WORLD WAR II AND THE AZARBAIJAN CRISIS
At the outbreak of World War II, Iran declared its neutrality,
but the country was soon invaded by both Britain and the Soviet
Union. Britain had been annoyed when Iran refused Allied demands
that it expel all German nationals from the country. When Hitler
invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Allies urgently needed to
transport war matériel across Iran to the Soviet Union, an operation
that would have violated Iranian neutrality. As a result, Britain
and the Soviet Union simultaneously invaded Iran on August 26,
1941, the Soviets from the northwest and the British across the
Iraqi frontier from the west and at the head of the Persian Gulf
in the south. Resistance quickly collapsed. Reza Shah knew the
Allies would not permit him to remain in power, so he abdicated
on September 16 in favor of his son, who ascended the throne as
Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Reza Shah and several members of his
family were taken by the British first to Mauritius and then to
Johannesburg, South Africa, where Reza Shah died in July 1944.
The occupation of Iran proved of vital importance to the Allied
cause and brought Iran closer to the Western powers. Britain,
the Soviet Union, and the United States together managed to move
over 5 million tons of munitions and other war matériel across
Iran to the Soviet Union. In addition, in January 1942 Iran signed
a tripartite treaty of alliance with Britain and the Soviet Union
under which Iran agreed to extend nonmilitary assistance to the
war effort. The two Allied powers, in turn, agreed to respect
Iran's independence and territorial integrity and to withdraw
their troops from Iran within six months of the end of hostilities.
In September 1943, Iran declared war on Germany, thus qualifying
for membership in the United Nations (UN). In November at the
Tehran Conference, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister
Winston Churchill, and Prime Minister Josef Stalin reaffirmed
a commitment to Iran's independence and territorial integrity
and a willingness to extend economic assistance to Iran.
The effects of the war, however, were very disruptive for Iran.
Food and other essential items were scarce. Severe inflation imposed
great hardship on the lower and middle classes, while fortunes
were made by individuals dealing in scarce items. The presence
of foreign troops accelerated social change and also fed xenophobic
and nationalist sentiments. An influx of rural migrants into the
cities added to political unrest. The Majlis, dominated by the
propertied interests, did little to ameliorate these conditions.
With the political controls of the Reza Shah period removed, meanwhile,
party and press activity revived. The communist Tudeh Party was
especially active in organizing industrial workers. Like many
other political parties of the left and center, it called for
economic and social reform.
Eventually, collusion between the Tudeh and the Soviet Union
brought further disintegration to Iran. In September 1944, while
American companies were negotiating for oil concessions in Iran,
the Soviets requested an oil concession in the five northern provinces.
In December, however, the Majlis passed a law forbidding the government
to discuss oil concessions before the end of the war. This led
to fierce Soviet propaganda attacks on the government and agitation
by the Tudeh in favor of a Soviet oil concession. In December
1945, the Azarbaijan Democratic Party, which had close links with
the Tudeh and was led by Jafar Pishevari, announced the establishment
of an autonomous republic. In a similar move, activists in neighboring
Kordestan established the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad. Both autonomous
republics enjoyed the support of the Soviets, and Soviet troops
remaining in Khorasan, Gorgan, Mazandaran, and Gilan. Other Soviet
troops prevented government forces from entering Azarbaijan and
Kordestan. Soviet pressure on Iran continued as British and American
troops evacuated in keeping with their treaty undertakings. Soviet
troops remained in the country. Prime Minister Ahmad Qavam had
to persuade Stalin to withdraw his troops by agreeing to submit
a Soviet oil concession to the Majlis and to negotiate a peaceful
settlement to the Azarbaijan crisis with the Pishevari government.
In April the government signed an oil agreement with the Soviet
Union; in May, partly as a result of United States, British, and
UN pressure, Soviet troops withdrew from Iranian territory. Qavam
took three Tudeh members into his cabinet. Qavam was able to reclaim
his concessions to the Soviet Union, however. A tribal revolt
in the south, partly to protest communist influence, provided
an opportunity to dismiss the Tudeh cabinet officers. In December,
ostensibly in preparation for new Majlis elections, he sent the
Iranian army into Azarbaijan. Without Soviet backing, the Pishevari
government collapsed, and Pishevari himself fled to the Soviet
Union. A similar fate befell the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad.
In the new Majlis, a strong bloc of deputies, organized in the
National Front and led by Mohammad Mossadeq, helped defeat the
Soviet oil concession agreement by 102 votes to 2. The Majlis
also passed a bill forbidding any further foreign oil concessions
and requiring the government to exploit oil resources directly.
Soviet influence diminished further in 1947, when Iran and the
United States signed an agreement providing for military aid and
for a United States military advisory mission to help train the
Iranian army. In February 1949, the Tudeh was blamed for an abortive
attempt on the shah's life, and its leaders fled abroad or were
arrested. The party was banned.
Data as of December 1987