When the Allied leaders—Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin—met in Tehran in November 1943 to forge their common strategy against Nazi Germany, it is often forgotten that Iran was itself an important terrain of the war. As the delegates met in Tehran, the war boiled around them. The Tehran conference is a central event in international diplomatic history, but much about it—particularly its Iranian context—is not known. Iran’s proximity to the vital battlefields of southern Russia (Stalingrad), and its long border with the Soviet Union, transformed it into a highly mobile wartime space. It became both a transfer zone for Allied war material and a place of safety for war refugees. This project demonstrates that the 1940s were not a forgotten decade but a generative period for Iran’s political and economic modernity. In three interconnected panels, participants explore the 1940s in Iran as a global moment in Iranian and international history and assert the historical importance of exploring Tehran as a site for the unfolding of twentieth-century global history with regard to both the Second World War and the Cold War that followed.
The second panel, “Tehran 1943: Politics and Political Contestation,” addresses the 1940s as a foundational decade in Iranian political history characterized by broad and diverse political mobilization. Victoria Tahmasebi starts the panel with a discussion of women’s central place in the political ferment of the 1940s, asserting that the formation of women’s organizations and the presence of women’s voices were vital in the making of a new political public. Alireza Haghighi explores the “religious revivalism” of the 1940s, focusing specifically on the mobilization of Iranian clerics and their conception of a modern political Islam in the context of the war and the occupation. The removal of Reza Shah, and the cessation of his brutal policies of clerical suppression, made such a period of dissemination and rethinking possible. Delbar Khakzad’s paper explores the temporal reorientation of religious discourses in the 1940s. Mina Yazdani’s paper details the shadow side of such political initiatives, exploring the increasing violence toward Iran’s Baha’is in this period. She explores the tension between political mobilization and the scapegoating of Baha’is as an irretrievably foreign element in a fractured and threatened nation.