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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


March 22, 2001

I'm not a monarchist activist, but...

I have written regularly to The Iranian Times , and I have always insisted on the fact that I am not an activist, whether for or against the monarchy, even if I may have an opinion on Iran, and the monarchy. Some 22 years have past since the Iranian revolution. I do not deny the wealth that the Pahlavi family members could and probably did take with them after the revolution, a good part spent for their personal security, knowing that no country was ready to offer them asylum.

However, if they were truly thieves they could have also taken the crown jewels with them. They have nevertheless kept their dignity (and for that I refer essentially to the Shahbanou Farah, and her children) over the years despite having been cursed and blamed for all that went wrong under the Shah's reign or was claimed so by the people listening to the B.B.C, or reading Time magazines issues on the Shah's corruption.

The fact that Mohammed Reza Shah was an absolute monarch (even if he did rule for 12 years as a constitutional monarch in his early years) in a country surrounded by dictatorships of all kinds is no doubt. Monarchist themselves acknowledge that, without necessarily approving it. They will in most cases answer that we were in the cold war. With the Soviet power in the north how could we have had a democratic regime?

I still think their is a confusion and also a total hypocrisy that seems to blind historians on what took place in 1979. I personally was in Iran before, during and after the revolution. And I can say that despite what Iranians may think today, many of us wished a return of the monarchy if not the success of Shapur Bakhtiar's provisional government who was not at all backed up by the so-called National Front, or the second National Front conducted by Mr Bazargan among others.

This was the case of people like Mr. Bazargan, Daryush Forouhar, who I believe had good patriotic intentions, but realized late that they were being fooled by the Holy Ayatollah. Mr. Ibrahim Yazdi who with his American accent (which he seems to have lost with time but not his Green Card) was in the name of hum rights condemning high-ranked militaries, or ministers, or simple soldiers without giving them a chance to defend themselves and didn't hesitate to insult them, and say they would be executed anyhow whatever the judges decide. Wow what a democrat!

The trials were a masquerade, even the German Nazi's at Nuremburg got a fairer trial. Many refer to William Shawcross' "The Shah's Last Ride" as a well documented and well written book, but I also recommend you "The unknown life of the Shah" by Iranian journalist Amir Taheri available on Shawcross has a tendancy to draw quick conclusions on the Shah's personality, such as "He loved Iran, but he didn't like Iranians". But then could someone explain to me why he ordered his troops never to shoot on the people? This goes beyond the Jaleh incident, where provocations and blunders on both sides, I believe were the cause of that tragedy.

It is sad to say and may sound shocking, but to both monarchists and anti-monarchists, I would say that if the Shah had not given that order, most probably Shapur Bakhtiar, would have saved his government, and Iran would have found its way towards democracy, or maybe not. That is the main issue.

The other aspect is that Mohammed Reza Shah towards the last years of his reign was aware of his uncurable cancer, a disease which even his closest allies the Americans were not aware of, and which could explain the industrial rush of the seventies, the creation of the Rastakhiz Party, and the fact that he was anxious to deliver to his son a fully prosperous and stable country ready for a democratic transition.

This was indeed probably too ambitious. Knowing he was fatally ill most probably explains why he could not accept opinions different than his, and as a result gradually isolated himself from his people. Based on these arguments, I claim, Yes, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, became a dictator, or was driven into becoming one partially pushed by his democratic allies in the West. Yes, Iran under the reign of Mohammed Reza Shah suffered a certain degree of censorship. Yes, Mohammed Reza Shah was trying to give lessons on democracy to his own allies, and probably that was the only way he could show a certain degree of independence towards them.

However, I believe that despite his short-comings, and the fact that he was a dictator, does not justify historians to confuse him with the blood-thirsty tyrant he never was. I am trying to talk from an Iranian historical perspective, if you will. I don't claim I hold the truth, but I base my arguments on stated facts.

Two examples to justify my point: Two books came out in the 70's one was written by a French novelist Gerard de Villier called "L'irressitible Ascention de Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi", in which he clearly mentions the name of Khomeini, and his first uprising in 1963 against the Shah's reforms. The second book was "The Crash of '79" written by an American Jewish author, and please forgive me for not remembering his name. It is a very good thriller actually, in which the author describes the Shah as a megalomaniac "Hitler-like tyrant" who wants to destroy the economy of the Western countries by destroying Israel and corrupting his allies. I'd rather ask the readers to try to find this book for themselves.

The success of "Crash of '79" was such that it was to be adapted for the movie screen in Hollywood. But the Islamic revolution put an end to the project. The book did considerable damage to the Shah's Image in the West -- a little bit like "Not without my Daughter", which did a lot of damage to the image of Iranians in general.

Amir Abbas Hoveyda's trial and execution followed an interview he gave to Christine Ockrente, when the journalist started clumsily to mention Hoveyda's strong ties with foreign powers (she has explained herself in her memoirs on the circumstances of the interview, in a recent book "La Mémoire du coeur" available on . He was then, if I am not mistaken, executed the following day without a decent trial for someone who was after all the Prime Minister of Iran for more than 13 years. Ironically such masquerade trials also took place in Rumania when President Chauchezscu was arrested with his wife after a visit to Iran and putting flowers on the Ayatollah's tomb.

