Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Monarch Profile: Shah Reza I of Iran
So it was that in 1921 Reza Shah Pahlavi launched the military coup that brought down the existing government. As the strongest leader in the country, he took control and swept out through the countryside eliminating opposition groups and the Soviet-backed invaders. Once peace and quiet had been restored he returned to Tehran where Ahmad Shah made him prime minister and then promptly left the country for an extended vacation in Europe in 1923. By 1925 the governing assembly declared Ahmad Shah deposed, the Qajar dynasty ended and proclaimed Reza Pahlavi the new Shahanshah (“King of kings” or ‘Emperor’) of Persia. Long married by this time to Nimtaj Ayromlou, later known as Tadj ol-Molouk of Iran, she was made queen consort and the eldest son of his many children, Mohammad Reza Shah, was named crown prince and heir to the throne. It was a new dynasty for what was to be a new Persia and one that was meant to represent a new national agenda and period of rebirth and rejuvenation for the once might empire.
Of course, to modern ears (especially in the west), whenever one hears the word “Aryan” and talk about the 1930’s someone is going to bring up Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. There has been a great deal of misinformation put out regarding the relationship between Nazi Germany and the first Pahlavi Shah of Iran. Much of this comes from later efforts to justify Allied aggression against Iran. However, the truth is that there were no close ties between Iran and Germany. During the reign of Shah Reza the amount of investment by Germany in Iran did increase quite a bit but this was due simply to the fact that Iran felt safer dealing with Germany as opposed to other European countries because Germany was not a colonial power and could be trusted not to have designs on the country such as Britain and Russia had displayed in the past. There is also nothing sinister about the use of the term “Aryan” and it only goes to show how odd it was for Hitler to describe blue-eyed blondes in northern Europe using the name of an actual historic people from the northern India, central Asia region. Iran was nothing like Nazi Germany, was not racist or anti-Semitic. In fact, one of the reasons certain religious fanatics in Iran opposed the new Shah was because he did not persecute the Jewish population and granted greater equality to religious minorities than had ever existed before. In fact, over a thousand European Jews were saved from the Holocaust by being granted Iranian citizenship during World War II.
As soon as World War II broke out the Shah had declared Iranian neutrality, wishing to focus on the continued modernization of his own country and his hope of building a coalition of countries across the Middle East to support their own interests. Nonetheless, for the Allies, there was no such thing as neutrality really. If you were not with them you were considered to be on the side of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. After the UK and USSR joined forces a short ultimatum was sent to Iran ordering the Shah to expel all nationals from Axis countries or face immediate invasion. This was a flimsy excuse for aggression of course as there were Axis nationals in most every other neutral country in the world but they were not threatened with invasion. He refused and the British and Soviets launched a massive air, land and sea attack on Iran. As the tanks were rolling across the border, the Shah summoned the Soviet and British ambassadors and demanded to know why they had attacked his country without a declaration of war. He was told it was because of the presence of “German nationals” but when he asked if the Allies would withdraw if he turned out every German in the country the Shah was met only with silence. Apparently, as far as the Allies were concerned, attacking a country before declaring war only became outrageous later in the year…sometime around early December it seems.