|Part of World War I|
| Ottoman Empire || Russian Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
| General Halil Kut </br>
Count of Kaunitz
The Persian Campaign or Invasion of Persia was a series of engagements at northern Persian Azerbaijan and western Persia between the British and the Russian Empire's against the Ottoman Empire, beginning in December 1914 and ending on May 5, 1918 as part of Middle Eastern theatre of World War I. The Russian operations were halted by the Russian Revolution on February 23, 1917 when the Russian Caucasus Army was replaced with Armenian units and an Allied force named Dunsterforce.
Persia was formally neutral in World War I. In reality, Persian forces were affected by the rivalry between the Allied Powers and the Central Powers and took sides based on the conditions. Western interest in Persia was based on its significant oil reserve and its strategic situation between Afghanistan and the warring Ottoman, Russian, and British Empires. Persia was divided into northern and southern spheres of influence under the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1907. The convention capped off several decades of the Great Game between the Russians and British. The treaty also defined their respective spheres of influence in Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet and provided a counterweight to German influence.
Germany established their Intelligence Bureau for the East on the eve of World War I, dedicated to promoting and sustaining subversive and nationalist agitations in British India and the Persian and Egypt satellite states. The bureau was involved in intelligence and subversive missions to Persia and Afghanistan to dismantle the Anglo-Russian Entente. The bureau's operations in Persia were led by Wilhelm Wassmuss. The Germans hoped to free Persia from British and Russian influence and to further create a wedge between Russia and the British, eventually leading to an invasion of British India by locally organized armies.
The Ottoman Empire's — or rather German — military strategic goal was to cut off Russian access to the hydrocarbon resources around the Caspian Sea. Aligned with the Germans, the Ottoman Empire wanted to wane the influence of the Entente in this region, but for a very different reason. The Ottoman Minister of War, Enver Pasha, claimed that if the Russians could be beaten in the key cities of Persia, it could open the way to Azerbaijan, to Central Asia and to India. Enver Pasha visioned an extended cooperation between these newly establishing nationalistic states, if they were to be removed from western influence. This was his pan-Turanian project. Enver's project conflicted a major western project played out as struggles among several key imperial powers, known as Imperialism in Asia. His political position was based on the assumption that none of the colonial powers possessed the resources to withstand the strains of world war and maintain their direct rule in their Asian colonies. Although nationalist movements throughout the colonial world led to political upheaval in nearly all colonies in Asia during World War I and the interwar period, the decolonisation on the scale of Enver's ambitions was never achieved.
In 1914, before the war, the British government had contracted with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company for the supply of oil for the navy. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company was in the proposed path of Enver's project which British had the exclusive rights to work petroleum deposits throughout the Persian Empire except in the provinces of Azerbaijan, Gilan, Mazendaran, Astarabad and Khorasan.
The central Persian government had difficulties in establishing order before the war. In a single year; the Qashqai Tribesmen, the most powerful in southern Persia, defied the governor-general and raided in Fars as did the Boyer Ahmad-i's Tribesmen; the Khamseh Tribesmen raided the caravan routes in the Kerman province; and other tribes raided in the Fars, Yazd or Kermān provinces from time to time. The government-controlled gendarmerie had gradually established themselves, although not wholly, and engaged a number of tribesmen. The authorities constructed posts along the routes which they held at the outbreak of war.
Russia maintained forces in northern Persia. The Russians, based on security reasons of the situation of Christians in Persia, occupied a number of cities. Tabriz was occupied in 1909; Urmia and Khoi in 1910. This measure enabled the Russians not only to control Persia, but also to secure the road from their rail-head at Djoulfa to the Van Province of the Ottoman Empire through Khoi.
On June 28, 1914, World War I began. First the Ottoman Empire did not take any serious action. However, the security of the region began to decline even before the Russian-Ottoman conflicts. Disturbances began along the border. A notable attack was made on Urmia, ostensibly by Kurdish Tribesmen. About the same time the Russians closed the Ottoman consulates in Urmia, Tabriz and Khoi, and expelled the Kurds and other Sunni Muslims from the villages near Urmia. Arms were given at the same time to some of the Christians. Russian authorities distributed 24,000 rifles to the some Kurdish Tribesmen that sided with them in Persia and the Van Province. Russian-Ottoman conflicts began with the Bergmann Offensive on November 2, 1914.
