Patriots and Reformists: Behzad Nabavi and Mostafa Tajzadeh
11 Aug 2009 20:56
By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 11 Aug 2009
Of all the reformist leaders who have been the target of the wrath of Iran's hardliners, none, with the possible exception of Dr. Saeed Hajjarian, have been like Behzad Nabavi and Sayyed Mostafa Tajzadeh. Both are members of the central committee of the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin Organization (IRMO); Tajzadeh is also a member of the central committee of the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF). The IRMO and IIPF are the most important reformist political groups in Iran.
Nabavi and Tajzadeh both have been outspoken throughout their political careers. They both speak with utmost clarity. They have never shied away from confronting the hardliners, and have been a thorn in their flesh. Both have always emphasized the republican side of Iran's political system. Both also have stellar reputations for honesty, which is acknowledged even by the hardliners. Both are said to be highly despised by Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who sees them, along with Hajjarian, as the brain behind Iran's reformist movement. And, both have long track records of serving their nation with distinction and honor.
Both Nabavi and Tajzadeh have been arrested and are reportedly under pressure and torture to "confess" to their "offenses," to recant their views that Iran is in a deep crisis and in need of deep and lasting changes to its political system. Tajzadeh is reportedly in a military hospital after being beaten very badly. Nabavi is reportedly in a notorious jail run by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) that is in Takhti Blvd. in the eastern part of Tehran.
Credible reports sent to the author from Tehran indicate that one of Nabavi's interrogators is Ahmad Salek, a cleric who is the representative of Ayatollah Khamenei in the Qods force, an elite and secretive unit within the IRGC. Before the 1979 Revolution, Salek was in the Shah's jail as a political prisoner, but was reportedly providing the SAVAK, the Shah's dreaded intelligence and security service, information on the political prisoners and what they discussed among themselves. It is known that Nabavi discovered this and let other prisoners know about it, which set off Salek's longtime enmity toward him.
Rooz, the online newspaper, reported that Nabavi and Tajzadeh are also being interrogated by one of the most notorious agents of the Ministry of Intelligence, Javad Abbasi Kanghoori, known as Javad Azadeh, or Javad Amoli.
The Old Guerilla
Nabavi is known to his comrades as the old guerilla. He was born in Tehran in 1942. His father was a historian. After graduating from high school, he was admitted in 1960 to the electrical engineering program at Tehran Polytechnic (which is now called Amir Kabir University of Technology). Along with the engineering school at Tehran University, Tehran Polytechnic was a hotbed of anti-Shah political activities. He received a master's degree in electrical engineering in 1964.
In June 1960, elections were held for the 20th Majles (parliament), but they were rigged and widely criticized because none of the supporters of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran's national hero whose democratically-elected government was overthrown by a CIA-MI6 coup, were elected. To appease the incoming Kennedy administration and receive economic aid, the Shah dissolved the Majles and announced that new elections for the 20th Majles would be held in January 1961 and that it would be free. That allowed some banned political parties to begin activities in the open. This included the Second National Front (NF), which had been revived several years after the 1953 coup when the original (or the First) NF had been outlawed. The Shah's promise of free elections however did not materialize.
Nabavi joined the NF and was highly active in it. At that time the NF was publishing Jebhe Melli Daneshjoo (National Front of University Student). In the fall of 1963, a new publication started under the name of Payam Daneshjoo (University Student's Message), which advocated a united front for all university students in the struggle against the Shah. For several months, Hasan Habibi (vice president to former president Mohammad Khatami during his first term) was the editor of Payam Daneshjoo. But, in the spring of 1964, a committee was formed to better run the publication. The committee selected Bijan Jazani (a distinguished secular leftist intellectual -- and later a guerilla fighter -- executed by the Shah in April 1975) to publish Payam Daneshjoo. Nabavi was put in charge of its circulation.
The articles in Payam Daneshjoo were written mostly by secular leftists and communists. It is said that at that time, Nabavi himself believed in Trotskyism. But, the author has never seen any acknowledgment of this by Nabavi himself. Indeed, he has stated many times, and others have confirmed, that he has been a practicing Muslim all his life. He once said, "I have been saying my prayers since I was 15." [15 is the mandatory age for Muslim boys to start praying.] Still, there is no question that Nabavi has always been on the left side of the political spectrum in Iran.
Payam Daneshjoo stopped publishing in 1965, when the SAVAK, the Shah's dreaded intelligence apparatus, arrested many people including Jazani and others who were responsible for publishing it. All the nationalist parties, such as the NF (which, by then, was called the Third NF), and the Freedom Movement of former prime minister Mahdi Bazargan, as well as other leftist and Islamic groups were outlawed by the Shah.
