Friends and Foes

In Tehran, knowing somebody is the key to getting a good apartment, getting out of jail, or even getting out of Tehran with a whole skin. The city sizzles with intrigue, and allegiances come together and come apart with frightening frequency. Worse yet, there are things no human can ally with…or that no human should ally with, at least.


Technically, “Persian” is only the dominant ethnic group of the country, which has officially gone by the name “Iran” (meaning “home of the Aryans”) since 1934. Among its 17 million people, Iran also counts Kurds, Arabs, Azeris (many fewer after Stalin annexed most of them), Baluchis, Turkomens, Chaldeans, and Qashqai, a Turkic southern tribe in occasional rebellion against the Shah’s government. However, it’s still “Persia” on the Foreign Office maps and in Foreign Office discussions.

  • The Shah: Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, the 29-year-old supreme ruler of Persia believes the British are conniving, oil-stealing, imperialistic rat-bastards. Pressured not only by the Soviets and British, but by the rural landholding aristocracy, the ulema, and the rising middle class, the Shah charts a careful course. he wishes to follow his father Reza Shah’s example and make Persia a modern, independent country. he does not, however, wish to follow in his father’s example and get overthrown by the British and Soviets – the two Allies invaded Persia in 1941 to secure Stalin’s southern flank against Nazi subversion, and to secure Britain’s oil supply.
  • Shahrbani: The Shahrbani are the Shah’s internal secret police, back under the command of the feared and hated Rokneddin Mokhtari. (Mokhtari, intriguingly enough, is also a concert-quality violinist.) The Shah removed Mokhtari from command in 1942 as a sop to the Allies and as a way to gain popularity with the citizenry of Tehran. After the Soviets annexed Azerbaijan, the Shah brought Mokhtari back to root out Communist subversion across the country.
  • Gendarmerie: The Gendarmerie are Persia’s national non-secret police, essentially Persia’s version of the Texas Rangers or the Mounties. They alternate between settling tribal disputes, tracking down criminals, and general do-gooding wherever the budget will allow. Colonel Schwarzkopf has slowly turned his men into honest, effective law officers with a relatively high degree of professionalism and literacy, and a relatively low degree of opium addiction and brutality. He stiffened his Gendarmerie with a cadre of some of the 10,000 American soldiers left in Persia after the Serpentfall, and equipped them with some of the leftover arsenals of American Lend-Lease likewise.
  • Tudeh Party: Founded in 1941 by a group of Persian intellectuals, the Tudeh (“Masses”) Party rapidly moved left until it became in essence a Communist-dominated party in 1944. Its greatest asset, besides the ability to turn out lots of thugs – er, radicalized workers – at rallies, is its TPMO (Tudeh Party Military Organization), a secret society that has penetrated the entire Persian military. While some factions of Tudeh are not completely Soviet-dominated, all the decision-making, and much of the funding, for the Tudeh comes straight from Moscow.
  • Fadayun-e-Islam: Nwab Safavi, a 21-year-old theology student, founded this terrorist society of assassins after the Serpentfall, in order to bring about a perfect Muslim state in Persia, governed under the strictest form of sharia (religious law). Although relatively few in number, the Fadayun-e-Islam have already killed several prominent scholars and government officials, many in the wake of the 1946 Azebaijan crisis.
  • Ruhollah Khomeini: One of the leading lights of Persia’s religious and scholarly community, the ulema.

Persia has been a battleground in the “Great Game” between Britain and Russia since the 1850s, and both powers have long had agents, spy rings, and local assets in Tehran and among the tribes. In 1941, the British and Soviets invaded Persia to overthrow the insufficiently anti-Nazi Reza Shah, and to secure the crucial southern supply line for Allied Lend-Lease aid to Stalin. Much of this aid was American, and U.S. troops flooded into Persia (along with their own spies and covert operatives) during the War to operate the “Persian Corridor” between the Persian Gulf and the Soviet Union. In 1943, the three Allied leaders met in the Tehran Conference to plan the last half of the War – but they reckoned without Ragnarok.

The Serpentfall in July 1945 wracked Persia with earthquakes – and had a similar seismic effect on the Great Game. The Americans, who looked like the new dominant player, were swept aside. The Soviets grabbed as much of Persia as they could in 1946, while the British were forced to play catch-up with a suspicious Shah and Persian population. Fugitive Nazis infiltrate into next-door Iraq; over the mountains, the Turks plot revenge against the infidel Reds; and everyone wants Persia’s oil. A lot.

  • SIS: Although Ian Milne, the official SIS Chief of Station, coordinates British intelligence activities from the British Embassy, the key figure for MI6 in Tehran is Robert Charles “Robin” Zaehner. Zaehner, a religious scholar with extensive counter-sabotage experience in northern Persia during the War, runs a personal network that extends from tribal chiefs in the now-Soviet north to shipping and banking magnates in Tehran. His famous opium and mescaline parties, at his house in the old city near the Golestan Palace, give him access to Tehran’s artistic and arcane set; Zaehner is also a scholar of mysticism and Oriental religions.
  • Kara Vania: A freelance “agent” based in Persia. She is known to have worked for the British, French, and Japanese intelligence agencies at one point.
  • NKVD: Ivan Fitin runs the NKVD operation in Tehran from the Soviet Embassy, just a block away from the Embassy of their hated British rivals. He relentlessly and ruthlessly works to completely suborn the Tudeh Party and weaken the Shah, planning a Communist Revolution in Persia that will turn the country over to Stalin wholesale. An local Armenian activist, Artashes Avanesian, feeds the Moscow line to Tudeh for the Comintern, a Party agency. The NKVD also runs agents amongst the refugee communities, monitoring them for anti-Soviet activities.
  • Nazis and Ba’athists: Nazi ideologists helped create the Ba’ath Party in Persia’s neighbor Iraq, and expatriate Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS troopers provide Iraq with a military cadre to boot. The Ba’athists (and their Nazi partners in the SD) seek like-minded folk in the Persian military, to repeat the Iraqi model. General Fazlollah Zahedi is the most promising such asset: a dapper boulevardier, former Tehran police chief and pro-German governor of Isfahan. The British kidnapped Zahedi in 1942 and interned him in Palestine, but he escaped after the Serpentfall and returned to Persia and military command. Under his protection, Nazi and Ba-athist agents can operate within the Persian army and Tehran police.
  • MAH: The Turkish intelligence service operates out of the Turkish Embassy, under the command of Affan Sadik. What can we say, he seems decent at his job.
  • Polish Home Army: Persia was a major destination for Polish refugees during the War, including 40,000 Polish troops assigned to security duty for Lend-Lease. After the Serpentfall and the Soviet annexations, these Polish troops and refugees fought their own miniature civil war in the streets of Tehran; the winners were the “Polish Home Army” faction, who finally purged the pro-Communist Poles in Tehran at the cost of most of the Poles’ material. They now depend on a lifeline of French support from the Deuxieme Bureau in Algiers, represented in Tehran since 1947 by Foreign Legion General Jean Marsal. Abdol Omar believed that Marsal (a traitor to the Legion in the pay of the Kaiser) was killed in the Sudan in 1917 as a Lieutenant. Was the astrologer fooled? Has Marsal been resurrected by Djehuti-Yamun? If so, who’s really running the Polish Home Army?

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Friends and Foes

The Day After Ragnarok LordMisha