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Azerbaijan Crisis


A clash between the USSR and Iran that presaged the Cold War.

Considered by diplomatic historians to be one of the international political disputes that initiated the Cold War, the Azerbaijan crisis erupted in October 1945, when the newly formed Democratic Party of Azerbaijan in Iran's northwestern province began taking over local governments with the backing of the Soviet army, which had been occupying the area since the joint AngloSoviet invasion of Iran in 1941. By December 1945, the Democratic Party had established an autonomous government in Tabriz, the provincial capital of Iranian Azerbaijan, and this regime threatened to resist with force any effort by Tehran to restore central authority. A similar movement emerged in Mahabad, the main town in the Kurdish area of Iranian Azerbaijan. The Soviets prevented security forces of the central government from interfering with these takeovers, thus prompting fears in Tehran that Moscow intended to separate the province from Iran and possibly unite it with the neighboring Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan. These fears intensified when the Soviet Union declined to set a date for the withdrawal of its troops from the country, in contravention of the Tripartite Treaty of Alliance (1942) stipulating that all foreign military forces were to be withdrawn from Iran within six months of the end of World War II.

The Iranian government sought diplomatic support from the United States, which encouraged Iran to submit a formal complaint to the newly created United Nations. The Azerbaijan crisis thus became one of the first issues to be considered by the Security Council. Although the Security Council discussions about the Azerbaijan crisis were not substantive in nature, the publicized manifestation of tensions between the former wartime allies Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States probably contributed to its resolution. While the situation in Iranian Azerbaijan remained on the Security Council's agenda during the first three months of 1946, Prime Minister Ahmad Qavam of Iran negotiated an agreement for the withdrawal of Soviet troops. The agreement provided for the evacuation of all Soviet forces from Iran by May 1946, in return for Tehran's promise to withdraw the complaint it had brought before the United Nations, to negotiate peacefully with the autonomous government of Azerbaijan, and to submit for parliamentary consideration a proposal for a joint SovietIranian oil company with exclusive rights to exploit any petroleum resources in northern Iran.

Following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country, the central government discussed economic and linguistic grievances with the Azerbaijan autonomous government, but throughout the spring and summer of 1946 the two sides were unable to resolve their political differences. Finally, in December 1946, on the pretext that nationwide security had to be reestablished prior to holding elections for a new parliament that would consider the proposed SovietIranian oil company, Qavam ordered the army into Azerbaijan, including the Kurdish area around Mahabad, and the autonomy movements were crushed. Parliamentary elections were held subsequently, but in June 1947, the new parliament rejected the prime minister's proposals for creating a joint SovietIranian oil company.

see also democratic party of azerbaijan; tripartite treaty of alliance.


Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran between Two Revolutions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Ramazani, Rouhollah K. Iran's Foreign Policy, 19411973: A Study of Foreign Policy in Modernizing Nations. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975.

Eric Hooglund

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