Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Gordon P. Merriam of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs

Participants: Mr. Herrick Young, Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, New York, N. Y.
Mr. Murray47
Mr. Alling48
Mr. Merriam
[Page 375]

Mr. Murray observed that the abdication of Reza Pahlavi49 and other developments in Iran resulting from the international situation,50 had recently given rise to an entirely different state of affairs, and that it appeared desirable to discuss them in a purely informal and preliminary manner with a view to determining whether the Board’s educational work in Iran might not be resumed.

The following were advanced by Mr. Murray as some of the principal factors for consideration:

The sum of $300,000 has been paid by the Iranian Government toward acquiring the Board’s educational properties. While this is a substantial amount, it nevertheless falls far short of the total amount of $1,200,000 agreed upon as the purchase price. It is unlikely that the Iranian Government will repudiate the remainder of this debt as the installments fall due, but it is highly improbable that further payments can be made. The new Government is weak, the tribal districts have risen, and the Soviets occupy the richest provinces, in which it will doubtless be impossible for the Iranians to collect taxes in any appreciable amount. In other words, the sum already received is all that can or will be paid.
With the disappearance of the authoritarian régime of Reza Pahlavi, which was highly nationalistic and had a strong element of xenophobia, a more liberal attitude toward foreign institutions is to be anticipated. The present Shah received education abroad, and the present Cabinet was chosen with a view to appeasing the British and the Soviets.
An important negative element in the situation is the fact that the Iranians would hardly readmit American schools if to do so would entail the opening of Russian schools. One of the major reasons for the elimination of the American schools was the fact that so long as they were in Iran the Russians could claim an equal right to have schools. With the Russians actually occupying large areas in Iran, the Iranians are bound more than ever to refrain from giving the Russians any excuse to establish schools. In consequence, it might be advisable as an interim measure for the Americans to operate ostensibly under the control of the Iranian Government.
A second negative factor is the possibility of a military debacle in Russia, in which case the British might not find it possible to make a stand in Iran to the north of, say, Isfahan. In such an event the Presbyterian teachers, should they return, would find themselves in German-occupied areas and in a difficult position in view of the progressive worsening of German-American relations. On the other hand, the Iranians might be eager to hand back the educational properties to the Americans because under the American ownership the chances of preserving them in the face of either Russian or German occupation would be enhanced. The fact was brought out that at the present time the Russians are using for their headquarters the Board’s former educational properties at Tabriz.
A small number of American hospital workers are still carrying on in Tabriz, and the arrival of teachers would reinforce them. Moreover, their special and continuing relationship to students and parents would enable the teachers, in the light of their long experience of Iran, to obtain intimate and accurate knowledge of what is going on. In short, the resumption of American educational work in Tabriz, in particular, would have a marked restraining influence upon Soviet separatist and ideological activities in that area, of which much has already been heard.

By way of comment on the foregoing, Mr. Young said that he and his colleagues had been thinking along somewhat the same lines. The Iranians had cut up into building lots the property lying between Alborz College and the main avenue on which it fronted. This land was extremely valuable and he was inclined to consider it even an offset to the amount of $300,000 which had been paid in.

Mr. Young thought the main question which the Board would have to answer would be whether the prospect would justify the necessary investment in personnel. The educational personnel formerly employed in Iran was now pretty well scattered, but a small nucleus was still present in Iran. He thought there might be a disposition on the part of the Board to wait until March when the next payment became due. If it was not paid, the Board might feel justified in making a move looking to the repossession of the properties.

Mr. Murray stated that in his opinion it was desirable to look at the matter in a much broader way. Iran had now fallen upon evil days. The Presbyterians in the United States had a long record of help and friendship to the people of Iran, and the question now was whether the Presbyterians would not wish to be of assistance in Iran’s hour of need, provided further exploration of the matter should make it clear that a resumption of educational assistance was feasible at the present time. Iran badly needed education, the existing white-collar class was likely to be hard hit, and there was excellent human material in the tribes which had never been properly developed.

Mr. Young said that he would be glad to discuss these questions with his colleagues and that for the purpose of further discussions in the Department he would like to bring Dr. Dodds51 with him.

It was agreed that any formal step in the matter should take the form of a request from the Iranian Government.

  1. Wallace Murray, Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs.
  2. Paul H. Alling, Assistant Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs.
  3. Shah of Iran, who abdicated September 16, 1941.
  4. See pp. 383 ff.
  5. J. L. Dodds of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions.