Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs ( Henderson ) to the Assistant Secretary of State ( Dunn )
Press and radio reports, quoting Iranian Government spokesmen, state that a large-scale uprising has broken out in Azerbaijan province in northwestern Iran. These reports have already been partially confirmed by the Embassy and the Iranian Chief of Staff.
Azerbaijan province, as well as the remainder of northern Iran, has been occupied by Russian forces since 1941. During this period, political agitation, including demands for electoral and social reforms by the Iranian Government and even demands for autonomy for Azerbaijan province, has been in evidence. The development of this agitation has been aided by the fact that the Russian authorities have treated the northern zone as a closed area, to which they permit access by foreigners and Iranian officials only with special permission. They have refused to permit movement by or reinforcement of the Iranian Gendarmerie and Army in the legitimate pursuit of their security enforcement duties, and have interfered with the administration of the province by Iranian Government officials. The newly formed Democratic Party, to which press reports attribute a major role in the present disturbances, has unquestioned Soviet support.
Russian and British forces invaded Iran in August, 1941, after failure of Reza Shah Pahlevi to respond satisfactorily to demands for the expulsion of German fifth columnists. On January 29, 1942, a treaty of alliance was concluded between the British, Soviet and Iranian Governments. With respect to the presence of British and Soviet forces in Iran, this treaty specifically states, “It is understood that the presence of these forces on Iranian territory does not constitute a military occupation and will disturb as little as possible the administration and the security forces of Iran, the economic life of the country, the normal movements of the population and the application of Iranian laws and regulations” (art. 4 (i)). Moreover, the British and Soviet Governments pledged themselves jointly and severally “to respect the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence [Page 431] of Iran” (art. 1). This pledge was reiterated in the Anglo-Soviet-American Declaration on Iran, signed in Tehran December 1, 1943 by President Roosevelt, Marshal Stalin and Prime Minister Churchill. This declaration stated “The Governments of the United States, the U.S.S.R., and the United Kingdom are at one with the Government of Iran in their desire for the maintenance of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iran.”
Should an autonomy movement in Azerbaijan meet with success, the loss of the province would adversely affect Iran’s economy and might lead to further fragmentation of the country. The population of the province is approximately one-fourth of the total population of Iran. It is the major food-producing province and one of the major industrial areas.
Apart from its serious internal aspects, the situation has broader implications. It is fraught with dangerous possibilities, since it inevitably affects the British line of communications and the empire position of Great Britain throughout the area. In recognition of the possibility of such a situation arising, this Government has taken an increasing interest in Iran in the last few years. Our policy of assistance to the Iranian Government has been based not only on desire to assist a friendly nation but also has been designed to prevent Iran from becoming a threat to Allied solidarity and international security. To decrease the danger of an inspired uprising, we have consistently pressed for the complete withdrawal of Allied forces from Iran at the earliest possible date.
Apart from our interest in the international security aspect, this country has a direct interest in this problem because of our oil, economic, and strategic interests in this area.