The Persian Tragedy
Sunset of the Persian Empire
By Farrokh A. Ashtiani
July 25, 2002
We the Iranian people from coast to coast and from the sea to the shining sea
have certain attitudes towards each other that are remnants of what we carried in
our suitcases when we packed up and came over or just inherited them in our genes.
To name one and perhaps the most important one is the uncontrollable and instantaneous
urge upon meeting another fellow countryman to find out if the person is:
An Islamist or
The third category consists of those whom may very well be true nationalists, highly
educated or whatever, but since they do not fit into the two main profiles, somehow
they fall into the irrelevant class and oblivions.
Back in our salad days in the1960s, when we were young (like Frank Sinatra used to
sing) we did not have the three current classifications. Those days you would tend
to classify friends and foes into two classes:
Is he SAVAKee?
Is he not SAVAKee?
Those of you who are so young and naive may ask, What was SAVAK? Well, that was the
acronym for "Society for Advancement of Vitamin A and K" a non-profit organization
that was established during His Majesty's time to insure that we Iranians were neither
suffering from lack -- nor overdose -- of vitamins.
That organization was a watchdog for THE wellbeing of the nation.
So much so that first thing upon his arrival, Khomeini ordered to revive SAVAK, with
a slight modification. The acronym changed to SAVAMA, Society for Advancement of
Vitamin A and Mental Adjustment, with its headquarter still remaining at the same
beautiful northern Tehran plush resort -- Evin Prison.
So, the problem back in Iran of 60s was that in order to protect yourself in the
society no matter where you were, the main focus was to listen to what one had to
say in order to find out if he was SAVAKee or not. No one was safe and immune from
this stigma; you could suspect your best friends, your immediate family, your neighbor,
teachers, the taxi driver or the man who picked up the garbage. Were they SAVAKees
This second classification, the Islamist was never a problem those days, because
everyone more or less pretended one way or another to be a "believer" and
therefore there was not much need for profiling.
Some may sit back and brag how there was a separation of religion from state back
in the long 37-year rule of Mohammad Reza Shah. Although in comparison with the tragedy
that goes on today, there was a modest separation simply because the Pahlavi Dynasty
was established based on implied secularism. But unfortunately, it was the very structure
of the former regime and its shifty persona that allowed the disaster that uprooted
its very existence.
We need however to ask ourselves why do we think there should have been a separation
of the Mosque and State? Did we ever fight for such rights? Did our constitution
specifically point out to such a separation or was it just an implied clause?
Please don't forget, this was the same constitution that made succession of monarchy
hereditary among all MALE offspring of the monarch! Why was that? Was Reza Shah born
to a noble, holy, incredibly family of geniuses who gave us the best choice for our
leaders for decades to come -- as long as they could breed males?
(By now, some must really think I am an anti-monarchist and can;'t wait to send me
For a nation that already had queens ruling it a couple
of thousands years earlier, such discrimination in its constitution clearly shows
that it had much room to improve. The same constitution also sealed our fate to a
Shiite Islam, which was nothing new and Shah Abbas did it centuries earlier and so
did Nader. They wanted to remind us that there will be no return to Zoroastrianism,
but that we are separate from the Arabs.
In the mid 60's, the Shah made two huge and unforgivable mistakes when an unsuccessful
assassination attempt against him took place at the Marble Palace. Most likely under
pressure from British advisors, he wasted no time to come forward and declare that
he was protected by Hazrateh Abbas! No, not Abbas Hoveyda, but the actual Holy Hazrateh
Abbas! The one you and I prayed to (in vain) when we wanted to pass the final exams.
Yes, after surviving the second assassination attempt on his life, the Shah went
out of his way to give a big speech about the time when he was a 5 or 7-years old
and used to see Hazrateh Abbas walking around inside the palace. His maid used to
ask him "What do you see, Your Highness?" and he would respond "Hazrateh
One can only imagine the British Ambassador listening to that speech in his office
in Tehran, rolling on his stomach and laughing as if he was watching a rerun of Monty
Python over a glass of martini!
That reminds me when I was 7-years old we had a very kind and goodhearted maid, Ezzat
Khanoom-- an older lady from Gilan. She kept a beautiful chicken (Zaree) in her room
and that was her child -- but that's a different story.
