Can Iran Trust Russia?
Ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has stated that the United States is Iran’s enemy that cannot be trusted, and that wishes to topple the Islamic Republic and dominate Iran again. Since last year’s nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany), Khamenei has repeatedly claimed that Iran has carried out its obligations under the agreement, whereas the U.S. has done so only “on paper.”
The fact is that every nation and government pursues what it considers to be its national interests and expediency. To do so, every government uses everything in its disposal, including conspiracy, spying, deception, infiltration, etc. Thus, even friendly nations do not completely trust each other. Recall that the U.S. eavesdropped on leaders of many Western European nations.
But, the problem is that Khamenei speaks as if only the United States, Israel and their Western allies try to gain influence in Iran, or pursue policies that are not in Iran’s national interests. At the same time, Khamenei has been presenting a completely positive image of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. Yet even a glance at Iran’s history over the past two hundred years indicates that Russia has harmed Iran repeatedly including, for example, by imposing the Treaties of Gulistan (1813) and Turkmenchay (1828) on Iran, forcing it to cede large parts of its territory in the Caucasus region. Khamenei is also pursuing expanded relations with Russia to form a united front with it against the West. This requires not only a glaring double standard, but the breach of one of the main slogans of the 1979 Revolution, namely, “neither West nor East.” How did this come to be?
Khamenei, the Novel Reader
Khamenei likes to read Western novels, which I discussed in a previous article. He has also read many Russian novels, and considers himself well informed on the history of the October 1917 Revolution in Russia. In fact, some aspects of that revolution represent models that he thinks he should follow.
In a meeting with artists and cultural officials of the state in July 1994, Khamenei complained about the intellectuals, poets and writers in the pre-Revolution Iran, claiming that none of them joined the 1979 Revolution. He then turned to the Russian Revolution, and while conceding that it was very brutal and violent, “It attracted a large number of Russian intellectuals and first-rate writers and poets.” He mentioned Aleksey Tolstoy (1883-1945), the Russian writer—“whom I like very much”—and the fact that up until 1925 he was even a counter-revolutionary who had left Russia, but after he returned home, he wrote a “great novel” about the Russian Revolution that described beautifully its events. Khamenei then mentioned another Russian writer, Mikhail Sholokhov (1905-1984),who wrote And Quiet Flows the Don. Initially, Russian officials did not even allow publication of the epic novel, Khamenei said, but, “Unfortunately, [our] intellectuals, poets, and musicians did not support the Islamic Republic.”
Ali Larijani, the current Speaker of the Majles [parliament], headed the Voice and Visage of the Islamic Republic [the state-controlled national networks of radio and television] for 10 years, beginning in 1992. In a confidential letter to him, Khamenei wrote,
“If you read and watch the Russian novels and plays, you would know that they did their utmost to produce the best works, such as, for example, The Mother (a novel) and Vassa Zheleznova (a drama), both by Maxim Gorky; And Quiet Flows the Don, and tens of other novels and plays. They picture Russia both before the Revolution and the sacrifices made by the people and leaders after the Revolution. But, the work that has been done [in Iran] in this regard ever since the Revolution has been close to nothing. It is your duty to recognize this great responsibility and try to make up for it by serious and sustained work. You should report to me on the progress that you make” [Via Larijani’s ten-year memoirs, posted on the website of Jaam-e Jam, the website close to him].
To Khamenei, Russians’ use of music to encourage people to take part in wars is a model that should be emulated. In another meeting with cultural officials and figures in July 2011, Khamenei said,
I have heard that during World War II in Russia, the music played by Habil Aliyev [known in Iran as Aliyev’s Shur], the well-known music that you gentlemen know, but I do not and have never listened to, had the greatest effect on the people for exciting them to join the war efforts and go to the fronts. This means that the music was deployed for achieving people’s goals. Naturally, this is expected of any [true] artist in any nation. Thus, how can we be indifferent about this, while the enemy uses it?
To Khamenei, resisting the enemy is very important, which is why he said in September of 2005,