“All the assumptions on which… this policy [was]
based turned out to be wrong…. British domestic
opinion would prove hard to persuade that seeking
the return… of a fortress on the Black Sea merited
the risk of a war with Russia.”
William Hague on the Anglo-Russian Crisis (1791)
Oxford historian, Mark Almond, recalls the lessons from history once taught by Foreign Secretary, William Hague, in his study of Pitt the Younger’s mishandling of what he called the “Ochakov fiasco” in 1791.
The current imbroglio over Crimea may be America’s first crisis with Russia in the Black Sea, but it is not Britain’s. Even the Crimean War (1854-56) was not Britain’s first face-off with Russia. More than two hundred years ago as the French Revolution convulsed Western Europe (rather as the Arab Spring has sent shock waves across the Mediterranean), Catherine the Great expanded her hold on the Black Sea coast by seizing Ochakov, not far from the new city of Odessa. Under the supervision of the exiled French Duc de Richelieu who acted as governor, the Tsarina’s architects would soon erect as a naval base to match Sebastopol across the Black Sea in the Crimea which she had already annexed in 1783.
With her major rival, France, apparently rendered impotent by revolution since 1789, William Pitt’s Britain seemed the only superpower – at least to itself. Whitehall was as convinced in 1791 as the White House seems to be today that a combination of global reach via the Royal Navy with the City of London’s financial hegemony would both cause the Tsarina to back off and the other European states to fall into line behind Britain’s demand that Russia retreat from its southern Ukrainian conquests from the waning Ottoman Empire.
Convinced of that the West could cow the East with its combination of advanced military technology and commercial wealth even in a theatre so far from its sources of power and so close to Catherine’s, William Pitt turned the Ochakov issue into a first-rate crisis by demanding Russia withdraw or else.
But when push came to shove, the British government’s assumption that everyone in Europe would fall into line behind its bellicose approach proved as illusory as the sanctions-first strategy-later approach of David Cameron’s government today. The echoes of today’s crisis are obvious – except it seems to the author of an excellent biography of the Younger Pitt described as a “fiasco”.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, set out a succinct account of Britain’s over-reach in 1791 back in 2002 when he was in the political wilderness. His diplomacy, albeit as the junior partner of the USA, suggests that he has forgotten everything about what lessons might be derived from Whitehall’s past performance in the great game for influence in the Black Sea region.
The EU summit in Brussels on 6th March, 2014, should have had painful echoes of Pitt’s brutal learning curve in 1791. Don’t trust the private assurances of “allies” that they will cut off their noses to spite Russia’s face, nor believe over-optimistic British diplomats telling you that everyone is on board and the Russians are too militarily weak and economically backward to face up to a Western challenge in their own backyard.
Looking back two centuries later, Hague described how the Old Etonian prime minister of the day presumed that his European partners would fall into line behind London’s publicly-proclaimed policy to sanction Russia for its occupation of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. But Europe’s capitals were far from firmly resolved to incur Catherine the Great’s wrath:
“While Prussia joined in pressing the British demands, the Dutch were unwilling to risk a war, the Swedes demanded a subsidy, the Spanish were not prepared to help and the Austrians became markedly less cooperative and were actually playing a double game with the Russians.”
Pitt’s majority in the House of Commons sank because he could not persuade MPs why they should risk a war “for a faraway fortress of which they had never before heard.” Because the Russians had not harmed a hair on a British head in 1791, public opinion like Parliament could not get its mind around the need for military threats. Pitt complained that emotions were not running high enough to overrun his MPs scepticism about war in the Black Sea. Raison d’état did not cut much ice in Britain: “They can be embarked in a war from motives of passion, but they cannot be made to comprehend a case in which the most valuable interests of the country are at stake.” Maybe, but the mercantilist elite which provided so many MPs then had a very good understanding of self-interest and could be ruthless about asserting Britain’s interests when they made pounds-and-pence sense. What they could not be won over to was a war for alleged strategic interests well beyond their commercial reach and in fact against a major trading partner like Russia.
Rather as phone intercepts have embarrassed Victoria Nuland – “F*ck the EU” – and Catherine Ashton over the apparently pro-opposition “snipers” in Kiev, so in 1791 the Russian acquisition of British establishment inside information from Robert Adair, an ally of Pitt’s bête-noire Charles James Fox, revealed to Catherine II’s government that – surprise, surprise – the British had been making contradictory promises to Austria and Turkey to keep them both on board – so both drifted away from London on the news.
Pitt had to back down, but, in a lesson for the blundering Bullingdon Club bully in 10 Downing Street today, a colleague noted, “He hoped means might be found to manage matters so as not to have the appearance of giving up the point.”
Diplomacy is often best when it provides a smokescreen for a retreating from a foolish policy. Maybe if William Hague could act like his hero Pitt, he could persuade the White House to declare Vladimir Putin’s permission of a referendum on the future of Crimea to be a triumph of Western ideals to spread democracy and so a sign of Russia’s climb-down! But don’t expect too much: Hague like his American patrons has approached real-time crises with an open mouth, so thinking first before shooting the West in the foot would require reflecting on his own experience as well as remembering the history which appears under his name.
 See William Hague, William Pitt the Younger (Harper Perennial: London, 2005), 285.
 Cameron’s main unilateral sanction has been to kick away the UK government’s crutch from our para-olympians going to Sochi for the Winter Games this weekend.
 Quoted in Hague, William Pitt, 287.
Military historian Max Hastings and education minister Michael Gove say we should should blame the Germans for World War I and celebrate the victory for ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. Archaeologist Neil Faulkner disagrees.
Max Hastings has his new book on 1914 out already (Catastrophe: Europe goes to war, 1914). In it he pulls no punches. Even the dustcover proclaims the forthright revisionist message.
‘He [the author] finds the evidence overwhelming that Austria and Germany must accept the principal blame for the outbreak. While what followed was a vast tragedy, he argues passionately against the ‘poets ‘view’ that the war was not worth winning. It was vital to the freedom of Europe, he says, that the Kaiser’s Germany should be defeated.’
UK secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, writing in the Daily Mail, takes the same view:
The First World War may have been a uniquely horrific war, but it was also plainly a just war… The ruthless social Darwinism of the German elites, the pitiless approach they took to occupation, their aggressively expansionist war aims and their scorn for the international order all made resistance more than justified.
So there you have it. Just as the rulers of Britain and France argued at the time, it was all Germany’s fault. Never mind that Britain had the largest empire in the world, ruling over one-fifth of the world’s land mass and one-quarter of its people. Never mind that Britain’s navy was almost the twice the size of Germany’s. Never mind that Britain had formed a military alliance with Russia and France, leaving Germany’s rulers feeling corralled and threatened in an arms race they were losing.
This is not to exonerate the Kaiser. It is simply to say that he was no worse than the rulers of Britain and France. All were imperialists and warmongers. All were prepared to plunge the world into an industrialised war for the power and profit of a few. The vast majority of humanity – the vast majority of the people these rulers were supposed to represent – had no interest in the war. The conscripted workers and peasants of Europe were the victims of a millionaires’ war.
‘No poet,’ says Hastings, ‘ever identified a route by which the British, French, and Belgian people could have escaped the conflict, save by accepting the Kaiser’s domination of Europe.’ This claim appears in a Daily Mail article in June this year headlined Sucking up to the Germans is no way to remember our Great War heroes, Mr Cameron‘.
But this is nonsense. There was a Europe-wide movement against war. Just days before Germany’s declaration of war there were 100,000 anti-war demonstrators on the streets of Berlin. Across Germany, during four days of mass protest in the final days of peace, there had been no fewer than 288 anti-war demonstrations involving up to three-quarters of a million people.
Across Europe that last summer of peace, as millions of people took action against their own rulers, there was a widespread mood of internationalism and solidarity. But when the leaders of all the mainstream parties lined up in support of the war effort, they reinforced a tide of jingoism that the killed the anti-war movement and swept the people of Europe into internecine carnage.
But that mood would resurface, and when it did, beginning in 1917, it would be charged with bitterness at the slaughter and impoverishment, becoming a giant wave of revolution crashing across the continent, ending the war, toppling tyrants, and shaking the foundations of the entire social order.
‘Far from dying in vain,’ continues Hastings, ‘those who perished … between 1914 and 1918 made as important a contribution to our privileged, peaceful lives today as did their sons in World War II.’
And Michael Gove agrees:
‘For all our mistakes as a nation, Britain’s role in the world has also been marked by nobility and courage. Indeed, the more we reflect on every aspect of the war, the more cause there is for us to appreciate what we owe to our forebears and their traditions.’
These are extraordinary claims. The British and the French used their victory in 1918 to re-divide the world, helping themselves to German colonies, hacking off chunks of German territory in Europe, and imposing crippling reparations payments on the German people.
Meantime, to control their enlarged empires in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, they gunned down protestors demanding democracy and independence. This imperialist carve-up – ‘a peace to end all peace’ – created the preconditions for the Second World War two decades later.
The cost of the First World War was 15 million dead. The cost of the sequel was 60 million dead. More human beings have been killed by war in the last century than in the whole of the rest of human history put together.
The immense potential of industrial society to provide the goods and service we all need has, again and again, been turned into its opposite: means of destruction and waste on an unprecedented scale.
This is not something to be rationalised into a choice between ‘good’ empires and ‘bad’ empires; a choice between ‘democratic’ Britain and France as against ‘autocratic’ and ‘expansionist’ Germany. This is to trivialise historical events, reducing them to little more than a banal discussion about who sent the final ultimatum, who mobilised first, who fired the first shot.
Max Hastings and Michael Gove want us to side with one empire against another. He wants us to wave a Union Jack, celebrate a British victory, and promote the lie that the 15 million dead of the First World War were ‘a necessary sacrifice’.
What is required is an analysis that roots tragedies like the First World War, and all the other imperialist conflicts of the last century, in the madness of a world divided into competing corporations and warring nation-states.
No Glory – the real History of the First World War
Neil Faulkner’s new pamphlet published by No Glory in War
More details and how to buy…
Neil Faulkner is a First World War archaeologist and editor of Military History Monthly. He is one of the founders of the No Glory in War campaign.
The effect of the Parliament’s decision not to attack Syria last year is still reverberating through the Western military establishment.
Let’s not forget that the decision was forced on the political elite. In the days before the vote the BBC was openly speculating that any such decision would re-ignite Iraq war levels of protest. They cited opinion polling going back a decade to show that anti-war opinion had become entrenched in the UK.
Many MPs in the lobbies did not hide the fact that they were embarrassed at the Iraq vote in 2003 and were unwilling to follow the government into another deeply unpopular conflict.
More recently the Guardian has reported that the Ministry of Defence is worried that multi-culturalism in Britain has made the country systematically averse to war: ‘The MoD is still taking stock of the surprise decision of the House of Commons last summer to reject military intervention to punish President Assad of Syria for the use of chemical weapons against rebel forces’.
In fact the situation is so serious that it is impacting on the defence review, ‘A growing reluctance in an increasingly multicultural Britain to see UK troops deployed on the ground in future operations abroad is influencing the next two strategic defence reviews, according to senior figures at the Ministry of Defence’.
In the wake of the Syria vote, Robert Gates, US imperial Grandee and former Defense Secretary and director of the CIA who served under both Bush and Obama, has said the defence spending cuts in the UK mean that the ‘special relationship’ is over and that Britain ‘won’t have full spectrum capabilities and the ability to be a full partner as they have been in the past’.
This combination of a crisis in public support for military adventures and the usual push-back from the military over defence cuts is casting a new light over the debate about the 100 year commemoration of the First World War.
David Cameron has long made it clear that huge set-piece public spectaculars are part of the government’s way of getting through the recession. The Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics were part of this ‘no bread and circuses’ strategy.
The First World War commemoration was initially thought of mainly in this register, although it was always also going to be about refurbishing the standing of the military as well.
But now, as neo-con Michael Gove’s recent intervention into the debate has made clear, it’s become an ideological offensive bound up with the post-Syria vote crisis of interventionism. Remember Gove was incandescent at the loss of the Syria vote, publically and abusively bawling out Labour MPs in the House of Commons corridors because the vote, he said, had ‘got to him’.
So make no mistake, this will be a full scale British establishment operation.
The Queen will be at a special event at Glasgow Cathedral on 4th August because the city is hosting the Commonwealth Games which end the day before. The plan is that across the country, flags on public buildings will fly at half mast on the anniversary of the outbreak of war. The day will end with a vigil at Westminster Abbey to be ‘attended by scouts, cubs and brownies’ as well as members of the Armed Forces. This will be replicated around Britain in churches, town halls, and other venues.
Ministers hope this will allow people to mark the conflict which ravaged the continent ‘with sorrow and with pride’ and have set aside £10 million just for funding art, drama and music projects linked to the war, from a total government funding for the commemoration of £50 million. According to the Daily Telegraph, a government source said ‘We are keen to ensure that this [will be] a centenary programme that the country can come together on’.
The BBC are planning major, all year coverage. There will be 1,000 books published this year alone on the First World War.
The anti-war movement must meet this ideological operation by the government just as it has met its previous pro-war propaganda efforts. The No Glory campaign, initiated by the Stop the War Coalition, has made a great start. Its initial letter is approaching 15,000 signatures, its website is drawing thousands of visitors every week, the No Glory pamphlet, The Real History of World War One, is a best seller and thousands of pounds were donated in the first few hours of its financial appeal to help fund its events and activities.
But we need to do more. No pro-war article, speech or event should go unchallenged. We need to get into the colleges and schools where these commemorations are being planned. We need to sustain the cultural events that are critical of the war.
The image of the First World War has been established in the popular mind as the most disastrous war ever. The Tories and the establishment hate that fact. And they are out to reverse it.
We cannot let that happen. The more the dead and injured of the First World War are forgotten in a rush of chauvinistic nostalgia, the more likely it is that dead will pile up in future conflicts. This is not just a battle to remember the past correctly. It’s about political priorities in the present. It’s about keeping the peace in the future.
It is sometimes instructive to learn a bit of history to reflect on current events because if we do not learn from history, we are bound to repeat the tragic history of useless wars. This came to me as I read about the escalating situation in Ukraine, where the US and western countries invested heavily to dislodge the Ukraine (strategically located on the Black Sea) from Russian influence. The coup that toppled the elected government in the capital and Russia’s strong influence in the mostly Russian Speaking Crimean peninsula of the Ukraine threatens to ignite another Crimean war (a prelude to many more European wars).
The Crimean war 1854-1856 was a devastating and useless conflict that was started with a with an incident here in Palestine (then under Ottoman Rule). The British were in the midst of an industrial economic boom (at least for the elites, the workers were essentially enslaved). To fuel this industrial boom, Britain (and to a lesser degree France) were aiming to expand their empires. The weak Ottoman empire seemed a target. Russia’s influence on the religious Holy Places was high. This was understandable considering that most Palestinian Christians at the time and even still today are Orthodox (especially around the holy sites of Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem).
Russian intellectuals had gone through a period of Westernization before the 1850s and then grew disillusioned with the west and its hypocrisy. Those who considered themselves Patriotic Russians thus became increasingly oriented towards Czar Nicholas and the Orthodox Church and increasingly opposed to the Western Encroachments on the borders of Russia.
When France instigated a provocation by Catholic supporters challenging long standing Orthodox traditions at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, a fury of high level diplomatic lobbying ensued with threats and counter threats that escalated to the Crimean war. Alyce Mange wrote that “The Crimean War (1854-1856) was a war fought ostensibly for the preservation of the Ottoman Empire but actually for the curtailment of Russian encroachment.”
The war was costly to all sides concerned even though the Russian empire lost to the alliance of the three empires (Britain, France, Ottomans). But the origin of the problem remained here in Palestine where competing Russian, British, and French interests remained until the first draft of the Sykes-Picot agreement (which divided their influences). Russia withdrew and so it remained for Britain and France to divide the spoils of WWI in the “Near East/Middle East” (I prefer the term Western Asia to these colonial terms). In parallel, there was the growth of the world Zionist movement that got from France and Britain the infamous Jules Cambon and Arthur Balfour Declarations (1917) partially as quid pro quo for the Zionists lobbying the US to enter the war.
