Friday, January 22, 2010

The republic of Kurdistan in Mehabad

Short-lived state in today's western Iran from 1945 to 1946.

The republic's official name was "State of Republic of Kurdistan" (Kurdish: Komarí Kurdistan le Mehabad), but was also referred to as "National Government of Kurdistan". Through its one year existence, the republic never quite decided whether it was an independent state or autonomous region of Iran.
Kurdistan Republic
The capital of the republic was Mehabad. The extent of the republic was never set — there were peaceful negotiations with the neighbouring Iranian province of Azerbaijan about which republic should control border towns like Khoy, Selmas and Orumiyeh (Wirmí) in the north, and Miandouad (Míyandoaw) in the east.

A government was established, but the republic never got to electing a parliament. A national army was established, but did never get enough time to develop into a credible defence force.

A treaty of friendship was signed with Azerbaijan, covering cooperation on the most important political issues, like economy, military and foreign politics.

The republic introduced Kurdish as the official language, and the language to be used in educational institutions. Some Kurdish language periodicals appeared.

There were some redistribution of agricultural lands, but this only applied to unoccupied lands. There were no forms of land reform.

In fact, during World war II the Russians occupied Northern Iran and the British occupied the south. The objective was to dislodge Reza Shah who the Allies suspected would turn his pro-German sympathy into military alliance. A power vacuum resulted in the Kurdish area between the two zones, with some areas, Shahpur and Urmiya (Wirmí), falling under Soviet control. In the hope of using the opportunity to break loose from Iranian tutelage. Kurdish nationalists formed a party in 1942, Komelley Jhíyanewey Kurd (The Kurd Resurrection Group). Under Soviet influence, but not control, both the Kurds and the Azerbaijani Turks further north were able to direct their own affairs. The Soviets still harboured an interest in annexing the Azerbaijan area which they had coveted throughout much of the 19th Century, and were also extremely interested in oil concessions in north Iran. But the Allies had, at the time of their invasion, also pledged themselves to withdraw from Iran by March 1946. As that time drew near the Kurds and Azerbaijanis formalized their independence from Tehran. In December 1945 Azerbaijanis captured Tabriz with Soviet encouragement, and declared a Democratic Repuplic of Azerbaijan. Following the Azerbaijani lead the Kurds declared the Republic of Mehabad a few days later, and in January 1946 formed a government under the Presidency of Qazi (judge) Muhammad, a respected member of a leading family of Mehabad.
Map of Kurdistan Republic
The Republic was outside the area actually occupied by Soviet forces stretching from Urmiya (Rezaiah) northwards, and was unable to incorporate Kurdish areas of Saqqiz (Seqiz), Sanandaj (Sine) and Kirmanshan to south which were within the Anglo-American zone of control. It was thus pitifully small. The government was formed by the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDPIr), an amalgam and compromise between older groups, Komelle, Híwa, a younger Iraqi leftist party, and a group of Kurdish communists. The longstanding division between Kurds, even in so small a area were soon apparent. Before the declaration of the republic the Soviet had already encouraged separatism, not through leftist political groups, but more pragmatically trough tribal chiefs. Each of these had been evasive, reluctant to jeopardize his own pivotal position between government and tribes people. Following the declaration of the republic many other lesser chiefs in the area had avoided becoming to closely involved with the Mehabad Government, which found itself depended mainly on relatives of the locally popular Qazi Muhammad and other citizens of Mahabad. Only the fortuitous acquisition of Mulla Mastafa Barzani (in flight from British and Hashemites in Iraq) and 3000 followers in November 1945 made Qazi Muhammad's position feasible.

Whether or not the Mehabad Republic was set upon a path to complete independence is questionable. At the time of its establishment it sought complete autonomy within Iran's frontiers. Within the republic Kurdish became the official language, periodicals appeared, and the economy benefitted from direct trade withe USSR. A number of traditional leaders had fled rather than be implicated in a movement which would destroy their own powerful position between Tehran and their tribal or village populations. The land such chiefs was redistributed, but not on leftist principles. Some of it went to the Barzani's from Iraq. Leftists and traditionalists were anxious to compromise in order to keep the republic afloat. At a political level the Mehabad Government expected the USSR to stand by them although, since pragmatism had led the Soviet to approach tribal leaders in spring 1945 rather than to sponsor ideologically correct republics, this was wishful thinking. The expectation also ignored widespread Kurdish suspicion of the Russians, based on Russian incursions into Azerbaijan in the 19th Century, and the way in which Russians had laid bare parts of Kurdistan, including sacking Mehabad during World War I. Kurdish political groups elsewhere were hostile Qazi Muhammad's Soviet connections. Tribes in the region suffered economically from Soviet occupation and from the Mehabad Republic since they could not make their customary tobacco crop sales to other parts of Iran. West of Mehabad both the Mamesh and Mangur tribes (the closest tribes to the town) were bitterly hostile to Mahabad, to the extent that Barzani's men, who had outlasted their welcome in the area, were sent against them.