In the same year, an Islamic-leftist group called the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Oraginzation (MKO), was founded by Ali Asghar Badi' Zadegan, Mohammad Hanifnejad, and Saeed Mohsen (and a few others, such as Ahmad Rezaee, Mahmoud Asgari Zadeh, and Rasoul Moshkinfam). The founders of the MKO had been active in the NF and the Freedom Movement, but after the 1965 crackdown decided that the only way of confronting the Shah was through armed struggle. Nabavi joined the MKO in the late 1960s. He was arrested three times, the last of which was in August 1972. He was jailed until the fall of 1978, when the Shah released the political prisoners as the Iranian Revolution was gathering steam.
When he was arrested in August 1972, he swallowed a cyanide pill, hoping that it would kill him. He was afraid of revealing, under torture, the hiding places of his comrades. But, "fortunately or unfortunately" as he put it, the pill did not work. Although he told the SAVAK that he was Hamid Jahanbin, the agents knew his true identity. In his memoirs, Nabavi says that he was unprepared for the arrest and the subsequent tortures. He told the SAVAK that he had just swallowed the pill so that he would be taken to a hospital, which would allow him time to prepare himself for the interrogations.
He was put on trial in the Shah's military court and was given a life sentence, which was later reduced to 10 years. He spent 20 months in solitary confinement and was tortured repeatedly. He spent a year in the notorious Evin prison, and was then sent to Ghezel Ghale' prison, where long-term political prisoners were being held. Nabavi stayed there until he was released in the fall of 1978.
In 1975, a communist faction within the MKO took over its leadership, and in the process murdered Majid Sharif Vaghefi, the leader of the Islamic faction, which had resisted the take over. Sharif Vaghefi was a student at Aryamehr University, which is now called Sharif University in his honor. It is one of Iran's top universities, with an international reputation. After the takeover, Nabavi cut off his affiliation with the MKO, even with its Islamic faction, and became a strong critic of the MKO.
The IRMO was formed shortly after the 1979 Revolution as a coalition of seven Islamic groups that had opposed and fought the Shah's government. The seven were the Mansooroon, Ommat-e Vahed, Movahhedin, Fallah, Badr, and Towhidi-ye Khalgh. Each was active in some part of Iran. The IRMO and the MKO were bitter foes (the MKO is now in exile and listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department). IRMO members believed that it was due to the MKO's mixing of Islam and Marxism that the 1975 communist takeover had taken place. Nabavi played a leading role in the founding of the IRMO, was its first leader, and has remained a member ever since.
Due to their experience of armed struggle against the Shah's government, many of the IRMO members formed the core of the first high command of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which was formed in May 1979. When in June 1981, the MKO took up arms against the government, the IRMO played a key role in defeating it and forcing it into exile. But Nabavi was never a member of the IRGC.
As the 1979 Revolution gathered steam, Nabavi played a key role in the formation of the Islamic Revolution Committees (IRC), known in Iran as the komiteh. In the fall of 1978 and early 1979, the IRC's main task was coordinating revolutionary activities and providing aid to those who were on strike. After the Revolution, the IRC acted as the local security forces. When political chaos gripped the nation in 1981, the IRC worked against the opposition and helped the IRGC to brutally suppress it. Years later, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani merged the IRC with the regular police force.
Nabavi also helped establish the Office for Intelligence under direct supervision of the president. Later on, in 1984, the Office formed the backbone of the newly established Ministry of Intelligence, but Nabavi never worked for it. He was also a member of the committee that oversaw the transformation of Iran's national radio and television network from under the Shah to one under the Islamic Republic.
After the war with Iraq broke out in September 1980, Nabavi established the National Economic Mobilization Headquarters for rationing and distributing government-subsidized coupons to the poor for obtaining food at lower prices. The war also motivated the government to negotiate with the United States more seriously, in order to release the 53 Americans taken hostage in November 1979, when the U.S. embassy was overrun by the Islamic leftist students. Nabavi was Iran's chief negotiator with the United States. The negotiations led to the Algiers Accord of January 1981, which led to the release of the hostages. The U.S. team was led by deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who was Secretary of State during President Bill Clinton's first term. Nabavi was considered at that time a "radical." It is said that before going into any negotiation session with the U.S. team, Nabavi and his team would chant Marg bar America [death to America].
