The Nationalists Return

  March 30, 2022   Read time 2 min
The Nationalists Return
The fate of the democrats was in the hands of the foreign powers by mid- 1916. The British continued to urge the Russians to extend Baratov’s offensive into Iraq to relieve the pressure on the British Army, still reeling from the loss at Kut.

The Turks, meanwhile, sensed an opportunity to extend Istanbul’s infl uence over the Turkic- speaking people of Azerbaijan and Iran. Two Turkish divisions supported by German artillery, machine gun detachments, signal units, and pilots were placed under General Ali Ihsan and prepared to capture Kermanshah. In operations in which the remaining Iranian nationalist forces played only a minor role, the Turks defeated Baratov’s advance and forced the Russians back to the Paitak Pass in Iran. Disease and casualties had depleted Baratov’s forces while att acks by Kurdish raiders on Russian supply convoys left him with critical material shortages. Aft er several days of intense fi ghting in which both sides suff ered severe losses, the Turks occupied Kermanshah on July 1, 1916, as the Russians withdrew to Hamadan.

Nizam al- Saltanah’s provisional government followed the Turkish army into Iran to cooperate in reactivating and expanding the nationalist army to supplement the Turkish spearhead and protect the Ottoman flanks. With German support, the nationalists called back gendarmes, trained new recruits, dispatched troops for garrisons in the liberated cities, and incited the Bakhtiari tribes around Esfahan to att ack Allied forces there. Aft er Ali Ihsan forced the Russians out of Hamadan in mid- August, the Ott oman- Iranian forces expanded the front to the northwest and southeast, establishing their control over a large part of the central border region.

The Turks, however, faced their own problems with long supply lines and a less favorable balance of forces aft er the Russians bolstered Baratov’s defenses in the Sultan Bulaq Pass with more troops. Ali Ihsan lacked the ability to sustain the large att ack needed to push on to Tehran, so the two enemies sett led into a static front from Bijar in the north to Borujerd and Soltanabad (Arak) in the south until February 1917.

During these fi ve months the provisional government built up its Gendarmerie and tribal cavalry forces to a strength of perhaps ten thousand men. The restored army still was heavily dependent on Turkish units that were soon needed elsewhere. A new British off ensive in Iraq in December 1916 forced the Ott oman high command to recall the Turkish divisions in Iran. In late January, the Turks started to withdraw, and the Russians quickly seized Hamadan and then Kermanshah. By the end of March the Russians and Turks were again fi ghting on the Diyala River to the northeast of Baghdad, which had just fallen to the resurgent British.

The provisional government left Iran just ahead of the Russians and sought asylum in Turkey, where the movement, weakened and demoralized, expired. Many Iranian Gendarmerie offi cers left for exile, but others went back to their homes and eventually rejoined Iran’s postwar armed forces. Peace, however, had not yet come to Iran.

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