The two emerged from the occupation of Iran by Britain and the Soviet Union in 1941, when Reza Shah was forced to abdicate in favor of his son Muhammad Reza, in order to facilitate Allied supplies to the USSR. The Allies pledged to evacuate their forces from Iran within six months after the end of the war. These assurances were repeated when Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met at the Tehran Conference in 1943.
But as World War II ended and the Cold War began, the Soviets encouraged these two states to declare independence, and Soviet forces remained in northwestern Iran. The Azerbaijani state, which had its capital at Tabriz, was rather different from the Kurdish one: it was run by veteran Communists and closely tied to the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, while the Mahabad Republic, with its capital at Mahabad, as led by Iranian Kurdish nationalists of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), in alliance with a military force led by the Iraqi Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani, founder of the Iraqi KDP and father of the Kurdish Regional Government's President Mas‘oud Barzani.
|Azerbaijan Republic Flag|
To the West, the Kurdish region of Iran also sought to declare itself a Kurdish Republic. The USSR does not seem to have been as enthusiastic there since the Kurdish leadership were more traditional Kurdish nationalists rather than veteran Communists. The Soviets sought to encourage the Kurdish leadership in Mahabad, which during the period of Soviet occupation had been formed of traditional tribal and religious elements, to join the Azerbaijani Republic, but instead they declared thgeir own autonomous state on December 15, 1945 and on January 22, 1946, announced the formation of the Kurdish Rrpublic in Mahabad.
|Mustafa Barzani in 1946|
The United Nations
|Mahabad Republic Flag|
|Qazi Muhammad (l.) and Mustafa Barzani|
The end of Mahabad was messier and bloodier. Even as the withdrawal of Soviet support undercut his government, and many traditional tribal shaykhs and aghas were deserting the republic, Qazi Muhammad and his war council pledged armed resistance on December 5, 1946. With the Soviets leaving and Azerbaijan falling back under Tehran's control, this was a futile and rather puzzling gesture, especially given the fact that Qazi Muhammad agreed to the occupation of Mahabad by Iranian troops. During this period, Qazi Muhammad's brother, Sadr Qazi, had been serving as a Deputy in the Iranian Majlis in Tehran and serving as a go-between in negotiations. Nonetheless, after the fall of Mahabad, the Iranian government hanged Qazi Muhammad, Sadr Qazi, and their cousin Seif Qazi. This seems particularly unjust in the case of Sadr Qazi, who had been the go-between negotiator.
Mustafa Barzani and his Iraqi Kurdish forces tried but failed to cut a deal with Tehran and then conducted a fighting retreat toward the Iraqi and Soviet borders, bloodying the Iranian forces. To his credit, Stalin [as much as it pains me to write those four words about Stalin] allowed the Barzani forces into exile in Soviet Azerbaijan. In the 1950s, after the fall of the Iraqi monarchy, they would be allowed to re-enter Iraq.
The Azerbaijan Soviet satellite is largely forgotten, but Kurdish nationalists sill remember the Mahabad Republic as an evanescent moment of Kurdish independence. Unfortunately, they were dependent on Stalin to make that independence last, and Uncle Joe was not a man to depend upon. A YouTube video of the declaration of the republic: