Bibi Maryam Bakhtiari, First Iranian Female Military Commander

Bibi Maryam Bakhtiari, (b. 1847, d. 1937) was a revolutionary and active member of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1909. Her father was Hossein Gholi Khan and his brother was Sardar (Commander) As’ad Bakhtiari.

Bibi Maryam was a strong supporter of her brother Sardar As’ad in capturing Tehran and the triumph of the Constitutional Revolution on July 16, 1909.

Bibi Maryam was an educated and enlightened Iranian woman, a pioneer in demanding equal rights for women, and one of the very early activists for freedom.  She was also a campaigner for the Iranian national interests against the occupation forces from Russia and Britain during WWI.

Bibi Maryam learned military warfare and shooting skills at a young age (like other Lor tribal and nomadic forces) and became a military commander.

Bibi Maryam was opposed to the despotism of Mohammad Ali Shah, and in various letters, telegrams and lectures, she educated and mentored the leaders of the Bakhtiari tribes to fight the Qajar tyrants.

Before the conquer of Tehran, Bibi Maryam secretly entered Tehran with a few fighters and settled in Hossein Saghafi’s house. They used the roofs facing the Baharestan parliamentary building to position themselves against the government forces. When Sardar As’ad entered Tehran and fought with the government forces, Bibi Maryam and her forces attacked the government army from the roof tops.

Because of her brave fight and her technical military skills in disarming the government troops, her popularity among the Bakhtiari tribes increased and she was given the honorary rank of a Sardar (a high commander).

Bibi Maryam opposed the British and Russian meddling in Iran during WWI. During that difficult era, she used her house in Isfahan to provide refuge and safe house for the combatants against the British and Russian forces in Iran. Although some of the Bakhtiari leaders supported the British, she opposed them. She collaborated and cooperated with other Bakhtiari leaders in constant raids against the British forces. The popularity of Maryam in the region was so much that when the Russians conquered Isfahan, they stormed her house in Isfahan and confiscated all of her properties.

Some of the political activists and freedom fighters, such as Allameh Dehkhoda, Malek os-Shaara Bahar, and Vahid Dastgerdi who were persecuted during the WWI by the Allied forces, especially the British, took refuge in Bibi Maryam’s house in the Bakhtiari tribes.

Commander Maryam Bakhtiari’s fight with the British continued until the August 1919 agreement and the March 1921 coup.

Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, the Governor of Fars Province, opposed the British coup of 1921 and after being dismissed from the Fars Province government, he went to the Bakhtiari area, and for some time was the guest of Sardar Maryam. Dr. Mossadegh always mentioned and commemorated the greatness and courage of Bibi Maryam Bakhtiari.

Bibi Maryam Bakhtiari is one of the few Iranian women fighting for Iran and is one of the first Iranian women to write a memoir of her life, in which she documented the suffering and struggles of the Iranian women and the political conditions in Iran at that time.

Bibi Maryam’s son Ali-Mardan Bakhtiari was executed by Reza Pahlavi in 1934. Three years later in 1937, a very sad Bibi died and was buried in the famous Isfahan cemetery, Takht-e Foulad.