Shivering Soldiers and Foreign Interventions

  February 01, 2022   Read time 3 min
Shivering Soldiers and Foreign Interventions
Recognizing Tehran’s vulnerability to the Russians, democratic leaders had started to create fighting forces to defend a new government to be set up in Esfahan.

The plan was to build the army around Gendarmerie units, supplement it with tribal forces and urban volunteers, and rely on the German military mission’s help with operations, supplies, and administration. By May 1915 the leaders of Iran’s Democratic Party, with German support, had gathered a mixed force of more than seven hundred tribal levies and irregular volunteers at Kermanshah in western Iran. This small army established control over the area between Kermanshah and Qasr- e Shirin on the border with Ottoman Iraq.

It then tried to expand eastward to Borujerd to link up with the Gendarmerie regiment there, which commanded approximately three thousand trained and equipped men dispersed in regional garrisons. Anticipating a Russian advance on Iraq to outflank the Caucasus Front and support the British expedition just then starting to move up the Tigris River toward Baghdad, the Germans guided the nationalists to control the Borujerd region to block the main routes through the mountain passes leading from central Iran. The Gendarmerie offi cers in Borujerd and their Swedish commander cooperated with the Germans and already had set up an intelligence network to support the democrats and pass along coded telegraphic communications between all Gendarmerie outposts.

Despite British and Russian pressure on the Iranian shah and prime minister that had led to the reshuffl ing of a series of cabinets, a German- leaning government was formed at this critical moment. The new prime minister, a democrat, held secret talks with the Germans, who promised to defend Iran’s territorial integrity and independence if Tehran participated in the confl ict against Great Britain and Russia. At roughly the same time, Count Kaunitz and Major DeMare, the Swedish commander of the Borujerd Gendarmerie, met with Nizam al- Saltanah, the governor of Luristan and Khuzestan, and obtained his agreement to become the commander in chief of the nationalist army.

The first German supplies and money were soon delivered to Kermanshah, and the governor began enlisting Lur tribesmen into his army. Mustering the Lurs and fostering a modicum of inter tribal cooperation enabled several hundred warriors from pro- German Bakhtiari tribes to travel unimpeded through Lur territory to Borujerd to join the nationalist forces there.

Iranian Democratic Party and German plans for a defense of Tehran were threatened with preemption as Russian expeditionary forces appeared ready to move before preparations in the capital were completed. In addition to the nationalist army being created at Kermanshah, the democrats had formed armed mujahedin units from Gilan to Semnan to harass the Russian troops entering Iran from the north. Most of the northern fi ghters came from Gilan and followed Kuchik Khan, the leader of the Jangali insurrection. (Jangal means “forest” in Persian and entered the English language from India as jungle. The jangal in Gilan at the time, however, consisted of dense temperate- zone hardwoods, not tropical trees.)
A former clerical student and a mujahedin during the Constitutional Revolution, Kuchik Khan had started a mixed pan- Islamist, nationalist, and left ist rebellion against the northern landlords, the central government, and the Russians in early 1915 and easily repulsed the Persian Cossack units and tribal forces sent to suppress him. At home in Gilan’s forests, the Jangalis established training camps and were joined by some Gendarmerie offi cers and Kurdish tribesmen. It was autumn, however, before these forces began to raid Russian supply detachments using the small amounts of arms and ammunition supplied by the Germans and Ottomans.

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