The Islamic revolution was also a televisualised and audio revolution if you allow me to say so, with the help of the so-respected B.B.C and the numerous tapes in which so-called conversations between the Shah and his ministers were being distributed. These tapes entered Iran through various opposition networks notably through diplomatic channels.

A book written by Alexandre Marenche head of the French secret police under the Presidency of Valery Giscard D'Estaing , and also the same Mrs. Christine Ockrente, refers to these famous tapes circulating in Iran. According to them they were recorded by opposition groups and sent to Iran through East-German diplomatic suitcases, then delivered to the opposition in Iran and distributed in towns and villages. They could have been easily taped in Iran since they were already counterfeits.

I remember finding a few in our mail box and it was obvious that the conversations were fake. But imagine the impact they had in villages who did not have television sets or true access to the press and how they ended up by also revolting against the regime based on these false rumors.

In any case when my family and I left Iran for France, it was just before the war with Iraq started. I was astonished to see the number of Iranians living abroad, when the events took place to be so pro-Ayatollah, and against the Shah. They were receiving news delivered by the Islamic regime to the foreign press. Most foreign journalists were not allowed into the country.

When we watched the French TV, they were constantly backing the mollas and criticizing the exiled, and ill monarch, comparing him with Bokasah who was toppled the same year. It was surprising to see the biased reviews given by the press. Every day they claimed that millions were demonstrating in Shiraz, Mashad or Teheran, but the images shown were exactly the ones we had already seen during the revolution, on Iranian TV. This was so true that I recall the number of times we watched the news, even taped it and recognized the same images and individuals who had demonstrated. We would then call back home to verify if the demonstrations were taking place, and if the figures were correct, the answer was often no if not at most 10,000 people who had demonstrated.

Imagine the visual impact on Westerners who couldn't believe us when we would say there is a silent majority in Iran who just cannot express themselves. Even at home, kids could denounce their parents for being pro-Shah. By listening to their parents conversations, many claimed we were exaggerating.

My father would regularly call Amnesty International to say that SAVAK was replaced by the SAVAMA, and that people were being thrown to jail and tortured. The answer, believe it or not, was "Oh but you know such things are normal in times of revolution, we can't do much about it and you know more horrible things took place under the Shah. Chili at the time (that was the early 80's) was on the top list, and Iran was only fifth as far as human rights abuses are concerned."

So our attitude was to be what? Say, well, let's wait till they realize the crimes being committed in the name of Allah? It took four years, if not more, before Amnesty International officially recognized that Iran was indeed committing crimes. But the country was already at war with Iraq, so what were the exact charges now that they had realized that "Hey, wait a minute, something is going wrong with the regime we at Amnesty supported."

Now don't take me wrong. I believe in human rights, I don't say an organization like Amnesty should not exist (although how many people know that the founder of Amnesty International was a member of the IRA, the Irish Republican Army, to which the Islamic government offered military help). I am just saying that they were often naive, and they didn't believe no more than the press that in Iran there was a silent majority who were desperate for foreign intervention, or even a military coup to overthrow the mollas. But the war put an end to their hope and faith in Western democracies as a whole.

Well, that silent majority ended by expressing their true feelings during the World Cup in France. They also do it today. I am not claiming that they are for the return of the monarchy, but for the right to express themselves freely.

As for Reza Pahlavi, throughout these past 22 years, he grew up comfortably like many privileged Iranians, with the difference that he and his family members had a heavy historical responsibility to carry on their shoulders, and also by having to face all sorts of criticisms, not to say physical threats towards his father who passed away, towards his mother who despite everything kept her dignity, and never forgot the Iranian people and their sufferings, interfering whenever possible in the press to condemn the situation in Iran and naturally defend her husband's memory.

But today, with the maturity of age and personal responsibilities, Reza Pahlavi seems sincerely to want to extend a hand to all generations and all political factions for a referendum. Whether he will succeed in doing so is another matter. However, I wasn't in California in the late 80's when a crowd of 10,000 Iranians applauded him in a stadium in L.A. Where are they today? What has happened to the Silent Majority abroad?

In the past years I have noticed that most anti-monarchists are those who fled Iran very early before the revolution or lived abroad when the events took place. I don't blame them nor do I judge them. I am always surprised by how easily they changed. I just try to remind them that their attitude and passiveness, sincere or not, is the cause for Iran's isolation for the past 22 years, and for the lack of a true and strong political opposition to the Islamic government.

I just would like to know where were most anti-monarchist expatriates when the events took place back in 1979 and after. Surely their personal experience has forged their political opinions today. I ask, did you have personal experiences in regard to the downfall of the monarchy in 1979? Did you see the events in Iran or on television? That could help people of my generation -- who were forced into silence directly or indirectly (even in a democratic country like France especially in the 80's) due to the political and social turmoil in Iran -- to better understand your views.

Darius Kadivar


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