“This building was constructed in 1334 thanks to the generosity of Mohammad Hasan Shamshiri.* All the money received from regular patients who come here for treatment will be used to treat those who are poor and cannot pay for such services. From these revenues, nothing will be taken to compensate the owners and the administrators.” — Mohammad Mosaddeq, inscribed on a plaque at Najmieh Hospital in Tehran
On the anniversary of the August 19, 1953, coup, which is forever etched in our memory, what better way than to remember Iran’s democratic leader by reading an account filled with anecdotes of his personal and political life as told to his lawyer, Jalil Bozorgmerh in a book called Taqrirat-e Mosaddeq dar Zendan* (Mosaddeq’s Prison Notes) compiled by J. Bozorgmehr and edited by the late great Iranologist, Dr. Iraj Afshar.
I have taken the liberty of selecting and translating passages from the book. In as much as possible I have tried to stay true to the original text. Published two years after the Revolution, it is the personal account of the key moments in the life of a unique man and a distinguished politician, including the events that led to his downfall.
Introduction by Iraj Afshar
“There is no doubt that the late Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq left a lasting mark on Iran’s history and his government opened an important chapter in the political development of Iran. Thus, to judge him correctly and without bias, the many aspects of his life must be understood, and for this we need ample genuine documents.
Among these documents, which I have the honor and privilege to present to the readers, is a series of assorted notes gathered by Colonel Jalil Bozorgmehr, his honest lawyer during the military court proceedings. He undertook this task with immense courage while visiting the late Mosaddeq in prison. Dr. Mosaddeq reread the notes but in order not to make changes in the text made only a few marginal corrections so as not to cause a problem for Bozorgmehr.
Mr. Bozogmehr kept these notes from the hands of the political police in different places for 26 years and presented them to me for publication. I am indebted to him for his friendship and kindness honoring me with this task, allowing me to do the right thing towards one of the most exceptional political figures of Iran.
Colonel Bozorgmehr’s notes did not follow the sequence of events. Every day, he would write what he heard from the Dr. and would jot it down later from memory. I only tried to put them in correct chronological order. I hope it will be acceptable to those who read the book. May Mosaddeq’s soul be content.” – Los Angeles, 11 Farvardin 1359, Iraj Afshar.
Mosaddeq’s appreciative letter to Bozorgmehr
“I want to convey from far away my greetings to my friend Mr. Jalil Bozorgmehr and to thank him for his courageous effort in representing me during the military trial; I looked forward to seeing him during the time I was in prison. After the trial, I was saddened not to be able to see him. It was indeed an unpleasant period which I endured, and now that 12 years have passed since my imprisonment, I cannot leave Ahmad Abad and am not allowed to see anyone except for my children.
Since I will not live to see him [Bozorgmehr] again, I want to convey my sincere appreciation and bestow all my blessings to him in helping a compatriot. I ask the almighty God to protect him and his family.” — Mohammad Mosaddeq
“Dr. Mosaddeq did not want to talk much about himself but I wanted to engage him so I would ask him questions. He would always say whatever the people need to know about me, they already know and they will know.” — Jalil Bozogmehr
Passages from the book:
In 1909 I started on a journey via Rasht and Enzeli to study in Paris. I took my brother Mr. Abolhassan Diba (Seqqet el-Dowleh) to study in a boarding school.
I had studied so much during 1909-1910 that I got very sick. I remember I went to see Professor Haim, a renowned French physiologist; when he saw the test results of my stomach acidity, he was astonished to see how high they were. He told me that I was the first patient whose stomach was so messed up. He told me that I had to take a 3-month rest. I told him that, unfortunately, I could not as it was my last year of studies. But he insisted that if I did not listen, nature would force me into doing so. I continued going to school but sometimes it was unbearable for me to sit for a long time and listen to the professor’s lectures.
I remember staying in convalescences in the village of Afjeh. During my time there, an old friend Mirza Abdollah Khan Mirpanj was with me. He was a very honest man. One day, he asked me so what other thing did you learn during your time in Paris besides your studies? I said, like what? He said, like cooking. I told him I learned how to cook a little bit. I know how to make crème renversée, or what they call pudding. I decided to make it for my friend. After two days of boiling milk and eggs and trying to cook it under the fire I had made, I failed. It was during lunch the next day and after nothing changed in the texture of the milk that Mirpanj told me, if your studies are anything like your cooking, God have mercy on this country and the people [!]
I had been invited to attend a meeting of a society in Tehran. By chance, Mr. Ali Akbar Dehkhoda was there as well. We worked together for a while and we liked each other and trusted one another. The meetings were held in the Seraj Mosque. One day, during am outing, he said I have told the people that you would be coming to the meeting, which will be held in a house across form the mosque. I said, ok we can go together. I found out that the owner of the house was the late Mirza Alimohammad Dowlat Abadi who was one of the leaders of the E`tedal Party. After a few discussions, I found out that they had invited me to become a member. Since I did not want to upset Mr. Dehkhoda, I did not say anything and did not decline. While I was in Europe I did not know much about what was happening in Iran when it came to politics. I was just tending to my studies. I did not know the different parties, and it was only because I trusted Mr. Dehkhoda that I had accepted the invitation. They brought the Koran so that I would swear on it. But I declined. My friendship with Mr. Dehkhoda resulted in my becoming a member of the E`tedal Party; I worked with Mr. Dehkhoda for a while; since he would occasionally be late for meetings, (extended laughter) we would go to his house so that he could be on time.
I spent a few days in Bombay [Mumbai]. Some Iranian residents of India came to visit me. Among them, Prince Soleyman Mirza and `Isa Mirza, who had both been imprisoned by the British government, came to see me. Vossuq el-Dowleh was also in the hotel Taj Mahal where I was staying. We did not meet or cross paths, for obvious reasons.
In Qavam el-Saltaneh’s cabinet, I was the minister of finance. I wanted to make reforms in the Ministry of Finance and fired a few people. When Journalists wanted to write negatively about me, they would first write in favor of Sardar-e Sepah who would then say they didn’t say anything negative.
Another time, Qavam called me in and told me that because the country was in financial distress, they wanted to sell bonds. Since people trusted me, I, along with [Sydney]Armitage Smith who was a British financial advisor, should sign my name for this reason. I got up and said I would never do such thing. As long as Armitage Smith was in charge of our finances, I would not agree. Then, they tried to bring an advisor from the United States. I said this will not work either. First you must prove that Iranians cannot take care of the financial affairs of their own country. This is like they used to say that an Iranian cannot run the oil production and he can only make water pitchers.
The abolition of the law of capitulation in Azerbaijan that I had ordered while I was minister of foreign affairs resulted in a continued discussion with the Soviet Ambassador in Tehran in 1302. He wrote a letter to me in which he reminded me that there was no such law between Iran and the Soviet Union. You must tell us under which jurisdiction should Soviet citizens be tried in Iran, he asked. It was obvious that all this pressure was because of what I had done in Azerbaijan.
Treaty of 1919 and Vossuq
God only knows that I was the first person who was against the treaty [of 1919, which gave partial rights to the English to govern Iran, making Great Britain the sole foreign power that mattered in Iran]. When Vossuq el-Dowleh became head of the ministers he was given a lot of money to spend. He then would buy off people and give them salaries. We worked with Samsam el-Dowleh against Vossuq. One day, Vossuq came to me and said tell me what you are up to? I said that I had no plans; that I was going to Europe. I started writing against the treaty when I was in Switzerland. I was in Neuchâtel, which was a remote place. I had a room on the 3rd story of a building. I could not make a stamp there thus I had to go to Bern and make a rubber stamp in the name of the committee I had formed : Comité Resistance des Nations. At that time, the League of Nations was meeting in Versailles. I wrote my objections and protest letters and would send them to Nayereh Soltan, and he would then send it the League of Nations and to the press. The English were watching.
They took Ahmad Shah to England where they had a big party for him. Nosrat el-Dowleh wrote a declaration, praising the treaty Vossuq el-Dowleh had signed and they wanted Ahmad Shah to read it. One of the worst things Ahmad Shah ever did was to appoint Vossuq el- Dowleh as the head of ministers without a vote in the Majlis. And he [Vossuq] in turn, signed the treaty. Ahmad Shah became quite upset after this event. While in London, the British wanted him to admit that he was okay with this action but he did not agree. This guy, Naser el-Molk, insisted that Ahmad Shah accept the terms, but he did not accept to read the statement during dinner. It was because of this that the late Ahmad Shah was dismissed.
