By Eric Vandenbroeck and co-workers
In 1936, Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, the German Finance Minister and President of the Reichbank paid a visit to Reza Shah. A year after, the speaker of Iranian Majlis, Hasan Esfandiari, visited Berlin and was cordially received by Hitler. Goring, Schacht and other Nazi Party members (Lenczowski, 1949, p. 161). Towards the end of 1937, Reza Shah was visited by Baldur von Schirach, the head of the Nazi Youth Organization. Through him, Hitler sent an invitation to Reza Shah to visit Germany. In the same year (1937), Reza Shah granted to German Luftansa a concession to fly passengers freight and mail across Iran's northern sector to link Berlin with Tehran and Kabul. The Shah even went so far as granting Luftansa the permission to land in an important military airport in Mashhad (Rezun, 1982. p. 25).
Editored by Major von Viban of the Political Department of the NADPA in Berlin, the very year (1933) Hitler took power the Nazis began to publish a racist magazine titled lran-e Bastan (The Ancient Iran). The journal was financed by Siemens-Schukken and a pro-Nazi Iranian intellectual named Sheikh Abdul-Rahman Seif worked as co-editor of the journal (Blucher. 1949, p. 137).
This provided the starting point for Persian nationalists to launch their attack on whoever they did not see as 'Aryan', followed by all kinds of chauvinistic magazines, journals and newspapers such as Iranshahr, Mehr-e Iran (the Love of Iran), Partow-e Iran (the Light of Iran), Anahita, Takht-e Jamshid (the seat of Jamshid. imaginary ancient Persian king) and quickly dominated the Persian literary scene.
Thus the Nazis found a favorable climate amongst the lranian elite to spread Nazi propaganda, advocating the (supposedly) common Aryan ancestry of 'the two Nations.' In 1936 then, the Reich Cabinet issued a special decree exempting Iranians from the restrictions of the Nuremberg Racial Laws on the grounds that they were 'pure blooded Aryans' (Lenczowski, 1944, p. 160). And in 1939, the Nazis provided Persians with what they called a German Scientific Library. The library contained over 7.500 books carefully selected "to convince lranian readers...of the kinship between the National Socialist Reich and the "Aryan culture" of Iran" (Lenczowski, 1944, p. 161). In various pro-Nazi publications, lectures, speeches, and ceremonies, parallels were drawn between the Shah of Iran and Hitler, and praise the charisma and virtue of the Fuhrerprinzip (Rezun, 1982, p. 29).
In turn the Iranian government sponsored conferences in which Nazi lecturers were invited to deliver speeches on race, ethnicity, culture and history. Among lranian intellectuals, those who demonstrated pro-Nazi tendencies were awarded titles and honorary degrees. Reza Khan's regime went so far as accepting the emblem of the swastika as a permanent decoration of art in Iran, and Hitler became anational hero of Iranians and all so-called 'oppressed Aryan peoples. For instance, a journal titled "Nameh-ye Iran-e Bastan" (the Journal of Ancient Iran) identified Hitler as "one of the greatest men in the world": Adolph Hitler, this great scholarly man of the Aryan race, has destroyed a 200-years old plan of the Jews against nationality in the world, against nationalism, and particularly the Aryan races on earth...and has created a new day for the new world. (Nameh-ye Iran-e Bastan,1933, p.1)
Regarding the Nazi symbol of the swastika, the journal wrote in issue 28, Mordad,1933: It is truly rejoicing to see that the symbol of Iran from 2000 years before Christ has today become a symbol of pride for the Germans, who are of one race and ethnicity with us (cited in JAMI, 1983, pp. 74-5)
Again, in issue 35, Mehr 1333, in an article titled "Why We Are Superior?" the journal wrote: the sign of Aryan triumph (swastika) is everywhere Aryan and respectable, be it on ceramics of Isfahan's Masjid-e Shah or on the columnn of Darvazeh Dovlat in Tehran; or be it placed on the flag of Germany or embellish the arm of Hitler:' From ancient times the Black dress has been an exclusive property of the Iranic race.
