Taken From:


Van Schendel, Willem(Editor). Identity Politics in Central Asia and the Muslim World: Nationalism, Ethnicity and Labour in the Twentieth Century.

London, , GBR: I. B. Tauris & Company, Limited, 2001. p 80.



Recasting Oneself, Rejecting the Other: Pan-Turkism and

Iranian Nationalism

By: Dr. Touraj Atabaki



Twentieth-century historiography on nation– state correlation and

nationalism has to a large extent been shaped by a eurocentric ethnolinguistic

discourse, where ‘ethnicity and language’ become the

central, increasingly the decisive or even the only, criteria of potential

nationhood, (1) or as Karl Renner asserts:


once a certain degree of European development has been reached,

the linguistic and cultural communities of people, having silently

matured throughout the centuries, emerge from the world of

passive existence as people (Passiver Volkheit). They become conscious

of themselves as a force with historical destiny. They

demand control over the state, as the highest available instrument

of power, and strive for their political self-determination. The

birthday of the political idea of the nation and the birth-year of

this new consciousness, is 1789, the year of the French Revolution.(2)



However, what this perception of the nation-state largely neglects is

the fact that the construction of a bounded territorial entity (or what

is generally referred to as nation-state-building) has often entailed

components other than ethnic or linguistic bonds. Collective imagination,

political allegiances, reconstructing and reinterpreting history,

the invention of necessary historical traditions to justify and give

coherence to the emerging modern state: all these are often major

factors in bringing groups of people together and strengthening or

even forming their common sense of identity and political solidarity.


In some cases the mere application of ancient, historically resonant

names and traditions is enough to evoke a consensus of political legitimacy.

Consequently, the social connotations of certain key socio-political

phrases, as well as geographic terms, become an important

element in reshaping the geographic boundaries of emerging sovereign



As far as Iran is concerned, it is widely argued that Iranian nationalism

was born as a state ideology in the Reza Shah era, based on

philological nationalism and as a result of his innovative success in

creating a modern nation-state in Iran. However, what is often

neglected is that Iranian nationalism has its roots in the political

upheavals of the nineteenth century and the disintegration immediately

following the Constitutional revolution of 1905– 9. It was during

this period that Iranism gradually took shape as a defensive discourse

for constructing a bounded territorial entity – the ‘pure Iran’ standing

against all others. Consequently, over time there emerged among the

country’s intelligentsia a political xenophobia which contributed to the

formation of Iranian defensive nationalism. It is noteworthy that,

contrary to what one might expect, many of the leading agents of the

construction of an Iranian bounded territorial entity came from nonPersian-speaking

ethnic minorities, and the foremost were the Azerbaijanis,

rather than the nation’s titular ethnic group, the Persians.

The intention of this essay is to throw further light on the complex

origins of Iranian nationalism. While examining the various loyalties

of the Iranian non-Persian intelligentsia, I shall sketch the measures

adopted by such groups when defending their real or imagined identities

against the early-twentieth-century irredentist ideology of neighbouring




The Outbreak of World War I



For many Iranians the thirteen months of ‘lesser despotism’ of June

1908– July 1909 which followed Muhammad ’Ali Shah’s coup was the

most crucial period of their country’s constitutional history: the entire

country, except for Azerbaijan, was subjugated to the new regime. By

sending in the army and imposing economic restrictions, the central

government strove to bring the Azerbaijanis, too, to their knees.

However, while famine spread across the province, the Azerbaijani

constitutionalists set up barricades in Tabriz and prepared to offer


armed resistance. When the government in Tehran was eventually

overthrown, the constitutionalists found themselves in a nearly unique

position with the attention of the entire nation fixed on them. Gradually

the belief arose among Iranians that, although the Constitutional

Revolution had been born in Tehran, it had been baptized in Tabriz

and the Constitution had no chance of surviving without Azerbaijan.

Moreover, Azerbaijan was seen as the most important centre where

any future progressive political changes would originate. This

appraisal of the cardinal role played by the Azerbaijanis in restoring

constitutionalism in Iran left Azerbaijani constitutionalists with a

strong consciousness of being the protectors of the country’s territorial

integrity, a consciousness which still persists.

When World War I erupted, political chaos and confusion swept

across Iran. Successive governments proved incapable of solving the

country’s escalating problems and implementing fundamental reforms.

