The term “empire” is riddled with bad connotations because of the western model of empire. Imperialism is essentially a western innovation in which one racial group of people rules over other racial groups of people. Exploitation and the often violent process of homogenization are systematically forced upon those who are the subjected peoples. A desire for a centralized bureaucratic empire is very new and very much a product of European imperialism. This form of empire breeds racism and has created the problems of today’s world. Once these western empires crumbled, nation-states were created where they should not have been created. The ideas of nationalism and the need to dominate minorities are very much a legacy of Europe’s Imperial Age.
The empires of Iranshahr’s past were quite different. Because of the great diversity of peoples, and the numerous geographical barriers like mountains, deserts, and steppes, empires in the Iranian tradition were highly decentralized. Autonomy permeated throughout the system out of necessity to govern vast land-based empires. Tribes, merchant cities, and local dynasties put a check on the power of the central government. When ambitious rulers sought to centralize, the local powers often resisted this power grab and typically put the ruler back in his place; he was a king, but a king of kings. Because of this, the central government and the local governments ideally worked together. In a sense the polities of Iranshahr were closer to federations or confederacies than Western Imperial systems.
Because of the power of the local governments, tolerance was a key policy in the empires of Iranshahr to ensure loyalty to the central government. For most of the kings, sultans, and khans that ruled, purging the region of diversity was too costly. Some did try, but always failed. Attempts at creating a homogeneous empire did occur more frequently after the arrival of Islam, but even such a faith as Islam could not homogenize Iranshahr. It merely fused with the local traditions in the region.
The decentralized and heterogeneous nature of the Iranian political traditions was its strength and weakness. When the central governments tried to shift the balance of power in its favor, the empires of Iranshahr became weak and would be ripe for foreign interference. On the other hand if the central government allowed too much autonomy, local powers would rise to take over the country. Balancing this autonomy was difficult, but the kings who did find that balance, ruled well. If a central government respected the autonomy of the local governments, unity and better governance could occur. When an Iranian empire acted as confederacy its strength was at its peak.
Finally, like all polities, they rise and fall. Territory fluctuates and one government replaces another. Empires did not have set borders like the nation-states of today. This ability to change borders created conflict but also allowed for new more vigorous political entities to emerge. What is striking about the majority of Iranshahr’s empires were their abilities to recreate the previous empires borders. This continuity allowed for the creation of a macro culture uniting all the cultures of Iranshahr.
I believe if Iranshahr is to be strong, prosperous, and free again, the peoples within it need to abandon the nation-state model. This innovation that has succeeded in Europe only did so because Europe tore itself apart every generation. Many genocides occurred on the European continent, many languages and cultures were lost, and most of the devastation wrought in the last two hundred years arose from the nationalist and racist ideologies that emerged from this “civilized” continent. After nearly destroying itself, Europe finally grasped the idea of tolerance and the benefits of diversity and forced itself to coexist. However, it cannot be ignored that the nation-state worked for Europe only because of genocide and ethnic cleansing. In the coming decades Europe’s hate filled past may return as the influx of refugees and migrants turn every European city into a micro-Yugoslavia. We are already seeing this seething reemergence of racism and nationalism in the last few years.
The world has been left with one model (centralized nation-state) to work with and the western tradition of “one size fits all” is causing many regions around the world, including Iranshahr, to suffer. Genocides have occurred, nomads have been forced to settle, discrimination based on ethnicity has been rampant, oppression has been an excuse for the nation-state’s “right” to create a stable homogeneous political entity and in the process exploit those who are not similar to the ethnic group that rules the nation-state. This cannot be the only way.
The alternative model I propose is a modernized and democratized version of the empires of Iranshahr’s past. The Guarded Domains Model (named after the last empire of Iranshahr, the Qajar dynasty’s Guarded Domains of Iran) is essentially a political system more centralized than a confederacy but less centralized than a federation. The Guarded Domains can expand or contract based on annexation or secession by the collective will of local peoples represented by local territorial units. This nonviolent empire will annex territory in which the people living in that territory vote for annexation. The reversal is if a territory votes to secede then the Guarded Domains shall relinquish that territory without violence.
This political system can be defined as a constitutional republican empire with both federal and confederal characteristics. The formation of this political entity is a contract of “non-domination.” A grand constitution called the Commonwealth Constitution (see my other article on this constitution) explicitly lays out the rights and duties of all political actors from the Individual and Citizen to the central government so that there are few topics untouched and few powers not delineated. Many constitutions leave too much unsaid, which can cause trouble when powers are fought for by different political actors in a state. A constitution for a vast collection of different peoples working together would need to be very detailed. Thus, the free peoples who come together to form the Guarded Domains of Iranshahr must create and agree to a contract (like the Commonwealth Constitution) that explicitly states how the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-ideological super-state shall organize itself and how it will function. It is republican because the constitution of a state allocates duties and rights for governments and the peoples of the state. Emphasis is given to the autonomy of the local governments. In the Guarded Domains Model for Iranshahr that I envision, there are three major levels of government: Shahrestan, Satrap, and Commonwealth. These three levels form a federal relationship.
The Commonwealth is the Shahanshah, Khan, or Sultan reborn into a modern democratic government. The Commonwealth defends the Guarded Domains against foreign aggressors, but also establishes trade, taxes the provincial governments, maintains the economy and diplomatic relations, creates laws for problems that affect the whole country like healthcare or climate change, and protects the rights of the People against itself and the regional governments called Satrapies.
A Satrapy is a provincial government with considerable autonomy guaranteed by the Commonwealth Constitution. In order for a province to have Satrapy status, it must have a minimum population size of 50,000 people. For every 50,000 people, the Satrapy gets to send one representative to a branch of the Commonwealth legislature. The political structures of Satrapial governments can be quite variable, so long as the People of that Satrapy retain the power to transform their governments when their structures no longer work and such political systems do not contradict the Commonwealth Constitution. That means a Satrapial government can be a direct democracy, a constitutional monarchy, an anarchic or communistic state, or any manner of democratic republic. Every Satrapy must have its own constitution, and that document cannot contradict the Commonwealth Constitution. For example, the rights and duties given to individuals by the Commonwealth constitution cannot be limited by the Satrapy’s constitution. A Satrapy creates laws, administers justice, collects taxes from its citizens, and delegates powers to its districts called Shahrestans.
The Shahrestans are semiautonomous districts within Satrapies. They are meant to represent the small or large communities that all together make up the Satrapy. In the spirit of decentralization, the Shahrestan represents the local condition and has the power to check the Satrapy and the Commonwealth when the Shahrestan’s local interests are threatened. These districts have power over the land. The extraction of minerals and other land-based resources is decided by the majority of people within a Shahrestan. Higher governments cannot force the people of a Shahrestan to exploit resources. But should the people of a Shahrestan decide to exploit their mineral wealth, a third of the profits goes to the Shahrestan, a third goes to the Satrapy, and a third goes to the Commonwealth. A Shahrestan’s autonomy in governance depends on the Satrapial constitution it is under.
Because of the vast diversity of Iranshahr, with countless types of ethnic or religious groups, it is important to allow small communities the option for autonomy. For communities that are smaller than 50,000 people which do not want to be part of a Satrapy for fear that their culture or faith might be marginalized by merging with larger groups, there is the option to become an Enclave. An Enclave is almost identical in the powers it has compared to a Satrapy, but because an Enclave does not meet the minimum population size of 50,000 individuals, it would not have similar representation in the Commonwealth legislature. An Enclave can send a representative to the Commonwealth legislature, however, that representative would not have voting powers but could still speak and lobby for their Enclave’s interests. The reason for this inequality of powers is to discourage the proliferation of small, inefficient Enclaves. If Enclaves were given minimum representation, then their votes would be disproportionately influential compared to very large Satrapies. It is also meant to encourage cooperation between communities in forming larger, political units like the Satrapy. If an Enclave grew over time to a population over 50,000 individuals, it would then be upgraded to a Satrapy and receive the appropriate representation at the Commonwealth level.
