The Zands were a minor pastoral people variously classiﬁed as Lurs and as Kurds. They ﬁrst appear in recorded history during the anarchy consequent upon the Afghan invasion of 1720. At that time, the ‘Ottoman Turks were occupying Kermanshah but were constantly harassed by a local band led by Mahdi Khan Zand. Their patriotic guerrilla war declined into brigandage when Nader expelled the Turks, and in 1752, he sent a force to punish the Zands. Many were killed, while the tribal leaders and a considerable number of families were transported to northern Khorasan. There they remained in exile for some ﬁfteen years, prey to Turkman raiders, while their Khans and ﬁghting men were obliged to follow Nader in endless campaigns.
At the time of Nader’s murder, the Zands comprised some thirty or forty families, and under the leadership of Karim Khan, they decided to return home. Karim Khan himself decided to compete for power with the other tribal heads of western and central Iran. He and his followers managed to defeat the Bakhtiyari forces to take over Golpayegan, a strategic point on the road to Isfahan. Their next victory was won over the ruler of Hamadan, who ﬁnally surrendered the city to the Zands. Having formed, together with the leaders of two other clans, an alliance in which mutual trust came second to expediency, Karim Khan led his united forces to Isfahan. After a few days’ sieges, the city was taken.
The allies’ ﬁrst action was to set up a Safavid puppet monarch to gain popular conﬁdence. Two or three of the minor princes of this house still lived in Isfahan. They were the sons of a former court ofﬁcial, Mirza Mortaza, by a daughter of the last Safavid Shah, Sultan Hossein. The youngest of these (and probably the most tractable) was selected as the most suitable the throne. He was proclaimed Shah, under the name of Ismail III. One of the allies, Ali Mardan, assumed the title of Vakil al-Dowleh (“Regent of the State”), thus becoming the sovereign’s supreme executive. Another, Abulfath, was given the post of the civil governor of the capital.
Karim Khan, as commander of the army, was entrusted with the subjugation of the rest of the country. While Karim Khan was ﬁghting in western Iran, Ali Mardan deposed and killed Abulfath, and replaced him with his uncle. Flouting an oath in which the triumvirate had sworn not to act without mutual consultation, Ali Mardan marched independently on Shiraz and subjected the province of Fars to systematic looting. These acts provoked general discontent.
Trying to put an end to this extortion and near-anarchy, Karim Khan harangued his lieutenants on the perﬁdy of Ali Mardan and entered Isfahan at the head of his now more numerous army. Ali Mardan ﬂed to Khuzestan, leaving a depleted and dispirited band of his followers, who were still marauding in the Bakhtiyari region west of Isfahan, to be caught by Karim Khan’s troops. The shah, whom Ali Mardan had taken with him, ﬂed to the Zand ranks. A few of the captured rebel chiefs were executed, but the soldiery was treated with a generosity which was becoming typical of the Zand policy.
The year 1752 thus marks the beginning of Karim Khan’s rule as viceroy of the nominal king Ismail III. With the fall of Orumiyeh, the last fortress in western Iran to resist the Zands, Karim Khan became master of all Iran, except for the Afsharid state in Khorasan. The provinces of Astarabad, Mazandaran, and Gilan, however, never wholly submitted to Zand rule, but remained centers of Qajar power. Karim Khan’s position was strengthened after he put down a revolt staged by his half-brother Zeki, and took steps to remedy the latent disaffection of various tribal elements in the Zand confederation and on its fringes. In 1765, Karim Khan Zand came to Shiraz, which he proclaimed his capital.
He was not to leave it again for the remaining fourteen years of his reign. Karim Khan’s contribution to the architecture of Shiraz is worth special mention. Less for its artistic merit than as an example of planned urban renewal the ﬁrst since Shah Abbas’s reconstruction of Isfahan. Most of Karim Khan’s construction is still standing despite successive earthquakes and the destructive malice of Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar who sacked the town in 1792? When Karim Khan settled in Shiraz, he changed his title to Vakil al-Roaya (“Representative of the People”). He refused to be addressed as “Shah”. Maintaining that the true shah was Ismail III, who was shut up in Abadeh with ample pension and provisions. Karim Khan insisted that he was merely Ismail’s deputy.
When Ismail III passed away in 1777, Karim Khan, who outlived him by eight years, neither installed a new phantom ruler nor proclaimed himself shah. Shortly after Karim Khan had settled in Shiraz, he took measures to secure his strategic right-wing, the large province of Larestan (305-315). Interested in the economic returns derived from fostering trade, he was also most actively occupied with affairs on the Persian Gulf. Having tamed the Sheikhs of the Gulf ports, the Zand leader then prepared to assault his last and most ambitious target, the Ottoman Empire. The major political cause of the war was Omar Pasha’s intervention in the rivalries over the frontier province of Baban (in present-day Iraq).