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Counter-revolution

Villa Dupont
How royalists seized an Iranian gunboat off Spain

By Cyrus Kadivar
October 31, 2003
The Iranian

From behind the iron gates the house at 30 Villa Dupont has a private and secluded appearance, the kind one would expect to find in the charming 16th arrondissement of Paris. These days there are no signs of the armed policeman who used to guard it 24hours a day, nor of the Iranian exiles who used to come here to plan a counter-revolution.

Once upon a time, this three-storey house had belonged to Her Royal Highness Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, the Shah's twin sister. Situated in a cul-de-sac just off Rue Pergolese, it was a grey-white old building, almost falling apart and in need of serious renovation. Between the dark gates and the main entrance was a small paved courtyard dotted with plants and trees.

In the days after the revolution, Princess Ashraf who owned several properties in Paris, the French Riviera and New York, had left the house in the care of her precocious daughter, Princess Azadeh Shafiq. It seemed an odd place for an exiled princess to live in, but then Azadeh had preferred it that way. Being the daughter of Princess Ashraf made no difference to her life-style. Her only distraction after politics was taking care of her young son from her first husband.

Princess Azadeh had inherited her love of Iran from her adoring Egyptian father who, after his divorce from Princess Ashraf, had stayed in Tehran to raise her and her brother Shahryar. Azadeh's relationship with her dominant mother was at best a tempestuous one. She disliked her self-serving friends and even when her uncle, the Shah of Iran, was still on the Peacock Throne, she had kept her distance from many members of the Pahlavi family. At court circles poisonous tongues had falsely nicknamed her the "Red Princess" because of her reputation as a defender of the people and contempt for ostentatious displays.   

While in exile, the indefatigable princess had used her meagre funds to publish Iran Azad, an anti-Khomeini newsletter run by Behrouz Souresrafil, a talented journalist. Also in her pay was the eccentric Parisian lawyer Marc Valle, a female secretary who had been employed at the Imperial Court, a French couple who cooked and cleaned the place, and an elderly Iranian husband and wife who had served in the Shah's government and who now ran errands for her, including picking up visitors from the airport or train station and dealing with the post.

Every day, a stream of visitors: politicians, ex-military officers, tribal chiefs, wealthy industrialists, students, and opposition figures descended on the house on the Villa Dupont to meet with Princess Azadeh. Most of the time they met in a large room where they sat around the dinning table, sipping coffee and talking politics. Sometimes, they slept over in one of the modestly furnished spare rooms.

Azadeh's energy, devotion to her country and boldness had won her a new title: the Jeanne d'Arc of Iran. Those who knew her well always spoke of her restless nature. She was always on the phone, switching easily from Persian to several European languages. She hardly slept, certainly not much before five. A heavy smoker with a passion for art books and opera (Carmen was her favourite) she dressed modestly and hardly wore any makeup or jewellery. Ever since her brother's murder, the pain in her face was constant and would not go away.

When the monarchy fell in Iran, Azadeh had shared her grief with her younger brother, Shahryar, when he went into exile. For several months they had lived together in their mother's house. There were several pictures of him in the living room. But the main feature was his navy officer's cap that rested on the fireplace as a memento to his extraordinary life.

Prince Shahryar had been her idol. Brave, patriotic and dashing, he had seemed the ideal person to lead a major revolt in Iran. Trained at the Royal Navy College in Dartmouth, he had served in the Imperial Iranian Navy and risen to command the Hovercraft fleet in the South. In 1971 he had played an important role in occupying three islands in the Persian Gulf.

A brilliant officer, he was loved, respected, and admired by the men who served under him. He ate, slept and worked side by side with his men, be it in the heat of the Persian Gulf or at sea. Handsome in his navy uniform he shunned any privileges of his position. His devotion to the needy inhabitants of the coastal region where he was stationed was well known. 

In his private life, Shahryar was just as passionate. In his youth he had fallen hopelessly in love with Maryam Francoise Eghbal, the daughter of Manouchehr Eghbal and his French wife.