In December 1914, General Myshlaevsky ordered a withdrawal from Persia at the height of the Battle of Sarikamish. Only one brigade of Russian troops under the command of the Armenian General Nazarbekoff and one battalion of Armenian volunteers scattered throughout Salmast and Urmia. Contact was limited to skirmishes on the border of northern Persia. The presence of Russian cavalry units kept them quiet. Enver established [one division] troops from conscripted at Constantinople [December 25]. This unit was given under the command of Khalil Bey. While Halil Bey's troops were preparing for the operation, a small group had already crossed the Persian frontier. After repulsing a Russian offensive toward Van, Van Gendarmerie Division [commanded by Major Ferid], a lightly equipped paramilitary formation, had chased the enemy into Persia.
On December 14, 1914, Van Jandarma Division occupied the city of Qotur. Later, proceeded towards Hoy. It was supposed to keep this passage open to Kâzım Bey (5th Expeditionary Force) and Halil Bey units (1st Expeditionary Force) who were to move towards Tabriz from the bridgehead established at Qotur. However, the Battle of Sarıkamısh depleted the Ottoman forces and these forces to be deploy to Persia needed elsewhere. On January 10 the 5th Expeditionary Force, which was on the way to Persia, was rerouted north to the Third Army and soon it was followed by the 1st Expeditionary Force.
In 1915, Wilhelm Wassmuss conferred with local chiefs and distributed pamphlets urging revolt. He was arrested by a local chief, but managed to escape from British custody. He hoped to incite a revolt through pro-German members of the Persian government in conjunction of invasion of Ottoman troops towards Kermanshah and Hamadan.
On January 4, 1915, a volunteer detachment led by Omer Naci Bey, who was sent to Persia on a special mission by Talat Pasha, captured the city of Urmia. One week later, the "Mosul Group" commanded by Omer Fevzi Bey entered Tabriz, without facing much resistance. Apparently taking the Russian higher command completely by surprise. Though referred as Khalil Bey by Aram, Omer Fevzi with his [superior] forces captured the city of Urmia in a few hours and marched on Salmast. At the end of 1914, Omer Fevzi who was identified as Khalil took nearly a thousand Russians prisoners. On January 26–28, 1915, in Sufian area, General Chernozubov had a brief fighting. Russia sent a strong force which succeeded in recapturing the city. On January 30, Chernozubov entered Tabriz.
On February 3, 1915, General Nazarbekov launched a counter-offensive. This time, the Van Gendarmerie Division succeeded in holding its lines. In early March, Nazarbekov attacked with a stronger force. He had seven battalions in total. On 7 March, Van Gendarmerie Division evacuated Dilman and began to withdraw, reaching Qotur three days later and entrenching there.
In April 1915, the 1st Expeditionary Force under the command of Halil Bey moved towards northern Persia. The objective was the city of Dilman, and to clean this region from Nazarbekov's forces, which would provide a significant tactical advantage in the Caucasian Campaign. Diliman was place one of the fiercest battles between the Armenians and the Turks. The first battalion of the Armenian volunteers, under the command of the Andranik repulsed the attacks of Khalil Bey, until the Russian Chernozubov arrived. The newly-arrived Russian forces from the Caucasus, they were able to put to flight Khalil Bey. A poorly executed night raid on April 14 cost Halil Bey around 2,000 casualties. He lost thirty-six hundred soldiers in the course of those three days. General Nazarbekov managed to push Halil Pasha regulars towards Başkale after the Battle of Diliman (April 15, 1915), securing the situation. Halil Bey received the following cable from Enver Pasha and leave this theater of war: "Van is silenced. Roads to Bitlis and Iraq are under danger. In order to avoid even greater threats, withdraw as soon as possible and join the Third Army which would take control of these gateways."
On May 8, 1915, one of the twelve Armenian messengers from the Siege of Van had got through to Persia. An Armenian volunteer unit with Andranik, along with 1200 man, and commander Chernoroyal's division dispatched toward the Bashkaleh. On May 7, they captured Bashkaleh. This group from Persia reach the City of Van on May 18. They had expected to find Van still in a state of siege and were amazed at finding it in the hands of the Armenians. When word got to Yudenich, he sent a brigade of Trans-Baikal Cossacks under General Trukhin. With Van secure, fighting shifted farther west for the rest of the summer.