Fast forward from 1854 to 2014 and we see again the beating of war drums for hegemony with triggers in Palestine. The circumstances differ but I am afraid this could also degenerate into a useless devastating war.
The Zionist movement was unhappy about the lack of progress in their efforts (using others) to destroy the Iran-Syria-Lebanon axis. A big part of their failure to achieve success in pushing for more conflicts (as they did with Iraq) is due to the fact that Russia (and China) refuse to go along and realized that the end-game is total Western hegemony in Western Asia (with Israel assuming even more power over Western foreign policies). The Russians and Chinese also took lessons from the disastrous US attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan and NATO attacks on Libya which had terrible consequences (including spreading radicalism and terrorism around the area). They calculated that they must draw a line.
The Zionist movement became involved (as they do frequently) because their key members are in the US State Department and also heavily influential in France and Britain. They thought that we must break Russia’s will to resist encroachment in Western Asia.
Ukraine seemed like an ideal “soft belly” for Russia. It seems possible that reports such as this one on Israelis involved in the protests in Kiev may have some basis. But most Israeli meddling is not done via Israelis but via their now obedient people working for the US government.
It is not a coincidence that protests escalated in Ukraine and Venezuela. I do not know what will happen, but suggest that all wars are useless and counterproductive (to all sides); the history of the 1854 Crimean war should give us pause.
What I suggest is that the talk about democracy by Western leaders like Kerry, Obama, Hollande and company is wearing thin. Most people know that democracy is not achieved by coups against elected governments (whether in Egypt or Ukraine) and certainly not done on behalf of countries who support dictatorships everywhere that are friendly to their interests (see Saudi Arabia as a glaring example).
For the good people of Ukraine (both in the East and the West), do not let your country be used for power politics again. But also I suggest that they remember who their neighbors for the next few hundred years will be (hint it is not Israel or the US or England). But even those countries will not remain immune from destabilization and change if they do not learn to share this planet earth and respect other people. Remember might does not make right and even great empires fell before. This brings me back to the point I always emphasize” READ HISTORY (objectively and not tribally).
A report says that the flood-stricken areas in the southern coasts of Britain have been left without planned defenses due to the UK government’s austerity cuts.
The report, published by the Guardian on Sunday, said that the flood-affected areas, including Somerset Levels and Yalding in Kent, have not received planned defense measures, which total many millions of pounds, due to the funding cuts.
Among the undelivered defenses are protection schemes near the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset and also on the stretch of Devon coast at Dawlish, where a part of a railway fell into the sea earlier this month due to the severe weather conditions.
In addition, a 2.2-million-pound project was halted in the flood-stricken Somerset Levels. The project aimed to improve flood management on the Parret River, the main waterway draining the area, and the nearby Sowy River.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is under fire for cutting flood defense spending by almost £100 million a year since it came into power four years ago.
Cameron’s government has also been criticized for its poor handling of the flood crisis.
A poll published on Sunday by the Independent revealed that six out of ten British voters believe the government has failed to get a grip on the flooding crisis.
Large parts of Britain continue to remain on high alert, with severe flood warnings still in place along the Thames and in Somerset.
Heavy rains have inundated villages in Britain’s southwestern area of Somerset Levels, with thousands of acres having been underwater for more than a month.
According to the estimates by the Environment Agency, it will take 26 days to pump all the water out of the Curry Moor area of the Levels once it stops raining.
LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande agreed Friday to beef up the two countries’ cooperation in defense, nuclear energy and climate policy.
Britain and France inked the cooperation deals at the UK-France Summit 2014 held in British royal air force station RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire of southeast England.
The two countries issued a communique setting out plans for joint investment in the procurement of defense equipment, joint training of armed forces and continued development of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, an Anglo-French joint military training and operation program.
“Britain and France are natural partners for defense cooperation,” British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said, adding that the agreements reached at the summit would enhance the “interoperability” of British and French forces.
According to the agreements, the two countries are set to launch a two-year-long joint feasibility study program with an investment of 120 million pounds (about 197.4 million U.S. dollars) for a future Anglo-French combat air system.
Britain and France also agreed to invest in Britain’s major nuclear weapons base, the Atomic Weapons Establishment, to carry out safe testing of British and French stockpiles and achieve greater sharing of technical and scientific data for joint research.
The two nations pledged to join hands in tackling security issues, such as terrorism and drug and arms trafficking, in north and west Africa, as well as building on international peacekeeping missions in Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic.
In addition, the two sides declared their commitment to developing safe nuclear energy, collaborating on new nuclear power stations, combating climate change and pushing for European Commission’s domestic emissions reduction agenda.
“We reiterated our resolve to work together towards achieving an ambitious and legally-binding agreement at the next COP (UN Conference of the Parties on Climate Change) in Paris in 2015,” said Edward Davey, British Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.
ICC | December 2005
When the House of Commons was debating how much to increase the time limit for detention without trial the question of torture came up. Officially this was limited to the nice considerations of whether it was all right to send people to places where torture is used and whether Britain can use information collected by the use of torture in other countries. This discussion gave an impression of democratic Britain as the home of civilised behaviour where the very idea of torture is repugnant to our legislators – unlike, say, the US with its secret CIA jails and where Cheney has been labelled the ‘Vice President for Torture’. In reality, the British state has a long history of using and developing a whole range of torture techniques.
Interrogation in Northern Ireland
Between 1971 and 1975 more than 2000 people were interned without trial by the state in Northern Ireland. Picked up without having any charges laid, or knowing when they were going to be released, detainees were subject to all sorts of treatments, some coming under the heading of ‘interrogation in depth’. Apart from prolonged sessions of oppressive questioning, serious threats, wrist bending, choking and beatings, there were instances of internees being forced to run naked over broken glass and being thrown, tied and hooded, out of helicopters a few feet above the ground. The ‘five techniques’ at the centre of the interrogators’ work were: sensory deprivation through being hooded (often while naked); being forced to stand against walls (sometimes for over 20 hours and even for more than 40); being subjected to continuous noise (from machinery such as generators or compressors for periods of up to 6 or 7 days); deprivation of food and water; sleep deprivation for periods of up to week. Relays of interrogation teams were used against the victims.
The British state tried to discredit reports of torture. Stories were fed to the media about injuries being self-inflicted – “one hard-line Provisional was given large whiskies and a box of king-size cigarettes for punching himself in both eyes” (Daily Telegraph, 31/10/77). There were indeed instances of self-harm, but these were either suicide attempts or done with the hope of being transferred to hospital accommodation.
Then the press said that any measures were justified if they helped to ‘prevent violence’. They contrasted “ripping out fingernails, beating people with steel rods and applying electric shocks to their genitalia” (Daily Telegraph 3/9/76), examples of “outright brutality”, with the measures used in Northern Ireland.
In 1978 the European Court of Human Rights said that the techniques Britain had used caused “intense physical and mental suffering and … acute psychiatric disturbance”, but that while this was “inhuman and degrading treatment” it didn’t amount to torture. This was a victory for the British state because it was keen to use means that would cause the maximum distress to the victim with the minimum external evidence. They had been previously referred to the European Court over torture in Cyprus, but in fact British interrogators had been using various combinations of the ‘five techniques’ for a long time. When the army and RUC approached Northern Ireland’s Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner, for formal approval “They told him that the ‘in-depth’ techniques they planned to use were those the army had used … many times before when Britain was faced with insurgencies in her colonies, including Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, the British Cameroons, Brunei, British Guyana, Aden, Borneo, Malaysia and the Persian Gulf” (Provos The IRA and Sinn Fein Peter Taylor).
By any means deemed necessary
British intervention in the Malayan ‘emergency’ in the 1950s has been held up as a model of suppression and ‘counter-insurgency’. Apart from the camps established, the murder squads, use of rigid food controls, burning down villages and the imposition of emergency regulations, the use of torture was an integral part of British operations. With 650,000 people uprooted and ‘resettled’ in New Villages, or put in concentration camps, there was also a programme of ‘re-education’.
