Iran's Hot Political Summers
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles
26 May 2010 01:13
A history of turmoil looks set to repeat.
Over the last century, the months of Khordad, Tir, Mordad, and Shahrivar in the Iranian calendar -- stretching this year from May 22 through September 23 -- have witnessed some of the nation's most important political developments. Both before and after the 1979 Revolution, they have often been bloody, dark, and depressing months.
It was on June 5 (15 Khordad), 1963, that supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini demonstrated against the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, which led to scores of deaths, the ayatollah's arrest, and his subsequent exile, first to Turkey and then to Iraq. It was then that the seeds of the 1979 Revolution, sown in 1953 after the CIA-MI6 coup, took root. Ironically, Ayatollah Khomeini passed away on June 4 (14 Khordad), 1989, only a day before the anniversary of his exile.
It was on July 16 (25 Tir), 1952, that Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh resigned from his post in protest at the Shah's interference in his government, in particular the refusal to permit his selection of a war minister. The Shah appointed Ahmad Ghavam as the new premier. Almost immediately after Mosaddegh's resignation, large demonstrations erupted in Tehran and elsewhere, during which many were killed and injured by security forces: there were at least 250 victims (according to Professor Ervand Abrahamian's Iran Between Two Revolutions) and as many as 800 (according to the July 17, 21, and 22, 1952, issues of the daily Kayhan). The huge demonstrations on July 21 (30 Tir) forced Ghavam to resign and go into hiding, and brought Dr. Mosaddegh back to the premiership.
It was on August 5 (14 Mordad), 1906, that the people were victorious in the first round of the struggle for a democratic political system in Iran, establishing the first constitutional government in the Middle East.
It was on August 19 (28 Mordad), 1953, that Dr. Mosaddegh's government was overthrown by the CIA-MI6 coup that restored the Shah to power and started 25 years of dictatorship, leading eventually to the Revolution of 1979. Thus the glory of the Constitutional Revolution of August 1906 was shattered. For more on the coup, see Stephen Kinzer's excellent book All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Kinzer traces the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States back to the events of August 1953.
It was on August 22 (1 Shahrivar), 1941, that Allied forces invaded Iran, occupying Abadan and its oil refinery. The objective of the invasion was to use Iran's south-north railroad to supply the Soviet Union with weapons, as well as to prevent Reza Shah from aiding Nazi Germany with Iranian oil.
It was on September 16 (25 Shahrivar), 1941, that Allied forces removed Reza Shah from power, ending his dictatorship, and installed his son Mohammad Reza as shah. Ironically, it was on September 17, 1953, that the Shah's regime indicted Dr. Mosaddegh.
And it was on September 8 (17 Shahrivar), 1978, that scores of peaceful demonstrators were killed in Tehran's Jaleh Square (the present Shohada, or Martyrs, Square). It was then that the uprising appeared for the first time to pose a serious threat to the survival of the Shah's government.
What about postrevolutionary Iran?
It was on May 23 (2 Khordad), 1997, that Mohammad Khatami won the presidential election in a landslide, making the reform movement a potent political force in Iran.
It was on June 3 (3 Khordad), 1982, that Iranian forces liberated Khorramshahr, the country's largest port on the Persian Gulf, from the occupying Iraqi troops. Khorramshahr, held by Iraq since the beginning of the war, had been renamed Khoonin Shahr (Bloody City) by Iran until it was freed.
It was on June 12 (22 Khordad), 2009, that Iran's tenth presidential election was stolen by the hardliners, who declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the "victor." Three days later, one of the largest peaceful demonstrations in Iran's modern history took place in Tehran. According to Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, at least three million people participated. The demonstrations signaled the beginning of the deep crisis in which the country remains.
It was on June 20 (30 Khordad), 1981, that the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO), until then a legitimate political group with substantial popular support, declared armed struggle against the newly born Islamic Republic. That declaration initiated a dark, bloody period. Large demonstrations by MKO supporters and counterdemonstrations by government supporters were followed by the huge explosions on June 28 in the central headquarters of the Islamic Republican Party, the era's dominant, clergy-controlled political group, which killed more than 100 top party members. To this date, no one knows for certain which organization, if any, was the culprit behind the explosions. The MKO never officially took responsibility for them. The main suspect, Masoud Kashmiri, apparently a member of the MKO, was known to be responsible for another explosion on August 30, 1981, that killed Mohammad Ali Rajaei, the president, and Dr. Mohammad Javad Bahonar, the prime minister.
