Lunch with Khomeini
How a former SAVAK chief saved the ayatollah's life
December 3, 1998
Excerpts from Memoirs of Fatemeh Pakravan: Wife of General Hassan
Pakravan: Army Officer, Chief of the State Intelligence and Security Organization,
Cabinet Minister, and Diplomat, edited by Habib Ladjevardi (1998
Iranian Oral History Project,
Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University):
* Uprising of 5 June 1963 (15 Khordad 1342)
* Ayatollah Khomeini in detention
* Lunch every week with the ayatollah
* Death sentence removed; ayatollah sent to exile
Uprising of 5 June 1963 (15 Khordad 1342)
Fatemeh Pakravan: [Ayatollah Khomeini's
uprising] started in a very insidious way - by preaching in the mosques.
Photographs of this man -- he was in Tehran -- [were] everywhere. I remember
asking a family who had -- not exactly an antique shop -- [but] a junk
shop. People used to go there and find something. I said, "Why do
you put up all these pictures?" He said, "He's someone to imitate"
-- marja' taqlid. I'd never heard that before...
Anyway, my husband saw these religious preachers, [Mohammad Taghi] Falsafi,
[Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad-Kazem] Shariatmadari, and whoever. I remember
at one time they were to come every day. There was this enormous attendance
in our house. My husband talked to them and he said, "Please, if you
have anything, why don't you go to the proper authorities? Why madden people
and try to subvert them and to prod and all that? What are you going to
gain by that? I have the authority to stop you, but don't let me use the
means that are at my disposal. Please remember. You are Iranians. This
is your country. Please think about the results of your present action
which is absolutely thoughtless. What do you think you will achieve? What
do you think you will obtain?"
Of course starting with Khomeini and the rest, who thought they would
gain something, the thing that made [them] mad was the agrarian reform...
The mullahs and the religious people were afraid for what they called religious
endowments, because most of the sanctuaries and shrines were extremely
rich. For instance Imam Reza, Shah Abdolazim, Shah Cheragh -- all the shrines
they were extremely rich, because people donated land, money, jewels, precious
antiques, and rugs. They would donate anything. And actually the mullahs
took advantage of all these donations. In some cases where it was too obvious,
like Mashhad, they had hospitals, orphanages, and all kinds of charitable
activities. I think they didn't even spend for the upkeep of the shrines.
I think it was the government -- the endowment organization Oqaf ,
who did that.
So, little by little we reached June 1963 [Khordad 1342] when it was
the [month of] Moharram and they had the religious processions. This really
invited people to rise. It was not the revolution, but the beginning of
it. The army was alerted and put in the street. The [organizers of the
processions] put small children in front so nobody could do anything. And,
under the presence of religious processions, they went and really broke
everything in sight -- even the telephone booths, the benches, the shops.
Everything, anything, anything.
Naturally, the government had to react. And my husband did something
which was certainly wrong from a Persian point of view. Something he forgot
that he had to deal with Orientals -- Orientals not in the sense of Far
[Eastern] Orientals, but people from the East whose minds do not evolve
in the same way. I don't say it's wrong. I mean that you have to talk their
own language. Why Khomeini succeeded this time [was] because he spoke the
language of the people. And why the other gentlemen didn't succeed [was]
because they spoke in a too complicated way, too literate way.
Now when I say [my husband] made a mistake, [it is] because even the
intellectuals, even the educated people didn't understand what he [intended].
He spoke on the radio and what he said is written exactly on my mind. After
the army took over, there were of course plenty of reprisals. Even though
he had not ordered [the crack-down], he said, "Everything is my fault,
because for months and months I spoke. Most of my activity consisted of
speaking with the religious heads of this country in order to convince
them to obtain whatever they wanted, or whatever they criticized, through
talks, through consultation. [I urged them] to remember that they were
Iranians and not to put the country in danger. That was my mistake. I'm
sorry I didn't know what kind of people they were and that I was sincere
and they were not."...
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Ayatollah Khomeini in detention
Anyway, so I will sum up. Khomeini was arrested
and taken into a villa, because the [security] organization had several
villas where they received foregin guests like [from the Central Treaty
Organization], or conferences and things like that...
When we were in India, I had taken an orderly with me so that he would
peak Persian with my children. During this time, I trained him as a butler
and a cook. He was a very good butler. When we returned to Tehran and the
Security Organization established a club, where receptions and conferences
were held, we transferred him to the club. In the summer of 1978 ,
my husband and this servant told me a few things.
The orderly told me that [during his detention in 1963 / 1342] Khomeini
was in this villa and he had served him. He said, "I was told to pretend
not to know that he was Khomeini." So, I asked [the orderly] how it
was. He said, "Well, [Ayatollah Khomeini] was very courteous, very
nice. Every morning when I came, I would greet him, and he would greet
me very nicely, and would say, 'What's new in town?' One day there was
some unrest in the city, so I told him about it. He asked, 'Why?' I said,
because Ayatollah Khomeini has distributed some tracts. And he [Khomeini]
said in a very nice way, 'Can you give me a copy of this tract?' I said,
'Yes, sir.' I rushed and brought it. He [Khomeini] really shook his head
and said, 'I never wrote that!' I said, 'Oh, you are the ayatollah?' He
said, 'Yes, my child, I am the ayatollah.'" That is what this ex-servant
of mine told me.
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Lunch every week with the ayatollah
My husband told me, "You know, I had lunch
every week with the ayatollah." I said, "Yes. I knew that but
you never told me what was the atmosphere of these meetings." He said,
"Very good. Very cordial. Very friendly. The ayatollah used to say
in this very flowery Eastern way, 'Timsar, I count the days until
we reach the day of our luncheon.'" I asked, "How was he?"
My husband said, "He was very handsome. And I'm sure he's not as old
as they say. I'll tell you why. He was very handsome. He had extraordinary
presence, a power of seduction. He had a great charisma." (You know,
charismatic is a word that is used in the Christian religion. It's applied
only to the holy spirit, because charisma means presents and also gifts.
I asked my husband, "What was the object of your conversation [with
the ayatollah]? What did you talk about?" He said, "Well, about
religion, about philosophy, about history." I said, "Is he a
very learned man?" He said, "Well, his religion, I cannot say,
because I'm not a religious person. I suppose he is, because he is a specialist.
But his ignorance in history and philosophy is something unbelievable."
(You know, the man who said America oppressed Iran for the last twenty-five
centuries.) My husband said, "He's very, very, very ignorant."
I said, "But what struck you in him? What did you find was the most
striking aspect of his temperament or his character?" He said, "His
ambition." I said, "Ambition? What do you mean ambition? What
kind of ambition, political, religious?" He said, "I couldn't
find out, because he's very secretive." Then he said, "You know,
it made my hair stand on end. It was frightening."
Habib Ladjevardi: This meeting occurred in 1963 ?
Fatemeh Pakravan: Yes. He said, "It was frightening."
And after that, well, I know that Khomeini was sent into exile.
Habib Ladjevardi: When did he tell you of this?
Fatemeh Pakravan: In 1978  he started to tell me several
things about his job which he had never told [before]. And you know that
one of the adverse [items of] propaganda [that was being spread at the
time] was that Khomeini had been rolled into a carpet, thrown into a sack,
a bag, and taken into prison. It's not true. [The year] 1978  was
a time when everybody believed every lie, even the burning of Cinema Rex
[on 19 August 1978 in Abadan, which initially the SAVAK was blamed for].
But at the time I said, "So, darling, he wasn't rolled into a carpet
and taken?" He said, "Nonsense. We asked the Turks to be kind
enough to accept him." And he said, "We gave him the red-carpet
treatment. Then from there he wrote a very, very respectful letter to the
shah" -- this is a well-known fact -- "[saying] 'allow me to
go to Najaf, I want to study.'"
Now here is something I've learned recently from someone I can trust
absolutely: Well, everybody knows that my husband saved him. Khomeini was
condemned to death. You know that?
Habib Ladjevardi: I had heard. I didn't know it for a fact.
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Death sentence removed; ayatollah sent into exile
Fatemeh Pakravan: All right. He was condemned to death and my
husband was very, very upset by that. He said he knew that, after all,
the population of the country is not its elite. It's the real people. These
are not very literate. They are simple. They are full of superstition.
And even though most of the Iranians have no respect for the mullahs, they
still have [respect] for what they represent. So he tried to convince the
shah: "Please commute this." The shah said, "No. No. No."
And my husband insisted. The shah said, "All right. But how?"
After all, contrary to what the people think, the shah wasn't a despot.
He said, "After all, he was condemned by a tribunal. I cannot go over
the [head of the] tribunal. Find a way, a legal way."
My husband was on very good terms with Shariatmadari. So he went to
see Shariatmadari and said, "Please, do something." And Shariatmadari
said, "You know the only way is to make him an Ayatollah." So,
they made a religious decree which is called fatwa, to make him
Ayatollah -- which he wasn't. And this was taken by my husband and [Minister
of State] Seyyed Jalal Tehrani said afterwards, "It was the only time
I kissed the shah's hand, so much I begged him."
And the shah said, "All right. And then what are your plans for
him? You're not going to let him continue what he wants to do?" My
husband said, "No. He should be sent to a far-away village, small
village, where we can control his movements and control the people who
go to see him, and after a while he'll be forgotten." He gave the
example of another -- Ayatollah Ghomi or something like that -- who at
one time wanted to make trouble and was exiled inside the country. This
is very important.
[At the time] Amir-Asadollah Alam was prime minister. He said, "No.
Let's send him away [to Turkey]." And somehow he convinced the shah.
And my husband said to the shah, "You know, you're giving him the
means. You give him an international platform." The shah said, "No.
No. I think he promises that he will keep quiet." Of course, the rumor
is that [Sheikh Sadegh] Khalkhali was sent [to Turkey] as a mullah, because
there were many mullahs in the pay of the [Security Organization]. Apparently
he was sent there too, but I don't believe it. Anyway, Khomeini was sent