During July 1915, Russian forces at the Caucasus Campaign had a general retreat which one Russian column retreated up to Persian frontier. This retreat was the consequence of events at June 1915. Yudenich planned an attack to limit the Ottomans at Moush and Manzikert. He planned to outflank from Beyazit and Persian Azerbaijan towards Van. However, the Russian advance toward the Caucuses campaign did not last long. The Russian forces suffered reverses. The command of Khalil Bey Eleven divisions of regular troops attacked the very center of the Russian Caucasian advance. In a few days they with Battle of Malazgirt July 16, and later Battle of Kara Killisse the Russian army retreated.
In August 1915, as the British occupied Bushire, the gendarmes under Akhgar retreated to Burazjan.
In November 1915, Major Pesyan as commander of Gendarmerie in Hamedan launched an attack on the pro-Russian Persian Cossack Brigade at the Battle of Musalla. His gendarmes managed to disarm the Persian Cossacks and he managed to win some of the cossacks to join his forces in a patriotic speech he made to them after their defeat. After this victory, Russians advanced on the Persian Gendermerie, in Robat-i-Karim forces under Mohammad Hossein Jahanbani and in Hamedan-Kermanshah road forces under Major Pesyan and Azizollah Zarghami could not defend Hamedan against an advancing Russian Caucasus Army which was superior in numbers and weapons. In Soltanabad, gendarmerie force under Masoud Kayhan were also defeated by the Russians. The gendarmes then retreated to Kermanshah. On November 10, 1915, pro-Central powers Persian Gendarmerie under Ali Quli Khan Pasyan defeat pro-British Khamseh tribal forces of Ibrahim Khan Qavam-ul-Mulk and capture Shiraz. All British residents of Shiraz are arrested. Gendarms also capture Yazd and Kerman.
In the middle of November 1915, General Yudenitch who was managing the Caucasian Campaign (the nearest to the spot), dispatched two columns into the Persian Azerbaijan; one, under General Nikolai Baratov, with the order to push southwestward through Hamadan to Kermanshah, on the way to Baghdad. The second column advanced through Kum and Kashan to Ispahan. A detachment of the Russian Caucasus Army marched on Tehran. On November 14, The Austro-Hungarian and German Ministers left the capital, but Ahmad Shah Qajar did not agree to leave his people behind, and the Prince of Reuss undertook to hold strategical points with a force of 6000 of the Persian gendarmerie, about 3000 Turkish irregulars, and the disaffected Persian tribesmen, about 15,000 in all. By the end of the month, Tehran was taken by the Russians Caucuses Army and Armenian volunteers.
In December 1915, the Shah was induced to appoint a new pro-Ally cabinet with Prince Firman Firma at its head. On December 15, 1915, Hamadan was captured by the Nikolai Baratov. Baratov's job was not difficult because, there was no significant resistance. During the last days of 1915, Sir Percy Sykes assigned a mission with a temporary rank of Brigadier-General to establish a force South Persia Rifles using the local Tribesmen which would render their service for a price. His mission was to counter the strong German influence in most of South Persia.
In January 1916, Baratov drove the Turks and Persian tribesman and occupied Ramadan. On February 26, Baratov's forces captured Kermanshah. On March 12, Baratov's forces captured Kharind. Baratov reached the Ottoman frontier, 150 miles from Baghdad in the Mesopotamia campaign, by the middle of May. It was expected that this unit would eventually effect a juncture with the British army in Mesopotamia. In fact, a Cossack company of five officers and 110 men left the Baratov's Russian division on May 8, rode southward a distance of about 180 miles through the territory of disaffected tribesmen, crossing several mountain passes at an altitude of 8000 feet, and reached the British front on the Tigris on May 18.
On February 26, 1916, the Russians advanced and defeated the gendarmes who then retreated to Qasr-i-Shirin and managed to hold the region until May 1916, when Qasr-i-Shirin was captured by the Russians. This time, many gendarmes went to live in exile in Istanbul, Mosul and Baghdad. In the spring of 1916, Ibrahim Khan Qavam-ul-Mulk and his Khamseh tribesmen defeated the gendarmes under Ali Quli Khan Pesyan and Ghulam Riza Khan Pesyan who shot and killed each other. Other gendarmes, the German Consul Roever and the Swedish Captain Angman were arrested and tortured.