Qavam came to me and said you have done good work while you were in Shiraz, but we also noticed that you have spent your own money; you should be compensated. So he gave me a check for 10,000 tumans as a token. I told him that it was not necessary, no thank you. If I have done anything, it was for my country. I am not needy. I have a livelihood in Tehran. If I have had financial loss it is my own doing. It is not necessary to pay me. If I had taken that money I am sure I would have been put in jail.
They [the British] had spent quite a bit of money on the police in the South. The British consul in Shiraz told me that they gave one hundred Lacks to Farmanfarma. Each Lack was one hundred thousand Rupees, so a total sum of five to six hundred thousand rupees. When I returned to Tehran I asked Farmanfarma. He said it wasn’t just him, but Qavam Shirazi also received money. When Forughi was in office, the British sent a letter to him and he accepted their terms but they immediately charged Iran by deducting it from the oil revenues. Forughi was not the type to take money but he wanted to stay in power and get his monthly salary. Whatever they wanted, he would do. Vossuq el-Dowleh would not give any concessions until he received money; sometimes if he didn’t get his share, he would not give concessions [to the British].
The Persian Gulf islands
We wanted to send troops to the islands of Sheykh Sho`eyb and Abu Musa in the Persian Gulf but the English were against it. They said these two islands belong to the Emirate of Sharjah. They had control over Sharjah and wanted to add the two islands to the Sheikhdom. Because of this [at that time Dr. Mosaddeq was minister of foreign affairs] I had some heated exchanges with Sir Percy Loraine (who was by the way a polite man). He told me, do you know who you are dealing with? I said, yes, what can you do to me? The only thing you can do is kill me. That’s all. By the way, what happened to the fate of the islands? [Asking Bozorgmehr]
An interesting story
One of the most interesting stories I remember is about Eyrum who was the head of police. One day, the Shah told him, I have heard that lots of people go to Naser el-Din Shah’s tomb to say their prayers. Do something about it. That evening, Eyrum was a guest at Haj Hasan Aqa Malek’s (in Emamzadeh Qasem). This property has its own story; it belonged to his [Haj Hasan’s] father who was a real crook. He had gotten the property in a bet with my uncle Farmanfarma. When Haj Hasan saw that Irum was in deep thought, he asked, what is the matter? Colonel Eyrum told him what the Shah had said. Haj Hasan then said, give me some money and I will find the solution. Haj Hasan’s solution was if they buried Reza Shah next to Naser el-Din Shah, nobody will pay anymore visits to the tomb.
In my first encounters with foreign diplomats first I would meet them with ultimate cordiality and in proper attire and would accompany them all the way to the doorstep. But then after the initial meetings, I greeted them in bed in my private room. For a couple of years, I only had one suit to wear. At The Hague and at the Security Council, I would wear the same clothing, also at private functions. Ahmad [Dr. Mosaddeq’s son] had a formal suit, which he had brought from Europe, and I wore that when I went to see his Majesty (before I became Prime Minister) and during the opening of the Majlis. I had paid 600 tumans for the suit. I was very conscientious to wear formal attire when visiting his Majesty. You know it is easier to stay in bed and take care of business that way. One aspect of it is you are not burdened to go to formal functions.
Majlis and the people
Sir, for a politician there are three things that are important: to have enough courage to finish the job; to have enough selflessness to make sure everything will be done; and to make the right decision at the right moment. If I had not decided to go to the army headquarters on 9th of Esfand and to the Majlis as well, my time would have been up. It is all God’s will. I heard later that after leaving Kakh Street [where Dr. Mosaddeq’s house was located], they had called abroad that the bird left the cage. I came in front of the Majlis and said I will speak where the people are. I was not afraid. Some five to six thousand people gathered and I spoke there. They attempted to shoot at me but the bullet hit poor Khajeh Nuri; I passed out and ended up in a coffee shop.
Bozorgmehr writes: “I was a student in law school. I remember the incident very well. It was when Mosaddeq had insisted on taking Seyyed Mohammad Tadayon [a one time minister of education] to trial and members of the Majlis were supporting Tadayon. He called the proceedings a dozdgah [den of thieves] rather a dadgah [place of justice]. He then came out of the Majlis where he had not been allowed to speak, and spoke among the people without fearing for his life.”