If other nations have also made it their official dress or- for instance the Fascists of Italy have made it their specific symbol, one must know that based on the absolute role of history this has been an idea of the Iranians who are the father of all civilized Aryan nations. (cited in JAMI, 1983, p. 75)
In fact the ideology of Aryan racial superiority was nurtured and advocated by a vast majority of Persian elites and intellectuals. Even members of non- Persian minority groups were eager to identify themselves with the Nazis and the 'superior Aryan race.' For example in the following passage Baygi a member of the Turkic-speaking Qashqayi community talks about the way he and his young friend considered Iran to be the representative of 'the superior race' in Asia, just as Germany was supposed to be in Europe. His depiction of Nazi mentality, of 'superior Aryan race' and their connection to Iran is a reflection of how the majority of Iranian intellectuals viewed the world at the time. “Germany was our age-old and natural ally, Love of Germany was synonymous with love for Iran. The sound of German officers' footsteps was heard on the shores of the Nile. Swastika flags were flying from the outskirts of Moscow to the peaks of the Caucasus Mts. Iranian patriots eagerly awaited the arrival of their old allies. My friend and I would spin tales about the grandeur of the superior race. We considered Germany the chosen representative of this race in Europe and Iran its representative in Asia. The right to life and role was ours. Others had no choice but submission and slavery. We discarded the old maps and remade Iran into a country larger than what it was in Achaemenian times.” (Baygi, 1989, cited in Sprachman, 2002, pp. 203-4)
It was also shared and commonly nurtured by a great majority of poets, writers, artists, and intellectuals who mainly carne from the privileged ethnic and linguistic background. So, when the allies deposed Reza Khan in the August of 1941 due to his pro-Nazi activities, racism and Aryanism did not disappear. On the contrary, they continued to grow and flourish and be it to a lesser degree, as we shall see they still exist today.
In June 1941, German forces began their offensive against the USSR. Soon after the offensive, the Soviet and British diplomatic missions in Tehran demanded the expulsion of a large number of Germans, accusing the Iranian government of sheltering a German fifth column (Lenczowski. 1949. p. 168).
On August 25, 1941, Soviets from the north and the British from the south invaded Iran. On September 16, 1941, the allied forces deposed Reza Shah and pUl his young son Mohammad Reza in power. On the following morning, September 17, British and Soviet forces entered Tehran. Reza Shah's brutal army, which was so fierce and brave in killing dissenting Iranians and plundering non Persian communities, capitulated in the face of the occupying forces. And Reza Khan fled the country, seeking exile first on the island of Mauritius and then in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he died on 26 July, 1944.
His son, the young Mohammad Reza faithfully continued to improve his father's dream of a Fars-centered, aggressive nationalism, a powerful centralized state, and a superficially emulative westernization of the country. The first serious challenge to his rule came through the demands of various nationalities and ethnic groups for equal treatment, cultural rights, and the right for self-determination. Among various ethnic movements. those of the Azeri and Kurdish nationalities posed the most important challenge to the new shah' s post WWII rule. Their struggle eventually culminated in the formation of the Democratic Republics of Azerbaijan and Kurdistan in 1945.
It is an undisputable fact of Iranian politics even today that whenever there has been a weakening in the authority of the central government, various regional and ethnic movements have erupted throughout the country. This redefining notions of national/geographic boundaries in Iran was already the case immediately before the takeover of Reza Khan, when the Qajar dynasty was at its weakest. It was the ease during the First World War, and most certainly, during the Second World War. Similar to previous eases, the breakout of World War II brought about the conditions for various National, ethnic and anti-racist sentiments to explode.
On August 25, 1941, the Red Army invaded northern parts of Iran, pushing the Pahlavi regime's military out of Azerbaijani territory. Following these changes, an ethnic organization called The Azerbaijan Society was formed and started publishing a journal titled Azerbaijan. The journal was written in Azeri and Farsi languages and aimed to expose the racist nature of the Pahlavi Government.
In October 1943, Mir Ja'far Pishevari, a seasoned journalist and political activist, was nominated from Azerbaijan to the 14th Majlis of Iran. He was a 50-year-old native of Azerbaijan who had spent most of his life in Baku and had returned to Iran after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Due to his anti-government activities, he had been imprisoned by Reza Shah's regime for 12 years. After Reza Shah's fall, Pishevari, along with other political prisoners, bad been set free. Upon his freedom. he had come to Tehran and started publishing a newspaper called Azhir (the Siren). The people of Tabriz had voted for him unanimously. Despite his victory in Azerbaijan, the Iranian Majlis had rejected his candidacy on the grounds that he was a communist, a traitor and disloyal to Iran's territorial integrity. Khoyi, another Azerbaijani deputy from the city of Tabriz, had met the same fate as Pishevari.
