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Lunch with Khomeini
How a former SAVAK chief saved the ayatollah's life

December 3, 1998
The Iranian

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 [1357], 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. Okay?)

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 [1342]?

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 [1357] 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 [1357] 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 to Turkey.


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