus on the cultural policies of the Iranian government at that time.

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