On May 7, 1916, the next objective of Baratov was Khanaqin. They had to retreat on a strong resistance by the unit led by Şevket Bey. This gave the Turks valuable time to strengthen their defenses. The 6th Division arrived as a re-inforcement in northern Persia. Enver Pasha moved this freed unit to Persia. Enver Pasha thought that it was time to strike back.
In late May, facing Baratov was assigned to the XIII Corps commanded by colonel Ali İhsan Bey, who began his advance. Meanwhile, on the Russian side, Baratov was hoping to capture Khanaqin and move down to Baghdad, which could have been taken by the Russians as the Turks and the British were busy with fighting each other. On June 3, he forced Khanaqin once again, but this time the balance had changed. The Ottoman XIII Corps successful repulsed Baratov's forces, and did not leave it there; soon the counter-offensive that was planned launched. Ali İhsan Bey captured Kermanshah on 2 July and took Hamadan on 10 August. Having lost half of his men, Baratov was forced to retreat north. Baratov stopped at the Sultan Bulak range. On August 1916, the gendarmes return to Kermanshah.
On June 12, 1916, the British advance in southern Persia which was undertaken by Percy Sykes column under reached the Kerman. From this point, he supported the Russians operations against the Ottoman Empire until June 1917, when he was withdrawn with the new Persian government.
In 1916, General Chernozubov sent a military exhibition in Hakkyari. The squads within the expedition were led by the Patriarch's brother David; Ismail, Malik of the Upper Tyari; and Andreus, the Jilu Malik.
In December 1916, Baratov began to move on Qoms and Hamadan for clearing Persian forces and Ottoman troops. Both cities fell in the same month.
Count Kaunitz disappeared without a trace, either killing himself or being a victim of assassination by disenchanted coup members. The premature coup was crushed in Tehran as Ahmad Shah Qajar took refuge in the Russian legation, and a sizable Russian force arrived to Tehran under Baratov after they landed in Bandar-e Pahlavi in November of that year. The pro-German coup members of the Majles fled to Kirmanshah and Qom without fighting.
In 1917, Mar Binyamin was invited to the Russian embassy by Vasily Nikitin in Urmia for negotiations. Nikitin assured the Assyrians that after the War they will have a national community land in Russia. At the meeting, the Patriarch was accompanied by Agha Petros. The presence of the armed squads of Assyrians in Urmiya irritated Persians. Persians were afraid that Russians might come back and, united with the Assyrians, proclaim their power in the city.
The chaos caused by the Russian Revolution put a stop to all Russian military operations. In January 1917, the Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich Romanov was sent to join Baratov. Baratov established a Cavalry Corps headquarters at Qazvin in northern Persia. Following months Baratov's forces began to suffer desertions. Baratov had barely an effective regiment in his hand at November 1917 as many of his cossacks to their Stanisa villages.
In April 1917, Baratov meet with a Colonel Rowlandson, who was the liaison to link Caucasian Cavalry Corps with the British Dunsterforce. The new government removed the Grand Duke from his command and reassigned General Yudenich to a meaningless position in Central Asia. He then retired from the army. The Russian army slowly disintegrated until there was no effective military force during the rest of 1917.
On December 16, The Armistice of Erzincan (Erzincan Ceasefire Agreement) was signed officially brought an end to the hostilities between Ottoman Empire and Russians Special Transcaucasian Committee. Ottomans and Germans began to dispute possession of the provinces along the border between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Enver Pasha believed that Germany had disregarded Turkish interests when the terms of the armistice were negotiated with Russia and moved on to disregard German interests, sending armed forces to the region. A newly established Ninth Army, consisting of the I Caucasian Corps and IV Corps was sent to Persia, under the command of Yakub Shevki Pasha. The task of this army was to "Stop the British advance in Persia, to prevent them from helping the Bolsheviks, to cover the area between the Lake of Urmia and the Caspian Sea, and, if necessary, to join the Sixth Army for the operation to capture Baghdad."
With the Russian armies began to disintegrate. Van, which was located at the Caucasus Campaign war zone, was completely cut off from the Allies. At this time, the British Army did not move very far beyond Baghdad in the Mesopotamian campaign. Armenians of the Van attempted to hold their own.
During 1918, the British invited Armenians to hold out and picked officers and non-commissioned officers organized them under the command of Lionel Dunsterville at Baghdad. It was named the Dunsterforce. The military goal of Dunsterforce was to reach Caucasus via Persia. It was planned to organize an army to be recruited from the Armenians and other pro-Ally elements that still existed in the Caucuses.
In February 1918, the Caucasian Cavalry Corps only consisted of Baratov, General Lastochkin, Colonel Bicherakov, Colonel Baron Meden and about 1000 loyal Kuban and Terek cossacks. Baratov and his men assisted, even though new Russian government had a peace agreement, the British in Persia until the end of World War I.
On March 3, 1918 The Grand vizier Talat Pasha signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Russian SFSR. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk stipulated that the border between Russia and Ottoman Empire to be pulled back to prewar levels and the cities Batum, Kars, and Ardahan to be transferred to Ottoman Empire.
In April 1918, Armenians of Van were eventually evacuated and withdrawn from the province of Van and retreated eastward toward the Persian Azerbaijan. Early in 1918, Ottoman Third Army moved to offense. Retreating Armenians from Van, joined by the Assyrians in defense, made a stand near Dilman but continued to retreat southward around Lake Urmiah. On April 21, the British were defeated in Europe leading to an armistice with Germany. One of the conditions for the armistice was an end to all military operations against the Central Powers.
On June 8, 1918 the IV Corps entered Tabriz. Yakub Shevki faced an Armenian volunteer force of 4,000 men coming from Van. They aimed to break through the Şahtahtı-Tabriz line and join with Ozanian's forces. On June 15, the 12th Division of the IV Corps defeated this Armenian unit at a battle to the north of Dilman. The city of Dilman was captured on June 18. On June 24, Ozanian managed to defeat opposing units and to lay siege on the city of Hoy. The 12th Division came to rescue and repulsed Ozanian's forces. At the same time, the 5th Division of the IV Corps had to retreat against a 1500-strong Armenian force. In the south, Urmia fell to the IV Corps on July 31. By the end of July, there was a decreasing British presence in the Persia and the Ninth Army's advance continued with little resistence. By September 1918, the Ottomans consolidated their control over northern Persia, between Tabriz and the southern shores of the Caspian Sea.
Enver Pasha's political vision which stated as "If the Russians are beaten in the key cities of Persia, they could be forced to out from the region", failed as Russian and Bakhtiari troops landed in 1920 and forced majles to temporarily cease. The immediate outcome of the Campaign was the end of British ambitions, which prevented the drilling rights of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. Agreement was signed between the German and Persian governments in August 1919. It stated a guarantee of German access to the British oil fields in Persia. In 1919, southern Persia was occupied by the Ottomans to enforce the armistice conditions and help to contain the spread of Bolshevik influence (of Mirza Kuchak Khan) to the south. The Ottomans attempted to establish a protectorate in Persia.
In late 1920, the Soviet Socialist Republic in Rasht was preparing to march on Tehran with "a guerrilla force of 1500 Jangalis, Armenians, and interestingly this time Kurds, and Azerbaijanis were on their side", reinforced by the Soviet Red Army. The Ottomans attempted to establish a protectorate in Persia following 1919, which this goal aided by the Soviet Union's withdrawal in 1921. In that year, a military coup established Reza Khan, a Persian officer of the Persian Cossack Brigade, as dictator and then hereditary Shah of the new Pahlavi dynasty (1925). Reza Shah curtailed the power of the majles. He effectively turned it into a rubber stamp organization. While Reza Khan and his Cossack brigade were securing Tehran, the Persian envoy was in Moscow negotiating a treaty with the Bolsheviks for the removal of Soviet troops from Persia. The coup d'état of 1921 and the emergence of Reza Khan were assisted by the German government that wished to halt the Bolshevik's penetration of Persia. It is thought that the Germans provided "ammunition, supplies and pay" for Reza's troops.