When Mohammad Ali Rajaei was appointed prime minister, Nabavi was the chief government spokesman, as well as a Vazir Omoor-e Ejraei, a minister engaged in a wide range of executive affairs. When Rajaei was elected president in August 1981, after the first president, Abolhasan Bani Sadr, had been impeached by the Majles (he fled the country in June 1981), he appointed Dr. Mohammad Javad Bahonar as the prime minister, and Nabavi kept his position.
On August 30, 1981, only 15 days after the election of Rajaei to Iran's presidency, there was a huge explosion in the office of the prime minister that killed Bahonar, Rajaei and others. The MKO took responsibility for the explosion. Since then, the hardliners have periodically accused Nabavi and Hajjarian of not taking the necessary security precautions, and of being complicit in the assassination. In the latest round of the revival of what seems to be more totally baseless accusations, Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi, who up until two weeks ago was Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance in the Ahmadinejad administration, made the same allegations. Perhaps he was laying the foundation for "convicting" the two and jailing them, since the hardliners cannot prove any other charges against them.
Nabavi was a key figure in the administration of prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi (1982-89), the main reformist candidate in the June 12 presidential election. He was Minister of Heavy Industry in the Mousavi administration, and was the key figure in Mousavi's centralized economic policy of the 1980s. In the last 18 months of the war with Iraq, Nabavi was also deputy chief of staff of Iran's armed forces for logistic affairs.
Right-wing Majles deputies tried repeatedly to impeach Nabavi, but he successfully fought back all attempts to get him removed from the government. In a memorable debate during one of the impeachment attempts, some right-wing deputies complained about the subsidized products that the government was providing to the industry. Nabavi pointed to a large number of the right-wing deputies one by one and said, "What type of means of transportation did you have before getting elected to the Majles? Bicycles? What type of car do you drive now, and who provided the subsidized car at the lower price to you? The government!"
When the post of the prime minister was eliminated after the revisions made in Iran's Constitution in early 1989, Mousavi left the government, and so did Nabavi. Despite his long presence in government occupying important positions, Nabavi was never accused of corruption or enriching himself. He has been a truly pious man all his life.
Meanwhile, in 1985, the Islamic leftist wing of the IRMO split from its right-leaning faction. The right faction included such people as Ali Reza Afshar, Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr (both currently Brigadier Generals and among the top commanders of the IRGC), and Mohsen Rezaee, who was the IRGC top commander from 1981-1997. Rezaee is now secretary-general of the Expediency Council (a constitutional body), and was a candidate in the June 12 presidential election.
The left wing, including Nabavi, remained silent and inactive as an organization until 1991, when it restarted its activities under the name IRMO again. It began publishing the biweekly Asr-e Maa (Our Era). Together with the monthly Kian (published by the students and followers of Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush, the distinguished Islamic scholar and philosopher), and Salaam (a daily published by Ayatollah Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha, a leftist cleric, and editor-in-chief Abbas Abadi, an outspoken reformist). Asr-e Maa played a key role in transforming the Islamic discourse in Iran, and kindling the reformist movement. Asr-e Maa was shut down by the hardliners a few years ago (Kian was shut down in 1998, and Salaam in 1999 by the hardliners). In 1992 Nabavi was prevented by the Guardian Council (the Constitutional body that vets candidates for most elections) from running for the 4th Majles.
Despite the important role of Nabavi and the IRMO in giving birth to the reform movement, they also made a grave mistake in the early 1990s, when they developed the concept of the insiders and outsiders. The former group was supposed to be made up of those who are loyal to the Islamic Republic and could therefore serve the country in the government; whereas the latter was made up of the politically unqualified unable to serve. The concept has, however, been disowned by Nabavi and all the other reformists, but is now invoked and used by the hardliners against them.
Nabavi and the IRMO have also been fierce advocates of reform. For example, a leading member of the IRMO, Dr. Hashem Aghajari (who lost a leg while serving in the armed forces in the Iran-Iraq war), a university professor and an important Islamic intellectual, began an uproar in 2002 when he severely criticized the clerics, accusing them of expecting people to follow them like obedient "monkeys." He was arrested and initially given a death sentence by a reactionary judge for supposedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Iran's Supreme Court eventually overturned the sentence and freed him after he served more than a year in prison. Aghajari has remained outspoken. Some have even referred to him as the Martin Luther of the Shiites.
In May 1997, Mohammad Khatami was elected Iran's president in a landslide. Then in February 2000, the reformists also took over control of the Majles with an absolute majority. Nabavi was elected a Tehran deputy, receiving 39% of the vote. He was then elected as the First Deputy Speaker of the Majles (Mahdi Karroubi was the Speaker). When Khatami was re-elected in another landslide in 2001, there was much speculation that he would appoint Nabavi as his First Vice President (Iran has 8 vice presidents). The hardliners immediately reacted to the rumor by reviving the allegations about Nabavi and the assassination of Rajaei and Bahonar. As a result, even if Khatami had intended to appoint Nabavi as his First Vice President, he backed down.