An economy without oil
Sir, if they had allowed us to continue our work for a year and finish the reforms we intended to undertake with an economy not dependent solely on oil, and an acceptable budget, peoples’ lives would have improved. Any reasonable person has a personal and a social aim in life. His personal aim is to have bread, to have prosperity and health for himself and his family. His social aim in life is freedom and prosperity for his country.
Sir, it is difficult to stay clean and pure. What one must do is to forgo a lot of things and to live frugally, which I have tried to do.
On the rights of the people
When you let the people speak out and criticize, the government cannot do what it wants. The government must listen to the desires and wishes of the people. The very existence of my government was based upon the needs of the nation. Therefore you could not stop people from expressing their views and strangle them.
Kakh Street and the army headquarters
They went to bring the car to take me. I got into the car and went towards my house. There were a few people running after the car. The police around Heshmat el-Dowleh stopped them. I went directly home. I later heard that they wanted to get rid of me there. But I had already left the scene. Sometimes God does miracles. At home, I heard some commotion. Someone had gone up on the tree next to Ahmad’s house and shown them a knife saying that with this we will decapitate Mosaddeq. Ahmad’s household was in turmoil. Ahmad came and told me, you should go to Shemiran, it is dangerous for you to stay here.
Dr. Fatemi was there too. I told Ahmad, why Shemiran? For what, so that they will then say, the Prime Minister and his minister of national defense minister have fled the scene out of fear. It is then that I said let us go to the army headquarters.
Bozorgmehr says: “Whoever saw me during the proceedings would tell me why don’t you use this article or that article of the law or mention this and that. When I told Dr. Mosaddeq, he said,” “they think everything at this trial is done according to law. They don’t know that even the few things we say, we do it like magicians.”
In military prison
Bozorgmehr writes: “I went to see him at around 4:30. He looked tired and upset. His eyes were hollow. After I said hello, I asked: How are you Sir? He said I am still here. I then told him that he looked very tired. He said, I have been very upset for three nights and did not sleep last night at all. I had a “crise” (breakdown). I had to take some sedatives, I feel better now. Those few days had coincided with the time twenty foreign experts among them seven Englishmen who had been at Abadan oil refinery had arrived in Iran. The Senate elections had been concluded and the 45 million dollar loan to Iran had already been used up [this was close to the first of the Iranian calendar year]. All these were worries had kept Dr. Mosaddeq awake and made him think of everything he had tried to do [for Iran].”
Colonel Farroknia came to see me. I was not feeling well. He said do you want to write something? I said, what shall I write? I already said it during the trial. I will not ask the Shah for amnesty. Amnesty is only given to criminals…….
And what followed is part of our anguished history: After the Shah returned to power, Mosaddeq was tried for “treason” and sentenced to two years in prison. He spent the rest of his life in exile, never allowed to leave his humble residence in Ahmad Abad. He died in Tehran, in Najmieh hospital, endowed and named after his mother, the daughter of Mozaffaredin Shah, an exceptional woman and a philanthropist. Dr. Mosaddeq had cancer of the mouth. He had refused to leave Iran for treatment, saying that Iranian doctors were as good as foreign doctors and it would be an insult to them.
The Shah left his homeland in the midst of a Revolution he had only recently come to recognize as one. Even those who had brought him to power did not let him remain in their respective countries- but a few weeks- while he was ill with cancer and dying. He died in exile in a foreign land just like his father before him. The fate of Iran changed forever…. A new regime that ostracized both Mosaddeq and the Shah eventually came to power.
Az Mast Ke bar Mast….
*Haj Hasan Shamshiri was an illiterate but successful bazaari and a sympathizer of the National Front. He owned and operated the famous Chelo-kababi Shamshiri in Tehran’s bazaar. Pious and generous, he gave a large sum of money to help build and finish a wing of the hospital. My father was the intermediary between Dr. Mosaddeq and Shamshiri in all the transactions involving Najmieh hospital while representing Dr. Mosaddeq as his personal lawyer.
* Jalil Bozorgmehr, Taqrirat Mosaddeq dar Zendan, edited by Iraj Afshar, Tehran, Iran Zamin publishing house, 1359/1981.