The Contentious Historiography of the Gilan Republic in Iran: A Critical Exploration

This article was published in Iranian Studies Vol. 28, No. 1/2 (Winter - Spring, 1995), pp. 3-24.


The rise and demise of the 1920-21 Soviet Socialist Republic of Iran in Gilan played like an intense drama in modem Iranian history. It provided Iran with an example of a national liberation movement and a peasant-backed guerrilla force; it introduced to the country the founders of the Iranian Communist Party, exercising social authority and power in what they considered to be a liberation movement; it offered a brief experiment with socialism which ended tragically. Its principal leader, Mirza Kuchik Khan, combined an intense radical nationalism with a strong sense of politically engaged Shi’ism, thus providing Iranian opposition movements in the twentieth century with some of their archetypal characteristics. The defeat of the republic led to the death of Mirza Kuchik Khan (1880-1921) and the continued domination of Iran by Britain. Riza Khan (Pahlavi), who led the central government forces in the battle against the Gilan Republic and placed a bounty on the head of Mirza Kuchik Khan, credited himself with the fall of the republic.

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