The Azerbaijani people, concentrated in the far north of Iran and the south of the Soviet Union, were in the vanguard of postwar anti-imperialist struggles against the brutal regime of the shah, or king, and his imperialist backers. Viciously attacked by police and agents of the large landowners during elections in 1945, they organized armed militias called Fedayeen and, with the assistance of Soviet troops, overran the shah's gendarmes and soldiers. By the end of 1945 they had established their own government.
Headed by Jafar Pishevari, the leader of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, or Firga, the government inaugurated a deep-going land reform, granted women the vote, established schooling in the formerly illegal Azeri Turkish language, and took steps to improve living standards. Elsewhere in Iran, Kurdish people drove out the shah's armies and established their own government, and workers in the British-controlled oil industry in the south began strike actions that rallied workers all over the country.
The imperialist powers and the shah reacted with hostility to the new government, preparing a counteroffensive and pressuring the Stalin government in Moscow to bring its weight to bear against the revolution. The shah's prime minister, whose cabinet at first included representatives of the pro-Moscow Tudeh Party, promised the Soviet regime the concession for oil fields in the north.
As the showdown approached in 1946, Pishevari called on the Azerbaijani people to rise and defend their government, appealing to their rich history of struggle. Under pressure from Moscow, however, the majority of Firga's leadership renounced resistance in the name of "avoiding bloodshed." Thus disarmed, the workers and peasants were exposed to a bloody slaughter. Thousands were executed. The shah's troops also smashed the Kurdish republic in similar fashion. Shortly afterwards, Pishevari died in prison in the Soviet Union.
Three decades later, oil workers and other working people in Azerbaijan took a leading part in the mobilizations that brought the shah's regime of torture and murder to an end.
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