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Interview: Nader Mokhtari

Nader Mokhtari

He is a columnist for Iran's state-run Kayhan newspaper. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Sept. 18, 2009.

[What was your view of the election and its aftermath?]

... Mr. [Mir Hossein] Mousavi is not a reformist by any stretch of the imagination. He is responsible for some acts abroad, overseas, which gave Iran a fairly bad reputation in the 1980s. His hands are bloodied. And he represents a camp which in any other society would be called the nouveau riche. They are the people who were the poor before the revolution, and they became rich through the deals they made through the black markets in the war, and they want to hang on to the wealth in the country.

And everybody has mentioned that the revolution or this uprising or these demonstrations were north of Vali Asr Square, and this is the rich part of Tehran. South of Vali Asr Square nobody came out. The real demonstrations, the popular demonstrations took place within two to three days after the presidential vote, where you had lots of people out. They were just average, ordinary people.

Now, among this came a third group that nobody knew, and they all appeared. Nobody knew who they were. ...

We know a certain amount of shooting was done by the Basij [government paramilitary force]. Part of the story was shown on Western TV. You imagine someone trying to set fire to a military base in the middle of London. You can imagine the reaction from the security forces here, and a bunch of people just broke away from the main demonstration of people who were asking for reform and started attacking this station, the 117th Basij station or volunteer force station with Molotov cocktails and tried to set it alight. ...

What happens is the ordinary people, the people who were out to demonstrate and thought that the vote had been fiddled with, pretty much gave up after three or four days, but a hard core of people stayed on the streets.

And in the first week something like 20 or 30 firearms were --

Uncovered.

Uncovered by the security forces. Now, the thing is that the firearms, they come through the Kurdistan border, and they're not that hard to come by to Iran, but it is very unlikely for ordinary people to keep such arms because it carries really heavy fines. ...

As with Neda Agha Soltan's shooting, … the bullet is not any of the calibers that are supplied to Iranian security forces. That at least we know. ...

I suppose one of the most powerful images to emerge from the weeks after the election was exactly that video, Neda getting killed. [Is it] unfortunate, do you think, that this has become one of the defining images of the conflict?

I feel unfortunate when anyone's killed in my own country within an election event. The polls conducted before the election -- even CNN polls -- gave Ahmadinejad a 2-to-1 majority. That's taking the Iran countryside into account. So when Mr. Mousavi went two hours before the count had started and declared himself the winner, well, we all thought there was something very, very weird going on over there.

And an hour after the early results from the little townships and villages started to come in, which were overwhelmingly pro-Ahmadinejad -- they generally are because they've been helped out a lot by his government -- he declared that there had been widespread fraud in the elections.

And you see, he's an ex-premier of Iran. He's in a responsible position. He can't just go out and make claims like that willy-nilly unless he has clear, clear evidence of this happening.

No evidence has been presented. ... He had observers at every single polling station, and he said these observers had been thrown out. Now, one person was shot in Tehran, and three mobile cameras captured this. How could it be that on the night of the vote, his representatives get thrown out of 30 stations and we don't have a single second of footage of this happening? Simply because it didn't take place.

Do you feel that we've got the wrong idea in Britain and the U.S. about the level of Ahmadinejad support inside Iran?

Yes. He's the first president in Iran that did not concentrate the budget for the country purely on Tehran. We have 700 miles of motorways, 200 miles of tunnels, 40 new factories. We have three new ports. We have all sorts of projects to help people out of unemployment back to work in the countryside.

You have to know Iran. In Iran, if you want to build a road 10 kilometers long, it could take up to 10 years. He managed to do in four years what many presidents haven't managed to do in 30 years. So the level of support and the level of assistance given to the farmers, to the average folk, rank and file, was huge.

And these, I call them the nouveau riche -- I'm sorry; I do this because I come from a very old family in Iran -- they were actually the conservatives. They wanted to preserve the wealth within their own clique. Ahmadinejad is a blacksmith's son, and he is at heart a socialist. He wanted to be able to help the people, and so an awful lot of people, as you know, voted for him. It's perfectly natural.

And what really upsets me about this is that even the polls before the election conducted by reputable foreign news agencies confirmed that he was 2-to-1 ahead. Now, immediately after this claim, you know, he was vilified out of all proportion. ...

What impression, then, do you think the media coverage in Britain and the U.S. has given the average viewer in these countries about what happened in Iran during the elections?

They have given the exact opposite of what actually went on. I have lived through a revolution where a majority wants a regime out, and we had Chieftain tanks freshly supplied by Britain during the 1979 revolution every 200 meters. People would clamber up one and down the other to get to the demonstration, and the shah's Imperial Guard was just standing back, amazed at this wave of humanity going because they were determined.

And when you had an uprising or a demonstration in one town, you had it in every town. This just didn't happen. It happened in Tehran. It happened slightly in a couple of other major towns. There were minor demonstrations there, and then it died down. So the ordinary people realized they'd been fooled to a certain extent, and they went home, but a hard core stayed. ...

