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The Ten Days That Changed Iran

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

03 Feb 2010 18:03Comments

[ timeline ] February 11 marks the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which toppled the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, put an end to monarchy in Iran, and led to the theocracy that maintains control to this day. The Revolution was part of the century-old struggle of the Iranian people to establish a democratic political system and the rule of law. In previous articles, I have described different aspects of that struggle's history (See Ashura, 16 Azar, and U.S. hostage crisis). In the present article, I focus on the last ten days of the Iranian monarchy. The ten-day period that began on February 1, 1979, the day Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, by then the undisputed leader of the Revolution, returned to Iran after nearly a decade and a half in exile, is known in Iran as the Daheh Fajr -- the ten-day dawn.

On January 3, 1979, the Shah appointed Dr. Shapour Bakhtiar of the National Front as prime minister, replacing General Gholam Reza Azhari, whose government had failed to stem the revolutionary tide. As soon as Bakhtiar accepted the premiership, he was expelled from the National Front. The Shah had first asked Dr. Gholam-Hossein Sedighi, another respected figure in the National Front, to form the new government, but Sedighi rejected the offer. Bakhtiar was a social democrat who had fought on the republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and like Mehdi Bazargan, in the French resistance against the Nazis. He was deputy minister of labor in the government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh.

The following day, the Majles (Parliament) gave Bakhtiar a vote of confidence. On January 12, the Islamic Revolutionary Council was formed by Ayatollah Khomeini and charged with directing the Revolution. The complete list of the Council's members has never been disclosed.

The Shah left Iran on January 16, but never actually abdicated. He passed away in exile on July 27, 1980, in Cairo, Egypt, at the age of 60. His father, Reza Shah (1878-1944), had also died in exile in Johannesburg, South Africa. The stage was set for the confrontation between the imperial government and the revolutionary forces.

February 1, 1979

After staying in Neauphle-le-Château, a suburb of Paris, for 117 days, Ayatollah Khomeini left Paris through Charles de Gaulle International Airport aboard a chartered Air France Boeing 747. The aircraft left the airport at 3:30 am Tehran time.

When the aircraft entered Iran's airspace, Ayatollah Khomeini was asked how he felt about going back to Iran after his long exile. "Nothing," he responded. Justifying this passionless attitude, Dr. Mohammad Mofatteh (1928-1979), who was assassinated shortly after the Revolution, said that no emotion could be "better or stronger than the fact that he accepted the danger and decided to go back to be with the Muslim people of Iran."

The jetliner landed at Tehran's Mehrabad International Airport at 9:15 am. The greeting committee entered the aircraft at 9:30 am. At 9:37 am, the victorious Ayatollah Khomeini stepped off the plane, holding on to a flight attendant's arm for support. He dropped to his knees on the tarmac to kiss the soil of the land that he had left more than 14 years ago. He was mobbed inside the airport's terminal by a huge crowd.

Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, a mid-ranking cleric and future speaker of the Majles, asked people to calm down and be seated. The greeting committee had suggested that the father of Mehdi, Ahmad, and Reza Rezaei, three members of the Mojahedin-e Khlagh Organization (MKO) who had been killed by the Shah's security forces, make the welcoming speech. (Four other members of the Rezaei family, including a daughter, Sedigheh, were killed after the Revolution.) But Ayatollah Morteza Motahhari (1920-1979), a leading Islamic scholar and disciple of Ayatollah Khomeini, opposed the selection. Instead, a university student, Nosratollah Shadnoush, read a short speech written by Ayatollah Motahhari.

Ayatollah Khomeini then spoke briefly. He warned that in the campaign to overthrow the Shah's regime, "This is just the first step." He also warned the Bakhtiar government, "If you do not surrender to the nation, the nation will put you in your place."

