IRAN'S CURRENT PROBLEMS
AN ADDRESS BY PROFESSOR T. CUYLER YOUNG, M.A., Th.B.
Chairman: The President, Major F. L. Clouse
Thursday, February 20, 1947
MAJOR CLOUSE: Gentlemen of the Empire Club of Canada and Ladies and Gentlemen of our air audience
One evening, just about dusk, Prime Minister Clement Atlee, while crossing Westminster Bridge, was horrified to see a man climbing over the rail with the very evident intention of leaping to his death in the Thames. Rushing forward he grabbed the man by the coat-tail and pulled him back to safety. Imagine his astonishment when he found the would-be suicide was his own Minister for Foreign Affairs. "Oh! My dear chap-you can't do thatwhatever is the matter?" And the minister for foreign affairs replied that he was utterly despondent--he felt that he had finally reached the point where a continuation of life seemed positively futile: As he looked about the world--Europe-Asia-India-Palestine and the Far East--all seemed utter confusion: There seemed to be no answer to the complex riddle and no hope for mankind. "Oh", Mr. Atlee said--"Come now, it surely can't be as bad as all that. Now I tell you what we'll do--Let you and I sit down and discuss this matter like two sensible people--and if at the conclusion you still feel as you do and are determined to destroy yourself, I'll agree not to restrain you". So they sat down and talked the matter over for five minutes--and then they both climbed over the rail and jumped in together.
The economic and diplomatic complexities at many points of the world today must seem at times to you as they do to me--to be almost beyond the point of solution in spite of the arduous endeavours of our Administrators, Diplomats and Statesmen. One of these trouble spots has been Iran--one of the oldest independent Kingdoms in the World. No one knows how many thousands of years ago Iran (or Persia) was first populated. It is claimed by some that the Garden of Eden was in Persia. It is said that there is not a square foot of that country that does not bear some relic or scar of the stirring events which have swept over it for centuries. It has been recurrently both a conquered and a conquering nation and the scene of some of the greatest battles of medieval history. Persia may be said to have been the Cradle of arts, Culture and Democratic laws. For many centuries it proved a very disputed territory, in fact, only within our lifetime have the Russian and British Empires--whose possessions touch Iran on the N. and E., agreed that its independence shall be respected and even that agreement made (I believe) only 33 years ago seems to have proven controversial in the light of more recent history.
Our guest speaker today is an outstanding authority on the Far East and Iran in particular. Born in Pennsylvania, educated at the College of Wooster--a Graduate of Princeton University-Graduate of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago--for eight years a Missionary in Iran--and presently occupying the chair of Oriental Languages at Victoria University-Prof. Young has been a student and a mentor on the far eastern situation for a lifetime. During the last war he was appointed special technical adviser on Iranian problems in the Div. of Special Information, Dept. of Strategic Services in Washington and later as Public Relations Officer of the American Embassy at Teheran.
It is my pleasure to introduce to you Prof. T. Cuyler Young, B.A., M.A., Th.B., who will tell us about "Iran's Current Problems".
PROF. T. CUYLER YOUNG: Mr. President, Gentlemen of The Empire Club of Canada, and those of you beyond on the air throughout the Dominion
I count it a privilege and an honour to be here today to share with you something of my experiences of recent years in connection with Iran, when it has been my privilege to have go over my desk, for at least two years, all the Intelligence on political and economic matters gathered by most civil and military agencies of the American Government, and by many of those of the British Government; and when for almost that period in more recent times I was in Iran itself.
With so much of a story to tell, you will pardon me for immediately jumping into the subject and sketching for you in broad outline something of the immediate background for the understanding of the current problems of modern Iran.
For a century and a half this country has been caught between the grinding millstones of imperial power, between the Russian Bear and the British Lion, to the north and to the south. Over a century of such rivalry eventually culminated in the Agreement of 1907, which guaranteed the independence of this country, and proceeded at the same time to carve out spheres of economic influence in the country, these two great powers coming together in Asia to meet the common threat of Germany in Europe.
