|The first moderate
Shapour Bakhtiar: We cannot move from the dictatorship of the boot
to the dictatorship of slippers
By Fariba Amini
January 8, 2003
When chants of "Bakhtiar Nokar-e Bee-ekhtiar" (Bakhtiar the powerless servant)
were heard in the streets of Tehran, we were not dismayed or even a bit troubled
as we were all fiery in the fervor of the revolution. We thought at the time that
Shapour Bakhtiar had no guts or that he succumbed too easily to the demands of the
How wrong we were.
How ignorant we were.
The first Prime Minister during the revolution who understood the real nature of
the regime taking power in the post-revolution period was a man of wisdom and true
to his words. When I heard of his ruthless stabbing at the hands of the henchmen
of the Islamic regime, I cried like many other Iranians. I thought, we lost a great
man, a first class politician who was not only secular but also a protector of law
and a disciple of the late Mossadegh.
Following Bakhtiar's appointment as Prime Minister, he freed all political prisoners
and dismantled the infamous SAVAK, allowed a free press and advocated a government
by the people. Alas, his time in office was cut short as those seizing power acted
swiftly. He knew the beastly nature of the beast and warned all Iranians of the disaster
that was coming.
How naive and deaf we were to hear his voice of truth. His famous words were, "In
principle I will neither compromise with the Shah or Khomeini... In life there comes
a time when one must stand firm and say no... The Ayatollah, upon his return [from
exile], has lost his epic-making figure. I have never seen a book about an Islamic
Republic, neither has anyone else for that matter... Some of the people surrounding
the Ayatollah are like violent vultures... the clergy should go to Qom and build
a wall around themselves and create their own Vatican..."
Shapour Bakhtiar who came from the famous nomadic Bakhtiari tribe, spent a great
deal of his life in prison. As a member of the National Front, he bravely spoke of
his ideals for a secular and democratic Iran.
Despite several attempts by his cousin Soraya Esfandiari, the Shah's second wife,
and Teymour Bakhtiar, to intervene for his release from prison, he stood firm by
his beliefs and did not budge. Until the end of his life, he remained faithful and
as the daring man that he was, gave up his life for the dream of seeing a Western-style
democracy in Iran.
I spoke recently with an old friend and a close associate of Dr. Bakhtiar who wishes
to remain nameless. Here are some of his recollections of Dr. Bakhtiar.
My uncle was very close to Bakhtiar's father. My uncle didn't have any kids. I was
like a son to him. He used to read history and knew much by heart.
Shapour Bakhtiar had just arrived from Europe when I first saw him. I was about 14
or 15. He was in his early thirties. He was a distinguished looking young man, quite
attractive with light hair and greenish eyes. He dressed nicely.
The first time I met him, he asked if I knew poetry. My uncle had told him that I
liked literature and poetry. He asked me about Malek-ol-Shoaray-e Bahar. He asked
me to recite one of his poems. I recited the famous "Damavand"
poem. Then he asked if I knew any poems from Vosough-ol-Doleh. I knew his poetry
by heart so I recited one from the time he had been exiled from Iran.
Bakhtiar was quite impressed and told my uncle to bring me along whenever he went
to visit him. That was our first encounter. I found out later that Bakhtiar's father
was a close friend of Bahar. That is one of the reasons he had loved poetry. They
said Shapour knew ten thousand verses. Apparently, he loved horseback riding so his
father would make him memorize one verse for every ride on the horse!
His father, Mohammad Reza Khan Sardar Fateh was a grand man who was very educated.
He commanded the Arabic and English languages. He loved to read and when traveling
in those times, a number of mules carried his books from one place to another. He
was the head of the Bakhtiari tribe and commander in chief in Yazd. My uncle used
to work in his entourage.
When Shapour Bakhtiar had just arrived from Europe, he was looking for a job. He
had studied philosophy and law in France. He went to the University of Tehran for
a position. Dr. Sanjabi was the head of the law school there. Although, he was above
many other candidates, Bakhtiar was denied the position he wanted. He didn't want
to work in the Foreign Ministry either as he would be closely associated with the
court and the Shah.
With the help of a family friend, Ghobad Zafar, who had arranged a meeting with the
Shah, Shapour went to see the monarch. The Shah was quite impressed by the young
man. But Bakhtiar could not see himself working so close to the system. He then went
to the Labor Ministry where Nafissi helped him find his first job.
He was quite good at his job. He would take the side of the workers. The head of
the petroleum company was a British man named Drake, who had fired many of the oil
workers. Bakhtiar had taken their side. He was adamantly anti-British.
In different companies and factories where he worked, he always kept the highest
ethical standards and managed the places with utmost professionalism.
He had a special aura about him. While being a serious person, he had a very sarcastic
side as well. If you met him for the first time, you would get the impression that
he was a self-centered man. But quite the contrary, he was very down to earth and
had a special humorous side to him.
He always sided with the dispossessed. He considered De Gaulle as his idol. Among
the French writers, he loved the work of Anatole France. In the opinion of Gaillard,
the then prime Minster of France, Bakthiar spoke French better than a Frenchman.
When he was a youngster he had been sent to Beirut to study mathematics. But he didn't
like the subject. He studied German instead. It was there that he began despising
the fanatic side of religion, any religion. I believe that is one of the many reasons
he stayed secular his whole life. Then for his higher education, Bakhtiar went to
France, where he mastered the fields of law, philosophy and economics.