When the campaign for the elections for the 7th Majles got under way in early 2004, the Guardian Council disqualified 80 of the most important reformist leaders from running for re-election, including Nabavi. He led a sit-in that lasted for about a month, protesting the Guardian Council's verdict. The Council did not back down, prompting Nabavi to resign from the Majles on February 1, 2004, which was approved by the Majles after the March 2004 elections. In his resignation speech he said that the main reason for his resignation was, "violation of the people's rights by the Guardian Council," and declared in his typical blunt and plain-speaking manner that,
I congratulate the founder of the Islamic Republic [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] in that the fruits of his revolution are being wasted by the counter-revolutionaries.
When Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003, Nabavi said that,
If one admits that the Iraqis are delighted with Saddam Hussein's end, one must also think about the possibility that may be the Iranians would celebrate at the end of the Islamic Republic as well.
He also said, "I did not agree with everything that the Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] did or said," hence giving more ammunition to his enemies to attack him. But he has never backed down from his opinions.
Nabavi is married to Hengameh Razavi. They have two sons, Yaser and Maysam.
So, now, the old guerrilla finds himself in the same place as he was 50 years ago: In the opposition and in jail.
Mr. Straight Shooter
Sayyed Mostafa Tajzadeh was born in Tehran in1956. After graduating from high school he went to the United States in 1975 to study political science. He lived there for 31 months. In that period, he joined the Muslim Students Association, a political group active against the Shah. With the start of the Iranian Revolution in 1978 he left the U.S. and went back to Iran. Together with Hasan Vaezi, Homayun Khosravi, and Sayyed Mahmoud Yasini, he founded the Towhidi-ye Khalgh, one of the seven Islamic groups fighting against the Shah. After the Revolution it merged and formed the IRMO.
After the 1979 Revolution, Tajzadeh was active in the Islamic Revolution Committees, and also active in the IRMO, which was involved in a fierce verbal confrontation with the MKO. Because several members of the IRMO were former members of the MKO, they were intimately familiar with the internal structure of the MKO leadership and knew how it operated. This provoked the MKO to continuously attack the IRMO.
Tajzadeh's political career began in May 1982 when he joined the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (CIG). He worked closely with former president Mohammad Khatami, who was the Minister of the CIG in the Mousavi government, and also in the administration of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani during his first term. Eventually, Tajzadeh was promoted to be Khatami's chief deputy at the Ministry.
After the Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988, and Rafsanjani was elected Iran's president in 1989, Khatami and his aids, including Tajzadeh, began a cautious opening of the press, the arts and literature. In particular, it issued permits for several publications, such as Asr-e Maa, Kian, and Salaam, all of which played leading roles in strengthening the embryonic reform movement in Iran. [Salaam's editor-in-chief was Abbas Abdi, an outspoken reformist]. Iran's film industry also began a revival, and more books were also allowed to be published.
Due to such progressive positions regarding the press, literature and the arts, Khatami was under huge pressure by the right-wing reactionaries. He eventually resigned his position as the Minister of the CIG in 1992, and left to become the head of Iran's National Library. Tajzadeh resigned from the Ministry as well and joined Hamshahri, a daily published by the office of Tehran's mayor. He stayed at Hamshahri until 1997.
When Mohammad Khatami was elected president, he appointed Abdollah Nouri (a progressive cleric) as the Interior Minister. Khatami knew Tajzadeh from their years together at the Ministry of the CIG. Two other reformist leaders, Gholamhossein Karbaschi (Tehran's popular former mayor) and Mohammad Atrianfar (the editor of several reformist newspapers, who is now imprisoned) suggested to Khatami and Nouri to employ Tajzadeh. Thus, Tajzadeh was appointed as Nouri's deputy for security and political affairs. In fact, Khatami had intended to appoint Tajzadeh as the Interior Minister, but had realized that he would not be confirmed by the 5th Majles in which the conservatives were in the majority.
Tazjadeh's influence at the Interior Ministry was clear almost from the beginning. Nouri and him removed almost all the right-wing mayors and governors of the provinces, and replaced them with reformist officials. Next, in the fall of 1998, the Interior Ministry held the first nation-wide elections for city councils around the country. Elections for the councils had been allowed by Iran's Constitution, but had never been carried out. The reformist candidates swept the elections, in many cases by a landslide.
One of the greatest crises that the first Khatami administration faced was the uprising by the students at Tehran University dormitory on July 9, 1999. A few days earlier, the Majles was debating revisions of the press law of 1985, and developing a Draconian set of rules and laws to suppress the press, which was enjoying relative freedom at that time. Then, the day before voting on the revisions, the daily Salaam revealed that the revisions had actually been written years earlier by Saeed Emami, the notorious ring leader and agent of the Ministry of Intelligence who, together with several other agents, had murdered several dissidents in the fall of 1998 (and many more between 1988 and 1998).
The day after, the judiciary shut down Salaam, which was a very popular daily. In the evening of that day, students from the dormitory demonstrated against the closure of the in Salaam the dormitories and the main street next to it. As they were going back to their rooms, they were attacked by paramilitary groups. That sparked huge demonstrations in Tehran and several other cities, which badly shook the Islamic Republic. By then, the Interior Minister was Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari, another reformist cleric. (Nouri had been elected to Tehran's city council and had left.) Tajzadeh and Lari, who by law were also members of Iran's Supreme National Security Council managing the crisis, were instrumental in calming the students down, and were constantly present at the site of the demonstrations.
The next important national event was holding the elections for the 6th Majles in late February 2000. The Guardian Council (GC) disqualified relatively few candidates and, as a result, the elections were very competitive. But, the reformists swept all the thirty seats for the Tehran district. This was not what the GC and the conservatives had in mind. Thus, the GC began claiming that there were voting irregularities at several polling stations and, first, ordered recounting the votes, and then annulled, without presenting any evidence, about 700,000 of the votes cast in Tehran. This started a fierce struggle between Tajzadeh, who was supervising the elections, and the GC.
The main goal of the GC was to get both Hashemi Rafsanjani and Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel elected as Tehran's deputies. Because reformist journalists had strongly criticized Rafsanjani at the time, he was in the conservative camp. Haddad Adel's daughter is married to Mojtaba Khamenei, the Supreme Leader's son. Another goal of the GC was to prevent Dr. Ali Reza Rajaei, a journalist close to the Nationalist-Religious Coalition, from getting elected.
Tajzadeh insisted that no irregularities had taken place, and declared the elections as the "cleanest and freest elections" in the history of the Islamic Republic, a claim that was very much true. After a long standoff between Tajzadeh and the GC, and when it became clear that Tajzadeh would not back down, Ayatollah Khamenei ordered the GC to accept the people's verdict. The GC had achieved its goals, though. Dr. Rajaei was prevented from getting elected, and in his place Haddad Adel got elected, and Rafsanjani, though ranked 20th in Tehran in terms of the votes that he had received, resigned his position and never joined the 6th Majles.
The GC took Tajzadeh to court and, in return, Tajzadeh filed a lawsuit against Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the powerful reactionary cleric and secretary-general of the GC, accusing him of trying to rig the elections. Tajzadeh's lawsuit against Jannati never went to trial -- Jannati is too powerful to be tried! But, Tajzadeh himself was put on trial in March 2001. He never admitted anything, and challenged the court to order a recount of all the votes in the dispute, which the court declined to do. He repeatedly clashed with the judge, Naser Daghighi, and said, "Some people are angry about the way people voted last year."
The court "convicted" Tajzadeh and gave him a suspended one year term. He was barred from all government employment for three years, hoping that it would make him go away. Tajzadeh never appealed the verdict, as it was clear that the goal was to remove him from the Interior Ministry, and the appeal would not go anywhere. But, in 2004, once the three-year period was over, Khatami appointed Tajzadeh as his senior adviser, a post that he held until August 2005 when Ahmadinejad's term began.
Throughout his career, Tajzadeh has always been a straight shooter: plain-speaking, blunt, to the point and honest. He has an impeccable record as an uncorrupted official who has held senior positions within the political establishment, and has been a progressive reformist.
Tajzadeh is married to Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour, a notable political figure on her own. She is active in defending women's rights, and is a first cousin of Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, the leftist cleric who at one point was Iran's ambassador to Syria and is widely believed to be a major behind-the-scene force in founding the Lebanese Hezbollah. They have two daughters, Arefeh and Fatemeh. Tajzadeh is also a first cousin of Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi, a former hardline commander in the IRGC who until two weeks ago was the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Tajzadeh is also a doctoral student in political science at Tehran University, though he has not been able to finish his studies.
Regardless of what happenes to Nabavi and Tajzadeh, one thing is clear: both are Iranian patriots who have served their nation with honor, have made great sacrifices, and have always been proud reformers and advocates of a democratic Iran.
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau