Since the establishment of the short lived Azerbaijani Democratic Republic in 1918, and then again during the Soviet period, the question of the so-called unification of the ‘nation divided into the Northern and Southern parts by our two powerful neighbours’ has been one of the topics dominating the public discourse in the Northern, Russian and Soviet part of Greater Azerbaijan. This idea has received less attention in the southern part of this region due to the strong loyalty of the majority of the population to their Iranian identity. This disregard for unification by the Turkic population of Iran however did not prevent intellectuals of Northern Azerbaijan to zealously promote this idea. Driven by this agenda during Soviet rule, local Soviet literati and historians interpreted every political movement in the south as a manifestation of the Azerbaijani Turks’ desire for national self-determination. Sattar Khan’s uprising in Tabriz and Shaykh Muhammad Khiyabani’s anti-colonial revolt have been labelled by Soviet Azerbaijani historians as the ‘national liberation movements of southern brothers.’ Therefore, the Soviet invasion of Iran during WWII and Stalin’s attempt to use the Southern Azerbaijan issue as a part of Communist regime’s bigger global agenda boosted local Soviet Azerbaijani intellectuals’ interest in this issue. Even the notorious Stalinist leader of Soviet Azerbaijan, M. Bagirov, tried to use it as proof of his loyalty. In present-day Azerbaijan several attempts have been made to use Bagirov’s commitment in order to restore his image as an Azerbaijani patriot.
Unfortunately, as the author fairly notes, the WWII events in Northern Iran still remain understudied despite their historical significance, notably as a trigger of the Cold War. Although this article’s primary goal is to evaluate the Azerbaijani historiography of this episode of regional history, it also aims to bring some clarification to the controversial issue. The author’s discussion of the relation between the re-mergence of the Southern Azerbaijani issue in the post-Soviet period and the territorial losses during the Upper Qarabagh conflict does not provide comprehensive answer to the question. The article examines works by several Azerbaijani historians Djamyl Gasanly, Eldar Ismayilov and Parvin Darabadi. The author builds her argument primarily on Gasanly’s Iuzhnyi Azerbaidzhan: Nachalo kholodnoi voiny (Baku, 2003; see my review in Central Eurasian Reader 1 , No. 245 p. 211), which is the most comprehensive work written in independent Azerbaijan on this issue. She questions the impartiality and one-sidedness of Azerbaijani historians in general. However, historians like Gasanly, Ismayilov, and Darabadi probably belong to the less nationalistic wing of human and social sciences in Baku. In this regard, it should be underlined that an assessment of Azerbaijani historiography based on works written only in Russian language cannot provide researchers with a complete picture of the country’s academic countryside. Contrary to what could be observed in Soviet Central Asia for instance, the most valuable research by Soviet Azerbaijani historians were written and published in their native language, and this trend has only strengthened after the end of the Soviet period. This article is crucial to ongoing discussions because of its value as an interpretation, from the opposite perspective, of the Soviet occupation of Northern Iran and of the creation there of an Azerbaijani national government. Unfortunately, the main question that has been occupying scholars for many years still remains unanswered: What was the primary reason which forced Stalin to pull out his troops from Iran in violent hurry, signalling the failure of such a thoroughly implemented project?