What about the argument that the demonstrations were not large enough because in the smaller cities it's easier to destroy the demonstration? ...

Yes. But then again, as I put it to you earlier, a majority revolution does not abide by such rules. A majority revolution is even in the smallest village. You get people coming out, regardless.

The shah's soldiers at the end did not fire in a mass scale against people, whereas it seems that, especially on the Saturday, June 20, there did seem to be mass violence against people.

In November 1978, 32 people in Tehran University died in front of my eyes in just one shooting spree by the Imperial Guard of the shah. You have no idea that during that time, about 30 people a day died across Iran, on average, during the revolution.

If the majority were unhappy with the status quo, this government would have gone, and that simply is not the case.

The people who got rich in the revolution, during the revolution and the 30 years since, their offspring, the youth, they had the money, so they want to have access to a Western way of life. They don't want to be pigeonholed into a strictly Islamic culture. It is natural for them to want more from life because they have access to it through their wealth, whereas the majority in Iran are not wealthy, so for them Islam will suffice for the time being. Do you appreciate what I'm trying to get at?

There's lower expectations in those parts of society, there's a higher expectation among the Westernized class, and therefore this is some kind of cultural struggle?

It is a cultural struggle, but it is induced in a sense. Iranians can sit there and talk to you for hours about Zoroastrianism and its offspring, Metrism, which is very close to Christianity. They can talk for hours about that, but the moment they feel threatened, they run into a mosque. Islamic culture has been with the country for 1,400 years.

So what would be a more accurate view of what happened in Iran during the elections, in your opinion?

... Mousavi is not very popular because he was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's golden boy, and he is not psychologically very stable. During the war, where 1,000 kids were dying every day at the battlefront, he would have a tiff with Ayatollah Khomeini, he would go into his house, shut his door, and he would not come out for a few months. He was the prime minister of the country, and the children were dying at the battlefront. These aren't the actions of a person who has a stable mind.

Mr. Mousavi is not liked. He has no popularity within the real forces, and he didn't win on the economic front also. The other thing that he could have done -- he could have kept this going -- easily applied for permission for peaceful demonstrations at the stadium, Azadi Stadium in Tehran or other places away from businesses, whereas the people who assembled in front of the presidential office were mainly the merchants, because their living was being hit so hard by the demonstrations. ... They put maximum pressure on the government. So in this case, during the revolution, the bazaar, the economics of the country was behind the revolution, whereas here they were totally against it because they were losing money. So this was another problem for Mr. Mousavi and his team, another angle that they had not worked on. ...

We saw some very shocking images of violence in the streets after the election that were shot by ordinary people on their phones or whatever. How do you respond to those?

You have street clashes there, and, you know, in a place as peaceful as London, you have G-20 demonstrators and a policeman suddenly flies off the handle, pushes someone, kills someone. ...

People got killed. People get killed in situations like this. When you have an ex-premier as irresponsible as Mr. Mousavi going and claiming that there's been rigged elections, that's rabble-rousing, and they pour onto the streets, and they start burning up people's property. And this happens. It's overreaction. ...

Now, there are a number of very prominent Iranians who are on trial at the moment on charges of trying to start a velvet revolution with foreign help.

Yes.

Britain specifically, North America, Israel. Do you feel that the protesters were influenced by foreign forces and foreign funds?

Yes, yes. This was just far too well planned for there not to have been. I'm not saying at government level in any way; I'm not trying to implicate perhaps British government, Israeli government. But at some level there had been very, very precise planning for what was going to happen. ...

What's the available evidence we have that this was far too well planned in advance?

The evidence does exist. I've seen some of the paperwork. I wasn't allowed to keep any of the paperwork. But ... the level of planning was not the sort of level of planning you're used to seeing in Iran. It's as simple as that. ...

Fars News had a report on its Web site that said that he'd won with 63 percent of the vote. That was about 10 p.m. on [election night].

Right. Why did Mr. Mousavi, before even the vote count had started, then claim he was the president? I have no idea. I mean, you're asking me questions which are so hypothetical I couldn't answer you.

Why did Mr. [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei come out on Saturday when canvassers were supposed to have 72 hours to register their complaints and come out so much in favor of Mr. Ahmadinejad at a moment when the supreme leader is supposed to be above this?

What difference would it have made after the vote if he'd said who he supported? It's important for the leader not to show his support before the election for his favorite.

But he'd said five weeks before the election that Mr. Ahmadinejad should act as if he has another five years in power.

I haven't heard the comment directly, so I can't comment on that. ...

[There were] allegations saying that [BBC correspondent Jon] Leyne has been giving money to the sniper who shot her dead. You yourself talked about the caliber of bullets used. More recently there have been reports that Caspian Makan, the fiance or boyfriend of Neda, is being pushed to make a confession that she was killed by [the Mujahideen-e Khalq].