Slim, beautiful and very tall, Maryam had been educated in Switzerland. Unfortunately, her ambitious father had married her off to Prince Mahmoud Reza, one of the Shah's younger brother. Shahryar was training somewhere in the Far East when he had heard the bad news. Devastated he threw himself into his career. When Maryam finally divorced her husband, Shahryar went to her rescue. They were married and from their happy union were born two sons.

Like his sister, Shahryar soon gained the reputation as a person unaffected by and uninterested in Court life. A straight-forward military officer he lost no occasion to criticise the government's failure to handle Tehran's chaotic traffic congestion, the absurdities of certain government officials, or the incompetence of municipal bureaucracy in Bandar Abbas.

At the height of the revolution, Shahryar had gone straight to Niavaran Palace to plead with the Shah to use force against his enemies. He even volunteered to "clean up the country" but the broken emperor waved his nephew away. "Then all is lost," the prince had told his uncle.

When Khomeini took over, Shahryar was second-in-command of the Naval base at Bandar Abbas. After hiding for a month, he had somehow managed to get hold of a small pleasure boat with an engine. His escape from the clutches of the revolutionaries was short of miraculous. Accompanied by a fellow naval officer and a Korean who had been an instructor to the I.I.N. commandos, Shahryar had sailed across the Persian Gulf to Dubai before flying to Paris.

Once in France, Shahryar soon began creating a kind of resistance movement at a time when no real political opposition to Khomeini existed. He redoubled his contacts with his loyal friends inside Iran's demoralised navy and visited the dying Shah in the Bahamas to discuss his plans. He went to see Israeli Prime Minister Begin who listened to him with a degree of curiosity.

As a military man, Shahryar's goal was to create a training camp somewhere between Egypt and the Sudan, to gather the military men scattered around the globe, to recruit young patriotic Iranians who could assist him in staging a counterrevolution. The storage in Villa Dupont was filled with all types of survival equipments, army boots and combat fatigues.

On December 7th, 1979, around two o'clock in the afternoon, Shahryar was returning home from a meeting when suddenly, two men riding a motorcycle sped down the Rue Pergolese and turned sharply into Villa Dupont. As they came closer the man next to the driver pulled out a 9mm pistol and fired a bullet. The 34-year-old prince fell to the ground instantly.

An old lady who witnessed the crime from her balcony claimed that Shahryar was still alive and bleeding when the motorcycle circled the street before going in for the kill. The assassin wearing a wrap-around crash helmet fired several more shots and a final one into his victim's head to make sure he was dead before fleeing the scene.

Azadeh was still haunted by the tragedy. She had been out of the house when she heard the news about her brother. Weeping, she had immediately telephoned Princess Ashraf in New York. She blamed the French authorities. They had clearly ignored her warnings that the Iranian embassy had become a haven for terrorists. The knowledge that Shahryar had been eliminated by agents of the Islamic republic filled her with anger and she swore revenge.

After Shahryar's death, Azadeh had come to rely more than ever before on a group of active Constitutional Monarchists like herself who supported the Shah's eldest son, Reza, then based in Egypt, as their legitimate king. They called themselves, Javaan, or the Young Ones.

Javaan had gained some publicity for opposing the rule of the mullahs in Iran by taking to the streets of Paris. It had about 100 members, mostly young men and women aged between 16-30. Burning with a desire "to do something" they had a newsletter and even a logo with two Persian lions guarding a burning sun with the words Javaan written on it and a crown above it.  

The group had in fact come into existence when its members had occupied the offices of Iran Air and the Maison d'Iran on the Champs-Elysees. As they grew bolder, the group had expanded their political activities to include hanging anti-Khomeini banners from the Eiffel tower and bridges and chaining themselves to the Statue de la Liberte in Paris, or protesting vigorously against the war between Iran and Iraq, among many other publicity stunts.

Sometimes these kids would march to the Trocadero singing the imperial anthem often being cheered by dissident Iranian exiles sitting in the nearby cafes. Soon the Paris Metro and other places was covered with posters and slogans in support of their young king, "Reza Shah II".

Although living in Europe, many of the people who were recruited by the Javaan Group had no experience in politics. Most were students and a few of them refugees with no proper papers, jobs or a real home. Many of them had parents living in Paris. Some had either fled the revolution or made the hard decision not to go back. Yet, they shared a common bond.