In the National Front, which I also had the privilege of being a young sympathizer,
he was closest to Dr. Sadighi. He could not understand or be close to the religious
elements, although he always argued in a respectable manner. He was in the secular
faction within the Front.
It was after the August 1953 coup when Bakhtiar's cousin Soraya -- with the help
of Amir Hossein Khan Zafar, who was a senator -- encouraged him to accept a post
in the Zahedi government. Bakhtiar sent a message saying,"go tell your boss
that I worked in Mossadegh's government. I am not a piece of clothing to be dragged
everywhere. I will not work for a coup d'etat government."
Before 1979, Bakhtiar worked solely in the private sector while still holding on
to his ideas. I remember a most haunting and sad incident. It was during the turbulent
time of the revolution when there was talk of Dr. Sadighi taking over as the prime
minister. There was also a rumor that the position might be filled by Bakhtiar.
I asked to see him in his home. He told me to come for lunch. He took me to his study
where there was a small basin surrounded by books, Hafez poetry (his favorite Iranian
poet) in calligraphy and a huge picture of Mossadegh. We sat and I said very arrogantly:
"Aren't you ashamed of your father's bloodstained shirt (he had kept in his
trunk the bloodied shirt of his father who was executed by Reza Shah) to want to
work with his son now?"
Bakhtiar innocently looked at me, bewildered. But
with a firm voice he said: "This isn't the time for revenge. It isn't about
me anymore. It is about the country." Then tears rolled down his cheeks and
With a voice that I could never forget, he said: "You don't understand. The
country is on the verge of collapse. How can I speak now of something that happened
40 years ago? This isn't the time to take revenge for my father's blood. If the religious
elements (akhunds) take over the affairs of this country, no one will remain, neither
me, nor you, the Shah or this country; all of us will be destroyed."
I still tremble when I think of Bakhtiar's somber face as he said those words on
that historical day. I said to him again, "Don't you care about your reputation?"
He responded again, "Why should I care about my reputation at this important
and decisive time in our history? Do I need to take my reputation to the grave?"
When I left that day to go to Sanjabi's house, Alahyar Saleh and Dr. Azar were present.
They said, "Forget about this Shapour. He is good for nothing."
I remember one evening during the revolution when cries
of "Allah O Akbar" (God is Great) and prayers were being heard on the rooftops
in Shiraz as in Tehran. I called Bakhtiar with great enthusiasm. I expected his positive
response, but instead he said, "Listen... We are after freedom and democracy.
We cannot move from the dictatorship of the 'boot' to the dictatorship of 'na'layn'
(clerics' slippers). We must advocate freedom. We have no right to be taking the
people to a darker horizon."
At that time, I didn't really understand his logic and was a bit annoyed at his response.
As we know, the rest is history. Amidst the blood and fire in the capital in the
afternoon of the February 11 1979, Shapour Bakhtiar left his lunch untouched and
got out of the his office for an unknown destination. The new revolutionary leaders
and most of the newspapers in the capital started foul mouthing Bakhtiar. Only a
few journalists and respectful politicians discretely agreed with his assessment
of the future events.
Dr. Bakhtiar was determined to do away with the monarchy and declare a republic but
he was concerned about the army's reaction in attempting to organize a coup. He was
worried of unnecessary bloodshed. He wanted to move things slowly and smoothly so
that army can be neutralized.
Bakhtiar was a courageous man but sometimes maybe too careless. A no-nonsense man
who was not always diplomatic. He trusted people without hesitation. I think that
is the reason why and he died. He trusted his killer (Boyer Ahmadi), even though
people had warned him that his brother was in the revolutionary guards.
Unlike many others, he was not a two- faced politician. He was a fidele,
honorable, true to his word. But he took things lightly at times. And that in a most
horrid way brought him to his untimely death. Nevertheless until the day he died,
he was a man of honor, of exceptional intelligence and quite optimistic about the
In a way, the Islamic regime knew of the strength of Dr. Bakhtiar, and how he was
a real challenge to their existence. That is precisely the reason they got rid of
him. He was ahead of his time. Only when time passes, will we all appreciate the
true legacy of this man. His unconditional love for Iran and Iranians, and his loathing
of the theocratic regime. One day, history will judge him accordingly.
Bakhtiar said in an interview in the book, Thirty- seven days after 37 years,
"I am sorry to repeat this once again but it must be done for the sake of history:
If during these 25 years, the Shah had allowed moderate political parties -- and
not even those having Marxist or social democratic tendencies -- to exist, simple-minded
people would not have followed the likes of Khomeini and believe his ideas.
Heykal, the renowned Egyptian journalist wrote, "When the Shah finally decided
to to form another cabinet in January 1978, he chose this Mossadegh disciple and
stubborn man, who believed that simply by having spent years in prison and enduring
pain and suffering he would be received by the majority of the people. That's why
he accepted the nomination.
If he had been elected in any other third world country, Bakhtiar would have been
an exemplary leader. He was a freedom-loving intellectual who was against fascism
No one knows what were the exact contents of talks between Mohammad Reza Shah and
Bakhtiar at the time of his taking office. But sources close to the Shah told me
in Cairo that the Shah was apologetic for his maltreatment of Mossadegh's followers
and he had reiterated it to him.
Unfortunately, it was a little too late... See poem
Does this article have spelling or other mistakes? Tell
me to fix it.