The peace did not last long. Iran was a marginal battlefield in the war that followed, and immediately thereafter the picture changed. The Soviets withdrew into their own territory to take care of their own upheaval and revolution and satisfied themselves--to use a Stalinist phrase--with "harrassing the Imperialist rear in Asia"; while Iran almost fell into the orbit of the British Empire as a satellite state, and only avoided that by the rise of a new national spirit and movement which was spearheaded by a military officer risen from the ranks--Reza Khan, the founder of a new dynasty in Iran in 1925.
In the subsequent decade and a half of his reign he endeavoured to modernize this ancient country, and enable it to take its place in the modern family of nations. He did two things for the country, internally and externally. Domestically, he organized the country into a strong central state with ordered industrial development and increasing social reforms. Externally, he made the Iranians independent as related to their ancient rivals to the north and to the south, following what amounted to an anti-Soviet policy, whose Bolshevism he both hated and feared, and what was tantamount to a pro-British policy, although actually more than once he twisted the Lion's tail during that time. But that policy the British tolerated and accepted because of the end result of creating a strong buffer state between Russia and India.
The Shah could scarcely be blamed for not foreseeing that this playing of the two ends against the middle in the traditional pattern of Iranian policy would eventually end in disaster, for not many of us foresaw that again the Russian Bear and the British Lion would march together as they did in the summer of 1941. When Nazi Germany attacked Iran that country furnished the only land bridge of comparative security over which these two great Allies could communicate with each other and when neutral Iran refused the demands of Moscow and London, the armies of Russia and Britain occupied the country in August 1941 and regularized their position in the following January by the signing of a Tripartite Treaty in which the Powers, in exchange for the control of internal communications and foreign affairs, promised to withdraw all their occupying troops six months after the cessation of hostilities or the signing of the Peace, whichever should be earlier-which has a rather strange sound in 1947.
By this time the United States had entered the war and had become part of the picture in Iran; by the end of 1942 the Persian Gulf Service Command was organized and 30,000 G.I.s were sent into the country to reorganize and rebuild the ports, the railways and the highways for the forwarding in the subsequent years of almost four and a half million tons of supplies into Russia, to turn the tide of battle in Eastern Europe.
During that period the relationship of these three powers to each other and of each to Iran are of some interest in understanding the problem.
The Russians and the British eyed each other with considerable suspicion, that suspicion probably greater on the part of the Soviets who refused to allow the citizens or the officials of any other country to go about in the northern occupied provinces of Iran without a special visa issued by the Tehran Soviet Embassy. This rivalry was marked, of course, by correctness but by a lack of cordiality between the representatives of these powers during this period. The Russians also remained considerably aloof from the Americans, although relations between their representatives, particularly on the working level were much more cordial than between the Soviets and the British.
As might be expected, in the prosecution of a common task the Tommies and the G.I.s and their officers worked rather closely together.
In relation to Iran itself these powers followed divergent policies.
As for the British, it is not surprising to discover that the Iranians regarded them with their long-acquired suspicion. Indeed, it might be said that both these powers, the Russians and the British, are regarded by the Iranians with hate and fear, with the former dominating their relationship with the British, and the latter uppermost in their relations with the Russians. The Russian Army was excellently disciplined. It interfered little, as did Soviet officials, in the affairs of the Iranian people at the working level in the provinces; and the Iranians discovered that much of the fear that they had held for their neighbours of the north had been dispelled by these excellent relations.
On the higher levels of policy-making, however, the Soviet officials were more obvious and ruthless, demanding certain agreements with the Iranian Government that amounted to LendLease on behalf of the great neighbour of the North who was defending them against the common enemy.
The Iranians continued to be very suspicious of the British for they are practically pathological on the subject of British interference and their shrewd, subtle intrigue within the country. I tell Any Iranian friends that they are so bad on the subject that if anything untoward goes wrong with the weather they are sure to blame it upon the British. This comes because of the rivalry of these powers across so many years, and particularly because in the last generation or two the Iranians feel that the British have let them down in their 19th century defence of them against the encroachments of Russia.