"We had very strong feelings about the horrible situation in Iran, and the young Shah," one Javaan activist recalled. "We felt that what we were doing was important for our compatriots' morale. By showing ourselves we proved that we cared about our country and were willing to fight!"

Always ready for a new adventure the Javaan Group fought running battles with suspected Khomeini sympathisers on the university campus or on the streets. In fact their fighting spirit was contagious. "We were often arrested by the French police," one of them recalled, "but we never doubted our cause. As a matter of fact, we were very well treated by the police."

As their numbers grew, these volunteers decided to get into shape by exercising in the Bois de Bologne. On weekends they visited the Flea Market looking for cheap uniforms, some dating back to World War II with bullet holes that needed sewing. Later, in order to keep their "commando" activities a secret they moved to the woods and forests in the outskirts of Paris. 

They trained hard. Mr Chang, the Korean trainer of the Imperial Iranian Navy Commandos who had escaped with Prince Shahryar and later became Princess Ashraf's personal bodyguard, also volunteered to share his knowledge in martial arts with this enthusiastic group.

Later they set up a small camp in a garden belonging to a wealthy Iranian. Several tents were put up along with a flagpole. Journalists were invited to interview "Les Fideles du Shah" who expressed their wish to overthrow the mullahs and install a constitutional monarchy under Crown Prince Reza. Pictures published in Paris Match showed them wearing masks over their faces and posing in army fatigues and T-shirts with the words "Iran" written on their chests.

The spirit of camaraderie was genuine. "I truly respected and loved each one of those enthusiastic and patriotic kids," their leader recalled. "All of them were ready to give their lives for what they believed. Although we were naive and lacked experience we felt that we had a pact with each other, a beautiful feeling with lots of emotion, love of Iran and a spirit of sacrifice."

One of Princess Azadeh's key qualities was her courage and shrewd judgement in a game that was becoming increasingly dangerous. Her support for Javaan had always carried weight. In fact, on numerous occasions she had personally led from the front, standing on the Champs-Elysees with her private secretary distributing pamphlets condemning the atrocities in Iran, or even being arrested by the police alongside the Javaan demonstrators.

It is perhaps fair to say that it was Azadeh, then aged thirty, who took many of Javaan's members under her wings. In time she became the only person whom they could trust. Without her encouragement, support and inner fire, many of their operations would have come to nothing.

Each time one of these batcheha or kids landed in trouble she would send her lawyer to bail them out. Whenever a member found himself without proper shelter Princess Azadeh would offer her house as a temporary refuge until appropriate accommodation had been found for them in Paris. If they got injured she made sure they received proper medical attention.

On Fridays, when the post office was still open a group of volunteers (mostly old people who had worked in different ministries in Iran and half a dozen members of Javaan) would gather at the house on Villa Dupont. The atmosphere whilst always serious and tense was without protocol. Everybody admired the Princess. Sometimes she or her cook would prepare a meal for them which they ate sitting on the floor, surrounded by stacks of Iran Azad newspapers which they helped pack for eventual distribution among the Iranian diaspora. 

By 1981 the political landscape in Paris had changed. The Bar Alexandre near the Champs-Elysees, had become a favourite haunt for a group of Iranian businessmen who spent many long lazy afternoons sunk in thick leather armchairs, listening to soft music, smoking fat cigars and sipping Chivas Regal. Many of them, successful industrialists and wealthy millionaires, dreamed of regaining their lost power and prestige. Mostly they talked about staging a counter-revolution and depending on their sympathies argued over which group to fund. 

The trouble with the Iranian opposition was that it had splintered into several groups gathered around various symbolic leaders, each with differing and competing agendas. They included Shapour Bakhtiar, the Shah's last prime minister, and two ex-generals under the ancien regime: Gholam Ali Oveissi and Bahram Aryana. Each of these gentlemen had set up an office, complete with their own staff, political newspapers and clandestine radio stations.