The Azeris viewed, the parliament's rejection of their elected candidates as a direct insult to their integrity and their nationality (JAMI. 1978). Following his rejection by the parliament, Pishavari entrusted the editorship of Azhir to friends and returned to Azerbaijan in August 1945 to form the Azerbaijan Democratic Party. On November 23, the Central Committee of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party issued a proclamation defining its aim as the obtainment of complete autonomy for Azerbaijan. The party made it clear that autonomy for Azerbaijan did not mean secession from Iran. The people of Tabriz warmly welcomed the formation of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party.
Following the ADP's proclamation, a regional Congress of Azerbaijan that was composed of party supporters, designated a 39-membered commission to organize elections to a national assembly. On December 12 the provincial National Assembly was formally inaugurated in Tabriz. Tbe assembly was composed of 101 deputies, a11 democrats and Azeri nationalists from various backgrounds such as workers and laborers, who were determined to demand autonomy for Azerbaijan Atabaki, 1993, p. 129).
As its first important task on the day of inauguration, the National Assembly proclaimed the autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan and designated a government under the premiership of Mir Ja'far Pishevari, the founder of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party. The newly formed government of Azerbaijan announced that the autonomous state would be run on 'democratic principles'. It issued a program that granted women the right to vote; it announced that private property would be respected but that the government would distribute to landless farmers state-owned lands as well as the lands of reactionary landlords who had run away from Azerbaijan, as a result of the ongoing movement. Further, the government assured the Azerbaijani people that 'traitors and reactionaries' would be purged from the gendarmerie; that a 'people's army' would be formed from local militia groups; and that Azeri- Turkic would be the official language of the state.
Simultaneously with the Azerbaijani movement, a Kurdish movement took place in the province of Kurdistan, west of Azerbaijan. On December 15, 1945, the Democratic Party of Kurdistan proclaimed a Kurdish People's Republic. On January 21, 1946, Qazi Mohammad was elected to the presidency of the Republic. The Kurdish Republic set out to follow the democratic reforms and events taking place in the neighboring Azerbaijan. While sending observers to the Azerbaijan parliament, the Kurds maintained their distinct identity and insisted on the independence of the Kurdish Republic. Following the negotiations between the two republics, a treaty was signed on April 23, 1946, between the Kurdistan and Azerbaijan governments. While emphasizing the mutual respect, cooperation and brotherhood between the two oppressed nations, the treaty provided for military alliance, exchange of diplomatic missions. fair treatment of minorities and common diplomatic action towards the Pahlavi regime in Tehran (See Roosevelt. 1947).
The Azerbaijan Democratic Government quickly proceeded to carry out its plans. As a major step in eliminating feudal oppression, it started a land distribution program all over the Republic. On 16 February 1946, the National Assembly of Azerbaijan passed two important bills regarding the land reform. Based on these bills, lands belonging to reactionary feudals who had opposed the national government, or who had left Azerbaijan due to the democratic movement, were to be distributed among landless farmers. Considering the fact that the majority of Azerbaijani feudal lords had already run away from Azerbaijan in the process of the democratic movement, this distribution amounted to a significant portion of agrarian land (See Mehrban, 1982; Atabaki, 1993).
Moreover, the bills asked for the redistribution of all state-owned lands, along with the water rights, rivers, springs and ganats, among the peasants who lived on those lands and who cultivated them. The reform resulted in the distribution of over 380.000 hectares of land amongst more than one million landless peasants (Atabaki, 1993). Following the two above-mentioned bills, another bill was passed that dealt with the system of 'sharecropping.'
Traditionally there was no viable agreement between the peasant and the landlord regarding the peasant's share of the crop. Normally it was left to the benevolence of the landlord to decide what to give to each peasant in exchange for his cultivation of the land. The new bill guaranteed to each farmer a minimum share of the crop which he produced on a landlord's land. Now the farmer's share rose from about 20 per cent in the old system to more than 43 per cent (Atabaki, 1993. p. 150).