The greeting committee had prepared a green Mercedes for the Ayatollah, his son Ahmad (1945-1995), and Ayatollah Motahhari. Hashem Sabbaghian, a member of Mehdi Bazargan's political group, the Freedom Movement, and later the interior minister in his government, was supposed to follow directly behind in another car. Just before the Ayatollah was to enter the Mercedes, however, an SUV driven by Mohsen Rafighdoust, a right-winger instrumental in the founding of the IRGC, appeared. The Ayatollah and his son got into the SUV, which began moving toward Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery, Tehran's main cemetery on the southern edge of the city. Another car followed, carrying Nategh Nouri and the famous wrestler Mohammad Reza Taleghani. A security helicopter flew overhead. Hundreds of thousands of people greeted the Ayatollah along the route.

Once the SUV arrived at the cemetery, it became impossible to move forward because of the huge crowd awaiting the Ayatollah. He was thus taken by helicopter to section 17 of the cemetery, where many of those killed during the preceding year's demonstrations had been laid to rest. Ayatollah Motahhari welcomed his teacher. Next came a short speech by a son of Haj Sadegh Amani, who had been executed in 1965 for participating in the assassination of the Shah's prime minister, Hassan Ali Mansur (1929-1965).

The Ayatollah then made the famous speech during which he declared, "I appoint the government. I slap this government," referring to Bakhtiar's administration. Pointing to the graves of the people who had been killed during the demonstrations, he declared that the Shah's government "had developed the cemeteries well, instead of developing the nation." Little did anyone know that, in the coming decades, the political system founded by the Ayatollah would kill at least 10 times as many people as had been killed under the Shah.

The Ayatollah was then flown to Hezar Takhtekhabi Hospital (now known as Imam Khomeini Hospital) to see the people who had been injured during the street demonstrations. Another enormous crowd thwarted the visit. After a stop at a friend's house, he was transferred to the Refah School, off of Iran Street in central Tehran, half a mile from my childhood home where my parents' house is still located. The school, along with the nearby Alavi High School, remained the Ayatollah's headquarters until the Bakhtiar government fell. In a message to the nation, the Ayatollah promised that he would soon appoint a provisional government and hold elections for a Constitutional Assembly to draft a new constitution, so that "the respected armed forces can carry out their legal and national duties," a thinly veiled message to the military to desert the Bakhtiar government.

February 2, 1979

In a speech at Alavi High School, the Ayatollah attacked the Constitutional Assembly that had appointed Reza Khan-e Sardar Sepah, the prime minister and father of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, as the new king, Reza Shah, in 1925. Ayatollah Khomeini did not mention that one of his idols, Seyyed Hassan Modarres (1870-1937), had opposed Sardar Sepah's intention to abolish the monarchy and set up a republic. (Modarres was later murdered by Reza Shah's regime.) He declared, "I remember that the Constitutional Assembly was under the gun to make the appointment. When the Assembly is formed under the gun, it is not legitimate." He also met with many young clerics and promised to return soon to Qom, the center of Shiite Islam.

Huge crowds of people kept streaming to the Refah and Alavi schools to see the Ayatollah. The first public cracks in the armed forces emerged that day, as some military officers were seen visiting with the Ayatollah. He announced that if any of them were killed by the security forces, the culprits will be severely punished, and called on the rest of the armed forces to join the Revolution.

February 3, 1979

The Ayatollah met with many leading clerics. Using by now familiar rhetoric, he declared that because "there is unity of purpose, people's punches with their empty hands destroyed the tanks. This is the victory of blood over sword." He called himself the "servant of the people" who had returned from exile to serve the nation.

He then held a press conference attended by hundreds of reporters from all over the world. His words were translated into French by Sadegh Ghotbzadeh (1936-1982) and into English by Dr. Ebrahimi Yazdi. Each would serve in his government as foreign minister. Ghotbzadeh was executed in 1982 after he was accused of plotting to kill the Ayatollah, while Yazdi, stricken with cancer and other illnesses, is currently in jail at the age of 79. The Ayatollah declared, "Do not provoke me to invite people to stage a jihad. If jihad comes, we can supply the people with guns. The government will soon be introduced. The Islamic Revolution Council has been appointed [its membership was secret at that time]. We ask the army to join us as soon as possible. The armed forces are our children. We have a lot of love for them. They should join the nation. When the new constitution is drafted, it will be put to a vote."

