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. As this project demonstrates, 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 third panel, “Tehran 1943: Occupation and Economic Modernization,” takes up the issue of the 1940s as a period of economic decline. The participants each question this characterization, seeking to reinstate the particular conditions of the 1940s in driving forward Iranian modernization on all levels. Rather than only the denouement of Reza Shah’s projects of state modernization, or the preview to the Mossadegh years, the 1940s were the vital connector between the one and the other. Mary Yoshinari explores “the planning of Iran’s national economy”during the war, particularly the expertise exercised by new native and foreign specialists and the expansion of infrastructural projects as sites of “international collaboration.” Ali Saeidi analyzes the economic power exercised by Iranian family firms in the 1940s, focusing specifically on the Ladjevardi, Arjomand and Irvani families and arguing for the importance of the 1940s as a formative period in the creation of Iranian capitalism. Mikiya Koyagi details the transformation of Iran’s industrial labor force during the occupation by examining the case of railway workers, thus expanding the perspective of labor history beyond the oil industry.