Fifty years ago, upon the invitation of the Russian Red Cross, Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, twin sister of the Shah of Iran, went to see Stalin in order to demand the retrieval of Soviet invading forces from Iran. Above, the Princess is seen entering the Kremlin where she pleaded with great passion for the liberation of Iran, her motherland. Impressed by her courage, Stalin became all smiles. He said loudly to his rather stern entourage: "Now here is a brave and true young patriot." Pravda, June 28, 1946.
According to the terms of the 1942 British and Russian alliance with Iran, the Allied forces were supposed to leave Iran six months after the war ended. But the Russians’ wartime activities in Azerbaijan clearly showed they were not planning to evacuate this area, which they had coveted for so long. With the support of the Red Army, the Communist Tudeh party was reorganized in Azerbaijan and renamed the Democratic Party. Its armed members captured army and gendarmerie posts, and in December 1945 they proclaimed the “Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan,” under the leadership of Jafar Pishevari, a long-time Communist who had spent many years in Russia.
My brother dispatched troops from Teheran to recapture the province, but these were stopped by Russian tanks at Sharifabad, 150 kilometers out of Teheran. Encouraged by their success in Azerbaij an, the Communists, who had infiltrated the Kurdish tribes during the war, instigated another separatist revolt, which ended in the establishment of another so-called independent republic in Kurdistan in western Iran. This triggered even further separatist activity,this time by tribes in the south. In Teheran another form of separatism prevailed. As I have mentioned before, there were so many shadings of political thinking in Parliament that no government could achieve a majority. It was a time of demonstrations in the streets, inflammatory newspaper articles.Since the Communists represented the only disciplined political force in Teheran, the Prime Minister, Ahmad Qavam (Qavam Saltaneh), formed a cabinet which included three Tudeh ministers. At the same time, he established his own Democratic Party. Although Qavam was 70 years old, he was an extremely charismatic politician. An aristocrat through and through, Qavam was something of a martinet. He allowed no chairs in his office except his own, so that no one else, not even his own ministers, could sit in his presence. Nor would he allow members of Parliament to speak directly to him. Qavam insisted that remarks be addressed to his secretary, who in turn would relay the speech to “His Excellency.” If anyone forgot this rule and spoke directly to the Prime Minister, he would turn to his secretary and ask, “What is this gentleman saying?” While some of his personal poses were rather affected, Qavam was a political power to be reckoned with, and only a few months after the formation of his Democratic Party he felt confident enough to dismiss his Tudeh ministers. On the hundredth day of its existence, the Democratic Party took to the streets of Teheran, its members marching in their special uniforms, in an unusual show of solidarity. Some of my brother’s friends and supporters warned him that Qavam’s personal popularity and his growing power, if unchecked, could present problems for the monarchy, despite his demands for a more unified government.It was over the issue of Azerbaijan, however, that mybrother first became uneasy about Qavam’s policies.
The Shah had often told me that losing Azerbaijan would be like losing an arm, and that he meant to do everything within his power to regain the province. Early in 1946 Iran had lodged a formal protest before the UN Security Council against the armed Russian presence in Azerbaijan. (This was, incidentally, the first issue to come before that newly formed body.) Nevertheless, representatives of Qavam’s government initi-ated negotiations with the representatives of the Communist “republic.” I was completely against such talks, since I felt any negotiations would constitute a de facto recognition of this separatist regime. When, in February 1946, Qavam went to Russia to meet with Stalin, the Shah decided it was time to take some direct personal action. Within the framework of my welfare activities, I had some contacts with the Russian hospital in Teheran, which was administered by a Russian-Armenian; on behalf of the Russian Red Cross, he arranged an invitation for me to visit Russia. It was, of course, understood that the Red Cross invitation was a cover, that even though I would be visiting hospitals, there would at some point be a meeting with Stalin and the opportunity for serious political discussion. In April 1946 I left Teheran with a small staff which included a military adjutant, General Shafai, aboard a Russian airplane. At Moscow Airport we were greeted by the President of the Ukrainian Republic and several ministers who accompanied us to the quarters reserved for highranking foreign visitors. The following day I was asked to approve the official agenda for my trip, which was to include visits to Kiev, Kharkov, Leningrad, and Stalingrad. In the years since, I have made many trips-to Russia, but the details of that first visit still seem vivid. This Russia, this vast, wild country to the north, was at the same time our close neighbor and a great power to be feared. But now it was a wounded giant, visibly scarred from the war, which had left its mark everywhere.
