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In fond memory of Eprime Eshag; friend, economist (1918-1998)

By Ebrahim Golestan
December 21, 1998
The Iranian

The following was read at last month's cremation ceremony for Eprime Eshag:

In a short while the body of Eprime will return to the purity of basic elements. The memory of what he was will remain with some of us. Our memory of him is the essence of his existence as reflected in the polished, or tarnished, mirror of our mind.

The image that I have of him is of bold sincerity. He was nothing if not sincere. The sincerity was always critical. He was nothing if not critical. The alert analysis that he would make of problems and people, and his almost immediate evaluation of events and situations was, most of the time, judged as abrasive and authoritarian -- by a lethargic and convention-bound mundane majority.

He was a lone individual armed with moral conviction He had his hang-ups but the hang-ups were part of the force that was driving him, that was making his expression bold, his feeling intense ­ and protected and controlled his sincerity, because they were the fruits of his convictions.

I never saw him lying; I never saw him greedy; I never saw him making concessions to the unjust, or to what he would consider wrong.Relatives and friends and opponents were treated with the same intransigence, the same rectitude. He was a purely political person whom, because of what he was and how he was, could not be accommodated within any available organisational or systematic political discipline. This was another part of his forceful personality. It only enhanced and underlined his moral independence.

I met him 53 years ago. He had just returned from a decade-long stay in London in the turbulent years from the mid-30's until the gneral elections of 1945. In his teens he had been sent to England on a scholarship by the National Bank of Iran to become a chartered accountant.

He was from an Assyrian family; his father a preacher of no great material means. Eprime's apprenticeship made swift progress but the war years had made it impossible for him to return to Tehran. So he made use of his stay to study economics. By the war's end he had graduated from the London School of Economics. He was still in London when the formidable head of the National Bank of Iran, Ebtehaj, met Keynes while heading his nation's delegation to the Bretton Woods conference. The influential economist represented the British government at that event. Upon discovering from which country Ebtehaj was, Keynes told him that Iran had a most bright economist in "a daring young man called Eshag who has criticised my theory on one or two points ­ rightly, I am afraid." (This was told to me by Mr Ebtehaj, himself , some twenty-odd years ago, in Tehran, when he was running his privately-owned The Iranian Bank. He lives in London now, and for the past 15 years).


Biography: Eprime Eshaq
6 November 1918
24 November1998


Eprime returned to Iran, full of enthusiasm and political hopes generated by the general ascendancy of the left throughout the world and his own closely observed results of the British general election of 1945. He was given a high up post at the National Bank immediately, and immediately he displeased his boss Ebtehaj, by organising a union for the bank's employees. He was urged and then ordered to disband the union. He stuck to it. He was sacked.

At the same time he began to criticise the structure and the policies of the Toodeh Party, which was meant to be a communist party in disguise. He wrote a pamphlet which soon drastically influenced the course of the political structure and groupings of the Iranian Left. The pamphlet did not carry the name of the author; not because of any fear or hesitation on his part but again exactly because of this absence of ambition for his own person and his rational belief that a man from a very small ethnic group should not be in any prominent position of leadership in a mass movement.

Eprime left Iran in 1949 and eventually joined the United Nations in New York. In 1960 Dag Hammerskold, the UN's Secretary General at the time, sent him to Congo as a senior economic officer on his staff to prepare a report on the economic situation of that colony which was on the threshold of the so-called independence. The result was pure Eprime. He had prepared a clinically investigated comprehensive report of the pillage of that country by the usual international powers. It was a report that the Secretary General was not happy to receive. Eprime was asked to revise and tone it down. He said figures cannot be toned down. The disagreement went on and resulted with Eprime leaving U.N.

He came to Oxford. He was happy here. He had a forceful, cultivated and most pleasant boss of great wit and wisdom in Bowra. He became dedicated to him and the work. Then, later, he married a woman that was unbelievably the right companion for him. He did some wonderful service to Wadham. He pulled strings and managed to get substantial basic funding from Iran for the library there. He also worked as Senior Research Officer at the Institute of Economic Statistics.

A month ago he phoned me and without any preamble or fuss told me that he had cancer and was about to die, and asked me to phone and tell another friend of his in Los Angeles. We rushed to him. Again it was pure Eprime. He did not complain and he did not strike a tragic or self-pitying pose. Realism. Looking at facts straight on. He recited a long qasida of Sa'adi that he remembered from his school days in his early teens. It is one of the greatest works of that greatest of all the Persian poets and prose writers:

Bas begardid o begardad roozgaar / Del be donyaa dar nabandad hooshyaar ...

Eprime may not have had an opportunity to re-read or remember that magnificent work in the past sixty-odd years, but the occasion and the acceptance of the unavoidable end had clicked it out of his mental files. He was very much alive, and his only words of regret were about the conditions of the society and what has happened in Britain, in Russia, in Iran in the second half of this century. Nothing personal. All social. He was very much himself; alive.

A few days before his death on November 24, I phoned him early in the morning to say that we were coming. "Don't," he said. "I'll be gone before you arrive." His last goodbye to me on the phone was the whimsical as well as the mystical and realistic "Ya Hagh!" meaning "O Goodness," "O God," "O Truth," all rolled into two syllables.

"Ya Hagh, Eprime!"

The photogrpahs for this feature were provided by Linda Eshag.


Copyright © 1997 Abadan Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved. May not be duplicated or distributed in any form