British action in Kenya in the 1950s also showed what British civilisation was prepared to do. At various times over 90,000 ‘suspects’ were imprisoned, in either detention camps or ‘protected villages’. At one point Nairobi (population 110,000) was emptied, with 16,500 then detained and 2,500 expelled to reserves. Assaults and violence, often to the point of death, were extensive. As in Malaya, ‘rehabilitation’ was one of the goals of the operation. More than 1000 people were hanged, using a mobile gallows that was taken round the country. Overall, maybe 100-150,000 died through exhaustion, disease, starvation and systematic brutality.
Recent revelations in The Guardian (12/11/5) concerned a secret torture centre, the “London Cage”, that operated between July 1940 and September 1948. Three houses in Kensington were used to interrogate some 3500 German officers, soldiers and civilians. Still in use for three years after the end of the war, interrogation included beatings, being forced to stand to attention for up to 26 hours, threats of execution or unnecessary surgery, starvation, sleep deprivation, dousings with cold water etc. “In one complaint lodged at the National Archives, a 27-year-old German journalist being held at this camp said he had spent two years as a prisoner of the Gestapo. And not once, he said, did they treat him as badly as the British.”
There is a continuity in the British state’s actions. The Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the ‘London Cage’ received an OBE for his interrogation work in the First World War. In the 1950s there were reports of Britain experimenting with drugs, surgery and torture with a view to designing techniques that would be effective but look harmless. In the 1970s thousands of army officers and senior civil servants were trained to use psychological techniques for security purposes. Inevitably, the truth about current activities is not in the public domain.
In general, British democracy has been better than others at concealing the brutal way its state functions. Anything that is exposed is denied or dismissed as being an isolated excess. In France the extensive use of torture in the war in Algeria was publicised as part of a battle between different factions of the colonial aparatus. Victims had hoses inserted in their mouths and their stomachs filled with water, electrodes were put on genitals, heads were immersed in water. During the Battle of Algiers 3-4000 people ‘disappeared’: fatal victims of French torture techniques.
Although France, and more recently the US in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, have been less successful than Britain in keeping their actions under wraps, all these “democracies” use the most brutal methods of interrogation and detention. They also learn from each other’s activities, most notably in Vietnam, where the US drew on British experience in Malaya as much as earlier French experience in Indo-China.
Not many tears were shed when The Rt Hon. Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC, FRS — or Maggie Thatcher, as she is irreverently remembered by the Irish and numerous other aggrieved parties in Britain and beyond — passed away this April. But how many of Mrs. Thatcher’s many haters around the world are aware of “the shadowy ‘advisory’ role played throughout her premiership” by the nephew and heir of the man to whom the Zionist-drafted, deliberately conflict-catalyzing Balfour Declaration was addressed?
In an important April 16 Russia Today op-ed piece, British investigative radio journalist Tony Gosling finally broached the media taboo against identifying the Iron Lady’s influential behind-the-scenes pro-Israel “advisor” dubbed “the man in the shadows”:
The taboo not a single commentator has broached though is the shadowy ‘advisory’ role played throughout her premiership by European banking fraternity’s Labour peer Lord Victor Rothschild. He was revealed in the book the Thatcher government tried to suppress, Peter Wright’s Spycatcher, to be behind London’s top secret service appointments. In 1986 Rothschild penned ‘Paying for Local Government’ the policy paper that led to the notorious Poll Tax that fell hardest on the poorest, and which brought Britons onto the streets of London in their hundreds of thousands in 1990, riots echoing London’s Poll Tax revolt of 1381.
And according to the then BBC Chairman Marmaduke Hussey, Lord Victor also initiated the sacking in 1987 of the last independent-minded Director General of the BBC, a castration from which the corporation never quite recovered.
One word captures the essence of the Thatcher legacy; ‘privatisation‘. As an exasperated former Tory Prime Minster Harold Macmillan put it “she’s selling off the family silver!”. And so tens of mind-boggling billions of pounds of silver were auctioned off to the highest bidders, mostly to Rothschild’s kith and kin. From shipyards and public housing to telephones, steel, oil, gas and water, anyone in the world was free to own the infrastructure and manufacturing heart of Britain that was once collectively ‘ours’. [emphasis added]
So, the next time you hear someone bemoan the consequences of “Thatcherism,” just tell them that the predictably oligarch-benefiting ideology should more accurately be called “Rothschildism.” Or if, like me, you’re in Japan, you could explain that the much-touted “Abenomics” — a deferential reference to Thatcherism’s “Chicago model” -based American counterpart “Reaganomics” — is simply the latest disastrous reincarnation of “Zionomics.”
Maidhc Ó Cathail is an investigative journalist and Middle East analyst. He is also the creator and editor of The Passionate Attachment blog, which focuses primarily on the U.S.-Israeli relationship. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter @O_Cathail.
A senior United Nations official responsible for freedom of expression has warned that the UK government’s response to revelations of mass surveillance by Edward Snowden is damaging Britain’s reputation for press freedom and investigative journalism.
The UN special rapporteur, Frank La Rue, has said he is alarmed at the reaction from some British politicians following the Guardian’s revelations about the extent of the secret surveillance programs run by the UK’s eavesdropping center GCHQ and its US counterpart the NSA (National Security Agency), it was reported in the Guardian.
“I have been absolutely shocked about the way the Guardian has been treated, from the idea of prosecution to the fact that some members of parliament even called it treason. I think that is unacceptable in a democratic society,” said La Rue.
Speaking to the Guardian La Rue said that national security cannot be used as an argument against newspapers for publishing information that is in the public interest even if doing so is embarrassing for those who are in office.
The Guardian as well as other major world media organizations including the New York Times, the Washington Post and Der Spiegel began disclosing details about the US and UK’s mass surveillance programs in June, after receiving leaked documents from former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden.
The publications have sparked a huge global debate on whether such surveillance powers are justified, but in Britain there have been calls for the Guardian to be prosecuted and the editor, Alan Rusbridger, has been called to give evidence to the home affairs select committee.
The Prime Minister David Cameron has even warned that unless the newspaper begins to demonstrate some social responsibility, then he would take “tougher measures” including the issuing of D notices, which ban a newspaper or broadcaster from touching certain material.
While on Friday the New York Times wrote an editorial entitled “British press freedom under threat”. It said, “Britain has a long tradition of a free inquisitive press. That freedom, so essential to democratic accountability, is being challenged by the Conservative-Liberal coalition government of Prime Minster David Cameron.”
The op-ed added that Britain, unlike the US has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom.
“Parliamentary committees and the police are now exploiting that lack of protection to harass, intimidate and possibly prosecute the Guardian newspaper,” the leader read.
Frank La Rue’s intervention comes just days after a delegation of some of the world’s leading editors and publishers announced they were coming to Britain on a “press freedom mission”.
The trip is being organized by the Paris based, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), and will arrive on UK soil in January. WAN-IFRA says it will include key newspaper figures from up to five continents and that this is the first mission of this kind to the UK ever.
The delegation is expected to meet government leaders and the opposition, as well as press industry figures and civil society and freedom of speech organizations. Their discussions are expected to focus on the political pressure brought to bear on the Guardian.
“We are concerned that these actions not only seriously damage the United Kingdom’s historic international reputation as a staunch defender of press freedom, but provide encouragement to non-democratic regimes to justify their own repressive actions,” Vincent Peyregne, the Chief of the WAN-IFRA, told the Guardian.
newspaper posed a threat to the UK national security.
Also in October, British Prime Minister David Cameron called on The Guardian and other newspapers to show “social responsibility” in the reporting of the leaked NSA files to avoid high court injunctions or the use of D-notices to prevent the publication of information that could damage national security.
La Rue’s remarks come as an international delegation is set to visit Britain over growing concerns about press freedom in the country and a government crackdown on media reporting leaks and scandals.
Organized by the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the delegation, which includes publishers and editors from five continents, will arrive in January.
The team will reportedly meet with government, opposition figures and media representatives.
The successful adoption of the EU-US trade agreement promises both parties massive gains of up to $159 billion, but the profits could come at the expense of the everyday consumer, who could see the quality of their products diminish as a result.
Over 50 US officials are in Brussels to negotiate the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which, if signed, will create the world’s largest free-trade area, which has also been dubbed an “economic NATO”. Officials meeting in Brussels this week will hammer out details to reduce trade limiting regulations.