The Iranians got a new idea of Americans because of the experience during these war years. They were and still are anxious to draw this third great power into the Iranian scene in order that it may serve as a balance in the age-old rivalry of power in that part of the world. Previously the Iranians had generally known missionaries, diplomats, and business men, and they got a new idea of Americans when they saw 30,000 soldiers and airmen from all over the United States living within their country. Although one might say that they were disillusioned as to the character of the Americans of the distant new world, their conceptions could be put on a more realistic basis in the future. Two important impressions emerged from that experience. First, they saw in this G.I. a certain vital buoyant spirit of real democracy; and secondly they perceived and got an impression of tremendous industrial power and wealth, as evidenced in the American war effort in that part of the world.
Now, the relations of these powers to each other in this strategic area, for such it is, are of considerable importance. If you will look at the world you will observe that the near and immediate East is a very strategic area from the point of view of economics--the communications involved on a global scale, and the tremendous oil resources that are to be found in that area. The crossroads of the air and of the land and of the sea are to be found in the near and Middle East, and the most fabulous potential oil resources in the world erupt as black gold from beneath that land bridge of the continents.
The relationships of these powers during these recent years are well symbolized in the first meeting of the Big Three in Tehran, when Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt not only issued their first common military communique looking toward unconditional surrender, but signed the Tehran Declaration in which was guaranteed the integrity of Iran and aid of an economic nature to this country which was furnishing what in that part of the world was known as the "land bridge of victory" at some considerable price, and suffering along economic lines because of inflation, a dislocated economy, military efforts within the country and tremendous spending; and the gap that had always been great between the masses of the poor and the few privileged classes at the top, become wider with the rich growing richer and the poor growing poorer.
The story of this area since the signing of that Declaration is of considerable interest in discovering not only how these powers, the Big Three, continued together on this "land bridge of Asiatic victory" in a military way, but in the building of the peace that was to follow.
It is not surprising that the initial point of departure for this struggle toward a new cooperation in the building of the peace should be the struggle for oil. For two years ago this last summer, the representatives of the British and American oil companies were in the country, trying to secure oil concessions in the south-eastern part of the land, bordering on India and the Persian Gulf.
Then in to this picture came the Vice Commissar of Foreign Affairs from Moscow, demanding sweeping exploration and exploitation rights of petroleum in the northern provinces bordering upon Russia.
At this point let me make it clear that at no time in recent years, previous decades excepted, have any American or British companies even thought, let alone tried to secure oil concessions in the northern part of Iran. Nor have their governments at any time encouraged them to do so, or have they at any time expressed themselves as opposed to the Soviet Union developing those oil resources if the Iranians wished foreign capital and skill so to develop them. This is important, in view of considerable propaganda to the contrary. The Iranian Parliament, which eventually has to approve all such agreements, got frightened at this Soviet request and passed a law making it illegal for any representative of the Iranian Government even to talk about oil with representatives of a foreign company or power until after the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iranian soil. The British and American Governments declared that Iran in so decreeing was within its sovereign rights. The Vice Commissar of Foreign Affairs from Moscow, however, frustrated in his attempt, left Tehran telling a few of my acquaintances that "You Iranians will rue the day you have made this decision for we shall find means of bringing pressure to gain our ends."
Such means were at their disposal. The chief means was the Tudeh (Masses) Party, which they proceeded to arouse to new life in order to influence the elections of the next National Assembly.
Now, to be sure, in doing so they had a very good example set them in the previous election, for had not the British of the south assured that the Russians in the north would, of course, use this party for the backing of the Leftists--seen to it that the friends of Britain were elected from the southern Provinces? So the Soviets proceeded to use this means at hand to their best advantage.
