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It is said ‘History is a guide for navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are’. That is nowhere more true than in Iran, where there needs to be an understanding of the crux of the Iranian conflict and the history surrounding the quandary in order to even begin designing viable solutions. This article, Part II of ‘The Case Against Iran’s Nuclear Program,’ will uncover the source and the arguments behind Iran’s aversion towards the West.
At the height of its glory, the Sassanid Empire of Persia stretched from the borders of Turkey in the west to the eastern periphery of Pakistan, encompassing the Caucasus, modern day Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. The dominion was a thorn in the side of the ‘venerated’ Holy Roman Empire by waging constant skirmishes against the Greek cultural influence. By virtue of the dynasty’s enormous grandeur, its rulers adopted the title, King of kings.
The Sassanid Empire was referred to by its population as ‘Eranshahr’ or ‘Eran’, which is the etymology of the current name Iran. The Sassanid period witnessed the height of the Persian civilization, making giant strides in urban development, agriculture and technology. The state religion at the time was Zoroastrianism. Christianity and Judaism were tolerated. In fact, several Jewish-oriented institutions were set up throughout the empire to promote inter-faith studies and activities, a scenario, unthinkable in modern day Iran.
The Sassanid Empire’s 400-year history was written in gold. But as mercurial as was their rise, equally sudden was their fall. Decades of warfare against the neighboring Byzantines crippled the economy. The Sassanids served as the last bastion against the Arab invasion and the civilization experienced a rapid transfiguration with the adoption of Islam under the new Abbasid Caliphate, which went on to rule for nearly seven centuries.
The early 16th century witnessed the dawn of the Safavid Dynasty, and Shia Islam was introduced for the first time in Persia. After two centuries of warring with the Ottoman Empire, rebellious tribes and factions, the Safavids eventually gave way to the Qajar Dynasty. Tehran was founded as the empire’s new capital. A period of modernization was initiated by the dynasty, with a focus on education and social reforms.
With the British Empire’s colonization prowess reaching its peak in the early 20th century, the Middle East and the Arab world were soon caught in the horizon of the Crown. The defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War under the British planted the seed for expansion in the Arab World.
In 1916, the Sykes-Picot Agreement between the United Kingdom and France divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire and the Arabian Peninsula, as spoils of war. Persia, under the Qajar rule, managed against all odds to escape British colonization. Lamentably, the Sykes-Picot Agreement sowed the earliest seeds of anti-Western proclivity and disposition in Iran.
While maintaining her sovereignty, Persia suffered from repeated foreign interventions to its political system (primarily British and Russian). A growing level of corruption debilitated the dominion of the Qajars and the dynasty was overthrown in 1925 by Reza Shah. Reza Shah continued the advancements in modernization started by the Qajars. The constitution was revamped whereby a ruler won’t rule for a lifetime. Healthcare was improved to mirror conditions in the West. Advancements were made in education, enabling for the first time the creation of universities, most importantly the University of Tehran.
The industrial revolution strengthened the economy, and religious tolerance was promoted. Reza Shah became the first Persian monarch to pray in a Jewish synagogue, and was an admired figure in the Persian Jewish communities. His prominent support was also directed towards the advancement of women’s rights. The Shah believed women must be able to contribute to the society and supported abandoning the Islamic veil in public.
In 1935, he adopted Iran as the new name for the Persian Republic.
Reza Shah’s tsunami of reforms prompted predictable changes to Iran’s international relations. The Shah’s foreign policy was driven with the objective to diminish foreign influence in the country’s political and economic system, and to rely less on the British Crown. He re-negotiated the Anglo Persian Oil Company’s (APOC) terms and control of profits from Iran’s oil, much to the dismay of the British, and angered the Russians by tearing up previous trade and securities agreements.
The 1930’s also saw the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Tired of British and Soviet manipulations, Reza Shah was keen to align Iran with the ascent of the Third Reich. Germany soon became Iran’s leading partner in trade and commerce.
Mobilized by the fear of Iran falling to Hitler, Britain and the Soviet Union joined forces and occupied Iran in August 1941. The invasion was intended to safeguard the oil fields from Axis powers and secure the supply lines for Soviet troops in the north.