The new round of talks will focus on reducing trade barriers on investment, energy, services, and raw materials, and key agreements will be announced Friday.
‘Non-tariff barriers’ increase the cost of business, whether it’s adjusting the voltage on an electronic device, changing a car’s exhaust system to comply with local environmental regulations or a difference in opinion of which chemicals are “harmful” or “hazardous” in the respective territories.
By limiting health, safety and environmental regulations in order to boost trade, the US and EU are “putting the corporation above the nation,” Glyn Moody, journalist and author, told RT in an on-air interview.
“That’s a very big assumption. People may not want to have their food less safe or environment polluted for the sake of more money,” Moody told RT.
Moody also warns the trade agreement could behoove giant corporations like Monsanto, who could use the new ‘de-regulation’ to sue the EU for billions of dollars if they refuse to import GMO products
The EU says the TTIP could bring annual benefits of $159 billion (€119 billion) to its 28 member states. This breaks down to an extra $730 (€545) in disposable income for a family of four in Europe and an extra $875 (€655) per family in the US, according to a March 2013 study on “Reducing Transatlantic Barriers to Trade and Investment”.
There would be fewer constraints and companies will benefit, but “the public will pay in terms of regulation reduced protection and that is never calculated in these trade agreements, it’s always about the bottom lines of the big companies,” Moody said.
The week-long round of negotiations were originally scheduled for October but postponed due to the US government shutdown.
On December 16-20 officials will meet in Washington DC for another round of talks. The first round was held in Washington in July after the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland.
The trade flow of goods and services between the two blocs reached about $2.7 billion per day in 2012, according to the US Office of Trade and Commerce. Total trade in 2012 was $647 billion.
The agreement could boost employment on both sides of “the pond”, as increasing exports usually creates more jobs.
The European Commission has brazenly promised the deal could boost gross domestic product in the dilapidated EU by 1 percent.
Auto trade will especially benefit from jettisoning regulations. Turnover between the US and Germany could double if the trade agreement makes more umbrella standards- for example, if a car is crash-tested in America, it need not be again tested in Europe.
North America is an important destination for Foreign Direct investment, and is home to about one third of European foreign direct investment. Investment activity between the EU and US suffered after the financial crisis in 2008, and both sides will also try to find a balance on trade regulation to save big bucks.
Limited trust over the fall out of the NSA spying scandal may also put a hamper on negotiations between the trade giants.
The feasibility of the deal came under question after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked information showing the extent of espionage on allies abroad. France announced the wanted to temporarily postpone the talks over snooping, but they proceeded as planned.
The spying row shouldn’t affect US-EU trade talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry said as the trade partnership is “really separate from any other issues”. The US hasn’t provided any guarantees it will curb spying on its allies.
Iran was once a great power, and though invaded by Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and Mongols and exploited by imperialist powers in the modern era, it has continued to assert its national identity and its people have developed a special sensitivity to interference with its sovereign rights. This concern on the part of Iran does not represent some overwrought sensitivity but is actually a realistic assessment of its history over the past century, as this article will delineate. While professing idealistic principles in international relations, European powers ignored these principles in their violations of Iran’s sovereign rights, which in at least one case led to human suffering on par with the most tragic events of the twentieth century.
(In the outside world Iran was known as “Persia” until 1935, although people within the country used the term “Iran.” This article will use the term “Iran” except when using actual names or quoting from other sources.)
During the nineteenth century, Russia and Britain competed for power and influence in Central Asia, in what was known as the Great Game. Needless to say, it was neither great nor a game for those countries, such as Iran, which were treated like pawns on a chessboard by the two great powers. By the turn of the twentieth century, Russia had come to dominate the northern part of Iran while Britain dominated the south. The two powers formalized this division in the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, which segmented Iran into three parts—a Russian zone in the north, in which Russia was to have exclusive political and economic control; a British zone in the southeast, in which Britain had the sole right to exercise political and economic control; and a neutral “buffer” zone in the rest of the country, in which both the British and the Russians shared power.
This agreement was intended to put an end to open conflict between the two powers and establish stability in the country. With the dramatic rise in power of Germany in Europe, which was also starting to penetrate Central Asia, Britain and Russia realized that it was necessary if not to completely put away their rivalry, then at least to lessen tensions. This development, however, did not bode well for Iranian sovereignty since the formal division made it appear that the imperial control would be lasting.
This foreign domination essentially meant that the resources of Iran were under the control of the two imperial powers and that the purpose of whatever economic development took place was primarily for the benefit of those powers and not the Iranian state or people. The central government in Tehran did not even have the power to select its own ministers without the approval of the British and Russian consulates.
While Iran had traditionally been an absolute monarchy, revolutionary agitation in 1905 forced the Shah to allow for a relatively free press and accept a constitution reducing his power. The elected parliament, the Majlis, would formally have considerable power, although in actuality government decisions had to be amenable to the two dominant powers who essentially controlled what took place within their respective zones and heavily influenced developments elsewhere in the country.
Both Britain, with some qualifications, and Russia looked negatively on this new liberal political body, preferring to deal with a small number of people who could more easily be coerced or bribed to advance their imperialist goals, which very likely went against public opinion in Iran that shaped the new parliamentary body. Although the imperial powers could, if they exerted themselves, overcome opposition from the Majlis, it did make things more troublesome.
In 1911, Iran’s nascent constitutional government appointed an American, E. Morgan Shuster, anoted lawyer, civil servant, and financial expert, to help organize the country’s finances, which were in a perilous situation at that time due largely to heavy indebtedness to Russia and Britain. While his proposed reforms were embraced by the Iranians, they were vehemently opposed by the two European powers who feared that these might serve to reduce Iranian dependence on them.
Almost immediately upon arriving in Iran, Shuster became involved in a dispute with Russia over customs policy, in which he requested, and was given, plenary powers by the parliament. At Russia’s behest, backed up by its moving troops to Tehran (which was within the Russian zone), he was ultimately forced to leave Iran in January 1912. Upon his return to the United States, he wrote a heated indictment of Russian and British exploitation of Iran, titled “The Strangling of Persia,” which he dedicated to “The Persian People.” In a much-quoted passage, Shuster summed up the malicious impact of the two Great Powers thus: “[I]t was obvious that the people of Persia deserve much better than what they are getting, that they wanted us to succeed, but it was the British and the Russians who were determined not to let us succeed.”
As bad as it was for Iran at the beginning of the twentieth century, things would become infinitely worse during World War I. Hoping to avoid entanglement in the war, Iran declared its neutrality on November 1, 1914. (The British and Russians had entered the war against Germany and Austria two months earlier.) Nevertheless, the country became a battleground between Russia and Britain (who were allies), and Turkey (a German ally) and its local Muslim supporters. And when the Turks were not in the country, the two European powers were involved in fighting against tribes and groups of nationalists who were stirred into action by the war and the occupiers’ wartime depredations.
According to historian Mohammed Gholi Majd: “World War One was unquestionably the greatest calamity in the history of Persia, far surpassing anything that happened before. It was in WWI that Persia suffered its worst tragedy in its entire history, losing some 40% of its population to famine and disease, a calamity that was entirely due to the occupation of Persia by the Russian and British armies, and about which little is known. Persia was the greatest victim of WWI: no country had suffered so much in absolute and relative terms. As I have shown in another study there are indications that 10 million Persians were lost to starvation and disease. Persia was the victim of one of the largest genocide [sic] of the twentieth century. (Majd, “Persia in World War I and Its Conquest by Great Britain,” 2003, pp. 3-4)
What caused a famine of such horrific proportions? The Russians and, even more so, the British used Iran as a base for their war effort; and Majd finds the British to be principally responsible for the famine. Local transportation, land and river, was taken over by the British for the movement of war materials, which meant that farmers had a difficult time marketing their produce inside Iran. At the same time, significant amounts of food were purchased or confiscated by the British to supply British troops, both within Iran and in the Middle East region as a whole. Moreover, Britain prohibited Iran from importing food from its neighbors—India and Mesopotamia (Iraq), where grain was plentiful–and from the United States. The British used various reasons, including the alleged sabotage of an oil pipeline, to justify the withholding of most oil revenue to the Iranian government (Iran had recently become a major oil producer) during the war years, which reduced the ability of Iran to purchase food. (Majd, “The Great Famine & Genocide in Iran: 1917-1919,” Second Edition, Chapters 5-7.)
It seems unlikely, however, that the British intentionally sought to commit genocide against the Iranian population, as Majd sometimes implies, but rather that the British were solely concerned about their own war effort, pursuing it at the expense of the Iranian people, who died off in the process. But there is no need to debate British intent, or their degree of culpability, to illustrate the point that Iran endured appalling suffering from the actions of other countries during World War I. The same could be said if the death figures Majd provides are excessive and did not actually exceed Holocaust-like levels, though Majd’s analysis of population statistics, which indicate a huge decline in population between 1910 and 1920, seems to substantiate his numbers. (Majd, “Great Famine & Genocide in Iran: 1917-1919,” pp. 77-87)
Furthermore, Majd does show that other observers noted that Iranian civilians perished as a result of the war in massive numbers, if not necessarily in the astronomically high numbers that Majd arrives at. A report submitted by the Iranian delegation to the General Assembly of the League of Nations, dated December 6, 1920, states: “At the beginning of the war of 1914-1918, the Persian government, anxious to continue its historic traditions, solemnly declared its neutrality . . . . Despite her neutrality, Persia has been a battlefield during the world cataclysm. Her richest provinces in the north and north-east have been ravaged, divided and disorganized by the Turco-Russian forces. Many are the ruins which cover Persian territory from Makou (a town lying in the extreme north of Persian province Azerbaijan), to the very south. Towns and villages have been pillaged and burned, and hundreds of thousands of men were compelled to say a lasting farewell to their beloved homes and to find death from hunger and cold far from their native provinces. At Teheran, a city of about 500,000 inhabitants, 90,000 persons died of famine for want of bread; since the big lines of communication were cut by the invaders. All the governments which followed each other during the war were faced with insurmountable difficulties which arose from the violation of Persian neutrality. The food providing provinces of Persia –such as Mazenderan, Gilan, Azerbaijan, Hamadan and Kirmanshahan— which were rich in corn, rice and other cereals, were unable to produce anything, owing to the lack of labour and the want of security: famine, that pitiless scourge, ruled over the greater part of the country and spread ruin and death among its people . . . . It is with deep emotion that we mention the high figure of our loss in man-power—a cruel loss of 300,000 men, massacred by the sword of the invader.” (Majd, “Great Famine & Genocide in Iran: 1917-1919,” p. 8)
In his 1934 biography of the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, Harold Nicolson, who had served as a British diplomat in Iran during the 1920s, wrote:“Persia, during the war, had been exposed to violations and sufferings not endured by any other neutral country.” (Majd, “Great Famine & Genocide in Iran,” p. 8, quoted from Nicolson, “George Curzon: The Last Phase,” 1934, p. 129)
In a memorandum of August 13, 1941, the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, Wallace Smith Murray, wrote: “During the late World War, despite Iran’s declared neutrality, she was invaded by both the Great Powers, which resulted in untold misery to the Persian people. It is estimated that during the famine of 1917-1918, caused by the chaotic conditions of the country, approximately one third of the population perished.” (Majd, “Great Famine & Genocide in Iran,”p. 8). In a note to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, dated August 21, 1941, which includes Iran’s reply to the Anglo-Russian ultimatum of August 16, 1941, the Iranian minister to Washington, Mohammad Schayesteh, wrote: “The Iranians remember with sorrow the great misfortunes of the last war, the unbelievable number of the population which died as a result of famine and epidemics caused by foreign interference in Iran.” (Majd, “Great Famine & Genocide in Iran,”pp. 8-9)
That virtually no one in the United States, and much of the overall West, would know about the famine in Iran is quite understandable. Britain controlled the news about the war and most of the American elite that shaped the news tended to be Anglophile. Once America entered the war, Britain was an ally. And World War I was considered a great moral crusade. It was the war to make the world safe for democracy; it was the war to save civilization. It was, in short, a Manichean war of good versus evil. Atrocities —real, exaggerated, or imagined– could only be attributed to members of the Central Powers. Thus, Germans supposedly engaged in the raping of nuns, the crucifixion of priests and the bayoneting of babies in their invasion and occupation of Belgium. And much was made of the Turks engaging in mass murder against the Armenians—an atrocity that has, in recent decades, been de-emphasized and debated in the United States as Turkey has become an American ally.
As the partisanship of World War I died down, no one in the United States really knew or cared much about the strange, faraway country of Iran. And Britain remained a close ally of America’s in the fight against the Axis and during the Cold War. Today as the American government and an American media (both heavily influenced by the Israel lobby) have presented U.S. war policy in the Middle East in a good versus evil dichotomy, the depiction of Iran as the victim at any time in its history would not mesh with current policy needs.
With the revolution in Russia in March 1917, the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky would forswear all concessions made to Tsarist Russia in Iran. The armistice agreement between Bolshevik Russia and the Central Powers was concluded on December 15, 1917, which included the provision that Russia would evacuate its forces from Iran, which did take place. (Martin Sicker, “The Bear and the Lion: Soviet Imperialism and Iran,”1988, p. 29.) With the fall of the Central Powers in November1918, however, Bolshevik Russia would state that the terms of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, which ended Russia’s war with those countries, were null and void, though continuing to profess that it did not have designs on Iran. Some of its actions, however, as we shall see, would soon belie this pledge of non-interference.
With Soviet Russia’s official departure, Britain was now by default the overwhelmingly dominant foreign influence in Iran. By virtue of this monopoly power and bribery, Britain was able to get the Iranian government to sign the Anglo-Iranian Agreement of 1919, which essentially would make Iran a protectorate of Britain. In return for a loan of two million pounds for the development of Iran’s railroad system (and also financial inducements to leading government officials), the treaty would give Britain a monopoly over the supply of arms, military training, infrastructure construction, and advisers for Iran. It also would have the sole right to develop a committee to revise the Iranian tariff–which would, of course, be to Britain’s advantage. Influenced by popular outcries by all segments of the Iranian population, the Majlis refused to ratify the treaty. Nonetheless, the British acted as if the treaty were in effect, as they shaped the Iranian army and developed a tariff law that favored British imports.
It should be pointed out that, during this period of British dominance, Soviet Russia, though pulling out its troops and officially renouncing the imperialist concessions held by the Tsarist government, did not lack interest in Iran. The new Bolshevik government, with its professed belief of world revolution, sought to spread radical revolution to Asia, including Iran, which was illustrated by the First Congress of the Peoples of the East, which was held in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, in September 1920.
After the collapse of Tsarist Russia, an Azerbaijan Democratic Republic came into being on May 28, 1918 in what had been part of the Russian Empire. It would be invaded by Soviet Russia on April 25, 1920 and in three days would be under the complete control of Moscow, though Soviet Russia retained the fiction that although Azerbaijan had become a Soviet state, it had remained independent.
The Baku Congress brought together Communists and radical nationalist forces in Asia and discussed a united effort between the two groups in support of national revolutions against foreign imperialism, though the Communists saw this as a necessary stage for the ultimate sovietization of these lands. Iran, in large part because of its proximity to the Indian subcontinent, was seen by a number of Russian Bolshevik thinkers as the key to the spread of radical revolution in Asia. For example, Konstantin Troyanovsky, in his book “Vostok i Revolutsiya” (“The East and the Revolution”), published in 1918, wrote: “The Persian revolution may become the key to the revolution of the whole Orient, just as Egypt and the Suez Canal are the key to English domination in the Orient . . . . The political conquest of Persia . . . is what we must accomplish first of all. This precious key to all other revolutions in the Orient must be in our hands, come what may.” (Quoted in Shireen Hunter, “Islam in Russia: The Politics of Identity and Security,” 2004, 316-17)
Soviet policy toward Iran thus would essentially run on two tracks. One track, reflecting the Communist’s official repudiation of traditional Western imperialism, consisted of establishing good official state-to-state relations between the Soviet government and the Iranian government, in which the latter was formally treated as an equal, sovereign nation. The other track involved support for the revolutionary nationalist movements in northern Iran closest to Soviet Russia, the most important of which was the Persian Socialist Soviet Republic (widely known as the Soviet Republic of Gilan) in the Iranian province of Gilan, which lasted from June 1920 until September 1921.