The Mehabad Government also badly miscalculated Soviet interests. Although the Soviet had encouraged both Azerbaijan and Mhabad to declare autonomous republics, they were not prepared to defend Them. Regardless of whether either was a sound 'soviet' - and it was manifestly clear Mehabad was not - Soviet interests lay in its overall relationship with Iran, and with the oil exploration concession it was not only interested in but managed to obtain (though subsequently not ratified by Iran's parliament) in spring 1946. By late May 1946 the Soviets had left Iranian soil. Their military help to the Kurdish Republic did not extend beyond persuading a few petty tribal chiefs always ready for fighting and loot to join the Qazi and to persuade the reluctant Amir Khan of the Shikak (who had resigned from Mahabad Government) to reaffirm his support. despite honest attempts Qazi Muhammad was unable to reach an agreement with Tehran. He was aware that a majority of Kurds under their tribal chiefs were unwilling to support him and liable to support the government. In December 1946 the Iranian advanced on Azerbaijan where the republic collapsed almost without resistance, with some of its leadership fleeing to USSR. Amir Khan once more changed sides, pledging loyalty to Tehran, and along with other chiefs, being accepted back into the fold. Soon afterwards Iranian troops entered Mehabad ( the Dehbokri, Mamesh and Mangur) in the van of the advancing column. Qazi Muhammad, a man of honour to the end, made no attempt to flee. Barzani withdrew with his men to Iraqi side of the border.
Qazi Mohammad
All traces of Qazi Muhammad's Government were eradicated. The printing press was closed, the teaching of Kurdish prohibited, and the people of Mehabad burnt their Kurdish books. The area was disarmed, though those Kurdish tribes which had co-operated with the Iranian government were exempted. In March 1947 Qazi Muhammad an two of his colleagues were publicly hanged in Mehabad's main square. Eleven chiefs hanged to encourage loyalty amongst the other. For the Kurds the episode of Mehabad held bitter lessons. Barely one third of the Iranian Kurds had fallen inside the Mehabad Republic. Many of these did not actively oppose but certainly did not support it. much rested on the personal prestige of Qazi Muhammad within the town. Beyond the 'liberated zone'few Kurds demonstrated their willingness either to rebel where they were or march to Mehabad's aid. Most stayed at home. Belief in, and dependence on, outside powerful sponsors was shown to be dangerous, potentially suicidal. The military strength of the Kurds still by lay in the hand of tribal chiefs, and these proved to be quarrelsome, capricious, unreliable, and politically uncommitted to the same ideas as urban intellectuals and nationalists. The same bitter lessons were to be replayed in Iraq.

Cabinet of the Republic of Kurdistan in Mahabad
The cabinet of the Republic of Kurdistan 1946

Members of Cabinet
  1. Mr. Qazi Muhammad (Qazí Muhemed), President
  2. Mr. Haji Baba Sheikh (Hají Baba Sheyx), Prime Minister


  • 1941: As part of World War II, Iran is partly occupied by foreign forces. In the south, British troops move in, while Soviet troops take control over the north. The region around Mehabad is not occupied.
  • 1942: The Kurdish movement Komelley Jhíyaní Kurdistan is founded, asking for more rights of the Kurds.
  • 1945: The Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) is started, and all members of Komelle joins. KDP asked for autonomy (i.e. not an independent state), Kurdish as an official language, local democracy and governance and better laws for dealing with the relations between peasants and landowners.
  • 1946 January 24: The State of Republic of Kurdistan is proclaimed by the Kurdish Democratic Party in a ceremony in Seqiz. Delegates from the surrounding lands participate. Qazi Muhammad becomes president, while Mustafa Barzani as commander-in-chief.
  • May: Soviet troops withdraws from Iran, and leaves the republic vulnerable for attack by Iranian forces.
  • December: Iranian troops march into Mehabad, and end the Kurdish rule over the region.

The Oath of Office of President Ghazi Mohammad Republic of Kurdistan, 1945.

"I swear by God and God’s supreme Word (the Koran), the Homeland and the honor of the Kurds and their
sacred flag, that I shall endeavor with my body and soul for the independence of Kurdistan and the keeping
aloft its flag, until my last breath of life and the last drop of my blood. I shall, as the President of Kurdistan, remain loyal and devote to the unity of Kurds and Azerbaijan."


1. David Mcdowall, The Kurds in Iran, 1991
2. The Encyclopaedia of Orient