Dr. Seyed Ali Shayegan (1902-1981), professor of law, political advisor to Dr. Mossadegh and a member of his cabinet, was a distinguished man of letters who taught at Tehran University. After the infamous coup, he was arrested alongside with Dr. Mossadegh and other members of the National Front. He was initially sentenced to life imprisonment and then to ten years. He spent three years in prison. He later went to self-exile in the U.S. and lived in New Jersey with his family until the 1979 Revolution, when he returned to Iran. He passed away two years later in N.J. His remains were flown to Iran where he was buried in the family cemetery. Years later, Mrs. Badri Sheybani Shayegan, his companion in life and in struggle was buried next to him.
Ahmad Shayegan, his eldest son, has published his memoirs (in Persian) titled, “The Political Life, Writings and Speeches of Seyed Ali Shayegan,” Agah Publishers, 2005, Tehran.
In dedication to Ahmad and all the men, like his father, who stood by the man who sought nothing except dignity and prosperity for his nation, I took a few pages from the book and translated them for this occasion.
Like every morning, I got up early to go see Dr. Mossadegh at his house [on Kakh Street] from Emam Zadeh Ghasem in Shemiran. Since the hammam—our bath in the house in the city—was more convenient and better equipped, I took my wife and our new baby who had been born a few weeks earlier to wash up and from there I went to Dr. Mossadegh’s house.
The night before, I had prepared the draft for a referendum bill for the provisional government to present to Dr. M. for approval. While I was waiting to see him, Mr. Mohammad Hossein Qashqayee entered the reception area; he had just come out of Dr. M.’s room. I asked him what news he had. He said that these [Americans] were determined to bring Dr. M. down at any cost. I told him, have you said this to the Dr.? He said, yes. I asked, did he [Dr. M.] say anything in response. He said, no.
Later on, Mr. Nasser Khan Qashqayee would tell me that they [the leaders of the Qashqayee tribe] had sent a message to Dr. M. that if he allowed them, they would be ready to send in enough people to help the government in Tehran, but that he had not given them permission.
The morning before, when I had gone to the Dr.’s house; near the door, two or three members of the Tudeh Party were waiting for him; when I got out of the car, they came towards me. I knew one of them. He was a high school teacher, a freedom lover and a patriotic man. They said, the opposition is getting ready to stage a coup. Please tell the Dr. that if he gives us arms we will form a “national guard” and obey the government’s orders. I promised them to relay the message to Dr. M., which I did. The Dr.’s answer was again negative.
Little by little, members of the National Front (NF) came. Nariman, Hasibi, Dr. Fatemi, Dr. Sanjabi, Razavi, Zirak-zadeh, Dr. Sadiqi, Moazami, the brother of Dr. Moazami who was the Minister of Post and Telegraph. From outside, you could hear lots of commotion. The news broke that a bunch of ruffians were approaching Dr. Mossadegh’s house. Slowly the clamor increased. Another piece of news was that some individuals were heading to capture Tehran’s radio station.
We thought that both the army and Shahrbani (the city security office) were in the hands of the government. Since the head of Shahrbani was Dr. Mossadegh’s nephew and both the head of the army and the head of dejban were under his control and the fact that people supported Dr. M. and the NF with all their heart and without hesitation, we felt there was no reason for worry. But the facts on the ground were different since the head of the army was not a fighter and later suspicion grew around him. But it is highly unlikely that he, whom Dr. M. had trusted with a position that was always held by one of the Shah’s cronies, would betray him and work hand in hand with the enemy of Iran’s freedom and independence. Subsequently, by accepting this position, he was held in jail and spent three years of his life incarcerated with other freedom seekers.
As usual Dr. M. was in bed and members of the NF would come and go to and from his room and talk to him. Everyone was worried and frightened of what could happen. Dr. Sanjabi told us that he had mentioned to Dr. M. that he could bring enforcement from the Sanjabi tribe but that the latter had refused. Matters were growing worse by the hour and the noise was getting louder. Around 3 in the afternoon, lunch was served, but no one cared about food. After lunch, not many people stayed around including Dr. Sanjabi. It was reported to Dr. Fatemi’s family that he had been killed, so he went to his house to let his wife know that he was ok. After that, we did not see him [Fatemi] anymore. The other members of the NF gathered around Dr. M.’s room. Dr. M. was sitting on his bed, watching from his window. The sound of tanks and gunfire could be heard.
Dr. M. who knew his life was constantly under threat, had ordered the construction of a wall around the terrace in front of his room. On this summer terrace, the Dr. would sit in the evenings and meet with members of his cabinet and other NF people. The walls were protective in case someone fired a shot; only gunfire from the air would be dangerous.
All the time, people would come to the house and relay the most horrible news. One was that the guard to the (iron) door of Dr. M.’s house had been killed.
Dr. M.’s room was not very safe and quite small; it was located on the second floor of the house. This 3×4 room had windows on all four sides. On one corner was his bed. The door to the wall of his bed had a window towards the north. In front of the bed, there was a window measuring one meter which opened fully to the terrace, and to the left of the bed there was another door that opened to another room.
In this small and unsafe room, we were standing or sitting, all of us silent in his honor, but terrified at the same time. Whenever a door opened and someone would come in, our hearts beat faster. One of the visitors who came in was Mr. Daftari (the head of Shahrbani) who, after giving a military salute to Dr. M., started crying. Dr. M. was his uncle. But Daftari was the Shah’s crony and was the man in charge of destroying us. Perhaps his tears were not illogical since on the one hand, he was Dr. M.’s close relative (his brother’s son) and on the other hand, he had to obey orders by way of his position but also because of future promised positions and knowing that the Shah’s coup was in the making, and so he had decided to relent to the Shah, which made his cries those of a weak man who now felt exposed.
His cry, which at that moment meant the fall of Dr. M., had made everything clear for us.
In these trying moments, everyone was silent. While the news and the discussions seemed to reflect our doomed future, Mr. Nariman got up and took his revolver from his pocket. He then turned towards Dr. M. and said, isn’t better to get rid of ourselves before the enemy gets to us? I propose that we commit suicide. Dr. M. became agitated and told some of those in the room to take the revolver from his hand and shouted at him to sit down and told one of us to take the revolver and lock it in a drawer.
Long hours passed by slowly and with each passing hour, it seemed, our lives were in more danger and our arrest became imminent. But Dr. M. was still sitting in the same manner. Every once in a while, someone would propose to him to move to another room or leave the house, a house that eventually would be the target of destruction and fire so that he would not be in danger, but he would not listen. He then turned to us and said that he had decided to stay in this very house and die there. “I don’t expect any of you to stay and I am asking you to go to your homes,” he said. It was obvious that no one agreed to this. That is no one was ok with him staying in the room or leaving him there alone or getting separated from him.
In this very instance, a shot was fired from the direction of the wall from above the terrace, breaking the southern side of the windows of the room. This gunshot, if it had gone through the window, would have certainly hit Dr. M. We all became terrified and told Dr. M. that it was now time to move to the adjacent room. With our persistence and giving up to our demand, Dr. M. finally accepted to leave. Thus, we all left for the next rooms and finally left the house for the neighbor’s and went to the house next door by way of the rooftop. It was now getting dark; some jumped down from the roof and some held on to branches of trees that had been planted there, coming down slowly. We helped the Dr. to come down without harm but Mohandes Zirak-Zadeh broke his leg while jumping down.
In the neighbor’s house, the only person present was the caretaker. The owner and his family had gone to Shemiran for the summer season. The first thing that crossed our mind was whether we could stay in that house or not. We told the caretaker to call the owner and ask him if it was OK. Of course the answer was yes in the most respectful way.
Unfortunately the house was not ready for any occupants. There were no rugs or furniture and no food, not even for one meal. The basement of the house seemed safe so we all went there and sat on the cold floor without any covered rugs. We were all silent so as not to make any noise to be heard. Some wanted to call their families but it was not suitable.
It was a difficult night since everyone was hungry and there was nothing there to eat except a few pieces of bread. Some of our friends slept on a kelim which was laid on the floor and fell asleep from sheer fatigue. Gunfire could be heard. Then morning came and after some discussion, a few people left. I along with Dr. Sadiqi and Mohandes Moazami stayed with Dr. M. around … In the morning, with the streets empty, we went to the house of Mohandes Moazami’s mother which was nearby. There was much discussion on what to do next. Dr. Mossadegh believed that we should give ourselves up immediately and so we contacted Mr. Sharif Emami by telephone. It was around 7 pm that he called us and agreed to meet with us if necessary.
But a few moments later Dr. M. told us that we should not wait any longer and we should give ourselves up, so we decided to call the Shahrbani. One of the colleagues called the Shahrbani and we told them of our whereabouts.
It was at this moment that a few military servicemen who were looking around the neighborhood entered our house. They first looked into the rooms on the first floor and then they went upstairs to the second floor. Suddenly, they saw Dr. M and without saying anything, they notified the Shahrbani; Dr. M. told them that we were ready to surrender to the authorities on condition that they provide our safe departure.
At this time, a car appeared in front of the house and some individuals, whom we did not recognize, entered the house. Since we were all ready to leave anyway, they took us to the military headquarters. They immediately informed General Zahedi. A few military vehicles full of armed soldiers took us the Officers’ Club at which time we saw Zahedi waiting there on the steps; he shook Dr. M’s hands and then they incarcerated us right there.
A few hours later, in the middle of the night, they took Dr. Sadiqi and I to Shahrbani. In the morning, Dr. M. was informed and sent a message to Mr. Zahedi to the effect that, unless he let us come back to the Officers’ Club, he would start a hunger strike. It was because of this threat that we were returned to the Club and after 24 hours Dr. M. broke his hunger strike and we had breakfast with him.
We spent a few days at the Officers’ Club. One evening at midnight, they told us to get ready to leave again. Dr. Sadiqi, Mohandes Moazami and I were put into a jeep and taken to an unknown destiny. We drove this distance, each in separate cars. Fifteen minutes later, they handed us to the officer on duty at Saltanat Abad. It was in Saltanat Abad that our interrogation began. We did not know of each other’s well being as each of us was kept in a separate room. A few weeks later, we were taken to the Lashgar Zerehi. All this time, we did not know where Dr. Mossadegh was being held until one day they informed me that I should present myself at the trial. As I entered the courtroom and saw Dr. M. for the first time, I was very happy since until that point I had no idea how he was doing.
[When Dr. Shayegan saw Dr. Mossadegh in the courtroom for the first time after being separated from him, he recited the following verse: “Seeing a friend filled my heart so much so that I forgot all about myself”].
The American Ambassador to Iran in a telegram dated 21st of August, describing the events of those days and of calmness in Tehran and other provincial towns, wrote, “ The most upsetting fact that we should take into account is that a few very dangerous individuals of the nationalist leaders have not been arrested as of yet. These include, Mossadegh, Fatemi, Shayegan, Hasibi and others. They could in turn cooperate with the Tudeh leaders and conspire with them. Fatemi, contrary to reports that he was assassinated on Aug. 19th, is still alive. He is the most notorious and infamous in Mossadegh’s entourage. Because of his vengeful nature, he will likely do anything to form an alliance of nationalists and Tudeh members.” (Colonel Nejati, Mossadegh: Years of Struggle and Resistance)
“After the arrest of Dr. Mossadegh, Dr. Shayegan, Dr. Sadighi, Mohandes Seifollah Moazami, on August 20th 1953, each and every one of Mossadegh’s colleagues was arrested and incarcerated. Among them were Abdolali Lotfi, Sartip Taghi Riahi, Bashir Farahmand (who was injured badly), Keshavarz Sadr and others. The military commander announced that more than 200 of the former government officials were arrested and taken to the prisons of Shahrbani, military prison. On 4th of Shahrivar, a group of them were taken to the prison of Falafolaflak and others were taken to Khark Island.” (Mohammad Ali Safari- Pen and Politics: An Overview of the Modern History of Iran).
Excerpts of an interview with Dr. Shayegan in 1980:
What do you think of the 25th of Mordad coup and how Dr. M. reacted towards the coup planners?
After the first coup we were not waiting for the second coup to take place and because of this the execution of Nasiri and other collaborators was never discussed. In light of what happened later, if the government had reacted more forcefully, perhaps the Aug 19th coup would not have occurred or at least not so fast. At my tribunal and that of Mohandess Razavi and Dr. Hossein Fatemi in order to provoke the judges against me they used the phrase I had uttered in a speech that “The item which was supposed to go to Egypt went to Baghdad instead.” [Referring to the Shah who fled to Baghdad].
They tried Dr. Mossadegh alone; but they tried Dr. Razavi, Dr. Fatemi and me together. Dr. Fatemi was arrested alone. This courageous man endured much in prison. He had been stabbed several times with a knife and could not even get out of bed. While lying on his back, his injuries got worse resulting in new wounds. Even until the day before his execution, everyone thought the Shah would pardon him. On the night of his execution, we went to bed happy, thinking that he was not in imminent danger. But they woke us up in the middle of the night to tell us whether we wanted to say our last good-byes to the Dr. Mohandes Razavi and I went to see him. In the room, Dr. Fatemi was sleeping on the bed. To talk about those moments is very difficult for me. In any case, after an hour or so, we heard shots fired; it was at that moment that Dr. Razavi and I realized that our friend and long- time colleague had been executed.
What do you think of the current situation and of the Revolution?
I have repeatedly expressed my opinion in this regard and I will say it again. I don’t know how much one should emphasize the importance of freedom and independence of Iran which must be at the forefront of the Revolution. But from what I have seen and heard in the last few weeks in Tehran and other cities, the news is worrisome. It is disturbing and disappointing that freedom seekers have been targeted. I even read in a newspaper that some people attempted to bomb my house. They must realize that like years before, when hundreds of thousands were not afraid of death, today the same number of people are not afraid of these threats and will continue the struggle…..
(Bamdad, No. 85, Sunday 28 Mordad 1358 (August 19, 1980)