The Spirit of 16 Azar: Iran's Student Day
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles
04 Dec 2010 14:19
A tradition of democratic struggle, still undaunted.In anticipation of 16 Azar (December 7), the 57th anniversary of University Student Day in Iran, Green students at Tehran's major universities issued statements emphasizing that they will not stop their struggle for freedom and democracy, and condemning, in the strongest language, the hardliners' violent crackdown on political, social, and human rights activists. The schools involved include Allameh University, Khajeh Nasir Toosi University, Amir Kabir University of Technology, Iran University of Science and Technology, the University of Tehran, the University of Medical Sciences, and the central campus of Islamic Azad University. Major universities in other Iranian cities, including Mashhad, Tabriz, Shiraz, Esfahan, Qazvin, and Baabol issued similar statements. Students at the University of Tabriz have called for a strike.
Well-known student activists from many universities are currently in jail. They include Allameh University's Majid Dorri, a member of the Committee for the Defense of Education Rights who has been given a six-year jail sentence and exiled to Behbahan; Mahdieh Golroo, also of Allameh and the Committee for the Defense of Education Rights, who is serving a three-year sentence; Khajeh Nasir Toosi University's Milad Asadi, a member of the central committee of the Office for Consolidation of Unity -- the umbrella organization for student activist groups -- who has received a sentence of seven years; and Amir Kabir University's Majid Tavakkoli, who has been given a nine-year sentence. Currently, 80 university students are in jail, serving long sentences after show trials. In addition, students at the University of Science and Technology have declared 16 Azar a day of mourning for the students that have been killed in the struggle for democracy. Twenty-three university students have been killed since last year.
The following history of Iranian student activism and 16 Azar was originally published by Tehran Bureau on December 6, 2009.
Iranians have been struggling for at least the past 150 years to establish a democratic political system in which the rule of law is supreme. Iranian university students -- and even high school students after the 1979 Revolution -- have been at the forefront of this struggle.
The first modern school in Iran, Daralfonoon, was founded by Mirza Taghi Khan Amir Kabir (1807-1852), who was perhaps the first true reformer in Iran's modern history. He was chief minister (effectively, prime minister) to Naser-eddin Shah (1831-1896) of the Qajar dynasty. The first modern Iranian university however wasn't founded until 1934. A few years earlier, in 1928, professor Mahmoud Hessaby had proposed to Ali Asghar Hekmat, then Reza Shah's Minister of Culture, to establish a comprehensive institution of higher education that would cover most of the sciences. After Reza Shah agreed to the plan, Hekmat, in consultation with the French architect Andre Godard, selected and designed the master plan of the university's main campus. It opened its doors in 1934. After the 1979 Revolution, the government rapidly expanded the number of universities. Iran has now more than 70 universities and institutions of higher education.
Since 1934, Iranian university campuses have always been a hotbed of political activism and protest. Although Reza Shah established a modern bureaucracy and helped modernize Iran, his rule also represented one of the darkest periods in terms of political freedom. After the Allied forces invaded and occupied Iran in 1941, they deposed Reza Shah and replaced him with his young son, Mohammad Reza Shah (1919-1980).
Iran enjoyed relative political and press freedom between 1941 and 1953. Many political organizations were founded during this period, chief among them was the Tudeh (masses) Party, a classic pro-Soviet communist party, wrapped in nationalism to make it more attractive to Iranians. In the 1940s, the Tudeh Party established Sazman-e Javanan-e Hezb-e Tudeh Iran (Youth Organization of the Tudeh Party of Iran), which was active at Tehran University and a few other institutions of higher education.
To counter the influence of the Tudeh Party, Iran's future prime minister, Mehdi Bazargan (1907-1995), then dean of the faculty of engineering (FOE) at the University of Tehran -- the engineering school that the author attended in the 1970s -- helped establish Anjoman Islami Daneshjooyan (Muslim Student Association) in the 1940s. At the same time, a young university student, Mohammad Nakhshab (1922-1975), had started a popular group called Socialist haa-ye Khodaparast (Socialist Worshipers of God), which advocated social justice based on socialism minus its dialectical materialism. Other political groups, such as the Jebhe Melli (National Front), also had their supporters on campuses. By the late 1940s, when other universities had been founded in Shiraz (1946), Tabriz (1947), Mashhad (1949), and later in Isfahan (1950), the higher education institutions, and particularly Tehran University, were totally political.
After the CIA/MI6 coup of August 18, 1953, when the popular government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh was overthrown and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was put back on the throne, campuses became even more political. In the immediate aftermath of the coup, an extremely repressive and oppressive environment prevailed in Iran. The universities remained the most important places where protests against the anti-nationalist and foreign-sponsored coup were taking place.