Azadeh's relations with the Iranian opposition leaders was mostly tenuous and at arms-length. The ambitious and headstrong Dr Bakhtiar refused to meet with her on the grounds that she was Princess Ashraf's daughter and it was no secret that they hated each other. Her views about General Oveissi, a tough loyalist who had failed to persuade the Shah to crush the revolution, was equally dismissive. She was unimpressed by his entourage and thought he lacked what it took to make things happen and was hurt by his refusal to attend her uncle's funeral in Cairo. On the other hand dealings with General Aryana was more promising.

At 74, Aryana was something of an old warhorse. Educated at St. Cyr the General had been living in Paris since the 1970s when the late Shah dismissed him for advocating the invasion of Iraq. Before and after the revolution he was often sighted at the galleries in the Champs-Elysees, his hands behind his back, and his famous tuff of hair blowing in the wind. An ardent nationalist he spoke of the glories of Iran and saw himself as a Persian Napoleon.

The General had hinted to the Princess that he intended to raise an army of volunteers on the Turkish-Iranian border near lake Van. Already some of her friends were spending time at his sinister apartment on Avenue Foch that doubled up as the headquarters of the Azadegan, a right-wing organisation comprising of ex-military officers who had fled the revolution. Like the White Russians they too believed that not all was lost and that soon they would be triumphant. Many hoped that the Islamic republic would not last more than a year or two.

Then one day news reached Aryana that the French government was about to hand over three of the five gunboats that had been ordered during the final years of the Shah's rule to the Islamic republic of Iran. Originally destined for the I.I.N., the Khanjar, Neyzeh and Tabarzin were now needed by the Khomeini regime which was engaged in a bloody war with Iraq.

By a stroke of luck the captain sent from Iran to Cherbourg to bring back the boats was a loyal monarchist. Not only that he had plans to defect, as did two of his mates. He had therefore contacted one of his relatives, a member of the Azadegan organisation, and offered to help.

Koroush, Aryana's son, was instructed to approach the captain through mutual friends and arrange a meeting. As the captain did not know Koroush he refused. Finally, after several more overtures, he agreed to talk with the General himself. It was vital that the meeting be kept a secret.

At the meeting General Aryana had put on a convincing show. In his usual bombastic way he told the impressionable captain that he had been chosen by Reza Pahlavi as the commander of all the Iranian forces in exile. He insisted that this was in accordance to the late Shah's will. It was therefore his patriotic duty to collaborate with the "Freedom Forces" under his command.

Once the captain had agreed to cooperate the General ordered him back to Cherbourg. His mission was to make a feasibility study and come up with a plan of action. From now on Koroush Aryana would be in touch with him as he gathered key information. It was vital that the captain obtain maps, navigational charts, and anything useful about the gunboats and their crew. 

Several months later the captain returned to Paris and presented his plan to Aryana's team. The idea he had developed was simple: seize the Tabarzin off the Spanish coast and rename it "Iran Azad" or Free Iran. There was never any suggestion of hijacking the gunboat in Cherbourg nor holding on to it for more than a few days. It would be purely a symbolic act.

It seems that only after the plan had been approved did Koroush Aryana contact Kamal Habibollahi inviting him to take part in this daring undertaking. Since fleeing Iran in 1979, the 52-year-old Habibollahi had been living in the United States with his wife who taught ballet. As the last chief of the Imperial Iranian Navy, he seemed to be the ideal person to lead a team of commandos in a bid to capture the Tabarzin. Besides his title of "Admiral" sounded good and undoubtedly fitted well with General Aryana's plans to recruit other officers to his cause.

In Paris, Habibollahi was offered an impressive incentive package and briefed on his specific duties. He was to proceed to Madrid and then to the port of Cadiz where the Tabarzin was due to dock around the 13th August. The captain would keep him informed of the gunboat's movements. At the right moment he would send a signal to start the operation.

Throughout the planning stages, the entire operation remained a guarded secret among the key players. Princess Azadeh was in Egypt to attend the first anniversary of the late Shah's passing away and had no clue of what was being done in her absence. What she did know was that a team of young commandos, mostly recruited from the Javaan Group, were being prepared for a secret mission.

On the night of 1st and 2nd of August 1981 the three gunboats Tabarzin, Khanjar and Neyzeh, left Cherbourg. During this period, Habibollahi and his team left for the Spanish seaport of Cadiz, travelling by train and car from Paris. Meanwhile, General Aryana headed for Turkey.

The "team" heading for Southern Spain consisted of 20 commandos: eighteen members of Javaan which included a resourceful Iranian girl known as Mitra, and two members of Azadegan, among them General Aryana's son, Vishtasp. It is important to stress here that none of the commandos (the word is a misnomer as they had received no real training in the military sense of the word) were aware of the adventure awaiting them until they had reached their final rendezvous point. None of them could have imagined that they were being used as pawns by General Aryana and his son to promote their cause. In time, Bakhtiar also entered the picture with the intention of capitalising on the publicity they hoped to get.

When Habibollahi and his team arrived in Cadiz they must have been taken by the crowded streets and South American type bars leading to their hotel. The seaport's unusual position, stuck out in the Atlantic Ocean at the head of an isthmus, helps create a sense of carefree isolation. Los gaditanos as the locals are known, seem to spend virtually their whole lives outdoors, especially in summer when they pour en masse on to the city's beaches.

It was only after they had all settled down at an undisclosed hotel that Habibollahi finally unveiled the true nature of the operation that was to be launched. Everyone listened in silence, unable to believe their ears. It all sounded like a B-rated movie. Few were aware of the dangers facing them.

For the next few days as the Tabarzin and the two other gunboats sailed towards Cadiz, the team busied themselves getting acquainted with each other and the town. Koroush Aryana flew in to deal with a few details. One group purchased some khaki uniforms and stun guns while another went bar hopping as tourists. A third group posing as student oceanographers hired a fishing boat called the Salazon and made a few trips to get used to the sea.

The Tabarzin arrived in Cadiz on 7th August along with the two other gunboats and remained there for seven days. It left the port on 13th August. That same morning, at about eight o'clock, Habibollahi and his team left their hotel as planned and boarded the Salazon.

The skipper of the fishing boat was glad to see them. His passengers all seemed like a jolly lot. As they explored the bay, once home to pirates and buccaneers, someone opened a bottle of cognac that did the rounds. It was good for the nerves, one of the students insisted.

An hour later, the skipper was completely drunk when he abandoned the helm to his passengers. As no one had any experience in sailing, Habibollahi took the wheel. That day the sea was a little rougher than the previous days and many of the so-called students got sick.

It was midday when the Salazon finally made contact with the gunboat. The captain of the Tabarzin now played his part. He ordered the motor engineer to slow down, letting the fishing boat get closer, and distancing it from the other two gunboats, by faking engine trouble.

As they got closer, Habibollahi signalled to his men to get ready. From their little bags they removed their khaki uniforms and put them on so that they could pose as Spanish Customs officers.

By the time the drunken skipper of the Salazon had realised what was going on it was too late. Smashing his radio the commandos promised not to hurt him, insisting that they were simply Iranians boarding a ship that belonged to Iranians. To shut him up they gave him a fistful of dollars. 

Once on board the Tabarzin, Habibollahi and his team went into action. Pulling out their fake weapons they forced a few of the crew to lie down on the deck with their hands behind their heads. Then they demanded the keys to the ammunition room. Naturally, the captain did not resist. 

Armed with enough real weapons, the young commandos quickly overpowered the 30-strong unarmed crew who were directed below deck and held captive in their sleeping quarters. Later, Admiral Habibollahi made a speech to his prisoners, introducing his team as part of General Aryana's Liberation Army. He promised not to shoot them if they behaved.  

So far, the operation had gone well. The only notable thing that happened after seizing the gunboat was that the Tabarzin was intercepted by two Spanish coast guard helicopters. Realising the gravity of the situation, Habibollahi made it clear to the Spaniards that they were now in international waters and that Spain had no right to stop them. Over the radio he announced that from now on the Tabarzin was to be considered as part of Iran and its crew her nationals. Inexplicably, the helicopters circled a few times then turned away and never came back.

Now that the gunboat had changed hands the new masters of the Tabarzin needed to make one more symbolic act. They pulled down the flag of the Islamic republic and raised the pre-revolutionary one with its fierce lion and sun emblem. It would be another day before news that an Iranian gunboat had been "hijacked" was reported by every international news agency.

Princess Azadeh was in Cairo when she heard the Tabarzin news. It came as a complete surprise. Immediately she contacted Aryana who informed her that this was the beginning of something big. Azadeh later flew to see the General at his make shift headquarters in Turkey.

When she discovered that the people who had taken over the Tabarzin were members of Javaan she could not hide her excitement. But gradually she realised that their lives were in danger. What if the gunboat ran into trouble? What if someone drowned? There were so many questions. From then on she could only pray that the whole thing would end peacefully and quickly.

As the world awoke to what had happened, the Azadegan organisation immediately claimed responsibility. In an improvised press conference at Aryana's apartment a so-called military spokesman declared the capture of the Tabarzin by "patriotic forces". He went on to say that the objectives of Azadegan was "to overthrow the mullahs in Iran" and claimed that 1,400 crack partisans were preparing to go into action from their Turkish bases.

General Aryana also issued a statement saluting Admiral Habibollahi and his "brave" commandos. Bakhtiar quickly threw his weight behind Aryana to project a united front in their campaign to free Iran.

The fact that the majority of those on board the Tabarzin were staunch monarchists was deliberately downplayed by Azadegan and would become a sore point between the opposition. In fact each time press helicopters flew over the gunboat the commandos would make V-signs and shout: "Vive Le Roi!" Others held photos of Reza Pahlavi. One of them wearing dark glasses and a cap brandished a pistol and a sub-machine gun in defiant pose >>> See photos

In Tehran the revolutionary authorities were forced to admit that one of their gunboats had been hijacked by pirates and gone missing. Later they accused the Spanish government of not interceding and threatened diplomatic reprisals. By then the Tabarzin was sailing towards Morocco. Despite Habibollahi's symbolic role the true hero was really the captain who now had to sail the gunboat with an even larger crew, most of them young and inexperienced.

On 15th August, following a harrowing journey through stormy weather, the Tabarzin docked at Casablanca. It appears that at this stage the captain and the kids on board had hoped that Reza Pahlavi whom they called Reza Shah II would agree to join them. Habibollahi felt that this went against Aryana's plan yet he did not oppose the idea altogether. When he went on shore he was surprised to find himself under arrest on orders of the Moroccan king.

Reza Pahlavi was in Egypt when he received a call from King Hassan who promptly informed the young shah about the Tabarzin saying that it had been taken over by his supporters. King Hassan had detained its crew and wanted to know what should be done with them.

Clearly, the young shah needed time to think. He promised to give his answer shortly. Almost at once, Reza Pahlavi consulted with President Sadat who politely refused to get involved. At this point King Hassan sent his private plane to pick up Reza Pahlavi and bring him to Rabat where an emergency meeting had been called.

After much discussion with King Hassan and senior members of the Moroccan government, Reza Pahlavi made it clear that whilst he understood the "patriotic" motives of the so-called "hijackers" he could not condone an act that by international standards was "illegal".

Eventually a deal was struck by all parties whereby the Tabarzin would be allowed to refuel and leave Morocco for Toulon where it would be handed to the French navy with a promise that the crew would be fairly treated. 

By now the story had become as good as a summer thriller. The press was clearly sympathetic to the motives of the young monarchists on board. Meanwhile, in Iran, repression reached a new high with hundreds of political executions announced by the revolutionaries.

Khomeini's regime was now openly denounced as "barbaric" by various opposition leaders. Aryana, Bakhtiar, Amini, Madani and Oveissi joined the chorus against the mullahs, each claiming that they had the support of the Iranian people and exaggerating their forces. The French government announced that it was ready to grant political asylum to the "hijackers" and "safe conduct" if they agreed to surrender the Tabarzin without any surprises. They also confirmed that their action was of a military nature and not an act of terrorism.

One week after its dramatic capture the Tabarzin was escorted by French naval units to Toulon as tourists sun bathed on the beach and waved at the boats. Rumours that the commandos were planning to blow up the gunboat proved baseless.

