When the Allied leaders—Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin—met in Tehran in November 1943 to forge a 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. While the conference is a central event in international diplomatic history, 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. These included groups of Polish, Ukrainian and Russian Jews, as well as refugees of all kinds, who found sanctuary in Iran after 1939. Moreover, the occupation mixed Iranians of diverse backgrounds with Allied diplomats, engineers, military personnel and workers from international aid organizations. 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, Middle Eastern and European history. The panels assert the historical importance of 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 first panel, “Tehran 1943 I: International Actors, Transnational Actions,” starts with the Tehran conference of November-December 1943 in order to open up new regional and international frameworks for studying Iran’s place and actions in the war. Jennifer Jenkins explores the transnational conditions of the Allied invasion and the wartime diplomacy which cemented the Alliance of the Big Three on Tehran’s terrain. Lydia Wytenbroek explores the role played by American nurses and medical missionaries in Iran during the war, highlighting the importance of international health work in the Allied occupation. Ida Meftahi looks at the Allied occupation through the lens of recreation and performance, detailing the “performative politics” of the American, British and Soviet occupiers and their interface with an expanding Iranian public. Sabrina Guerrieri’s paper brings several themes together in her investigation of the career of the UN representative Nasrollah Entezam, placing the discussion on Iranian sovereignty in the emerging context of international institutions such as the United Nations.