Indeed, not only did the outbreak of the war fail to stop political

disintegration in Iran, but increased foreign pressure caused the longstanding

rift in Iranian politics to widen. As early as October 1910,

Britain had delivered an ultimatum to Iran concerning the security of

southern Iran. In so doing, Britain set an example for the Russians to

follow. Russian troops had already occupied the northern provinces.

In November 1911 the tsarist government presented its own ultimatum

to Iran, which amounted to nothing less than an attempt to

reduce the north of the country to the status of a semi-dependent

colony. (3) However, while the Iranian parliament, which enjoyed the

support of the crowds in the street, resisted the Russian ultimatum,

the fragile Iranian government decided to accept it and dissolve

the parliament. This seemed the only effective measure available

to the deputies in the face of the crisis that had arisen. (4) Meanwhile,

the occupation of the north and south of Iran by Russian and British

troops was to provoke the Ottoman forces to invade western and

north-western Iran early in the war. If we add to this list of disasters

the activities of German agents, especially among the southern tribes,

we begin to get an idea of how impotent the Iranian government was

during this period.

The Iranian government’s reaction to the outbreak of the war was

to declare Iran’s strict neutrality in the farman of 1 November 1914.

On the other hand, what sense was there in the government’s announcing

its neutrality when a sizeable part of Iran’s territory was occupied

by the Entente forces? When Mostowfi ol-Mamalik, the prime minister, approached the Russian authorities and asked that they withdraw

their troops from Azerbaijan because their presence gave the

Turks a pretext for invading Iran, ‘the Russian minister appreciated

the Iranian viewpoint but inquired what guarantees could be given

that after the withdrawal of Russian forces, the Turks would not

bring in theirs.’ (5) Consequently, Azerbaijan became one of the major

battlefields of the war. As part of their military strategy, the Russians,

British and Ottomans all pursued policies which aimed at stirring up

or aggravating the existing animosities between the different ethnic

and religious groupings in the province. Promises were made with

regard to setting up a sovereign state for Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians

and Azerbaijani Muslims. Such demagogic manipulations led to the

most bloody and barbaric confrontations among these ethnic and religious


Soon after the outbreak of World War I, the Ottoman Empire, with

the encouragement of Enver Pasha, the Ottoman minister of war, sided

with Germany. Enver Pasha, judged that doing so gave the Ottomans a

good chance of surviving and perhaps even of making some gains from

Russia. He also declared a jihad, inciting Muslims to rise up against

British and Russian rule in India, Iran, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

To him, the Russians were not only kafir (infidels), but also invaders

who had occupied areas south of the Caucasus which were considered

part of the Islamic– Turkic homeland. Enver Pasha played a leading

part in negotiating a secret German– Ottoman treaty, signed on 2

August 1914; in October the Ottoman fleet entered the Black Sea,

bombarded Odessa and the Crimean ports, and sank Russian ships. In

addition, Ottoman forces were deployed along the Caucasus frontier

with Russia, where severe fighting began in the harsh mountain terrain.

The ultimate strategic objective for the Ottomans was to capture

the Baku oilfields and northern Iran in order to penetrate Central Asia

and Afghanistan, not only as a threat to British India, but also to

extend the Ottoman Empire to what were referred as its natural




We should not forget that the reason for our entrance into the

world war is not only to save our country from the danger threatening

it. No, we pursue an even more immediate goal – the realization

of our ideal, which demands that, having shattered our

Muscovite enemy, we lead our empire to its natural boundaries,

which would encompass and unite all our related people. (6)


In December 1914, a Russian advance towards Erzurum was countered

by the Ottomans, but, in battles at Sarikamish¸ in January 1915

the Ottomans, ill-clad and ill-supplied for the Caucasian winter,

suffered their greatest defeat of the war.

In the south, other Ottoman forces, which had invaded the city of

Maraghan in late November 1914, moved to Tabriz on 14 January.

Since the Russian army was still stationed in Tabriz, confrontation

between two armies seemed inevitable. Although the Russian troops

avoided a military confrontation and evacuated Tabriz, the Ottomans

were unable to maintain their hold on the city and were expelled by a

Russian counter-invasion in March 1915.(7) The defeat at Sarikamish¸

was indeed a turning-point in the Ottomans’ policy of expanding east.

Throughout the remaining years of the war they adopted a low profile

in the region. It was only at the end of the World War I, and

following the Russian Revolution, that the Ottomans were able to

return to Iran.


Pan-Turkism and Iran’s Response to It



Although it took some years for the Ottomans to realize their dream of

installing themselves in the region north as well as south of the Araxes

river, the pan-Turkist uproar reached Baku as early as 1908, when the

Young Turk Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) launched their

coup, which brought an end to the despotic era of Abdulhamid.

When Abdulhamid abdicated, pan-Islamism, which he had supported,

was flavoured throughout the heartland of the empire by Turkic

national sentiment. Like the people who initiated pan-Turkism, the

pioneers of propagating pan-Turkism among the Turkic peoples came

from the Russian Empire, having been influenced by the model of

nineteenth-century pan-Slavism.


As early as 1904, Yusuf Akc¸ uroglu (later known as Yusuf Akchura),

a Tatar from the Russian Empire, published a pamphlet called Uch¸

Tarz-i Siyaset (Three Kinds of Policies), which soon came to be

known as the manifesto of the pan-Turkists. In this famous declaration,

which was originally printed in Cairo by Turks in exile, Akc¸ ura

discussed the inherent historical obstacles blocking the advance of

pan-Ottomanism and pan-Islamism and advocated Ittihad-i Etrak

(Unity of Turks), or as he later called it, Turkculuk (Turkism), (8) as the

sole concept capable of sustaining the Turk milleti (Turkish nation).



He admitted that he ‘does not know if the idea still had adherents

outside the Ottoman Empire’, especially in Qafqaziya ve shimali Iran

(the Caucasus and northern Iran), but he hoped that in the near

future his views on Turkish identity would attract the support of

many Turks wherever they lived. (9)


Ittihad-i Etrak was soon adopted as a policy by political parties and

cultural organizations’ in the Ottoman Empire. In 1908, Turk Dernegi

(the Turkish Society) was founded in Istanbul to study the ‘past and

present activities and circumstances of all the people called Turk.(10) In

its declaration issued on 25 December 1908, the society pledged to

encourage the use of Ottoman-Turkish among foreign peoples. At

first, Turks in the Balkan states, Austria, Russia, Iran, Africa, Central

Asia and China will be familiarized with Ottoman-Turkish’. Furthermore,

languages in Azerbaijan, Kashgar, Bukhara, Khiva, etc., will be

reformed to be like Ottoman-Turkish for the benefit of Ottoman

trade’.(11)   Turk Dernegi was followed by another society called Turk

Ocagi (Turkish Hearth). In its manifesto, written in 1912, this society

proclaimed as its chief aim ‘to advance the national education and

raise the scientific, social and economic level of the Turks who are the

foremost of the peoples of Islam, and to strive for the betterment of

the Turkish race and language’.(12)


The pioneers of pan-Turkism in Caucasian Azerbaijan, however,

were those of the Azerbaijani elite living in Istanbul who were disillusioned

by the stagnation of the Iranian constitutional movement, the

failure of the Russian revolution of 1905, and the crisis in the

European social democratic movement. Some, who were sympathetic

to the Iranian reformist movement, turned their gaze from Tabriz and

Tehran to Istanbul. The Istanbul of the Young Turks, with its call

for unity among the Turkic peoples, was a new haven for such elites

from tsarist Russia. With a growing sense of their isolation, they

turned to studying ethnic culture and history and its accompanying

political importance. The outlook of Ali Husaynzade, Ahmad Aghayev

and, later, Muhammad Amin Rasulzade was immediately welcomed

by the CUP, and some of them were even given government positions

in the new Ottoman regime. When Turk Yurdu (Turkish Homeland),

the main journal propagating pan-Turkism in the Ottoman Empire

was launched in Istanbul, they were among the most prominent

contributors to it. In one of his editorials Ahmad Aghayev even

reproached the Ottomans for calling the Iranian Azerbaijanis,

Iranians, rather than Turks. (13) Muhammad Amin Rasulzade in a series

of articles entitled ‘Iran Turkleri’ (the Iranian Turks), contributed a

descriptive analysis of the Iranian Turkic minorities and their distinctive

national identities. (14)


During the war, pan-Turkist activities in Baku, which was still

under tsarist rule, were mainly confined to the publication of certain

periodicals. While maintaining their absolute loyalty in the tsarist

cause in the war, periodicals such as Yeni Fuyuzat (New Abundance)

and Salale (Cascade), adopted as their chief mission the purification of

the Azerbaijani language, Arabic and Persian vocabulary was to be

purged, and words of pure Turkic origin were to be substituted, as

was being done in nationalist circles in the Ottoman Empire. Whereas

news about the activities of pan-Turkist organizations in the empire

was often covered in editorials by ‘Isa Bey Azurbeyli, the editor of

Salale , the question of Iranian Azerbaijan remained neglected by such

periodicals, and it seemed that in their hidden agenda the forging of

firmer ties with the Ottomans had priority over unification with the

Iranian Azerbaijanis. (15)



However, the attitude toward Turkism in the Caucasus was somewhat

altered when in 1913 an amnesty was declared in Baku on the

occasion of the three hundredth anniversary of the Romanov dynasty.

Political activists such as the committed social democrat Rasulzade,

who some years earlier had launched the leading newspaper Iran-e

Now in Tehran, were then able to return to live within tsarist territory.

On his return to Baku, Rasulzade began to publish his own

newspaper. The first issue of Achiq Soz (Candid Speech) appeared in

October 1915 and publication continued until March 1918. Under the

tsars the newspaper called itself ‘a Turkish political, social and literary

paper’ and adopted a standpoint close to that of the tsarist empire,

endorsing the latter’s war policy. At the same time, it paid a certain

amount of attention to Iran and Iranian Azerbaijan. When it had

occasion to cover Iranian news, it voiced its sympathy for the Iranian

Democrats. 16 After the Russian Revolution, however, it changed its

attitude, and abruptly adopted an openly pro-Ottoman policy, calling

for turklame´, islamlame´ va muasirllame´ (Turkicization, Islamicization

and modernization).


On 18 October 1917, a branch of Turk Ocagi was founded in Baku.

Among the aspirations of the new society, which claimed that its

activities were confined exclusively to the cultural domain, was the

desire to ‘acquaint the younger generation with their historical Turkic

heritage and to consolidate their Turkic consciousness through setting

up schools, organizing conferences and publishing books’.(17) Achiq Soz

not only welcomed the new society but reported extensively on its

activities, covered its frequent gatherings in Baku, and published

lectures delivered at its conferences. Most of these lengthy articles

were on different aspects of the history and culture of the Muslim

peoples of the southern Caucasus. It seems that at this stage no one in

Baku was interested in applying the term ‘Azerbaijan’ to the territory

south of the Caucasus. ‘Tu¨rk milleti’ and ‘Qafqaziya mu¨salman Xalqi

(the Muslim people of the Caucasus) were often employed to designate

the inhabitants of the region. The first Constituent Assembly,

which was established in Baku on 29 April 1917, was even called the

General Assembly of the Caucasian Muslims.


One result of the political upheavals in Moscow, which eventually

ended with the Bolshevik takeover in October 1917, was the creation

of a power vacuum in the Caucasus. A month later, the Transcaucasian

Commissariat was established in Tblisi, and it proclaimed ‘the

right of Caucasian nations to self-determination’. By then it was

obvious that the Armenian Dashnakists and Georgian Mensheviks

were poised to establish their power over a large part of the region.

The Baku Musavatists, who enjoyed an absolute majority in the Baku

Constituent Assembly, realized that the time had come for swift political

action. With the old tsarist empire gone, the Musavatists were

counting on the Ottomans, who were now viewed as the uncontested

dominant power in the region. The goal of the Musavatists in their

contest with the Armenians and the Georgians was to win control

over as much territory as possible. They claimed ‘besides the Baku

and Ganja province, the Muslim population of Daghestan, the

northern Caucasus, the Georgian-speaking Muslim Inghilios of Zakataly,

the Turkish inhabitants of the province of Erivan and Kars, and

even the Georgian-speaking Muslim Ajars of the southern shore of

the Black Sea.(18) Furthermore, since the majority of Azerbaijani speaking

people lived in a large region within northern Iran, their ultimate

hope was to persuade the Azerbaijani leaders in Iran to support

their proposed project for unity. Consequently, in October 1917 an

emissary arrived in Tabriz, approached the local politicians and advocated

that they separate from Iran and join with Baku in a great

federation. However, their proposal was rejected by the Azerbaijani

Democrats. (19)



Following this failure, in an editorial published in Achiq Soz, in

January 1918 the Musavatists for the first time tackled the question of

Iranian Azerbaijan. In a rather haughty style, the author defined the

historical boundaries of Azerbaijan as stretching to the Caucasian

mountains in the north and to Kirmanshah in the south, with Tbilisi

forming the western frontier and the Caspian Sea the eastern. The

Russian expansionists and the Iranian ruling class were blamed for

having adopted policies that resulted in the dismemberment of the

nation of Azerbaijan. Furthermore, according to the author, it was the

natural right of the south Caucasian Muslims to call their territory

Azerbaijan’ and to hope that ‘one day their brothers in the south

could join them’.(20)

Interestingly enough, the first reaction to this irredentist propaganda

came from a group of Iranian Democrats residing in Baku.

Since the beginning of the century, the flourishing economy of the

Caucasus had attracted many Iranians, most of whom were Azerbaijanis

or Azerbaijani-speakers from the north of Iran. But although

they spoke the same language, they did not readily assimilate.

Throughout the Caucasus region they were known as ‘hamshahri

(fellow countrymen) and they maintained a sense of separate identity

which marked them out as different from the local population. (21)


Of the various organizations that existed among the Iranian

community in Baku, the local branch of the Iranian Democrat Party

was the most eminent and active. The party’s Baku Committee was

founded in 1914 and its members were recruited from the Iranian

community in Baku and the adjacent regions. In their perception the

view expounded in the Achiq Soz editorial was nothing less than a

pan-Turkist plot which menaced Iran’s sovereignty and territorial

integrity. Disturbed by such attempts to undermine Iranian unity,

they soon inaugurated their own political campaign in the region. On

10 February 1918, the Democrats launched the publication of a bilingual

newspaper, Azarbayjan, Joz’-e la-yanfakk-e Iran (Azerbaijan, an

Inseparable Part of Iran). (22) ‘Azarbayjan’ was printed in big letters on

the masthead with ‘Joz’-e la-yanfakk-e Iran’ printed in much smaller

letters inside the ‘n’ of Azarbayjan’. Later on Salamullah Javid, a political

activist in Baku, acknowledged that ‘the decision to publish the

newspaper was taken by the Democrats at the local level and was a

direct response to irredentist propaganda initiated by Achiq Soz.(23)


In addition to promoting political change and reform in Iran, the

newspaper declared as its task ‘displaying the country’s glorious past

and its historical continuity’,(24) as well as ‘hindering any attempt to

diminish the national consciousness of Iranians’.(25) While glorifying

the name of Azerbaijan and its ‘key position in Iranian history’, the

publication frequently referred to ‘the many centuries during which

Azerbaijan governed all of Iran’. Similarly, it stressed that Azerbaijan

had a shared history with the rest of Iran, and strove to foster selfconfidence

and the feeling of belonging to territorial Iran. Pointing to

the geographical front-line position of the province, the newspaper

declared it to be the duty of Azerbaijanis’ to confront the hostile

outsiders, and to safeguard the country’s ‘national pride’ and ‘territorial

integrity’. Though the newspaper never named these outsiders,

orintruders’, as they were called, it considered that ‘their intention

has always been to undermine Iran’s territorial integrity and political

sovereignty’. Moreover, by representing Azerbaijanis as the main

champions of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, it attempted to

portray them as the sole guardians of Iran as a bounded territorial



In a multi-ethnic society like Iran, where Persians form the titular

ethnic group, a minority of Azerbaijanis living outside Iran, but

within their linguistic territory, promoted a sense of Iranian state patriotism

and territorial nationalism rather than their own ethno-nationalism.

Their political loyalty and attachment to a constructed

political reliability therefore took precedence over their other loyalties,

in particular their ethnic loyalty. Likewise, they apparently believed in

the nineteenth-century notion of a ‘historical nation’ in which the

Staatsvolk (state-people) was associated with the state. In their view,

the Iranians, just as the dispersed members of a Greater Russia or a

Greater Germany did, made up a community associated with a territorial

state. Consequently they attempted to uphold their territorial/

Iranian identity in the face of pan-Turkist propaganda by ‘shaping a

significant and unbroken link with a seminal past that could fill the

gap between the nation’s origin and its actuality’.(26) For them, as

Nipperdey has correctly pointed out, romantic nationalism provided

the driving force for political action: ‘cultural identity with its claims

for what ought to be, demanded political consequences: a common

state, the only context in which they [the people] could develop, the

only force that could protect them and the only real possibility for

integrating individuals into a nation’.(27)


With a persuasive political agenda, Azarbayjan, Joz’-e la-yanfakk-e

Iran pursued what in its first issue it had proclaimed to be its duty,

and continued to publish even after the takeover of Baku by the

Bolsheviks known as the Baku Commune. However, it was forced to

close down in May 1918 when the Musavatists regained power and

formed their national government. In their turn the Musavatists, who

had been obliged to stop publishing Achiq Soz during the previous

five months, in September 1918 launched their new gazette Azerbayjan.

By adopting the same name for their publication that the

Iranian Democrats in Baku had used four months earlier, the Musavatists

demonstrated their firm attachment to the name they intended to

give their future independent state.


The Return of the Ottomans


After World War I, the political arena in Anatolia as well as the

Caucasus was significantly altered.  The tsarist empire had been swept

away by the winds of revolution and the Ottomans were striving to

put together the jigsaw pieces of their empire. If during their first

short-lived invasion the Ottomans had not had time to disseminate

their pan-Turkist propaganda among the Iranian Azerbaijanis, as a

result of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the fall of their old foe,

the CUP were now able to initiate a new pan-Turkist campaign in

northern Iran. As noted by a member of the British diplomatic

service: Turkey are hand in glove with the Tatars of Transcaucasia

(Baku) and these have put in claims to Azerbaijan on their own

account. . . . Northern Persia is essential to Turkey as a link with the

Turanians of Central Asia. (28)


In the middle of April 1918, the Ottoman army invaded Azerbaijan

for the second time. Yusuf Zia, (29) a local coordinator of the activities

of the Teskilat-i Mahsusa (Special Organization) (30) in the region, was

appointed political adviser to the Ottoman contingent in Iran. Soon,

the Teskilat-i Mahsusa introduced a small pan-Turkist party in

Tabriz(31), together with the publication of an Azerbaijani-language

newspaper called Azarabadegan, which was the Ottomans’ main

instrument for propagating pan-Turkism throughout the province.

The editorship of the newspaper was offered to Taqi Rafcat, a local

Azerbaijani who later became known for his vanguard role in effecting

innovations in Persian literature.


Contrary to their expectations, however, the Ottomans did not

achieve impressive success in Azerbaijan. Although the province

remained under quasi-occupation by Ottoman troops for months,

attempting to win endorsement for pan-Turkism ended in failure.


The Ottomans had never enjoyed the support of local political parties,

ever since their arrival in Tabriz, and their relations with the local

Democrats had been particularly strained. With the passage of time

relations with the Democrats deteriorated to the point, where the

Ottomans went as far as to arrest the Democrats’ popular radical

leader, Muhammad Khiyabani, together with his two comrades

Nowbari and Badamchi, and sent them to Kars in exile. (32) Khiyabani

being accused of ‘collaborating with the Armenians against the forces

of Islam’,(33) the immediate result of their intervention was to whip up

serious anti-Ottoman sentiment among the Democrats, who were

preparing to take control of the province.


The summer of 1918 appeared to be a honeymoon period for the

Ottomans after stationing their troops on Iranian soil. Occupying the

area north of the Araxes was the next logical step on their agenda.

With the seizure of Baku in September 1918, it seemed that their

Turanian dream was gradually being realized: the region both north

and south of the Araxes was now under their control. However, with

the end of the war approaching, and an escalating political problem at

home, not to mention the food crisis, the CUP leadership was obliged

to give priority to the centre of its envisaged empire rather than to the

periphery. A direct consequence of the large-scale export of cattle and

grain from the newly occupied territories to the Ottoman interior was

a mounting resentment among the local population. On 23 September

1918, an Ottoman– German protocol was signed, confirming the territorial

integrity of Iran, but the Ottomans suffered a setback on their

western front when Bulgaria was forced to surrender on 30 September.

It was then obvious that pursuing the war any further was impossible

for the Ottomans. On 9 October, the CUP government fell and the

new government of Izzet Pasha signed an armistice with the Allies.

Returning to Tabriz from exile on 24 June 1920, Khiyabani

announced the formation of a local government. The announcement

took place with pomp and ceremony in the ‘Ali Qapi’, the central

government’s provincial headquarters. In a country where the political

culture was dominated by xenophobia, one of the key issues for

Khiyabani and his fellow Democrats was how to dissociate themselves

as completely as possible from the foreign powers. Their relations

with the Ottomans, in view of the latter’s actions against Khiyabani,

remained cold and distant. But what concerned them even more

urgently was how to defend their position in face of the political

upheavals sweeping through the Caucasus.


