Russian, British envoys anger Iranians with WWII memorial photo

Iranians were infuriated by the colonialist implications of a ‘Big Three’ themed photo in Tehran.

Iranian officials were not invited and were not aware the meeting was taking place [File: Vahid Salemi/AP]

Tehran, Iran – Russian and British envoys to Tehran have infuriated Iranians inside and outside the country after they tried to re-enact a World War II conference that hearkens back to a time of death and occupation for Iran.

On Wednesday, Russian Ambassador Levan Dzhagaryan and new UK Ambassador Simon Shercliff sat on chairs on the historical stairs of the Russian embassy in Tehran, leaving an empty chair in the middle.

A tweet by the Russian embassy posting the picture received thousands of angry comments and quote tweets.

The site had hosted the Tehran Conference of 1943, where the “Big Three” Allied leaders, Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill, sat down to discuss how to counter Nazi Germany.

Iranian officials were not invited and were not even aware the meeting was taking place.

Iran at the time had been invaded by the Soviet Union and the UK. The country, then ruled by the imperial Pahlavi dynasty, had declared neutrality in the world war.

To add insult to injury, large parts of Iran were at the time hit with famine and steep inflation under the occupation and Allied forces dragged their feet in sending resources.

At the end of the Tehran Conference, the Allied forces pledged to end their occupation of the country at the end of the war and recognise its independence, a promise the Soviet Union ultimately broke.

Iran’s 1979 revolution birthed the current theocratic establishment that harbours a deep distrust of the West, especially the US and the UK.

The US seat at the meeting on Wednesday was empty because shortly after the revolution, the country’s embassy in Iran was overtaken by a mob that deemed it a “den of espionage”. US interests in Iran are now represented by Switzerland.

Many social media users were angry at the colonial implications of the picture, while the re-enactment was also bashed by high-level officials.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is soon expected to be replaced by conservative diplomat Hossein Amirabdollahian, called the picture “extremely inappropriate” in a tweet on Wednesday.

“Need I remind all that Aug. 2021 is neither Aug. 1941 nor Dec. 1943,” he wrote in reference to the beginning of the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran, and the Tehran conference, respectively.

The career diplomat also emphasised that, as Iran has shown during the Vienna talks to restore its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, it will not allow its fate to be decided by other countries again.

Amirabdollahian and hardline parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf also said the envoys must be held accountable.

The ambassadors were summoned to the foreign ministry on Thursday and said they meant no offence.

The Russian embassy’s Twitter account also said the picture was only aimed at highlighting Allied efforts against Nazism, and Russia “will continue to strengthen relations [with Iran] based on mutual respect”.

The row comes days after Ebrahim Raisi was inaugurated as Iran’s eighth president with a message of prioritising relations with the region and the east.

It also follows a drone attack on an Israeli-linked ship off Oman, which led to the death of two crew members, a British and a Romanian national.

The G7 countries have pointed the finger at Iran, but it has denied being behind the attack, saying it is being framed.

Source: Al Jazeera