Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Iran-The Soviet Socialist Republic of Iran, 1920-1921: Birth of the Trauma

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Iran-The Soviet Socialist Republic of Iran, 1920-1921: Birth of the Trauma

Article excerpt

Chaqueri. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995. xxvii + 456 pages. Append. to p. 478. Notes to p. 612. Refs. to p. 630. Index to p. 649. $75.

Reviewed by Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

This book is likely to remain for many years the definitive study of the short-lived "red republic" in northern Iran. It is a serious scholarly work that should be of particular interest not only to Iran scholars, but also to students of social movements as well as to anyone interested in the post-WWI diplomacy of Great Britain and the Soviet Union in the Middle East. The Gilan Republic (192021) was the culmination of a fragile and ultimately untenable alliance between the local constitutionalist activists, i.e., the Jangalis, headed by the charismatic Kucheck Khan and the Soviet-backed emigre communists. Contentious historiographies abound in the literature on this subject.

Chaqueri's timely book is an emphatic yet critical interpretation of the Jangali movement, seeing it as a genuine national liberation movement caught at the crossroads of neocolonialism and socialism. The lucidly written narrative is divided into 18 chapters followed by useful biographical notes. This book is a monumental, reconstructive effort at factual stock-taking, and the analysis is based on a variety of sources in several different languages. Consequently, the author is able to answer, from revisionist perspective, many unresolved questions, such as, Who killed Haydar Khan 'Amu-Ughli, the legendary communist leader? What caused the 1921 coup d'etat? And why did the Gilan Republic movement fail? Chaqueri locates the sources of the failure in a combination of London-Tehran-Moscow triumvirate diplomacy and the vicissitudes of the movement and its leadership, e.g., Kucheck Khan's antipathy to an agrarian reform. The 1921 coup, on the other hand, is blamed squarely on the British representatives in Iran.

The evidence Chaqueri marshals to support his conspiracy theory, however, is less than convincing. The reader is led to believe that the Iranian coupmakers, i.e., Reza Khan and Seyyed Zia, acted as mere pawns, and that the British minister in Iran, Herman Norman, did not inform his superior, George Curzon, that he was engineering a coup (pp. …

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