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Regime Change in Iran, 100 Years Ago

How the Russians make the kings in Persia

Monday 22 February 2021

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At the last Iranian presidential elections, candidate Ghalibaf declared wanting to be the Reza Khan of the Islamists (of the Hezbollahis). In light of what I recently wrote about him and his privileged position with Putin to become the successor to the Supreme Guide, it is appropriate, in this anniversary period, to recall who Reza Khan was and how the Russians made him the Shah of Iran.

The Hunting Party
The exhausted Persian Lion caught in the crossfire of King George, the Tzar, the Caliph and the Kaiser.
Click to enlarge.

One hundred years ago, a certain Colonel Reza, nicknamed Reza Khan, at the head of the Cossack troops (the King’s guard), headed to Tehran to overthrow by force a government he considered to be responsible for his country’s debacle. Four years later, the Iranian Parliament consecrated him king, ending the Qadjar dynasty and opening a half-century interlude in the history of Iran: the Pahlavi dynasty. This change of regime was a compromise between the British and Russians to make Iran a neutral zone, similar to Austria after the Second World War.

At this early 1921, when the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles and the Spanish Flu were becoming a thing of the past, Persia (Iran) was still under British occupation and its economic situation was more than disastrous. The British were very concerned about the civil war in Russia between the Bolsheviks and the Whites they supported. It was from the Port of Anzali on the Caspian Sea that they had departed to take Baku. But things had finally turned in Lenin’s favour and the Red Army had not only recovered Baku, but had also just landed at Anzali, forcing the British, commanded by General Ironside, to withdraw behind the Alborz Mountains. We were on the verge of an open war between Russians and English on the Iranian soil.

Iran had been de facto under foreign occupation for more than fifteen years. In 1904, as soon as William Knox d’Arcy’s drilling finally yielded some oil, the British secretly dispatched troops to occupy the province of Khuzestan to guard the wells. In 1906 they took advantage of the weakness of the Tzar as a result of Russia’s revolutionary state to formalise their military presence in Iran under the guise of the Southern Police. At the same time they forced the Qadjar King to endow the country with a constitution, allowing a more British-friendly bourgeoisie to participate in political power.

In 1907, the Tzar rid himself of his internal troubles, returned to the international scene and forced the British to sign an agreement dividing Persia and Afghanistan into zones of influence and a neutral zone serving as a buffer between the two powers. He went further and in 1909 helped the Qadjar King to storm the Parliament and put an end to the constitution. This provoked a popular uprising in the provinces. Militias were formed to come and take Tehran, overthrow the King and put his minor son in his place.

The Tzar’s response was the occupation of Tabriz. Thus, from 1910, Iranian Azerbaijan was under Russian occupation. When in 1914 war broke out in the world, Iran had already been militarily occupied by the British and Russians for a long time.

With the war, the Turks and the Germans added to the picture.

The Turks penetrated Azerbaijan to confront the Russians and the Germans sent their Lawrence, Consul Wilhelm Wassmuss, to arm the Tangsir and Qashghai tribes and lead the guerrilla war against the British.

In 1916 things began to go wrong for the Russian Army against the Turks. They left Azerbaijan and allowed the British to occupy northern Iran, a zone of Russian influence according to the 1907 agreements mentioned above.

Eventually, the revolution swept away the Tzar, and Russia from being an ally became Britain’s enemy.

Thus, in this month of February 1921, the Red Army was triumphant and very threatening for the British.

Colonel Reza did not ignore this weakness of the British in order to dare to attack Tehran occupied and protected by them. There is not even any doubt that he was in contact with the Bolsheviks and only with their support did he embark on an a priori suicidal journey.

Therefore, General Ironside was compelled to negotiate with Colonel Reza, otherwise he would have suffered an embarrassing humiliation by the Red Army that was piling up behind the Alborz Mountains. The result of these negotiations was the following compromise between the Russians and the British: General Ironside allows Colonel Reza and his troop of Cossacks to take Tehran on 18 February and carry out a coup d’état. The Qadjar Shah keeps his throne, but a new government is appointed. At the head of this government, there will be a man from the British side (Zia’eddin Tabatabaee) and Colonel Reza, a protégé of the Russians, becomes Minister of the Army and heads both the police and the military. As for the British plan to make Iran a protectorate like Iraq, it will be definitively dropped. Moreover, the Russians and the British agreed to immediately withdraw their troops from Iranian soil.

However, Lenin did not entirely respect this agreement since he organised a communist revolution in the province of Gilan by setting up a puppet government led by a man named Kuchik Khan.

For his part, in the midst of his social rise and growing ambitions, Reza Khan did not stop contacts with the Soviets. His future powerful court minister, Teymourtash, served as negotiator. This aristocrat, having studied in St Petersburg and mastering the Russian language, paved Reza Khan’s way to the Peacock throne.

Teymurtash meets the Soviets
(Click to enlarge.)

Finally Georgy Chicherin, the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs in the Soviet government, persuaded Lenin, as did ambassador Rothstein, to let down the Iranian Bolsheviks (the Jangali movement led by Kuchik Khan) and instead to support Reza Khan, arguing Persia to be too backward country for Marxism.

Although strongly opposed to Reza Khan, the British did not have much choice in the face of the Soviet favourite. Therefore they accepted that in 1925 the Pahlavi dynasty replaced the Qadjars and Reza Khan became Reza Shah.

Let us add that the ultimate project of the Soviets remained nevertheless to make Iran a communist country. It is for this reason that Reza Shah’s very friendly relations with Stalin worsened in 1935 when he discovered that his confidant Teymurtash was spying for Moscow and that an underground communist party created by the Soviets was operating in Iran.

Today, a similar scenario is unfolding with Ghalibaf. Once in power, will he, like Reza Shah, make the anti-Islamic turn? This is certainly what Putin will expect from him. ■

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