I recall when she used to take me out shopping for bread and meat and so forth, she
would greet every mullah on the sidewalk with a deep respect. Puzzled, I finally
asked her one day, "Ezzat Khanoom why do you greet every akhoond?" She
responded with her beautiful Gilaki accent: "I greet every mullah because you
never know which one of them is the Absent Imam, our Messiah, who is to came back
and clean up the Earth."
Telling this true story about the Shah's speech only makes me remember my frustrated
father and how he would listen to those words of wisdom from a Swiss-educated king
telling the nation and the world how he was a clairvoyant protected by Islam's holy
men. He would talk about these things in a way no less than the way Mussolini was
protected by the Mafia. And my father used to curse like you have not heard in any
slum! Telling us how the same bullshit went on during Ghajar Dynasty, whose kings
had no formal education.
The Shah claimed that he was the chosen man -- "Nazar
Kardeh" -- and that he was saved from conspiracies orchestrated by the regression
of Reds (communnists) and Blacks (reactionary Islam). So we laughed and had a good
time listening to our father cursing the government like no rap music singer ever
The mistake that the Shah and his advisors made was that he wanted to be both a great
Persian Emperor who would naturally not kiss any Arab's ass, and yet being protected
by holy men who just happened to be Arabs who invaded his motherland many centuries
ago -- and would invade it again in less than 20 years.
The other mistake was that the Shah abused the gullibility of a nation of illiterates.
All his life the Shah attempted to increase the level of his nation's education.
Yet he undermined our intelligence and introduced a narcotic that ended up overthrowing
himself. He made people in far corners of Iran either laugh at him or hate him quietly
and believe in Khomeini and his cassettes.
The Shah propagated the narcotics of miracles and kissed shrines of this Hazrat and
that Hazrat and in a very ironic way, prepared the way for Khomeini's rise. Khomeini's
well-prepared plots -- going back at least 150 years, deep in the heart of British
political interferences in Iran -- took root and I recall the rumors around 1963
that Khomeini spoke seven languages! Well, apparently Farsi wasn't one of them.
If the Shah was indeed protected by Hazrateh Abbas, his holiness would have shown
him how to save the nation from Agha's grip. But alas, he neither listened nor consulted
with his holy alies. No, the forces upon him were not holy. This was a classic mate
in a chess game of dirty world politics.
Let's not sit around and criticize each other for not being a Monarchist or an Islamist.
The most important thing is to make a commitment that when we see an Iranian we do
not stereotype him into one group or another. Just listen to what he has to offer
and make sure you are being listened to as well -- and control your prejudices. The
more we suspect and stereotype each other the more we play into the hands of those
who call the shots.
We are in search of that Iranian leader who does not need to visit and kiss anyone's
shrine. An elected leader who will save us from the misery that our motherland is
going through. And until the day that such a leader rises, don't let a minute pass.
You and I and the other one million Iranians in the US of A are not the decision
makers for the future of that nation. While we can possibly help and participate
in future changes in Iran, we are no more influential than the average Iranian in
Iran.Let's not get carried away as we sit in our comfortable condos.
It's a shame how influential people of the former regime are roaming around in this
country and in Europe, and all they can write about is their trivial memories and
their visits to this café and that café, and offering not a darn piece
of a good historical document for many things that they know about those who brought
the Shah, took him out, and brought Khomeini. How sad that we have to wait another
30 years until Newsweek tells us who was behind Khomeini. By then many of
us are long gone.
To the powerbrokers of the former regime who remain silent, and to their bland writings
I offer one profound word I have not had the opportunity to use for a long time:
"Zekee!" Shame on you!
"Of all the things I have heard the most absurd is that a man is feared of death.
Valliant never tastes the death but once and the coward dies many times before his
death," according to my shaky memory of Shakespeare, memorized for my English
teacher back in Tehran in the 60s.
It brings tears to one's eyes thinking how we witnessed
a tragedy far greater than any opera composed by Verdi, Hayden or Aminollah Hussein.
Someone should now compose an opera for us. I hope you or your children will sit
in Rudaki Hall one day and watch, The Persian Tragedy, The Sunset of the Persian
What has changed in Iran are the uniforms. Let's search and elect future leaders
who are neither pretenders, nor followers nor deceivers -- and most importantly --
not chosen by "holy hands", for as long as these holy hands are upon us
we will continue to be under Arab siege and one foot in heaven and the rest in hell.
Let's end the Second Arab Invasion and the siege of our motherland Iran, orchestrated
by those who try to make you think that conspiracy theory is dead and taboo.