When asked whether he would meet with Bakhtiar, he said that he would, provided that Bakhtiar first resigned. Tehran's mayor, Javad Shahrestani, met with the Ayatollah and tendered his resignation. He declared that he would stay on the job as the "Imam-appointed" mayor, not as "Bakhtiar's mayor." The Ayatollah asked him to add this to his resignation letter. With the Ayatollah's approval, Shahrestani resumed the mayoralty until the Bakhtiar government fell. He was then replaced by Dr. Mohammad Tavassoli, a key aide to Mehdi Bazargan and member of the Freedom Movement. Tavassoli's daughter and nephew are currently in jail as hostages to keep him quiet.

The Ayatollah then met with several key figures of the Revolution, including Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri (1922-2009), Seyyed Mahmoud Taleghani (1911-1979), a highly popular and progressive cleric, and Motahhari, all members of the Revolutionary Council. He also met with Dr. Karim Sanjabi (1904-1995), the leader of the National Front who was foreign minister in the first few months after the Revolution; Mehdi Bazargan, the future prime Minister; and Seyyed Abolhassan Banisadr, a key aide and first president of the Islamic Republic, who was impeached by the Majles and fled the country in June 1981.

February 4, 1979

In response to Ayatollah Khomeini's threat to call for jihad, Bakhtiar told Tehran radio, "Islamic Republic is an unknown for me. Iran has one government. More than this is intolerable, either for me or for you or for any other Iranian. As a Muslim, I had not heard that jihad refers to one Muslim against other Muslims. Those fomenting a civil war will be put in front of the firing squad. I will compromise neither with the Shah nor with Khomeini. I will not give permission to Ayatollah Khomeini to form an interim government. I will implement all of Ayatollah Khomeini's views in law. I shall reply to Molotov cocktails by Molotov cocktails. An Islamic government limited to Qom is permissible, and we shall then have a Vatican state here too."

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari (1905-1986), one of the most important clerics living in Iran, sent a letter to Ayatollah Khomeini, congratulating him on his return to Iran. In 1982, Ayatollah Shariatmadari was humiliated by Ayatollah Khomeini and his supporters, who accused him of having a hand a supposed coup by Ghotbzadeh.

Further cracks in the armed forces become apparent. Hundreds of junior officers visited with the Ayatollah, saluted him as their commander-in-chief, and declared their loyalty to the Revolution and the nation. Some Majles deputies also resigned and declared their allegiance to the Revolution. Some air force junior officers and cadets were rumored to have disappeared after meeting with the Ayatollah.

In a long meeting in the evening that lasted until almost midnight, the Revolutionary Council, at Ayatollah Motahhari's suggestion, proposed Mehdi Bazargan as the new prime minister. The Ayatollah approved, though years later he said, "I was opposed to Bazargan's premiership. But because he was a good man and had been suggested by Ayatollah Motahhari, I went along." He made the same kind of comment about the selection of Ayatollah Montazeri as his deputy, a position Montazeri held until 1989, when he was sacked after protesting the execution of political prisoners.

February 5, 1979

A group of Majles deputies met with the Ayatollah and presented their resignations from the last parliament under the Shah. He criticized the Shah for not holding free elections. Of course, the political system that he was setting up would soon come in for the same criticism.

The Ayatollah also met with Mohammad Taghi Falsafi, a cleric whose fiery speeches had led the Shah's government to ban him from delivering sermons. The Ayatollah ordered his aides to declare to the public that Falsafi was now free to give speeches and religious sermons.