Nobody knows who killed Neda. That's the bottom line, and I wouldn't like to comment on that. I couldn't say, would it be the security forces? Why would they fire on someone in a street where there isn't a demonstration, someone out just getting some air, walking out of the car? I couldn't tell you who did it because I don't know. ...

Have you ever seen anyone shot with a high-caliber rifle?

I haven't seen, but ... the bullet goes through the person because of the high velocity it has, and the blood splash is along the direction of where the bullet traveled through the body. If you examine the video of the footage, the blood splash is immediately by her feet at the front, so the bullet hit her at the back, and it exited through the front. ...

And the bullet got her heart and her lung. Now, had the bullet just gone 3 millimeters to the side, it would have just got her lung, and she would have stayed alive; she would have lived. But it was also cut through her heart because it was a tough-caliber military bullet that was designed to kill. ... I don't see how [a] Basiji could carry a weapon of that caliber in his pocket, simple as that.

And then the problem is that the Dr. [Arash] Hejazi, who was supposed to have given her there the kiss of life, showed up to Iran five or six days just before the disturbances and he was there on the spot. And he disappeared immediately afterwards. So, you know, there are lots of questions to do with lots of things that happened in Iran.

Do you think that Dr. Hejazi was an agent provocateur?

No. But if you'd like to put together conspiracy theories, he could very well have been a conspirator if you're going to say that. ...

Dr. Hejazi has come out and he says, yeah, you know, there were two Basijis on a motorbike, I think as far as I remember, and one of them pulled out a weapon out of his pocket and shot Neda. Well, how the hell did he do that? What kind of weapon do you have that you can carry in your pocket that can fire that kind of round? So if we want to go into conspiracy theories about Neda Agha Soltan, we could talk for hours.

The fact is the video is there for sure. You see the blood splash, the moment the bullet exits the front of her chest in front of her feet and she falls backwards and she dies within seconds, and it's a terrible thing to watch someone die. ...

But I put this down: You know, within the chaos on Tehran's streets, anything can happen. Maybe my generation is slightly tougher and more used to this because we have seen an entire generation die in a war, in the eight-year war. I think it's a terrible thing to happen, but really, if you come down and get down to the base of this, ... if he [Mousavi] had not said the election had been rigged without any evidence, substantial evidence, none of this would have happened. Nobody would have died. ...

Is there anything else you'd like to add, anything we haven't covered in the interview?

Yes. I'd like to say this: that during the times of the simple reformists like [former Presidents] Mr. [Mohammad] Khatami and Mr. [Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani, Iran's relations with the West were not on the up. They were not. Iran and the West did not move in a direction to meet eye to eye.

Whereas as I speak to you today, ... Mr. Obama has decided to scrap the plans for the missile shield, and the United States and Iran are going to start talking to each other. And that has happened during Ahmadinejad's time in office. So a bit of strength does pay off. ...

I do believe that we are entering a very, very special period, and I do believe that in the near future the relations will expand between Iran and the West, and they will improve simply because the interests of the West and regional interests of Iran are coming so close to each other that there is no alternative.

But maybe at the expense of people's human rights?

If you watch Iraq, Afghanistan and the events over the last eight years since Iraq's illegal invasion by the U.S.-led forces, I don't think human rights mean that much in the West.

I'm sure that's a double standard, but we're talking about human rights towards your own citizens.

Right. Towards your own citizens? Well, I could go into that also, but I'll spare you. ...

[Was the 1979 revolution the first velvet revolution?]

'79 was not a peaceful revolution. It was a very, very violent affair on a daily basis. I went on my bicycle to the Tehran University in November, and I was just watching -- I was 13 years old, 14 years old. They were trying to pull down a shah's statue. ...

The next thing it was like little chirps around my ears, and somebody shouted, "They're shooting," and then there was the sound of fireworks. We all lay on the floor, and then the sound of fireworks stopped, and we got up, and when we got up a large number of people didn't get up. ... Thirty-two people died on that single day on the east corner of Tehran University.

We have fought for this revolution, and we have paid heavily, and we are going to see it through to the end. And eight years of war and a million dead have toughened us up.

If this is the price we have to pay to get our own way in the region, we are prepared to pay it. There are some people who may not be prepared to pay it, but they are not the majority. If the leader goes up and calls to arms, ... he can have 20 million men under flag, and they will not ask for a penny. This is our generation.

We are not going to give up Iran because Mr. Mousavi has lied, and we're not going to give up Iran because an extremist organization has planned some kind of a coup within an election. We will not give up Iran because we paid such a heavy price to have it, and this is the voice of the majority of Iranians.

I may appear harsh. This is my country; it's my patch of land. It's all I have in this world, and I will fight for it. Accusations fly, you go to jail for three weeks, go for three years, go for 30 years. I am not going to give up my country.

posted november 17, 2009

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