On the outskirts of Leningrad I saw the remains of hundreds and hundreds of German tanks and cannons, the silent gray ghosts of a war machine that had died. I visited the Hermitage (which has an extensive Iranian collection), the cities, and the historical landmarks; everywhere there were souvenirs of the war. In the cities I saw chain gangs, young men in ragged clothes doing heavy construction ork, moving rubble, laying bricks, repairing foundations. When I asked about these work crews, I was told that they were German prisoners of war who had been assigned the task of rebuilding what their army had destroyed. I was anxious to talk to these young men, to find out where they came from and what they knew of their families and children, but my military adjutant said it would be unwise to bring up the question.
Stalingrad was almost a ruin, with only the strongest and most massive buildings still standing. Only the Volga was unaffected by war, as it flowed wide and peaceful toward the Caspian Sea. We were given accommodations in a military barracks decorated with pictures of the Stalingrad campaign, for it was at this spot that the German Sixth Army, commanded by Field-Marshal Paulus, was surrounded and defeated, an event that marked the turning point in the war between Russia and Germany.
Our Russian hosts were extremely hospitable and gracious, but no one was willing to discuss my projected meeting with Stalin. No mention of a meeting appeared on he official agenda, but I had been privately assured that the Generalissimo was ready to receive me. One afternoon at two o’clock my military adjutant came to see me, smiling broadly, with the news that we were going to see Stalin in an hour. I’ve always thought of myself as a strong person, one ho is able to maintain at least a surface calm and an air of ssurance in the face of difficult or unpleasant situations. But now that I was actually on my way to meet the most powerful man in the Eastern hemisphere, a man with a reputation that was both awesome and frightening, my nerves were not as steady as I would have hoped. This meeting was much more important than the usual state visit, and I still didn’t know exactly what I would say to this man who controlled the destiny of a vital portion of my country. As we were driving to the Kremlin, I checked my appearance in a small hand mirror, which then slipped from my hands and shattered into a dozen fragments. I am superstitious, and my apprehension about meeting Stalin was heightened by what I took to be a bad omen.
When I arrived at the Kremlin, accompanied by General Shafai, my adjutant, a Russian interpreter, and my lady-in-waiting, we were saluted by a young officer, who said something in Russian to the interpreter. I was informed that from this point on I would have to proceed alone. The Russian translator and I climbed several flights of stairs, walked through long corridors, crossing huge reception halls as we passed. Everywhere I saw massive crystal chandeliers, magnificent paintings, and other valuable objets d’art. At last we reached a great, rectangular hail dominated by many ornamental chandeliers and a baronial red carpet in the center of the floor. Arranged around the carpet, almost like decorative toy soldiers, were uniformed guards carrying ornamental spears. We were joined in this hail by the Chief of Protocol, who then proceeded to walk a few steps ahead of us as we made our way through yet another of these endless halls. I had never before visited anyone under such formal conditions, and I found the absolute silence and solemnity both ironic and intriguing. I had somehow imagined that the state atmosphere of a Communist country, especially after a great war, would somehow be more— I don’t know, proletarian, perhaps. But here I was, in the midst of a pomp and circumstance I would have associated with the imperial tsars.
We came to a monumental door which took us into still another reception room, where five Russian officers, all heavily decorated with medals and other military ornaments, stood rigidly at attention. One of these officers pointed to a chair, and since he seemed to be inviting me to sit down, I did. All of these rituals had unsettled me even more, and I couldn’t imagine what might be coming next. Considering the state of affairs between our two nations, I had a hard time pushing aside a recurring fantasy that somehow I might be arrested and sent to the famous Lubyanka prison, never to be heard from again.
The ring of a telephone interrupted my fantasy. One of the officers answered the call, and after a brief exchange he signaled me to walk toward another set of massive doors on the far end of the room. These doors were manned by two civilian servants, who showed me into another large room. For a moment I thought the room was empty, that it was just another way station in this complicated journey. I was startled when I caught a glimpse of someone standing at the far end of the room. I took a few steps forward—and realized I was in the presence of Generalissimo Josef Stalin.
He was not at all what I had expected. I had imagined someone as big and terrifying as his reputation, but here was a short, rather soft, plump man with broad shoulders and a thick mustache. He might have been a coachman or a doorman—except for his eyes, which were dark and piercing and, yes, frightening. The first thing he did was to stretch out his hands in a gesture of welcome and then take my hand, shaking it vigorously. He led me to a couch, where we sat facing each other, and he started speaking (an interpreter seated behind him) in a low, monotonous voice, scarcely moving his lips. I think he must have noticed that I was tense, because he began with some small talk, friendly, innocuous remarks that were meant to put me at ease. I had been told by the Chief of Protocol that our meeting would last for only ten minutes, since the Generalissimo had many other engagements. But Stalin did not seem to be in a great hurry, and when the Chief of Protocol came in to whisper something in his ear, Stalin waved him away.