In a public ceremony and press conference at Alavi High School at 5:15 pm, the Ayatollah's choice for Iran's new prime minister was introduced to the public. In his order appointing Bazargan as the first prime minister of the Revolution, the Ayatollah said, "On the suggestion of the Revolutionary Council, I appoint you as the prime minister, without any regards to any relations to any political party and any particular group, to form the provisional government. The new cabinet must be introduced as soon as possible, following the guidelines that I have specified."

The order was read by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the future speaker of the Majles, president, and chairman of the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council. The Ayatollah declared that he had the legal authority to make the appointment, based on the vote of confidence that the people have given him as the leader of the Revolution during their demonstrations. He also declared that obeying the new prime minister was a religious duty, and opposing it was opposing Islam.

The Ayatollah's statement linking support of or opposition to the government to belief in or opposition to Islam, though it received little analysis or criticism at the time, is at the root of all the problems that Iran faces today.

In a short speech, Bazargan thanked the Ayatollah and said, "Naturally, considering my weak physique and all my faults and problems, I should not have accepted this responsibility. Under the present dangerous and difficult conditions, this mission, namely, planning and forming the provisional government and its policies, is the most difficult duty and job and, at the same time, the highest honor of mine. My cabinet will not be a shadow or a fantasy -- it is quite serious." He went on to dismiss any threat from the military.

The Ayatollah then asked the people to express their views about the appointment in the newspapers, as well as through peaceful demonstrations everywhere. Perhaps to calm the military, Ayatollah Taleghani said, "We, the Islamic leaders, do not have a claim on government." He did not live long enough to see the government was taken over by the clerics.

Bakhtiar immediately responded to the appointment of Bazargan in a speech to the Majles: "The Iranian nation and Iranian state are indivisible entities: one country, one government, one constitution, or nothing else. We will tolerate this thing about anybody forming their own government as long as it is a joke and in words only, but if they take action in this regard, we shall reply with our own actions. If blood is spilled and aggression is committed against the people, I will expose the aggressors without regard to their name or position. I shall remain in the position of the legitimate prime minister of this country until future free elections are held. ... Whoever enjoys a majority, shall then govern."

A group of officers and enlisted military personnel marched in front of Alavi High School, where the Ayatollah was staying, to demonstrate their support for the Revolution. In response, the military high command issued a statement, declaring that, "Whoever embarks on threatening or weakening the morale of military personnel shall be prosecuted according to the law."

There were widespread rumors that the Ayatollah and Bazargan had each met with Bakhtiar, and that a special envoy of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had also met with the Ayatollah. His office denied them all.

February 6, 1979

The Shah remained defiant. In an interview with London's Daily Mail, he declared, "I am still the reigning monarch and commander-in-chief of the Iranian armed forces. I myself am not immune from criticism, but how can one imagine that I would work 37 years, 10 hours a day to help my country, only to see myself return to where I had started?"

Bakhtiar declared that anyone who cooperated with the government of Bazargan, his old friend, would be arrested. But it was clear that he had little power to back up his threat. He also said that if calm returned to the nation, he would hold a referendum in three months to let people decide what kind of political system they wanted.

The Ayatollah met with the officers and personnel of Iran's Navy. He told them, "Serve the nation from now on. The foreign hands must be cut off from this nation. How much should the United States loot this country? How much Britain and other powers? We must resurrect ourselves, wake up, and take back our freedom." Referring to the Phalavi dynasty's decades-long control of the military, he said, "We want an independent army, not a servant." No one could guess that the IRGC that would be formed by the Ayatollah's order a few months later would eventually become exactly that: the servant to powerful interests, and a tool for repression and oppression of the people.

February 7, 1979

Some of the largest demonstrations to date were held throughout Iran. The demonstrators declared their support of, and loyalty to, the government of Bazargan. The staff of eleven federal ministries -- including those of health, economics and finance, foreign affairs, justice, housing and urban development, energy, and information -- as well as many other governmental divisions announced that they would take orders only from the Bazargan government.