Considering the fact that about 75 per cent of the people in Azerbaijan were farmers at the time (Kazemi, 1980. p.14), the land reform testified to the profoundly popular nature of the Azerbaijani Democratic Movement.
In the course of less than one year, the Democratic Government was able to lay the foundation of a modem educational system in Azerbaijan. In terms of education and pedagogy. the National Government completely revolutionized Azerbaijani society. The first provincial university in Iran was built in Tabriz. Thousands of schools were built in small towns and villages all over Azerbaijan, accompanied by the introduction of compulsory primary education for all kids beginning at the age of six. For the first time,Azeri- Turkic became the official language in Azerbaijan and was taught in Tabriz University (the only university in Azerbaijan), schools, and adult education centers, replacing Farsi.
For the first time in the history of the Middle East also, universal suffrage was introduced. Women gained the right to elect as well as be elected. The ADP encouraged women to take active parts in the socio-political life of the republic. As a result, women participated in various positions from administration to teaching to working in the hospitals and even to serving in the national army of Azerbaijan (JAMI, 1978, pp. 289-95). Important measures were taken to secure the rights of the workers and emphasize the obligations of the employers, landlords, and owners-operators of small workshops. A labor code was introduced that limited the work to eight hours a day; introduced minimum wages; forbade child labor, acknowledged trade unions; and established the right of the workers to social benefits (ADP.1946).
William Douglas, an American Jurist who was traveling in Azerbaijan shortly after the democratic movement, notes: "I learned from my travels in Azerbaijan in 1950 that Pishevari was an astute politician who forged a program for Azerbaijan that is still enormously popular" (1951. p. 43).
Pishevari's program was so popular-especially land reform, severe punishment of public officials who took bribes, and price control--that if there had been a free election in Azerbaijan during the summer of 1950, Pishevari would have been restored to power by the vote of 90 per cent of the people. And yet, not a thousand people in Azerbaijan out of three million are communists. (Douglas. 1951. p. 50)
Or in the words of Swietochowski (1995): "Azerbaijan had achieved more in one year than it had during the twenty years of the Pahlavi regime" (p. 149). Although the rate and pace of changes were faster in Azerbaijan than they were in the neighboring Kurdish Republic, Kurdistan was embracing many cultural, political, and socioeconomic transformations hitherto unknown in the region. Similar to the Azerbaijani situation. the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, led by Qazi Mohammed, was at the forefront of these transformations. On November 8th. 1945, the party publicly announced its program and long-term policies:
1. The Kurds to be free and independent in the management of their local affairs and to receive Kurdish independence within the borders of Iran.
2. Be allowed to study Kurdish and to administer their affairs in the Kurdish language.
3. Government officials definitely be appointed from among the local population.
4. Members of the
Kurdish Provincial Council to be elected immediately in
accordance with the Constitutional laws, to supervise all public and Government works.
5. By the passing of a general law, the grievances existing between the farmer and the landowner to be amended and their future positions defined.
6. The Democratic Party of Kurdistan will make special efforts to create complete unity and brotherhood between the Azerbaijan nation and the people who live in Azerbaijan (Assyrian, Armenians, and so on).
7. The Democratic Party of Kurdistan will fight to take advantage of the boundless natural wealth of Kurdistan and to improve the agriculture. Commerce, education and health of Kurdistan. in order to seeure economic and moral welfare for the Kurds.
8. We wish the nations who live in Iran to be able to work for their freedom and for the welfare and progress of their country. (DPK. 1945; see also Koohi-Kamali, 2003. p. 106).
In addition to various economic, political, and cultural developments, the Kurdish Republic signed an imponant agreement of Friendship and Cooperation with its Azerbaijani counterpart. This agreement further highlighted the common goal of the struggle of two oppressed peoples and their common desire for autonomy and self determination, based on this mutually signed treaty:
will be exchanged between the two National Governments in
such places as may be considered necessary.
2. In specified parts of Azerbaijan which are inhabited by Kurds. Kurds will take part in the administrative work of government and in specified parts of Kurdistan which are inhabited by Azerbaijanis, Azerbaijanis will take part in the administrative work of government.