Now so far, this Guarded Domains Model looks very similar to a federal system, which there are many federal systems around the world. This is true. A federal system is an excellent strategy for countries with diverse populations and the Guarded Domains Model borrows heavily from this type of political system. The People both elect officials for their Satrapies and for the Commonwealth. There tends to be a hierarchy of power but each government level gets different rights and duties clearly designated by a constitution. However, it must be said that diversity of Iranshahr also extends to ideology with a vast spectrum of thought regarding human rights, democracy, and diversity itself. Look at failing nation-states throughout Iranshahr right now. Within each of them, there are progressives, there are moderates, there are conservatives, and there are extremists. There is one side of the political spectrum with democratic anarchist Kurdish groups fighting for autonomy, human rights, feminism in Rojava and then there is the savage terrorists of Daesh. In between those two poles are any number of various beliefs. A purely federal system would not be able to unite Iranshahr without a major civil war between progressives and conservatives. For communities who are not ready to let go of certain traditions or hierarchies, or desire to be governed by religious law, then there is a compromise that allows these communities to be part of the Guarded Domains but retain full autonomy.
Here is where the Guarded Domains Model introduces confederalism into the political system. For groups that do not wish to be constricted by the federalism of the Commonwealth Constitution, to govern themselves in undemocratic ways, then these regions may become Vassal States of the Guarded Domains. Vassal States are completely autonomous regions that can create any form of government they wish. They are officially part of the Guarded Domains, but are governed by their own laws. Vassal States are formed by treaty between itself and the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth and a territory outside the Guarded Domains negotiate the terms of vassalization. Some terms could be that the vassal shall respect certain basic rights or allowing of commerce between vassal and the empire, etc. This contract would never include the use of the Commonwealth’s military to maintain internal stability i.e. suppressing the vassal government’s citizens if unrest occurs. The Commonwealth’s negotiations should be to steer the vassal as closely to the Commonwealth ideology as possible. Once a treaty is finalized, it cannot be renegotiated unless both the central government and the vassal allow it. Over time, it would be hoped that Vassal States become aware of the major benefits of formally joining the Guarded Domains and reform (similar to how the EU sets criteria for countries to become EU members but more stringent). This confederal system would allow for closer cooperation between former nation-states or regions so that at the very minimum, some larger political entity can reemerge within the boundaries of the old empires of Iranshahr. In theory, this could allow for trust building between democratic and more authoritarian systems that can hopefully, over time, shift traditionalist societies to embrace the promise of the Commonwealth Constitution.
The last trait of the Guarded Domains Model is the ability for peaceful contraction or expansion of borders. This model allows for the country to expand or contract based on the will of local peoples. Within the Commonwealth Constitution secession and annexation are legal but have specific actions that can be done to remove bloodshed from this typically violent political process. This idea contrasts to the modern idea that borders must be maintained at all costs. The nation-state model allows for failed states to emerge through this rigidity in thinking. If those states had the legal mechanisms for more fluid borders, then the dissolution of a state and its potential reformation would be less bloody. What makes this Guarded Domains Model interesting is that it forces cooperation between central government and local governments. Like the king of kings, the Commonwealth must find ways to entice territories to join its domain and retain its loyalty. Because violent suppression is illegal, creative compromises would have to be invented. Establishing a constitution with explicit delineation of powers between central and local governments (like the Commonwealth Constitution does) would help facilitate the cooperation needed. The fluctuating of borders in the Guarded Domains Model also just codifies a political reality that we all just need to accept; that nations rise and fall and that borders must change with the changing political needs.
The nation-state model is outdated and has been the cause of much bloodshed and chaos throughout the last 200 years and has been devastating for Iranshahr. For the West it worked because the racial militarism of those societies destroyed diversity within their boundaries. For the rest of the world that still have not fully embraced the nation-state for its obvious problems, especially Iranshahr, the Guarded Domains Model may hold the key to stability and progress.