In acknowledging the strength of the revolutionaries, Hodding Carter, the U.S. State Department spokesman, said in Washington, "We support the implementation of the constitution in Iran. We have been in touch with all groups, including Mehdi Bazargan, through diplomatic channels, although we have not made any contacts with him after his election to the position of prime minister. The United States cannot ignore the great street referendum of the Iranian nation in favor of Ayatollah Khomeini in Paris and after his return to Iran."

As the national television and radio systems were still controlled by the military, some of the personnel who were on strike decided to set up a separate program to be broadcast through the "Revolution channel." Ayatollah Khomeini appeared on the program and gave a short speech decrying the fact that institutions such as the national media "that could serve the people, were controlled by the Shah's regime and used for other purposes."

Ayatollah Khomeini continued to receive large numbers of visitors from all over the country and from every strata of society declaring their loyalty to the Revolution.

February 8, 1979

There were again large demonstrations in Tehran and elsewhere in support of the Bazargan government. It became clear that the armed forces were buckling under the tremendous pressure. A large number of junior air force officers visited with the Ayatollah at 10:00 am. A photo showing them saluting the Ayatollah as the commander-in-chief was published by the daily Kayhan, and seen all over the world. According to the newspaper, the officers shouted, "The national military, on the order of Khomeini, has broken off with the dictator and joined the nation."

Bakhtiar disputed the authenticity of the photo, and asked General Abbas Gharabaghi, chief of staff of the armed forces, to deny that the junior officers had visited with Ayatollah Khomeini. In response, the military high command issued a statement: "On page 1 of Kayhan newspaper, dated Thursday, 19th of Bahman 1357, a large, doctored, and fake photo was published with the title 'March of thousands of military personnel.' The fakeness of this photo is completely obvious to anybody who is aware of the most basic rules of photography and montage. Also clear is the evil intentions of those who sow the seeds of division and wish to penetrate the unbreakable structure of our armed forces, so that they reach their own wishes and goals."

In response, Ayatollah Khomeini declared, "The armed forces must return to the people, just as many people and many groups have returned, and we have welcomed them with open arms."

Meanwhile, intense negotiations were taking place between the representatives of Ayatollah Khomeini and Bazargan and the military chief, in order to avoid bloodshed. Hardline military officers, such as Lieutenant General Mehdi Rahimi, the military governor of Tehran, were becoming restless. His wife, Manijeh Rahimi has said, "I remember a heated discussion at our house. [Lieutenant General Abdolali] Badrei, the commander of the Ground Forces, [Lieutenant General Ali] Neshat, commander of the Imperial Guard, and [Lieutenant General] Rahimi were very worried. My husband kept shouting that [chief of staff of the armed forces General Abbas] Gharabaghi, [Lieutenant General Nasser] Moghaddam [head of the SAVAK, the Shah's secret police] and [General Hossein] Fardoust [a childhood friend of the Shah's] were committing treason. I had never seen them so upset. Badrei kept repeating that if the mullahs seized power, the mob would kill them all and parade their heads in the town square. Looking back they all seemed like passengers on a burning plane about to crash into the desert."

February 9, 1979

About 30,000 people demonstrated in support of the existing constitution in Tehran's Amjadieh Stadium (now known as Shiroudi Stadium), chanting slogans in support of the Shah and Bakhtiar. There were reports of extensive participation by army officers and their families. Clashes took place between the demonstrators and the revolutionaries outside the stadium. Army buses parked outside the stadium came under a hail of stones by those opposing the demonstrators.

A group of five senior generals had been meeting daily with General Robert E. Huyser, deputy commander of the U.S. forces in Europe, who had been sent to Tehran to help keep the military behind the Bakhtiar government. The high-ranking officers -- Gharabaghi, Badrei, air force commander Amir Hossein Rabiei, navy commander Admiral Kamal Habibollahi, and deputy war minister Lieutenant General Hassan Toufanian, later joined by Moghadam -- visited Bakhtiar to inform him of low morale within the military and problems with soldiers escaping from barracks. A primary topic of the meeting was Kayhan's photo of air force officers saluting Ayatollah Khomeini the day before. Bakhtiar announced that if the people desired a republic, they should declare it "in a normal fashion, through a Constitutional Assembly, or through a freely elected parliament." He also denied rumors of a military coup in the works.

The curfew in Tehran began at 9:00 pm. In a gesture to Ayatollah Khomeini and the revolutionaries, and following a brief evening news, the military-run national TV broadcast a program showing scenes of Ayatollah Khomeini in France, his flight to Iran, and his speech at Behesht-e Zahra cemetery.

This broadcast turned out to be the beginning of the end for the Bakhtiar government. Minutes after it began, a group of air force cadets in the Farahabad barrack in east Tehran began to chant salavaat -- the salute to Prophet Mohammad and his descendants -- after seeing Ayatollah Khomeini on TV. Pro-monarchy officers responded with insults. The quarrel eventually erupted into a firefight between the two groups. The night watch requested support from the Imperial Guard units known as the Guard-e Javidaan. Before they arrived, however, news of the fighting was announced loudly by a cleric in the streets, breaking the curfew. People rushed to the streets, believing that a massacre of the cadets was about to ensue.

The barracks armory was raided, and the dream of many materialized: citizens obtained arms. Meanwhile, heavily armed guard units opened fire on the people in the streets. Fighting continued until 2:00 am. Finally, the air force commander, General Rabiei, arrived on the scene and ordered the evacuation of the dozens of killed and wounded. In an urgent message, Ayatollah Taleghani asked all military personnel to stop fighting and return to their bases.

February 10, 1979

Tehran had become a virtual war zone.

The campus of the University of Tehran was by now under the control of secular leftist guerrillas of the Organization of People's Fadayaan Khalgh and the MKO, who taught students in the use of weapons and the making of Molotov cocktails. Mosques had been turned into weapon repositories. People drove around on motorcycles with captured guns. Army units converged on Ayatollah Khomeini's and Ayatollah Taleghani's residences for surrender. A large number of armed soldiers wandered confused in the streets. Citizens threw flowers to them, asking them to join the Revolution. One million people demonstrated in Tabriz in support of Bazargan, and clashes were reported in the northern cities of Gorgan, Rasht, and Mashhad.

General Badrei and Admiral Habibollahi, supported by General Toufanian and General Huyser, had formed a group to circumvent Bakhtiar and General Gharabaghi and stage a coup, if necessary. They had kept in touch with Ardeshir Zahedi, Iran's ambassador to the United States. Even though General Rabiei and commander of army aviation Major General Manouchehr Khosrodad had a reputation for being hardliners, the group had kept them in the dark.

After the previous night's confrontation at the air force barracks, General Badrei feverishly planned a military takeover of Tehran in his office at the Lavizan barracks. The generals' working group proposed to bring up the curfew hours, a suggestion approved by Bakhtiar and Gharabaghi. Tehran's military governor, General Rahimi, issued a statement: "Considering its duties and heavy responsibilities, and the fact that it cannot remain indifferent to barbaric and inhumane acts of subversive elements, the military governor of Tehran and the suburbs hereby extends the curfew hours of 16:30-5:00 am until noon" of the following day.

Ayatollah Khomeini reacted swiftly: "The communiqué of the military authorities is against the principles of Islam, and the people should not pay any attention to it. I condemn this inhumane aggression by the Imperial Guard division. They wish to keep the hands of foreigners open in Iran by engaging in fratricide. Although I have not ordered a holy jihad and would like to keep the peace and have the affairs taken care off in accordance with the law and the wishes of the people, I cannot at the same time tolerate such barbarism, and warn that if these acts of fratricide are not stopped, and the Guard units do not return to their barracks and the army commanders do not step in to stop such aggressions, I shall take my final decision, God willing, and then the responsibility will be with those committing the aggression and those transgressing." Bazargan and Ayatollah Taleghani had both argued against the statement, fearing a massacre. But acting tough and decisive was a characteristic of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Bakhtiar issued his own statement: "We shall follow our legal duties if the provisional government attempts to take over the ministries by force." In an interview with Kayhan International, he reiterated that "the Constitution has allowed any type of change, including the declaration of a republic, but the people must go about this legally through a constitutional assembly, or a freely elected parliament. The law permits this."

At the appointed curfew of 4:30 pm, there was no indication that the Tehran's citizens were leaving the streets for home. In the evening, the National Security Council convened. Dr. Bakhtiar asked for reports from the attending generals, and then stated that he had waited long enough: "It is now time for attack." He ordered General Moghadam, head of the SAVAK, to arrest 200 people, including Ayatollah Khomeini, his aides at Alavi High School, and scores of journalists and National Front and leftist activists.

By this time, the revolutionaries had penetrated the rank and file of the army and government. Thus, the Revolution's command center at Alavi High School was completely aware of the events in Lavizan, Badrei's coup plans and telephone calls, as well as Bakhtiar and Gharabaghi's movements and actions. A major in General Badrei's office, who had been given permission to leave at midnight, managed to take copies of all the plans and operational maps. Using a public phone, he immediately contacted one of the morning newspapers, declaring his wish to carry out his national duty and expose plans for a coup d'etat that would result in the deaths of thousands. Although the information was known to the revolutionary camp, its revelation and publication dealt the fatal blow to the coup plan.

Bloody battles between the Imperial Guard and the air force cadets continued. The Ghazvin mechanized battalion was ambushed by citizens on its way to Toopkhaaneh square from Sepah Avenue. People also took over Hamadan-Saveh highway to block military reinforcements from Kermanshah province in western Iran. Defenders of the Air Force Academy disabled five tanks and captured three others, disarming several Guard officers. A number of tanks and armored personnel carriers were also disabled by Molotov cocktails on their way to Fowzieh Square (now known as Imam Hossein Square). Several police stations fell to the people.

Over the course of the day, generals Moghadam, Gharabaghi, Rabiei, and Neshat engaged in intensive negotiations with the revolutionary camp. A message arrived at Alavi High School from General Neshat, commander of the Imperial Guard, requesting a meeting with a representative of Ayatollah Khomeini, and stating that the Guard would not take part in any action against the people.

Amid the chaos of street fights and backdoor negotiations, Gharabaghi asked Fardoust his opinion of Bazargan's proposal that the armed forces declare their neutrality. Fardoust replied positively, saying that he would raise the issue at the meeting of the army commanders the next day. By nightfall, it appeared that, except for the coup group led by General Badrei, few commanders were still thinking of saving the Imperial regime.

As of 11 pm, February 10, the total casualties in Tehran came to 126 dead and 634 injured.

February 11, 1979

Battles raged all over Tehran. A group of army officers sent a letter to Ayatollah Khomeini asking him to issue a statement concerning the oath they had sworn to defend the Shah and his regime: "We hereby request that you declare your opinion and edict on the issue of forsaking this oath and joining the Islamic movement."

The ayatollah responded, "Those who have taken such an oath should act contrary to it."

At 9:00 am, Bakhtiar placed a phone call to Alavi High School and talked with Abbas Amir Entezam, his comrade in the National Front. He stressed that he was going to hand in his resignation to Bazargan in the afternoon. At 10:00 am, he met with U.S. ambassador William H. Sullivan in his office and requested his help.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces met in the war room of the army high command's headquarters, the only place in Tehran that appeared calm. Tanks blocked the old Shemiran road and prevented people from approaching the headquarters. Twenty-seven military commanders were present at the largest meeting in the history of the Imperial Armed Forces of Iran -- three generals, 18 lieutenant generals, four major generals, and two admirals. The only major figures absent were General Toufanian, who was following the events from his office, and General Rahimi, who was at Bakhtiar's office.

