Lord Curzon's Plan for Political Knockdown of Bolsheviks

  November 28, 2021   Read time 4 min
Lord Curzon's Plan for Political Knockdown of Bolsheviks
Pursuant to Curzon’s instructions Norman told the Shah that his departure from Iran at this time was out of the question. The Shah, further alarmed by reports of intended evacuation of Europeans, kept Norman for over two hours to induce him to agree to his leaving immediately.

Sensing that Norman was unmoved the Shah threatened to abdicate if his request were denied. He asserted that ‘if he were caught by the Bolsheviks he would inevitably lose his life. On the other hand he would fare no better if he fell into the power of the Bakhtiaris.’ In no event would he move to Esfahan, the seat of the Bakhtiari Khans, even if the Iranian Government transferred there. The Shah admitted that his support of British polity had made him unpopular and if he waited to leave just before the departure of British troops, he would be even more unpopular and it would be said ‘he was a mere servant of Britain’. Norman reported that the Shah was in a hopeless state and if his departure would not cause ‘immediate revolution and his brother would prove a more popular and energetic ruler, I propose he should go sooner’. Norman added that he would consult the Prime Minister to obtain his views. The following day Norman wrote to Curzon that there was not m uch more that could be done. The Shah mad with fear is dead to shame and inaccessible to reason.’

At their next meeting a few days later the Shah informed Norman that he had considered the matter more carefully and definitely decided ‘to leave the country as a private individual’. But before leaving he would consult a ‘small assembly of notables’ and then announce his decision. He had talked to his brother Mohammad Hassan Mirza, the Crown Prince, who had emphatically told him that he would not accept the succession and wanted nothing to do with the Throne. The Shah casually informed Norman that Iran would then become a republic and ‘there is nothing wrong with having a republic’.

Some three days later the Shah, in a complete turn-around, informed Norman that he had met with the notables who had pressed him to stay. He had also met with representatives of Various classes who also begged him not to go’. Now that the Shah apparently had been convinced to remain in the country, the question of moving the Government to Esfahan was seriously revived. Sepahdar had been in favour of the move to Esfahan as opposed to Shiraz which had also been under consideration. It was the Shah who, fearing the Bakhtiaris, had ruled out Esfahan. Curzon urged Norman to persuade the Shah, as well as other members of the Cabinet who had contemplated a move to another city, to accept Esfahan as the interim capital. From the first thoughts of evacuation of Tehran. Curzon had been a proponent of Esfahan, a former capital from the late sixteenth century to the first quarter of the eighteenth century. Additionally Curzon felt Shiraz was further away and isolated.

On 19 January Norman and Ironside met with representatives of the United States, Belgium, France and the old Czarist Russian regime. Ironside gave an appraisal of the military situation and arrangements for the evacuation of the foreign community. He stated that his intelligence sources believed the withdrawal of his force would be followed immediately by an advance on Qazvin and Tehran by Bolshevik troops now in Gilan calling themselves the ‘Persian National Army’ but including some 400 Soviet troops. With or without the approval of Moscow they would march southward and as they advanced ‘a revolution will break out in Tehran either before or after the arrival of these troops’. Ironside’s dire warnings were echoed by Norman who added that there were a further 30,000 Bolshevik troops concentrated at Baku who might take part in the campaign against Tehran.

Norman suggested to Curzon that an assurance to Moscow that British troops were on their way out of Iran might dissuade the Bolsheviks from their invasion plans. To discourage a premature abandonment of Tehran by the foreign community Curzon wrote to Norman: The Shah who is the most timid man in Persia has decided to stay... Persia has concluded or is on the verge of concluding a treaty with the Bolsheviks. Why then should the latter invade Persia or attack the Capital? Why should there be a general scuttle from Tehran?’ Curzon warned that great damage would be done to Britain's prestige by a ’precipitate retreat and abandonment of whole of Northern Persia to an enemy whose advance is by no means certain, and a revolution which can probably still be avoided’.