Oil Nationalization Day is celebrated in Iran on the 20th of March each year. The public holiday recognizes the day in 1951 when members of the Iranian parliament voted to nationalize the oil industry in the country. This put an end to Britain’s 40-year monopoly over the oil in Iran.
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The push to nationalize the oil industry in Iran began in 1949 when the Majlis approved the First Development Plan. The plan included development of Iran in agricultural and industrial areas. At the time, Britain gained a significant amount of revenue through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, more than Iran gained from royalties it received from the British. A draft agreement provided Iran with better terms in 1950, but was rejected by the Iranian government because it did not include 50-50 profit sharing, something that many in Iran were demanding.
Negotiations continued, although most were unsuccessful as General Ali Razmara, who became prime minister in 1950, could not persuade the oil company how strong the Iranians felt about nationalization.
The oil company finally offered a 50-50 profit sharing agreement in February 1951, but Razmara recommended against nationalization at the time. He was assassinated in March 1951 by a member of a militant group. That same month, the Iranian government voted to nationalize the oil industry.
Iran was the first country in the Middle East to take control of its oil industry and the action was important in the rise of anti-colonialism throughout the region.
Celebrations and Traditions
Oil Nationalization Day is a public holiday in Iran with schools, offices and businesses closed. The day is normally celebrated with public speaking events, with government leaders describing the path the country took to gaining control of their own oil industry.
Television and radio programs often air documentaries on the history of Iran’s fight to control one of their largest imports. There are also dedications to martyrs who died during the fight to gain rights to the oil exported from Iran.
There is still some strong anti-American and anti-British sentiment related to the nationalization of oil in Iran as the two countries imposed strict sanctions against Iran after the vote to nationalize.
Britain and the United States also supported an overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddeq, who led the fight to nationalize the oil industry, in support of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who was more aligned with the two countries.