I wish I could talk all of the time about the Tudeh Party. I can only here point out one or two facts. The Party came into being with the removal of the dictatorial regime of Reza Shah after the occupation of the powers in 1941, its leaders emerging from jail where they had languished for many years. Now the published platform of their immediately organized Leftist Socialist Party would scarcely turn a hair of the members of the Labour Government, or the C.C.F. Party in this Dominion. At the center of this party, however, was a hard core of Communists, some of whom had been trained in the schools of their neighbours to the north, and it is not by the published platform, but by the actual performance of this party since two years ago last summer that one must judge them; for, since that time the party has unfailingly followed a pro-Communist, pro-Moscow line in all internal and external affairs.
The National Assembly, dominated as previously suggested by pro-British deputies and again scared of this move of their powerful neighbours to the north, proceeded to pass another law, declaring that it would be illegal to hold a national election in Iran until all foreign troops were withdrawn from Iranian soil.
Frustrated in this direction, the Soviets turned to another. If you will look at the map of Iran, you will notice that it is a crouching Persian cat in the middle of Asia, bearing the Caspian Sea on its back, with Afghanistan and India to the rear, lying on the Persian. Gulf, with its head and ears sticking straight up into the Caucasus and Russia; and that head is the Province of Azerbaijan, which is the largest, the wealthiest, the most populous province of the whole country, the economy of which elsewhere always responds to the state of the economic conditions prevailing in the Azerbaijan capital of Tabriz.
So it was the simple procedure of strangling the cat in order to make it come to terms, and a year ago last fall, a so-called indigenous revolution of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan suddenly occurred in that province. The Tudeh Party, which up to this time-for all the benevolent and benign cooperation afforded by the Soviet officials-had muddled along and not gone very far, was suddenly galvanized into new power. It had its name changed and obviously was directed by a new shrewd leadership that moved quickly across the weeks to a new goal.
It was my privilege to spend one of the most interesting weeks of my life a year ago last December in the last week of this revolution and to witness how such a revolution is consummated and how power is transferred bloodlessly from one group to another.
Ironically enough, I was flown to Tabriz in a Russian plane and returned on the day that Tabriz was taken by the recently organized provincial militia, on the very day that the new Provincial Assembly was constituted.
During that week it was my privilege to talk with a great variety of citizens, officials and groups of the regular Iranian Government, civil and military; as well as to have long sessions with the rebel leaders, and a sampling of opinion of various strata of society, the last of which was only possible under the cover of night or the equivalent by day, so terrorized was the town. The leaders of the rebellion frankly told me that they had accomplished what they had only because of the support of the occupying Soviet troops.
I came away from that week with conviction centering around two things. First of all, that there was social unrest of a real character and legitimate complaints against the central government of Tehran on the part of the suffering Province of Azerbaijan. The Tehran Government, however, had a heritage of the recent years of Pahlavi dictatorship which they had had no opportunity during foreign occupation to attack or change in any way. Secondly, I was convinced from all this that the majority of the people of the province denied that these particular leaders were their chosen voices for the articulation of this complaint against their central government. Subsequent events of the year thereafter have proven those two things to be true.
The pressure brought to bear upon the Iranian situation, however, was such that the Government in Tehran had to resign. To the Premiership then came Ahmad Qavam, the only man of leadership stature with whom the Russians would talk, who continued the complaints before the United Nations, in the first assembly in London, and who went personally to Moscow to try to arrange a deal himself. So stiff were the terms that he returned empty-handed.
The date was March the 2nd when the Soviets had promised to withdraw all their troops. United States troops had been withdrawn the 1st of January. All British troops were withdrawn on the 2nd of March. Many of us had said that whatever else the Soviets might do, they would abide by their sworn treaty; but they let us down they did not withdraw their troops but poured in more of an armoured character. They must have been quite surprised when Washington publicly advertised this fact to the world.
During the third week of March when the Iranians celebrate their New Year-the only logical time to celebrate a New Year-and when they declare a five day holiday and everybody is out for a gala time, we were sitting on top of dynamite in Tehran, not knowing which way the Russians might choose to move, whether we might have the kind of a situation where the "Democrats" from Azerbaijan would march on the government of Tehran where there would be a mass rising within the city to establish a new government, "a people's government," "friendly to the Soviet" and recognized as such; or whether the Soviet would choose to bow to the pressure in the Security Council and to choose the long range game of influencing persons and parties within Iran and abiding its time to reach its goal.