3. In order to solve the common economic problems of the two nations a mixed Economic Commission will be formed and the heads of the two National Governments will endeavor to put into practice the decisions of this Commission.
4. Cooperation between the military forces of the Azerbaijan National Government will be organized and in time of need the military forces of each government will mutually render each other a11 necessary assistance.
5. If any negotiating with the Tehran Government becomes necessary it shall be undertaken after agreement between the views of both the Azerbaijan and Kurdistan National Governments.
6. The Azerbaijan National Government will as far as possible create the necessary condition for the development of the national language and culture of the Kurds living in Azerbaijan and the National Government of Kurdistan will likewise as far as possible create the necessary conditions for the development of the national language and culture of Azerbaijanis living in Kurdistan.
7. The two contracting parties will take joint steps to punish any person who attempts to destroy or smireh the historic friendship and national, democratic brotherhood of the Azerbaijan and Kurdish peoples. (cited in Koohi-Kamali, 2003, pp. 114-115)
This joint treaty of friendship and cooperation was a major blow to the dominant Aryanist ideology which considered the Kurds an Aryan people and looked upon the Azeris as a non-Aryan, non-Indo-European, Turkic people. This experience once again showed that, being subjected to a common oppression is capable of creating a common zone of resistance against racism and colonialism. It also showed that divisions such as Aryan and non-Aryan were artificial constructs created to secure the privileged position of the dominant group particularly by dividing the oppressed communities and turning them against each other. When it came to destroying the marginalized communities' autonomous nationhood, civic rights and democratic freedoms, the Indo European speaking Kurdish community was as much a target as the Turkic speaking Azeri community.
It was and is only through cooperation, sharing, and the common struggle of these oppressed communities that the racist and colonialist system in Iran can be defeated.
The Triumph of Racist Order and the Collapse of the Republics.
The elections for the 15th Majlis of Iran were to begin on December 7, 1946. At this time, Soviet forces had already left Azerbaijan and the Soviet consulate in Tabriz was pushing the ADP for negotiation and peaceful settlement of the issues with the Iranian government. Qavam-us-Saltaneh, the Iranian prime minister, after promising a major oil concession to the USSR. had returned to Tehran from his Moscow trip. The oil concession had been granted to the Soviets on the condition that it be ratified by the future Majlis.
The oil concession did not only mean establishing of a strong economic relationship between the two countries, more importantly, it meant the security of Soviet borders in Iranian northern zone, particularly in the rivalry with the British and the newly arrived Americans. The Soviets were very concerned about the security of their borders with Iran and a beneficial oil concession meant that their active presence in northern and north-western parts of Iran would be guaranteed. After extorting the oil concession, now the Russians needed its ratification. And this called for a speedy election processes to the new Majlis. Qavam had made it dear that the elections would not be held unless the government was in a position to supervise thema11 over the country, including Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. The existence of autonomous Azeri and Kurdish republics had thus become an obstacle for the ratification of the Russian oil concession. Without considering any ethical, ideological, or political consequences of their actions, the Russians decided to side with the Pahlavi regime, pressing the republics to surrender.
In a famous letter written to Pishevari on May 8, 1946, the Joseph Stalin threatened the Azerbaijani leader over the latter's diversion from what Stalin called "the Lenin's path." He advised the Azeri leader that the advantage of Azerbaijan's working class, as well as the working peoples of Iran and the whole world, would only be maintained through ADP's cooperation with Prime Minister Qavam-us-Saltaneh (Araz, 1996).
In the meantime, the British, now working hand in hand with Qavam, had engineered another scenario in the south. In September 1946, a puppet Qashqayi chief in the south led his Qashqayi tribes to capture a number of towns and villages. They then issued a list of demands asking for autonomy similar to that of Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. They made it dear that if the government did not destroy the autonomous republics, the Qashqayis would capture more towns and would constitute their own autonomous republic. The ADP considered the Qashqayi rebellion a scenario orchestrated by the central government in order to crush the autonomous republics (JAMI, 1978, pp. 374-97).
Through the Qashqayi rebellion, the British manifested their strength to the Iranian ruling elite and, thereby, further emboldened Qavam-us-Saltaneh in his determination to destroy the autonomous republics (Lenczowski, 1949, p. 307).