The end came on 19th August at Toulon where Habibollahi and his accomplices sent word that they were prepared to turn themselves in. A brief ceremony was held on deck. The commandos stood in line as the captain and Habibollahi thanked them for their bravery and professionalism. After singing the national anthem a sailor lowered the flag. It was an emotional scene with many tearful eyes. As a mark of respect the French marines lowered their heads.

Princess Azadeh was in Paris when she learned that the Tabarzin had reached French waters. She was furious with Azadegan for having endangered the lives of several young kids. A well-placed source had told her about the lack of preparation and consideration shown to them. The whole operation had been a temporary show so that General Aryana could raise funds from Bakhtiar who in turn could claim that he had a military wing capable of action.

Nonetheless she was proud of the kids and in order to show her support she flew to Toulon to greet them. Outside Toulon Prison she found a large crowd made of over a hundred Iranian exiles who had spent the day calling for their release. One of the protestors told her that the Tabarzin crew had already been transferred to Marseilles and Paris by bus.

Two days later, Habibollahi gave his final "symbolic" performance at the headquarters of Azadegan on Avenue Foch. Dressed in an elegant suit and looking very handsome, the former admiral faced an array of reporters and cameramen. He explained that the Tabarzin Affair had been an extraordinary platform for his organisation and that it had served to show that millions of Iranians were prepared to denounce the crimes committed by the mullahs.

"I believe that our mission was a success," Habibollahi declared. During the televised interview someone asked him if he agreed with Tehran's recent accusation that he was a "pirate". Smiling besides an Iranian flag and Azadegan's eagle-shaped logo, Habibollahi made everyone laugh when he replied: "Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you, do I look like a pirate or Khomeini?"

In a parting statement, the former commander of the late Shah's navy, announced: "Our goal is to unite all Iranians in order to win back our country. Most of us are monarchists by tradition, but we also have republicans in our midst. Of course, it is the people who will decide which to choose. As for me, I can receive political asylum in France, but I will soon be leaving for other missions."

In the days that followed the story of the Tabarzin was transformed into a legend. Many of the young lads who had played a vital role grew disillusioned when they discovered that they had been exploited. After the initial euphoria that had accompanied their return to shore many had to face the real world again. Since the Javaan group no longer existed a few of its members joined Aryana in Turkey but not for long. They returned completely embittered even complaining that the Liberation Army was all a bluff and that their lives had been ruined.

Azadeh tried very hard to help them find a roof over their heads, visas and jobs. Her house was always open to these kids who continued to seek her out despite their everyday problems. They had to work and make a living. The little money they got from General Aryana ran out.

For some of them who didn't speak French life was tough. Some found jobs as drivers and security officers. A few were involved in shady activities and ran into trouble. The others left France for the United States and other countries where they had friends or families. One or two returned to Iran as did the Tabarzin that continues to be part of the Iranian navy. As for the captain, the unsung hero of the operation, he never forgave those who had deceived him. 

For those closely connected to the Tabarzin Affair the entire episode left them with a bitter feeling that their patriotism had been abused by a group of elderly generals and politicians who thought only of self-aggrandisement. Aryana's liberation armies soon evaporated and the General spent the remaining days of his life a broken man living in a fantasy world of his own creation.

In later years General Oveissi and Dr Bakhtiar would be brutally assasinated in Paris by agents sent from Tehran thus dealing a mortal blow to the exiled opposition groups. Habibollahi returned to the USA, teaching and researching at the War Institute and helping his wife run her ballet school.

One of the last bold acts of the disbanded Javaan group was blowing up the house used by Ayatollah Khomeini during his exile in Neuphle-le-Chateau and hanging his effigy from an apple tree.

Disenchanted by the "games" being played behind her back Princess Azadeh cut off all relations with the Azadegan organisation, ceased all political activity and shut down Iran Azad.

For a while Azadeh devoted her time to humanitarian work, primarily assisting Iranian refugees in Turkey. After her second marriage to a former Iranian officer few ever heard of the Princess again. The domicile at 30 Villa Dupont was eventually sold for a reasonable sum of money >>> See photos

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