The first to report was General Badrei: "The ground forces, which essentially were not in a good position to begin with, are now incapable of any action as of last night." Air force commander General Rabiei reported, "Our forces are under fire. I was a virtual prisoner myself and crawled my way to the rooftop to reach the helicopter to get here."

Lieutenant General Houshang Hatam, deputy chief of staff, then made the crucial announcement: "His Majesty has left, and according to the prime minister, is not going to return. Mr. Bakhtiar wishes to declare a republic. Ayatollah Khomeini is after an Islamic republic and the whole nation is supportive of him. I propose that the armed forces pull away from this political fighting and do not interfere."

Everybody looked to General Fardoust, considered the Shah's closest friend in the military, for a response. He said, "The law has specified the duty of the armed forces, which entails safeguarding the territorial integrity of Iran against a foreign army; that is it." He turned to General Hatam and ordered him to draft a declaration of neutrality.

General Moghadam modified the last sentence of Hatam's text -- declaring that the military "supports the demands of the noble people of Iran" -- to "supports with all its might." Gharabaghi signed and handed it to General Jafar Shafeghat, Bakhtiar's minister of war. He and Fardoust promptly signed, and the others followed. As the signing took place, Gharabaghi left the war room to report on the meeting to Bakhtiar, declaring, "With this text then, Bakhtiar must go." After his departure, Hatam announced, "I have not been received by General Gharabaghi during the past month, even though I am his deputy. He has, however, daily meetings with Huyser. Even as we speak, that American general is in the room next door!"

At 2:00 pm, the text of the final communiqué of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was read on the radio: "The armed forces of Iran have had the duty of defending the independence and territorial integrity of our dear Iran, and up to now have attempted to fulfill this responsibility in the best manner possible, vis-à-vis the internal disturbances, by supporting the legal governments in charge.

"Considering the recent events, the High Council of the Armed Forces met at 10:30 am today, 22 Bahman 1357, and unanimously decided to declare its neutrality in the present political conflicts with the aim of preventing further chaos and bloodshed. Military units have been ordered to return to their barracks.

"The armed forces of Iran have always been and will always be the guardian and source of support for the noble and patriotic nation of Iran, and support, with all their might, the demands of this noble nation."

The voice of Jamshid Adili came on the air: "In sedaaye enghelaab-e mardom-e Iran ast" -- "This is the voice of the Revolution of the Iranian people." He repeated the line, almost in tears. The Revolution had toppled the monarchy.

Total number of casualties for the day: 229 deaths and 878 wounded.

"The Revolutionary Army liberated the cities. End of 2500 years of imperial rule," declared the daily Kayhan. "Regime is demolished" was the front page headline of Ettelaat, Tehran's other important daily.

Over the following days and weeks, most of the generals were executed without any due process. In the revolutionary environment of that era, the voices of moderation and reason, such as those of Bazargan and his comrades, were not heeded. Spilling blood was the order of the day, supported by practically all revolutionary factions, from secular left to religious right.

Dr. Shapour Bakhtiar escaped to France in April 1979. He was assassinated on August 7, 1991, in Paris.

Ayatollah Khomeini passed away on June 3, 1989, in Tehran, leaving behind an antidemocratic theocracy.

Mehdi Bazargan passed away on January 20, 1995. Almost from the beginning he opposed most of Ayatollah Khomeini's policies.

Two main demands of the people, namely, political freedom and economic justice for all, have never been met.

Instead of a democratic republic, or a democratic Islamic republic as Bazargan and his comrades had envisioned, Iran is run by a repressive military junta headed by a student of Ayatollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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