On 27 May 1918, when the new Republic of Azerbaijan was

founded on the territory north of the Araxes River and south-east of

Transcaucasia, the adoption of the name ‘Azerbaijan’ caused consternation

in Iran, especially among Azerbaijani intellectuals.  Khiyabani

and his fellow Democrats, in order to dissociate themselves from the

Transcaucasians, decided to change the name of Iranian Azerbaijan to

Azadistan (Land of Freedom). (34) By way of justifying this decision,

they referred to the important ‘heroic roleAzerbaijan had played in

the struggle to establish the Constitution in Iran which, in their view,

warranted adopting the name Azadistan. (35)


From Territorial to Titular Nationalism


The fall of the Musavatists in 1920s, which was a result of close collaboration

between the Bolsheviks and the CUP leadership, caused

considerable disillusion among the Azerbaijani pro-Ottoman intelligentsia.

However profitable this cooperation was for the Bolsheviks,

the old guard of the Ottoman Unionists in the region, by adopting

different measures, were still striving to realize their old dream. As an

intelligence British office remarked:


It will be remembered that the unfortunate ‘Musavat’ government

of Baku was successfully overturned by the Communists mainly as

a result of the assistance given by the numerous Turkish Unionists.

The infiltration of Unionists in the Turkish Communist Party

in Baku still continues; they thus seek to establish complete control

in course of time, and to gain control of Georgia and Azerbaijan in

order to connect them up with their schemes in Central Asia. . . .

The Unionists’ plan therefore is to continue the alliance with

Russia so long as it enables them to advance their own plans,

which are being energetically pursued. (36)


The final consolidation of Soviet power in the Caucasus, which was

eventually realized by the subjugating of Georgia on March 1921,

paved the way for a shift in diplomatic maneuvering by the newly

born Soviet administration. In February the Soviet– Iranian Treaty

was concluded, and it was followed by the signing of a peace treaty

with Turkey in March 1921. Having extended its southern border to

the Araxes river, the Soviet regime adopted a restrained policy towards Iran,

officially forbidding any nationalist claims on Iranian territory.


The tragic outcome of Khiyabani’s revolt, which was followed by

the suppression of the uprisings in Khorasan and Gilan, left the

Democrats in Iran in total disarray. A group of them, mainly from

non-Azerbaijani background, were enthralled by pan-Islamism, as

propagated by the late Ottomans as a means of winning over a non-Turkic

people in the region. Another tendency within the Democrats

found it difficult to subscribe to the regional movement launched by

their party comrades. Subsequently, a new group of reform-minded

intellectuals gradually emerged on the Iranian political scene.  Their

mode of understanding society was based on socio-political ideas of

West European origin. Despite the diversity of their political views,

what singled out them from the home-grown variety of educated or

learned individuals was the model of society that they took for

granted. The West European model presupposed a coherent, class-layered

society, which by definition was organized around the distinctive

concepts of nation and state. They were convinced that only a

strong centralized government based in the capital would be capable

of implementing reform throughout Iran, while preserving the

nation’s territorial integrity. Likewise they believed that modernization

and modern state-building in Iran would require low cultural

diversity and a high degree of ethnic homogeneity. Only when Iran

fulfilled the preconditions for a nation-state as defined by them, when

empirically almost all the residents of a state identify with the one

subjective idea of the nation, and that nation is virtually contiguous’,(37)

could they realistically cherish hopes of safeguarding Iranian territorial



In the recently born state of Turkey, the Turk Ocagi activists strove

to find a new home under the self-restrained Kemalist regime. In

1923, the Turkish magazine Yeni Mecmu’a (the New Journal) reported

on a conference about Azerbaijan, held by Turk Ocagi in Istanbul.