Around mid-October, Qavarn formed a new cabinet and reached an agreement with Qashqayi chiefs in the south. promising them that he would use a11 his power to protect Iran's territorial integrity, and (0 return Azerbaijan and Kurdistan back to the mother land. Meanwhile, George V. Allen, the newly appointed American Ambassador to Iran, made it dear that his government was supportive of Prime Minister Qavam's 'democratic decisions' and would do whatever it could to implement them (Lenczowski, 1949. p. 308).
On the pretext of supervising parliamentary elections, on November 24. 1946. Qavam ordered the troops to march into Azerbaijan. On December 3,Pishevari assured the Azerbaijnis that the national army of Azerbaijan was ready to defend the republic. He made it clear that there would be "death but no return" to colonial conditions in Azerbaijan.
On December 10. Qavam's army reached Azerbaijani territory. The first confrontation took place in the outskirts of Mianeh. The Azerbaijani army pushed the invading forces back and advanced towards Zanjan (JAMI, 1978, p. 415).
Nevertheless, two days later, the ADP, under heavy pressures from the Soviets, decided to give up resistance and allow the lranian army to enter into Azerbaijan. The premier of Azerbaijan, Ja'far Pishevari, rejected the Soviet demand to surrender and argued in favor of resistance (JAMI. 1978. pp. 416-17).
The other Central Committee members of ADP followed the Soviet line. Pishevari resigned from the government and left for Baku. On December 12, 1946, the remaining ADP leaders called on all Azerbaijanis to abandon resistance and allow the Iranian army a peaceful entry into Tabriz. Tbe army, on the other hand, was anything but peaceful. Conscious and assured of non-resistance on the part of Azerbaijanis, the army, accompanied by gangs and thugs hired and armed by local landlords, entered Azerbaijan and savagely massacred its unarmed people.
When the Persian Army returned to Azerbaijan, it came with a roar. Soldiers ran riot, looting and plundering, taking what they wanted. The Russian Army had been on its best behavior. The Persian Army--the army of emancipation--was a savage army of occupation. It left a brutal mark on the people. The beards of peasants were burned, their wives and daughters raped. Houses were plundered; livestock was stolen, leaving death and destruction behind. (Douglas, 1951, p. 45)
After the invasion of Azerbaijan the Iranian army marched into the neighboring Republic of Kurdistan. The leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Qazi Mohammad. was hanged in Mlrabad, along with his supporters. Mass executions of participants, sympathizers, and those suspected of supporting the national movements were performed in public, followed by the burning of books, magazines and pamphlets published in ethnic languages. Shortly after the fall of national governments, the “Book-Burning" ceremonies became a source of celebration and entertainment for the members of the dominant group and their invading army. The Aryanist ruling elite made it clear that the “Book-Buming" rituals were conducted for the purpose of sealing the destiny of Azeri Turkic in Iran once for all (Heyat 1983,1990; Berengian. 1988; Haqqi. 1993; Farzaneh, 1999).
The invading army remained in Azeri and Kurdish areas and continued the persecution of supporters of the national movements. After a few years, the Iranian Government declared a national amnesty and military rule was lifted. The Iranian chauvinistic propaganda, along with a relentless campaign against the democratic movements, however continued. Eyewitnesses and Azerbaijani sources have estimated the number of people killed in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan during the occupation to be over 50.000 (Hassanpour, 1994; Fardoust, 1992).
Although the movements were brutally suppressed, they made a lasting impact in the history of the struggle of Azeri and Kurdish peoples for self-determination. The Democratic Parties that led the two movements are active today and pursue the aims and goals of the fallen republics. The experience gained from the two republics has been an unprecedented experience in self-governance and nation-building. They were an inseparable link in the successive struggles for democracy, freedom, and independence-the Babi movement (1848-53); the tobacco movement (1890-92); the Constitutional Revolution (1905-11); the revolutionary struggles of Azerbaijan, Gilan, and Khurasan (1918-21); the oil nationalization movement of 1951-53; the 1967-68 uprising of Kurdistan; the 1978-79 revolution; and the autonomy movement of Kurdistan (since 1979). The two movements were distinguished from their predecessors by their distinctively nationalist character. (Hassanpour, 1994, p. 98)