We know that it chose the latter. Premier Qavam--under pressure on the spot-made an agreement, promising the oil exploitation and development to the Soviets, in exchange for the withdrawal of Soviet troops on the 6th of May, and the promise that the Soviets would bring their moral suasive power to bear on the rebels in Azerbaijan to come to terms with the central government in Tehran.
The troops were withdrawn but Soviet moral suasive powers on the Azerbaijan leaders were not quite as forceful as other influences that had been exercised the previous December, for when Azerbaijan made an agreement with the central government in the following June it was on a considerably different basis than the seven points that had been promised by the Soviets in March. It was marked by the condition of a pro-Soviet and a pro-Tudeh policy on the part of the Premier, Qavam having taken into his Cabinet three members of this party, and having raised one of his pro-Soviet Ministers to the position of Vice-Premier. This person was really the spearhead of this whole movement, and, I am prepared to say, a stooge of the northern neighbours.
The turning point came with the crisis in the oil fields of Southwestern Iran, when the Tudeh Party, striving for control, quickly tried to organize the oilfields and when in a two-day melee they almost got control of the situation there and were only prevented when Premier Qavam ordered the Iranian Army into the area to keep order and when the British brought up a crack division from India, to sit on the other side of the nearby Iranian border. The pro-Soviet policy continued until the fall when there was a rebellion in the south on the part of the tribes who demanded the same kind of autonomous arrangement for the southern provinces that had been given to Azerbaijan.
Most Iranians, of course, believed that this was the work of the British, now busy at last. It was not so much that, as the fact that the very survival of these tribes and their importance in the south demanded an anti-Soviet policy at this juncture. This coincided with a pro-British policy. I believe that it can be said for the Labour Government in Britain that they are sincerely trying to turn a right hand corner and to refrain from internal interference in the affairs of Iran. To be sure, when such interests as those of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company are threatened, perhaps the temptation might be too much. But nonetheless, that is the attempt and that is the policy at the present time, I believe; and London was able to convince Premier Qavam that British officials had not been involved in that southern rebellion.
The result of this tribal pressure was such that the Qavam Government turned toward the right, in order to appease the forces of the south, at just that time when preparations were being made for the coming national elections and when political affairs within the country were such that Premier Qavam believed he was being double-crossed by his Tudeh friends, perhaps being taken into camp, and himself not able to take them into camp as of course he possibly expected. At the same time, coincident with that, the Shah took a strong line and let it be known he would perhaps exercise his constitutional right of dismissing his Premier and calling another to head the government if a new line were not followed We discover that Qavam threw in his weight with the Shah and the army, which was behind His Majesty and against the previous appeasement of the Tudeh and the Soviets.
To be brief and to come to the crisis more quickly, In the coming struggle for political control, one must, of course, realize that, in a country where there is 85 to 90 percent illiteracy, elections are the delivery of blocs of votes by great landlords and merchant princes; and where such things can be arranged, success can be had if only one can achieve a national organization. Premiei Qavam developed his own Democratic Party of Iran to the point where it might contest with the other nationally organized party of the Tudeh.
Demanding--as has always been the custom in Iran--that the forces of security might supervise the elections; and sending those forces into the little province of Khamseh to the east of Azerbaijan, which they had agreed to return to the central government the previous June but had failed to implement, Qavam and the Shah discovered that the army was welcomed by the open arms of the people, rising as one to oust their previous leaders.
Encouraged by this, in spite of the strongest diplomatic representations on the part of the Soviet, all political means having failed to bring Azerbaijan agreement eventually they sent their troops into Azerbaijan itself, and in 48 hours the whole regime had collapsed with the people welcoming the army with open arms, and as one all over the Province, before the army got there, taking advantage of the situation, rising and liquidating in many cases these so-called "Democratic" leaders, who they had discovered in the previous year and a day of their rule had not so much been sincerely interested in the complaints and the unrest of the masses of the Azerbaijanian as in exploiting the situation for the benefit of a foreign power, and who were willing to accept the Iranian army, saying they would rather do business with, and be governed by, known devils in Tehran than unknown angels in Moscow.