During the conference, Roshani Barkin, an ex-member of Teshkilat-i

Mahsusa and an eminent pan-Turkist, condemned the Iranian

government for its oppressive and tyrannical policies towards the

Azerbaijanis living in Iran.  He called on all Azerbaijanis in Iran to

unite with the new-born Republic of Turkey. (38)


In reply Iranshahr (Land of Iran), a journal published in Berlin,

and the Tehran-based journal Ayandeh (The Future) ran a series of

articles denouncing pan-Turkism and became the pioneers of the

newly launched titular nationalism in Iran. While Iranshahr attempted

to provide historical underpinning, Ayandeh took on the task of

propounding the necessary conditions for the ‘unification’ and ‘Persianization

of all Iranians as one nation. (39( Advocating the elimination of

regional differences in ‘language, clothing, customs and suchlike’,

Ayandeh demanded ‘national unity’ based on the standardized, homogeneous

and centrally sustained high culture of the titular ethnic



Kurds, Lors, Qashwa’is, Arabs, Turks, Turkmens, etc., shall not

differ from one another by wearing different clothes or speaking a

different language. In my opinion, until national unity is achieved

in Iran, with regard to customs, clothing, and so forth, the possibility

of our political independence and geographical integrity being

endangered will always remain.(40)



Their insistence on raising the status of Persian above that of a lingua

franca and cleansing its vocabulary of loan words, especially those

from Turkish and Arabic, provided the newly constructed sentiment

with a form of philological nationalism. Later, philologists were to be

inspired to create grotesque and far-fetched neologisms such as ‘kas

nadanad-sikhaki’, to replace ‘mahramana-mostagim’ (direct-confidential).

Moreover, their campaign of purification naturally went beyond

the linguistic field and pervaded the realm of Iranian history as well.

By rewriting history, a ‘pure Iran’ with a long historical identity was

created, an Iran purged of all ‘foreign’ and ‘uncivilized elements’

within its borders. Such an identity ultimately depended on negative

stereotypes of non-Iranians. The Turks and later the Arabs, who were

referred in nationalist discourse as the ‘yellow and green hazards’,(41)

served as the indispensable ‘others’ in the construction of the new

Iranian identity. With the passage of time, the proponents of this

form of revivalist nationalism became the founders of a trend in

Iranian historiography known above all for its emphasis on continuity

in Iranian culture and its concern to uphold the country’s pre-Islamic



Furthermore, by adopting the Western European model of modern

nation-state-building under an absolutist ruler, the Iranian nationalists

in their manifesto advocated bureaucratic efficiency, clear territorial

demarcation, and a homogenized and territorially fixed population,

who were to be taxed, conscripted into the army and administered in

such a way as to be transformed into modern ‘citizens’. When Reza

Shah ascended the throne, he wholeheartedly endorsed all the

demands voiced by these nationalists. Indeed, the blueprint for his

one country, one nation’ project was already on his desk.




The most important political development affecting the Middle East

at the beginning of the twentieth century was the collapse of the

Ottoman and the Russian empires. The idea of a greater homeland for

all Turks was propagated by pan-Turkism, which was adopted almost

at once as a main ideological pillar by the Committee of Union and

Progress and somewhat later by other political caucuses in what

remained of the Ottoman Empire. On the eve of World War I, pan-Turkist

propaganda focused chiefly on the Turkic-speaking peoples of

the southern Caucasus, in Iranian Azerbaijan and Turkistan in

Central Asia, with the ultimate purpose of persuading them all to

secede from the larger political entities to which they belonged and to

join the new pan-Turkic homeland. Interestingly, it was this latter

appeal to Iranian Azerbaijanis which, contrary to pan-Turkist intentions,

caused a small group of Azerbaijani intellectuals to become the

most vociferous advocates of Iran’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

If in Europeromantic nationalism responded to the damage likely

to be caused by modernism by providing a new and larger sense of

belonging, an all-encompassing totality, which brought about new

social ties, identity and meaning, and a new sense of history from

one’s origin on to an illustrious future’,(42) in Iran after the Constitutional

movement romantic nationalism was adopted by the Azerbaijani

Democrats as a reaction to the irredentist policies threatening the

country’s territorial integrity. In their view, assuring territorial integrity

was a necessary first step on the road to establishing the rule of

law in society and a competent modern state which would safeguard

collective as well as individual rights. It was within this context that

their political loyalty outweighed their other ethnic or regional affinities.

The failure of the Democrats in the arena of Iranian politics

after the Constitutional movement and the start of modern state-building

paved the way for the emergence of the titular ethnic group’s

cultural nationalism. Whereas the adoption of integrationist policies

preserved Iran’s geographic integrity and provided the majority of

Iranians with a secure and firm national identity, the blatant ignoring

of other demands of the Constitutional movement, such as the call for

formation of society based on law and order, left the country still

searching for a political identity.



Notes/References (click)