The densely forested mountainous region of Gilan and Mazanderan provinces along the shores of the Caspian Sea had been beyond the control of the Iranian government for some time. It was here that the Jangal (Jungle or Forest) movement arose, which was anti-Western, pan-Islamic, socially radical and fought against both the foreign occupiers and the Iranian government in Tehran. It was led by a charismatic land owner and Muslim cleric, Mirza Kouchek Khan.
The Soviet conquest of what had been the Russian portion of Azerbaijan would serve as a springboard for moving into northern Iran. The Soviet army, which had departed Iran in 1919, would reappear there in 1920 at about the same time as preparations were being made for the Baku conference. The reason given for this military action was to apprehend the remnants of the counterrevolutionary White army of Admiral Deniken, which had fled Russia after being defeated in the Russian Civil War and found sanctuary under British protection in the Gilan port city of Enceli on the Caspian Sea, which was not yet under the control of the Jingali secessionists. Claiming that the White army remained a threat to Soviet Russia, the Soviet army attacked. Facing a much superior force, the British retreated and the Whites once again fled. The Soviet army then would move through Gilan province and link up with Kouchek Khan’s Jingali.
Soviet Russia provided arms and soldiers to help Kouchek Khan in his revolutionary endeavor. By the end of 1920, his military force was so successful that it was preparing to march on Tehran. (Ervand Abrahamian, “Iran between Two Revolutions,” 1982, p. 116)
Faced with this threat from the military forces of the Soviet Republic of Gilan, with its large Soviet Russian contingent, along with discontent and rebelliousness in other parts of the country, a crisis feeling developed in Tehran among Iranian supporters of the national government and the British. Concerned about the weakness of the existing Iranian government and its seeming inability to suppress Soviet-backed revolutionaries, the British supported a coup d’état by a military officer named Reza Khan who entered Tehran on February 21, 1921 with a force of 3000 soldiers and seized control of the government, assuring the Shah that he took this action to protect the monarchy from revolution.
Meanwhile, in the Soviet Republic of Gilan, strong differences arose between the non-Communist Jangali and the Iranian Communist Party, causing Mirza Kouchek Khan to quit the government and withdraw with his group back into the forest. The Communists now were in charge and, influenced by ideologues from Soviet Russia, tried to establish a full-scale dictatorship of the proletariat that soon alienated much of the local population.
However, at this time higher level officials in Moscow, including Lenin, saw this open support for revolutionary action in northern Iran as premature and counterproductive to the long-term success of world revolution. They were especially interested in improving state-to-state relations with non-communist states in order to strengthen Soviet Russia; for example, the Soviets were negotiating a loan from Britain, which could be undermined by such overt revolutionary action. (Sicker, p.43)
This new position of the Soviet Union and that of the new government of Iran under Reza Shah harmonized and they made a treaty of friendship, as the latter nullified the highly unpopular 1919 treaty with Britain (which had never been ratified by the Majlis). In the Soviet-Iranian Treaty of 1921, the Soviet Union pledged to withdraw its military forces from Gilan and officially cancelled the Iranian debt and concessions to the Tsarist regime. As quid pro quo, Iran guaranteed that its territory would not be used for attacks on the Soviet state.
From the Iranian perspective, there was one discordant note in this otherwise favorable treaty, for it granted Soviet Russia the right to intervene in Iran if it considered events there to be threatening to its own national security. Obviously, this could be used by Soviet Russia not only to defend itself from counterrevolutionary threats but for offensive reasons as well. The possibility that the Soviets might use this provision to justify an attack on Iran was disturbing to members of the Iranian government and they demanded an explanation from the Soviet government, but they were willing to accept an unwritten, oral response that the Soviet Union would not intervene unless there were some overt military threat to its security. (Sicker, p. 44-45)
Lacking the critical support from the Red Army, the Soviet Republic of Gilan fell to the military forces of the Iranian government. And after the fall of the Gilan, the Communist Party of Iran would follow the Soviet party line and support the strengthening of the central government in Tehran, which was now perceived as being beneficial to the Soviet Russia. (Abrahamian, “Iran between Two Revolutions,” p.128). In 1923, for example, while Reza was Prime Minister, the Comintern had praised him for “his progressive and anti-imperialist orientation.” (Quoted in Sicker, p. 47) Though an anti-Communist, Reza, as a nationalist, temporarily served Soviet interests because he sought to reduce British influence in southern Iran and the Persian Gulf—and the Soviet Union then regarded Britain as its primary foe. Moreover, heavy trade existed between the Soviet Union and Iran, with the Soviets being Iran’s major trading partner until 1939. But while the Soviet Union put aside its interest in Iranian territory for the present, it had not been abandoned and would resurface during World War II.
In voiding the (never ratified) Anglo-Iranian Agreement of 1919, the Iranian government placated the British by requesting that British advisers remain behind to help reorganize the Iranian army and civilian administration. Moreover, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC), which was partly owned by the British government and a major provider of oil for the British Navy, still controlled the oil industry in southern Iran. This was about as much influence as Britain could expect to exercise since being deeply in debt from World War I, the British government, pursuing a policy of economic austerity, removed its troops from Iran in 1921.
Reza Khan gradually consolidated his power, ultimately proclaiming himself monarch in 1926 under the name Reza Shah Pahlavi. Reza Shah sought to establish a modern, centralized state, with Kemal Atatürk’s Turkey serving as a model. His programs helped to bring about improvements in agriculture, public health, education, transportation and industry and women’s rights while curtailing the power of the Islamic religious leaders. In achieving these ends, however, Reza Shah exercised ruthless, dictatorial powers, turning Iran into a despotic state.
In regard to foreign relations, Reza Shah sought a modern industrial third party state to serve as an economic counterweight to the Soviet Union and Britain, both of whom he regarded as threats to Iranian sovereignty, despite the existence of treaties of amity. His first choice was the United States, but it did not show much interest. After that he looked to Germany, which had shown interest in Iran since the first decade of the twentieth century.
Nazi Germany responded positively. Germany certainly sought profitable commercial relations with any country, especially one open to large scale investment such as Iran. Furthermore, Iran could provide the oil which Germany desperately needed. Moreover, economic connections could be used to enhance German political and military interests. Iran provided a strategic location from which German agents could stir up oppressed Muslim and other Third World nationalities under the control of the Soviet and British empires. Consequently, by the eve of World War II, Germany had become Iran’s largest trading partner. And an influx of German technicians and consultants had entered the country.
On September 4, 1939, three days after the war commenced, Iran officially declared its neutrality. And five days after Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 21, 1941, Iran reaffirmed its neutrality in the conflict.
Nonetheless, Soviet and British troops invaded Iran on August 25, 1941, on the grounds that Iran was harboring German agents. Reza Shah appealed to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt under the idealistic Atlantic Charter, which Roosevelt (and Churchill) piously claimed would be the basis for the future world order, and which included such ideals as the protection of smaller and weaker countries from the powerful. The U.S., however, failed to respond positively to the Shah’s request and, without any outside support, the limited resistance put forth by Iran was overwhelmed by Soviet and British forces in less than a week.
Shortly after the invasion, Reza Shah, being perceived as pro-German, was pressured to abdicate and was replaced by his son Mohammed, only 21 years old, and a constitutional monarchy was reestablished. Political parties were allowed to operate and a multitude of parties arose reflecting various segments of the Iranian population. The removal of Reza Shah “unleashed pent-up social grievances” that could not be expressed during his reign. (Ervand Abrahamian, “Iran between Two Revolutions,”1982, p. 169) However, while elections took place, Iranian government officials were not allowed to interfere with the rule of the occupying powers.
While using the alleged existence of numerous German agents to justify the invasion, Britain and the Soviet Unionhad decided to occupy Iran for multiple reasons. Iran was a major producer of oil, which the Allies wanted to exploit and concomitantly prevent Germany from accessing. Furthermore, in a region seething with anti-colonial passions, Allied control of Iran would serve to protect India, which was an indispensable cog in the British Empire. And most importantly, Iran provided a secure conduit for sending vital war supplies to the beleaguered Soviet Union, which had very few other access routes, and none as viable.
Although Britain and Russia guaranteed Iran’s sovereignty, they took over most significant functions of the country, many of which had heretofore been in private hands. First, they exercised control of all political institutions in their respective zones. And important economic activities —such as banking, oil production, and transportation— fell under their dominion. Furthermore, the occupying powers commandeered food products, fuel, and other essentials, causing famine in the land—though nothing comparable to the human catastrophe that took place duringWorld War I. Once again, Iran was being used as a mere instrument for the interests of foreign countries.
Now it might be assumed that the Allies were fighting for the universal interests of all humanity (the “Good War” concept), and that this took precedence over Iranian sovereignty and its rights as a neutral—that Iran should have willingly acquiesced to this greater good. But it needs to be pointed out that the United States never accepted this concept when it was a weak country and the great powers of that day violated American neutral rights in order to purportedly advance some higher principles. The United States was not even willing to accept a curtailment of its right to trade with belligerents, much less accede to an occupation by foreign countries.
For example, republican France in the 1790s saw itself fighting for the rights of mankind and expected support (though not demanding direct military involvement) from its fellow republic, the United States, in its war of survival against the monarchical powers of Europe; but no such support was forthcoming, even though the two countries had a formal “perpetual” alliance concluded during the American Revolutionary War, in which France had played a major role in bringing about American independence. Instead, the United States, emphasizing its rights as a neutral, continued to trade with monarchical Britain and ultimately fought an undeclared naval war with France —the Quasi-War, 1798-1800— because of French naval efforts to interfere with that wartime trade.
Similarly, during the Napoleonic wars, Britain presented itself as fighting for ordered liberty and the independence of other countries against Napoleon’s tyrannical effort to control Europe, but the United States claimed the right to trade with France, opposing British naval interference, and ultimately going to war with Britain in 1812 — a war that lasted until the end of 1814— thus from the British perspective, aiding Napoleon.
The Tehran Conference (28 November to 1 December 1943), which was the first of the major World War II conferences in which the leaders of the three main Allied powers –Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill— met together, focused on the broad issues of the war and the future peace, but also included a declaration that they all shared a “desire for the maintenance of the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Iran.”
Stalin, however, had somewhat different plans for Iran. As the German threat to the Soviet Union receded, the Soviets virtually sealed off the northernprovinces from officials from Britain, the United States, and even Iran. After 1942 no member of the foreign media was allowed to enter the Soviet zone to report on conditions there. Moreover,the Soviet Union gave open support to the Communist Party of Iran, which used the press to promote pro-Soviet propaganda, a considerable proportion of which attacked the Iranian government in Tehran. It would justify its control of Iranian territory by citing the 1921 treaty with Iran that gave it the right to intervene in Iran in order to protect its own security. (Sicker,pp. 61-80)
When the war ended, the U.S. and Britain would withdraw their troops from Iran, but Soviet forces would remain. Moreover, the Soviet Union was organizing separatist movements in its northern zone that could be used to declare independence and join the Azerbaijan SSR.
“Decree of the CC CPSU Politburo to Mir Bagirov CC Secretary of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, ‘Measures to Organize a Separatist Movement in Southern Azerbaijan and Other Provinces of Northern Iran’” July 06, 1945, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive,
“Secret Soviet Instructions on Measures to Carry out Special Assignments throughout Southern Azerbaijan and the Northern Provinces of Iran in an attempt to set the basis for a separatist movement in Northern Iran.,” July 14, 1945, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive,
Thus, the Soviets installed the Communist Cafer Pisaveri as the head of the secessionist Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan, which declared its independence on December 12, 1945. Pisaveri had played a role in the Republic of Gilan of the post-World War I years and later found refuge in the Soviet Union during part of the interwar period. (Sicker, pp. 70-71) Pisaveri was Communist and, despite anAzeri nationalist inclination, saw therevolutionary government in Azerbaijan as the first step toward Communist revolution throughout the rest of Iran. (M. Reza Ghods, “Iran in the Twentieth Century,” 1989, p. 172)
Also supported by the Soviet Union, a Kurdish independence movement emerged in the region around the town of Mahabadin northwestern Iran, and in December 1945, a Kurdish Peoples Republic was established there under Soviet auspices. (p.71, Sicker) The Kurdish Peoples Republic’s emphasis was on Kurdish nationalism rather than on Communism with the establishment of Kurdish as the national language. Although there was redistribution of unoccupied land, the republic lacked the social radicalism that would loom large in the Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan.
Although these secessionist regimes had substantial support from their inhabitants, at least in their early stages, archival evidence shows that the Soviet Union was directly behind the development of these governments and was necessary for their perpetuation.
It should be observedthat the Soviet Union was following its usual modus operandi toward the two secessionist states. In most of central and eastern Europe occupied by the Red Army after World WarII, Communist regimes and societies were not established immediately but came into being by a gradual process, so that this would not indicate the lack of Soviet control of the two secessionist states nor the Soviet Union’s ultimate goal of sovietization.
The United States and Britain started to become deeply disturbed by the Soviet actions in northern Iran and supported efforts on the part of the Iranian government to reestablish its control in those break-away areas. However, when Iranian military forces tried to move into Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, they were blocked by Soviet forces.
On January 19, 1946, Iran lodged a complaint to the newly-established United Nations Security Council that the Soviet Union was aiding the Azeri and Kurdish secessionists and thus was illegally interfering in Iran’s internal affairs. The Soviet Union responded that it was simply acting in accord with the Soviet-Iranian Treaty of 1921, which gave it the right to intervene if there were threats coming from Iran, and thus it was legal for its military to remain there to protect Azerbaijan’s petroleum, which, it claimed, was endangered.
After lengthy negotiations, the Iranian government and the Soviet Union made a sweeping agreement in which the Soviets would receive a 51% share of the petroleum in northern Iran in exchange for the withdrawal of its troops from Iran. The agreement also stated that the Soviets would establish joint petroleum companies with Iran and accept the secessionist uprisings as strictly Iranian domestic matters in which it would not interfere. The oil agreement, however, would not be put into effect until after its approval by the Iranian Majlis.
Believing that it had received what it wanted, the Soviet Union started to withdraw its troops from Iran on May 9, 1946. Without Soviet military support, the secessionist regimes, against which large-scale popular rebellions had broken out, surrendered to the Iranian government in December 1946. (M. Reza Ghods, “Iran in the Twentieth Century,” 1989, p. 175)
During this time period, elections took place in Iran and the newly-elected Majlis wasn’t able to come together effectively until 1947 to vote on the oil agreement with the Soviet Union. The U.S. government, fearful of Soviet control of Iranian petroleum, informed Iran that if it would reject the petroleum agreement, and the Soviet Union then pressured and made threats against it, America would come to its defense. With this pledge of protection, the Majlis refused to ratify the Soviet oil agreement on October 22, 1947 by the overwhelming vote of 102 to 2.
The Soviet Union essentially accepted this decision, although not without strong threats and some minor hostile acts toward Iran. The reason for Stalin not doing more is beyond the purview of this essay. But it can be briefly stated that Stalin, at that time, apparently did not want to intensify anti-Soviet feeling in the United States or Iran, because of the negative impact this would have on other objectives deemed more important than the petroleum agreement, and that the ultimate unpopularity of the secessionist governments in northern Iran would have made their restoration much more difficult than their initial creation.
The history of the twentieth century has clearly illustrated that Iran has been forced to relinquish its sovereign rights in order to serve the needs and desires of other, more powerful nations, often couched in the name of some universal good, and that it has suffered severely as a consequence. It is thus understandable why Iran would resist this approach at the present, and expect to have the same rights as those who would try to place restrictions on theirs, with the United States and Israel being the major countries currently taking this anti-Iranian stance. Furthermore, while the past suffering of Jews is continually mentioned in the West and is often used to justify special privileges for Israel —for instance, its right to have a Jewish supremacist state and nuclear weapons— the past suffering of Iran caused by other countries is completely ignored and thus plays no part in international decision-making today. Simple justice would seem to dictate that the United States change its current approach and allow all countries to have the same sovereign rights as guaranteed by international law—no more and no less.