On November 15, 1953, the coup government announced that Richard M. Nixon, then U.S. vice president in the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, would pay a visit to Iran on December 9, 1953, presumably to celebrate with the Shah the demise of the Mosaddegh government and restoration of the monarchy. Nixon's visit was also supposed to demonstrate the Shah's full support for the United States. At that time however, anti-American feelings were running very high in Iran. Despite the extreme repression, the Shah had not been able to completely crush the opposition. The news of Nixon's trip angered the frustrated population, especially the opposition.
On December 5, 1953, the coup government officially re-established diplomatic relations with Britain. Denis Wright was sent to Tehran as the chargé d'affaires, and stayed on as counsellor until 1955, after the arrival of the new ambassador. The resumption of diplomatic relations further angered the people, and in particular the political dissidents and the university students.
On December 6, 1953, students of the Tehran University schools of medicine, pharmacy, law and political science, engineering, and dentistry demonstrated against Nixon's visit. (All but the dental school are on the west side of campus and could therefore easily join ranks.) They were chanting, "[Iran's] oil is ours," and "death to the Shah." The Shah's Guard-e Jaanbaaz (which roughly means "crusader guard") stormed the campus and brutally attacked the students. The demonstrations spilled onto the streets, and the guards injured and arrested many students. Simultaneous demonstrations had taken place even in some notable Tehran high schools, such as the Sharaf and Alborz high schools.
On the morning of December 7, 1953, the guards entered the FOE, the heart of the protests, to prevent any repeat demonstrations. Though there had not been any demonstrations yet that day, the excuse given was that some students had mocked the police, and the police wanted to arrest them. Two soldiers and an officer went to a class to make the arrests. But the professor, Shams Malak Ara, asked them to leave. As they arrested two students, one student jumped on a desk and began shouting for help. Shams Malak Ara notified the Dean of the FOE.
The soldiers and the officer then went to the office of Dean of the FOE, Mohandes Khalili, who was later active in the National Front. He also protested the intrusion, and his deputy, Dr. Rahim Abedi, was ordered to ring the bells to notify the students. Students gathered in the hall on the first floor of the school. The guards who had been on alert invaded the FOE building. According to Dr. Abedi, 68 bullets were fired. Three young students -- Mostafa Bozorgnia, Ahmad Ghandchi, Mehdi Shariatrazavi -- were killed. In his memoirs, Dr. Mostafa Chamran (1932-1981), Iran's first Defense Minister after the 1979 Revolution, who was a student at the FOE at that time, described the events of the day:
I could hear the sound of machine guns. Then a horrible and painful silence shook me up. Then, I could hear the painful voice of the injured [students]. I can still picture Daneshkadeh Fanni [FOE] on that day and the following days. Why did they rain bullets on the university? Why and how were three of our best friends, Bozorgnia, Ghandchi, and Shariatrazavi, martyred?
The daily Etela'at (information) published the report by the Coroner's office on December 8, 1953, that reported the cause of death of the three young students:
1. Mostafa Bozorgnia, a student at Daneshkadeh Fanni (FOE), died from a bullet that entered the right side of his chest and exited through his left arm. The bullet crushed the bones in his arm and caused severe bleeding, which killed him. He had also been injured with the tip of a spear that had penetrated his body by 15 cm.
2. Shariatrazavi, a student at Daneshkadeh Fanni, died only due to injuries inflicted by a spear tip. It had completely crushed the bones in his right thigh, which had caused severe bleeding. He had also been hit by a bullet in his right arm, which could not have been the cause of his death.
3. The third dead person, student Ahmad Ghandchi, died by a bullet that had entered his body through the abdomen and destroyed his internal organs.
Ghandchi had also suffered from severe burning. The bullets had cracked the hot water pipes and sprayed him with hot water. The three had been taken to a military hospital. Bozorgnia and Shariatrazavi had died instantly. Ghandchi died after 24 hours after suffering from severe bleeding and burns.
Ghandchi and Bozorgnia were buried in Emamzadeh Abdollah cemetery in Ray, a religious town on the southern edge of Tehran. Shariatrazavi's family had been told that he too had been buried there but, in fact, he had been buried in Mesgar Aabaad, an old cemetery east of Tehran. His family went there overnight, opened his grave, and transferred his remains to Emamzadeh Abdollah, where he was buried next to his two martyred friends.
The coup government of General Fazlollah Zahedi claimed that the military commander who had ordered the soldiers to shoot at the students had done so because he had become emotional and agitated after hearing the students chant. However, the same officer was later promoted due to his "service" to the country on that day! In fact, Bozorgnia's older brother, Fazlollah, himself a police officer, said that military commanders had told the soldiers that they would be rewarded if they killed any demonstrators.