In a last ditch attempt to halt the invasion, Reza Shah appealed to then President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The President argued it was against the interest of the United States to interfere in the ongoing Allied operations and asserted that Germany intended to capture Iran in its pursuit of world domination.
(Roosevelt’s early acknowledgement of Germany’s nefarious intents is paradoxical considering the United States did not formally declare war on Nazi Germany until December 11th, 1941).
Under threat of force, with all avenues of escape exhausted, Reza Shah abdicated to his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The British Empire’s use of The East India Company to colonize India under the guise of commerce was prudent and ingenious. In an attempt to duplicate the success, a similar strategy was issued in Iran. Britain’s Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) manipulated the oil industry and the Iranian government by favoring candidates who would secure the company’s interests.
The Company’s motives proved contradictory, however, to a new movement brewing in Iran that aimed to nationalize the country’s oil. After the overthrow of Reza Shah, the British Foreign Office managed to appoint Haj Razmara as the Iranian Prime Minister. Because his motives and decisions to strengthen the AIOC were considered anti-Iranian and highly unpopular among the majority, he was assassinated after serving less than a year in office.
Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh was installed by the Iranian Parliament as the new Prime Minister and proceeded to nationalize Iran’s oil. The move ended the AIOC and struck a severe blow to Western interests in the region.
The British Government, led by Winston Churchill, reacted by placing an embargo on Iranian oil and managed to get the United States to help ratchet up the pressure. The effort struck a blow to Iran’s economy. With the United States waging a new battle against communism in Korea, Britain could not muster sufficient troops to intervene in Iran. Consequently, Operation Ajax was set in motion by Eisenhower and Churchill in 1953 to remove Mossadegh. The CIA-MI6 backed coup d’état succeeded in replacing the government by gaining the support of Iranian army officers, local mobs, and crime lords. The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was allowed to rule without any checks and balances, so as to cement and assist British and American investments in the region. In 1954, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was renamed the British Petroleum Company (BP).
Operation Ajax was a success, but when measured against the bigger picture of what it did to the nation’s psyche, it proved to be a cataclysmic failure. There is a glaring anomaly in the devious operation in Iran. In a decade when Communism was placed under siege and the West was regarded as the flag bearer of freedom, the two stalwarts of Democracy destroyed a secular parliamentary government and replaced it with authoritarian rule. The Pahlavi monarchy survived for another twenty-six years before it was overthrown following the events of the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
Since the signing of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, there’s been a string of failures in Western Foreign Policy towards Iran. Among the many tragic diplomatic decisions, Operation Ajax was by far the biggest blunder of them all. Anti-Western sentiments, once comatose, became conscious and began to proliferate after the coup d’état for almost a generation. The Islamic Revolution was a product of that mushrooming point of view.
Recently, the United States acknowledged its past mistakes and attempted to repair the damages. In 2000, in an address to the American-Iranian Council, then Secretary of State Madeline Albright was quoted:
“In 1953 the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran’s popular Prime Minister, Mohammed Massadegh. The Eisenhower Administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons; but the coup was clearly a setback for Iran’s political development. And it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs. Moreover, during the next quarter century, the United States and the West gave sustained backing to the Shah’s regime. Although it did much to develop the country economically, the Shah’s government also brutally repressed political dissent. As President Clinton has said, the United States must bear its fair share of responsibility for the problems that have arisen in U.S.-Iranian relations.”
In 2009, President Barack Obama in a speech in Cairo confronted the issue and made an attempt to reconcile:
“This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward.”
Unfortunately, the current Iranian regime is holding the country hostage with its heinous convictions. The government is using the nation’s exploited history as an excuse to pursue its serpentine nuclear ambitions. It is impossible to make any headway in diplomatic relations when the efforts are met only with threats, open provocations, needless confrontations, and defiance. There is a multitude in Iran waiting to be saved from the clutches of the current authority, people who do not share in its deadly desires (the Green Revolution of 2009 offers evidence). To emphasize the point, the present confrontation is not with the people of Iran but with the Government of Iran.
Part III of The Case against Iran’s Nuclear Program will examine the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the establishment of an oppressive, abusive, deceptive, and brutal government, in the name of religion.
For further reading on my analysis and commentary on Current Affairs and Human Rights, visit http://www.BevinKurian.com and follow me @BevinKurian for additional updates.