Over three days, beginning on July 9 (17 Ti), 1999, demonstrations took place at many universities around the country, protesting the Islamic fundamentalists' attempts to crush the relatively free press that had bloomed during the first two years of Mohammad Khatami's presidency. The demonstrations led to the arrests of dozens of students, the death of at least one Tehran University graduate, Ezzat Ebrahimnejad, and the beginning of the end of Khatami's reforms. Another victim was Akbar Mohammadi, who passed away in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison in 2006. Many other students were also given long jail sentences, simply for speaking out.
It was on July 24 (1 Mordad), 1988, after Iran and Iraq had both accepted United Nations Security Council Resolution 598, calling for a ceasefire, that the MKO, by then nothing more than a terrorist cult allied with Saddam Hussein, sent a large number of its members to their deaths. The operations were known as Forough-e Javedan (Eternal Light) by the MKO, and Mersaad (Trap) by the government. The MKO forces invaded Iran from Iraq under the illusion that, with the support of Hussein's air force and a mass uprising by the Iranian people, they would quickly overthrow the Islamic Republic. The total number of MKO members who lost their lives during the invasion is unknown. The MKO itself admitted to losing at least 1,315 members, with another 1,100 injured, while others, such as Human Rights Watch, put the total casualty figures at around 3,000.
It was between June and September of 1988 that Tehran's fundamentalists decided to "solve" their big problem -- the thousands of political prisoners languishing in jail, convicted after show trials in "Islamic" courts. The solution was mass execution. The precise number of those killed is not known, because the government refuses even to acknowledge that the executions took place. In his memoirs, Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri estimated the number at somewhere between 2,800 and 3,800. Others have put the precise figure at 4,483. (The MKO claim of 30,000 has no basis in reality.) Amnesty International recognizes September 1 as the Day of Political Prisoners, in light of the 1988 executions. The "excuse" provided by the fundamentalists was the MKO invasion, even though the executions began well before the attack.
And it was on September 22 (31 Shahrivar), 1980, that Iraq invaded Iran, starting a war that resulted in the deaths of 270,000 young Iranian soldiers, injuries to 700,000 more, and an economic loss of nearly $1 trillion.
Another Hot Summer?
The summer of 2009 was perhaps the hottest political summer that Iran has experienced in a century. The anniversary of the rigged presidential election of June 12, 2009, is nearing. Is this going to be another hot summer? All indications are that the hardliners are worried. They know that the nation's relative calm is superficial, and that practically any spark might set off a big explosion. They have ratcheted up their efforts to terrify the people, beginning with the execution of five political activists.
Tehran's prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, has stated that at least six other people have been given death sentences.
Javan, a daily close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, recently warned that Mir Hossein Mousavi and other leaders of the Green Movement might be assassinated during the month of Khordad (May 22-June 30) by foreign agents, so that people view them as martyrs. Such predictions are routinely employed as thinly veiled threats.
A new round of arrests has also begun, and the judiciary keeps handing out long jail terms to political activists. Mohsen Armin, a spokesman for the Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin (OIRM), a major Reformist group, was arrested for "security breaches and activities," according to Dolatabadi. As a university student, Armin was a member of Towhidi Saf, an Islamic group active against the Shah. After the Revolution, Saf and six other groups merged to form the OIRM. He was a deputy speaker in the 6th Majles (parliament) that was controlled by the Reformists between 2000 and 2004. Over the past two decades, Armin has been a figure of moderation, advocating step-by-step reform of the country's political system. Many of the OIRM's prominent members, such as Behzad Nabavi, Mostafa Tajzadeh, Fayzollah Arabsorkhi, and Dr. Saeed Hajjarian have previously been arrested and given long prison terms.
Bahareh Hedayat, a leading member of Daftar-e Tahkim Vahdat (Office for Consolidation of Unity, or OCU), Iran's largest and most important university students' organization, was recently given a sentence of nine and a half years. Having already spent months in jail, reports indicate that she resisted tremendous pressure to "confess" on a national TV broadcast. Milad Asadi, a member of the OCU central committee, was given a seven-year sentence. Mehdi Arabshahi, OCU secretary-general, is also imprisoned. Arash Misagh Nejad, a student at Payam-e Nour University, has been given a 13-year jail sentence.