The coup government banned traditional Islamic memorials held in Iran on the third and seventh days after the death of a Shiite. But due to huge public pressure, it relented and allowed the 40th day memorial to be held in Emamzadeh Abdollah. It allowed 300 people to attend the memorial, 100 from each family. The three families printed invitation cards with photos of their loved ones. But the coup government, under the excuse that the cards must be stamped to be official, stamped out the three pictures! But, the long street between the Shush Square in southern Tehran and the cemetery, the main road between Tehran and Ray, was completely filled with a huge crowd of mourners. No speeches were allowed.
To appease the families of the three students, the Shah offered to pay their expenses to go to Iraq and visit the shrine of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad and third Shia Imam, who is considered the symbol of martyrdom. The families turned down the offer, and wrote strongly worded letters of protest instead.
Who were the three students?Mostafa Bozorgnia was born in 1934. His father was a colonel in the Shah's imperial army, and his older brother, Fazlollah, was a police officer. Mostafa had graduated from the Daralfonoon High School with a double major, mathematics and natural sciences, the two most difficult and prestigious in Iran. He was in the second year of his studies at the FOE when he was murdered. He is said to have been a supporter of the Youth Organization of the Tudeh Party. In an interview with the daily Kayhan in 1960, Fazlollah Bozorgnia stated that his brother always visited poor neighbourhoods of Tehran and distributed food and clothes there. He had stated that he would oppose the Shah until his death. He had also made a movie called "The Error" in which he appeared as one of the characters. Dr. Mostafa Chamran was a friend and classmate of his.
Ahmad Ghandchi was born in 1933. He graduated from Sharaf High School in Tehran at the age of 16, and was in the second year of his studies when he was murdered. According to his brother, he was a practicing Muslim and a supporter of Mosaddegh's National Front.
Mehdi Shariatrazavi was born in 1932 in the religious city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran. His family called him Azar (fire). He was in the second year of his studies in the FOE when he was murdered. It has been said that he was a supporter of the Youth Organization of the Tudeh Party, but his sister, Dr. Pouran Shariatrazavi, has denied this. She has said that her brother was a religious young man and a practicing Muslim. Their older brother, Ali Asghar Shariatrazavi -- who was called Toofan (hurricane) by his family -- was killed defending Iran when the Allied Forces invaded Iran in 1941. Dr. Pouran Shariatrazavi married Dr. Ali Shariat (1933-1977), the distinguished sociologist and Islamic thinker. Today, a large hospital in Tehran, Shahid (martyr) Mehdi Shariatrazavi Hospital, is named in his honor.
Since 1953, 16 Azar (December 7) has been commemorated every year as Student Day, as a symbol of the struggle of Iranian students against dictatorship. For years the bloodstain of the three students on the pillars of the main hall of the FOE were preserved. For 24 years, the Shah's regime followed the bloody event on 16 Azar with other confrontation with university students all over Iran. The students of the faculty of engineering were, and still are, the bastions of the Iranian students' movement for democracy.In the 1960s and 1970s, one of the main publications of the Confederation of Iranian Students outside Iran was called 16 Azar, and the day was commemorated by Iranian students abroad with demonstrations against the Shah's regime and, more recently, against the Islamic Republic.
In the 1970s, when I was a student in the FOE, we always commemorated 16 Azar. My freshman year in 1972-73 also coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Shah's so-called White Revolution of February 1973. The year before, 16 Azar was particularly powerful and marked by large demonstrations at the University of Tehran. The demonstrations in 1974 were so large that the engineering faculty was shut down for the entire 1974-75 academic year. In 1975, two of my classmates, Mohammad Ali Bagheri and Hamid Aryan, who had started their studies at the FOE in the same year that I had, were killed by the Shah's security forces. In fact, many of my contemporaries in the FOE were jailed or killed, either by the Shah's regime or the Islamic Republic after the 1979 Revolution.
Interestingly, the monarchists tried for years to eliminate 16 Azar from the list of important days to stage political commemorations and demonstrations in Iran. However, they never succeeded. This event has been part of Iran's struggle to establish a democratic political system, and is now an important part of Iran's history.
This year 16 Azar has particular significance, as the Green Movement has vowed to use the occasion to protest the repression of the Islamic Republic and the violent crackdown on the peaceful demonstrations after the rigged June 12 presidential election. The occasion will also be used to demand the release of political prisoners, and call for the punishment of those responsible for the brutal crimes after the election, among many other legitimate demands.
As Dr. Ali Shariati said of the three murdered students,
These three drops of blood on the face of our universities are still fresh and warm. I wish I could cover these three Godly fires with the ashes of my burnt-out body. But, no, I should live and preserve the three fires in my chest.
Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau