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Window on Eurasia — New Series: ’75 Years Ago This Month, Southern Azerbaijan Revolted Against Iran,’ Caucasus Post Recalls


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Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 23 – Governments and policymakers often invoke anniversaries of past events that provide them with political benefits as the Kremlin has done with World War II. But in Russia, the focus on such anniversaries, especially if they are round ones (ending in 5 or 0), sometimes has a life of its own.

            That makes it difficult to know whether someone is using the anniversary to send a message or whether the desire to mark the anniversary does not reflect any such intention, even though some readers will assume that it does because of its apparent applicability to current events.

            In the wake of the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan that has already echoed among the 20 million plus ethnic Azerbaijanis of Iran, the Caucasus Post has published an article about what it describes as “a forgotten event of Azerbaijani history” (capost.media/special/75-let-nazad-yuzhnyy-azerbaydzhan-vosstal-protiv-irana/).

            Yewvgeny Vyshegorodsky, a journalist at that publication, recalls that “in November 1945, an uprising began in Southern (Iranian) Azerbaijan with the goal of separating it from Iran.” The USSR supported the rising in the hopes of gaining oil concessions from Tehran and blocked the Iranian government from rapidly restoring control.

            During World War II, the USSR and Great Britain occupied Iran to ensure transportation routes to India and from the Indian Ocean into the Soviet Union as well as to prevent Germany from gaining an ally in the shape of the Tehran government. When the war ended, Britain withdrew quickly, but the Soviets did not, hoping to pressure Tehran.

            Leaders of the Azerbaijan SSR saw a chance to expand their republic and promoted the idea of an Anschluss, but Moscow wanted to exploit the Azerbaijanis of Iran only to the point of gaining their own separate country, as is clear from the secret July 6, 1945 Politburo decision, Vyshegorodsky continues.

            On September 13, 1945, the Iranian government appealed to the USSR, the US and Great Britain for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Iran. Great Britain agreed, but the USSR refused to set a date. And on November 18, 1945, Azerbaijanis in Northern Iran rose in revolt. Tehran tried to send its forces to suppress it, but Soviet troops blocked their advance.

            By December 11, all of Iranian Azerbaijan was under the control of the revolt. But pressure from the West and the US in particular at the request of the British, finally led the Soviet forces to withdraw. And on November 21, 1946, Tehran announced that Soviet troops had left and that it had retaken the north.

(For more details, see David Nissman’s The Soviet Union and Iranian Azerbaijan: The Use Of Nationalism For Political Penetration(Westview, 1987). For the ways in which Tehran may read such articles, see https://jamestown.org/program/karabakh-declaration-opens-way-for-iran-to-play-expanded-role-in-caucasus/.)

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Window on Eurasia — New Series