The result was that immediately the situation changed over night. I wish I had time to tell you of some of the more significant and dramatic events concerned with that. The situation in Kurdistan, the Republic that had been founded down there, and the efforts of the leaders f of months before that to get out from under this agreement that they had brought upon themselves; the interview between the Soviet Ambassador and His Majesty, the Shah, in which the Shah knew that the Azerbaijanian and Democratic Party leaders had a few hours before abdicated and fled for Russia with the Ambassador still ignorant of that fact; the subsequent effort of the Tudeh to try to salvage the situation, only to discover that public opinion, not only official but of the great masses of the people, had suddenly risen in revulsion against them, so that in subsequent days they had to go underground. In the intervening period the Soviets have closed Consulates throughout Southern Iran, reduced their investments and their personnel along trade and cultural propaganda lines in Northern Iran; for this there seems to be no other interpretation than that for the present they have decided it is too expensive a venture and have written it off until some future date.
I wish I had time to discuss the reports that come from Iran and that indicate to us, to use the words of one report, that every man, woman and child in Azerbaijan were behind the democratic party--"a statement which is nothing short of ridiculous"--and that the great majority of the people in Iran are behind the Tudeh, and are only suppressed by the tyranny of the Iranian Army.
Do not misunderstand me. There is dynamic social unrest in Iran, there is a feudal system of land tenure, an anachronism in this modern world which must disappear and there is exploitation of the masses. The situation may in the future at some time be expressed as reported; but at the present time it is a false distortion of the picture so to present it.
The result of all this is that only the first round in the struggle for cooperation of the Big Three in Iran is finished. It has been finished by the guarantee to Iran of their independence and integrity and a new opportunity to put their house in order.
And do not think that the Iranians have lost the significance of it. For the illiterate peasants lining the highways of Azerbaijan, welcoming the incoming Iranian Army did it with Hurrahs--"Long Live the Security Council and the United States."
For I am proud to say it has been my country during the last year and a half that has carried the ball in defence of the independence and integrity of Iran. I grant you that it is not wholly from altruistic motives, but from an enlightened self-interest and a vital concern in that part of the world as an area where perhaps peace may be threatened and where there may be tension and trouble between the great powers.
Yet the western democracies have but secured the opportunity of leadership and organization of peace upon a sound basis in that part of the world. For I am sure of this: If that is not followed by a real policy--and in this I speak of the announced policy of the United States Government--for building up of a strong, independent, progressive, democratic, prosperous Iran, as well as other such states in the Middle East; if there is not an implementation of that policy along the lines of real political and economic democracy, then the day of reckoning and of trouble and of tension in that great strategic and explosive part of the world has been but postponed.
There now lies before the Western Powers in that part of the world an unequalled opportunity. Time is short and it depends upon the vision and the understanding of the citizens of these western democracies, and in particular those in the capitalistic system of this continent, to demonstrate that they are equal to the privileges that are now theirs in leadership in the Near and Middle East. For, if we cannot give to these people in the development of their resources a fair equal partnership in that whole enterprise and see to it that the results and the profits of the exploitation of those resources are spent for the benefit of the people, the masses, the raising of the standards of living and of health and of education of the masses of this part of the world, eventually this dynamism that is working among the masses of the Near and Middle East will erupt into a new explosion with which we shall have to reckon in the future.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not anti-Soviet. I am no Communist. But I do believe we must be realistic in our relationships with our erstwhile Allies in this part of the world, that we must call a spade a spade, be ever aware of what is going on, be realistic in a patient but firm policy with the demonstration of power behind our intent, and with the determination that we shall come through to a cooperation with our Soviet friends in the building of a new world peace.
To give that up is to lose the peace at the very beginning. And in this area the issue may eventually be joined for it is complex and explosive in character. Here is the cradle of our civilization. God forbid that it might be the point at which the bomb would explode that would shatter that civilization to bits.