I didn’t know how much time I would have, so I took a deep breath and started to talk, and the essentials of what I said I can now reveal here. I reminded the Generalissimo that after the revolution Lenin had cancelled all the imperialistic benefits the Tsar had enjoyed in Iran, thus gaining the respect and admiration of our people. I pleaded as passionately as I could for an end to Russian support for the Azerbaijan “Republic,” trying to convince Stalin that this puppet state would strain relations between our two countries for years to come. In the long run, I added, Iran’s friendship and trust would be more valuable to the Soviet Union, since we were willing to cooperate in the development of economic ties with our northern neighbor. Stalin listened attentively, not interrupting, and sending away the Chief of Protocol each time he tried to say something about ending our meeting. By this time we had been talking for more than an hour.
When I stopped talking, Stalin began to build gradually on the theme that Iran would not need “other friends” in addition to the Soviet Union. He made several oblique references to our complaint to the UN, arguing that disputes between our countries should be resolved through mutual understanding and negotiations, without the interference of any foreign force or organization. He warned me that Iran should not try to oppose Russia on the basis of support from the Americans. In Stalin’s mind, it was he who had defeated the Axis powers, and he made it clear he was not afraid of America and Great Britain. As he spoke, I formed a picture of a man who was not a Communist intellectual by any means, but rather a pragmatic realist who ruled Russia in an almost imperial manner. Although he was willing to use armed force whenever he thought it was useful, he knew full well his country could not afford any rge-scale conflict, but he made his political choices based on the certainty that no one else could afford such conflicts either. At the time of our talk, I believe he had already come to the conclusion that a Communist revolution in Iran was not a viable prospect. So he pressed instead for some realistic gains, specifically for the establishment of a joint Soviet-Iranian oil venture for the exploitation of oil in Azerbaijan. He brought up the subject of the Russian-Iranian oil agreement that had been drafted by Prime Minister Qavam and by the Soviet Ambassador Sadchukov, I tried to remain noncommital, listening to what he had to say, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. This seemed to satisfy him, so before our discussion ended, I expressed the hope that Russia would stop its “cold war” activities in Iran (the Soviets first employed these techniques in Iran, before the phrase “cold war” had been coined).
Our ten-minute meeting had lasted for two and a half hours, and when it was over Stalin offered me his hand and escorted me to the door. Before I left, he put his hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes, and said: “Give my best regards to your brother, the Shahanshah, and tell him that if he had ten like you, he would have no worries at all.” Turning to the interpreter, and pointing to me, he said: “Eta Pravda Patriot [Here is a true patriot] .“
The following day I was scheduled to visit a Moscow hospital, but I was informed that the trip had been cancelled. Instead I was invited by Generalissimo Stalin to join him for a sport ceremony at Moscow’s largest stadium. When I arrived at the stadium, I was taken to Stalin’s box, and the Generalissimo gallantly offered me the seat next to his. Several high-ranking Soviet officials were already seated, including Mr. Molotov, who was readily recognizable by his round spectacles and his distinctive Mongol face. Once the formal introductions were made, I sat back, ready to relax and enjoy the program of athletic and folk events. Now that our political “business” had been concluded, Stalin became a gracious, attentive host. Before I meet with a public figure, I always try to do my homework, reading whatever biographical information I can find. In Stalin’s case, I knew that he had never received a princess, nor did he have any fondness for any monarchic regime. But on a personal level he was most solicitous that day, looked at me often, asked if I was cornfortable, offered me tea and cakes, and told me a little bit about each of the events we were watching. Before I left Russia, Stalin sent me a magnificent sable coat. This gift made some rather splashy headlines, but I still cherish it as the souvenir of my first mission in foreign diplomacy.
As I could have predicted after my discussion with Stalin, Ambassador Sadchukov continued to press for ratification of the Qavam-Sadchukov agreement and for the creation of the lrano-Soviet Oil Company. Yet even though such a joint venture seemed to be in the offing, Iran did not withdraw its complaint from the UN, despite extreme pressure from the Russians. In this we had the support of the United States and other Western powers, for by now the wartime “marriage of convenience” between Fast and West was in serious trouble and the cold war had officially begun. President Truman would no longer ignore the nature of Russian activity in Iran and Turkey. UN debates on this activity reached a peak in the spring of 1946, with the Soviets constantly threatening to withdraw from the Security Council. But on the issue of Azerbaijan, the Russians backed down and evacuated their troops, apparently willing for the moment to be content with an oil agreement.