Others have gone on hunger strike to protest their imprisonment. Mohammad Nourizad, an artist and former columnist for Kayhan, has been on hunger strike for several days. He has been sentenced to three and a half years for "insulting" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and been beaten badly by security agents while incarcerated. Jafar Panahi, the distinguished filmmaker, had also also been on hunger strike in jail.
Criticizing the Hardliners and Calling for Rallies
In a meeting with academics, former president Mohammad Khatami suggested three steps to end the deep crisis that the country faces. He said that all political prisoners must be released unconditionally, a secure environment must be created for unfettered political activity and a free press, and truly free elections must be held. He described the huge, peaceful demonstrations last June 15 as a powerful expression of the Iranian people's insistence on their rights. He said that even if they happened to be wrong in believing that the election was rigged, the political establishment should have heeded their call for a new vote, not responded with violence. He asked people to hold rallies on the anniversary.
In an important letter to Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardabili, a moderate cleric close to the Reformists, Mehdi Karroubi declared that Iran and Iranians have been humiliated by the hardliners. Mousavi Ardabili was an important figure in the 1979 Revolution, and a close ally of Ayatollah Khomeini. He was an original member of the Islamic Revolutionary Council that Khomeini formed in January 1979 to oversee the transition from the monarchical system to a new political order. With others, he formed the Islamic Republican Party, which was a dominant force for most of the 1980s. He also served as the country's chief prosecutor, the chief of the judiciary, and the head of Iran's Supreme Court, before he left politics in 1989 and returned to Qom.
Mousavi Ardabili is said to enjoy friendly relations with Ayatollah Khamenei. Last December, he visited Tehran to see the Supreme Leader and ask him to release all the political prisoners. Aside from the release of Dr. Alireza Hosseini Beheshti, a key aide to Mousavi, Mousavi Ardabili was evidently rebuffed. Still, he apparently continues his efforts behind the scenes.
In his letter, Karroubi wrote, "It is natural for any country to have ups and downs throughout its history, but this is one of the most exceptional periods in Iran's history."
He said that "all the fundamental rights of the people that have been recognized by the Islamic Republic itself have been either violated, ignored, or severely limited. The most important achievement of the Revolution was to end the monarchical system to establish a republic, but even the most elementary rights of the people have been taken away from them."
Karroubi continued, "Unfortunately, the Majles deputies, who must be the most important group of people to protect the country and prevent the establishment from deviating from the Constitution, have become a useless group due to the vetting by the Guardian Council, aside from a small group of Reformists and fair fundamentalists. The judiciary that should be neutral and defend people's rights, and should hold trials openly in the presence of a fair jury, has become a tool in the hands of the security forces. At the moment there is no judicial authority to whom people can go and ask for justice."
Addressing Mousavi Ardabili directly, he wrote, "You were present in the judiciary for years, and know well that there has never been a time like the present at which the security forces have had such a glaring presence in the judiciary." He continued, "According to those who have been released from jail, the interrogators have told them that their sentences will not be issued by the judiciary, but by some other authority. Thus, the judiciary, which must be a state organ to protect the people, has become a means for terrifying them."
Referring to the accusations against the Reformists and democratic groups, Karroubi said of the hardliners, "They are after destruction and humiliation of all the revolutionary people who have served the nation for the past 31 years. Is this the way a nation should appreciate the work that they have done and the sacrifices that they have made?"
Karroubi then turned to the severe economic problems that the nation faces. He wrote, "The state of the economy is so terrible that it cannot even be described. The financial state of the banks, the high unemployment, financial recession, the chaotic state of economic management, lack of financial discipline, generosity [of the government] with certain groups in spending the nation's wealth, the many unfinished projects particularly in the oil industry, and high inflation are glaringly clear, and worse than any other time."
Karroubi finished by criticizing the foreign policy of the hardliners: "Another bitter point for the people is the undiplomatic behavior of the leader of the government. Diplomacy has its own rules, and the president of any nation must be such that the nation can be proud of him, but unfortunately the strange behavior of the head of the government has humiliated Iran in the international arena. He has a strange appetite to travel abroad, and write letters to other heads of states that are never responded to. It is unfortunate that some of his clerical supporters liken this strange behavior to that of the Prophet. In order to find friends for himself, he is generous with nations that can hardly be found in the political geography of the world."
Karroubi, Mousavi, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi's wife, and former president Mohammad Khatami have all called for peaceful demonstrations and gatherings on the anniversary of last year's rigged election. This promises to be another hot summer for Iran.
Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau