The Outbreak that Changed the World

Khomeini’s resolve was unrelenting


The Outbreak that Changed the World
by Arash Monzavi-Kia

In autumn of 1977, ayatollah Khomeini’s son, Mostafa, died under suspicious circumstances, while under exile in Iraq. Iran’s secret police, which had previously assassinated general Timor Bakhtiar (first head of Savak) and some other opponents in Iraq, was suspected of the killing. The religious community in Iran was upset enough to hold several mourning congregations in the major cities, with a few of them leading to small-scale demonstrations.

Shah was so infuriated with those allegations and demonstrations that he ordered the preparation of a ‘rebuttal’ article by Hoveida, to be published in the largest national newspaper (Ettelaat). That was another stupid instance of the Shah/people alienation, which resulted in an outrageously insulting text against ayatollah Khomeini. Shah’s afflicted mental condition contributed to the ordering of such a carelessly vulgar public denunciation of a leading Shia Marjah. In the Ettelaat article, Khomeini was insulted and abused as an English spy from India, who was both a drug addict and a homosexual. That final folly triggered an endless cycle of religious and political riots, which resulted in the demise of Pahlavi dynasty.

The 1978 demonstrations quickly united the Iranian opposition around a simple set of declarations and demands: that Shah was a demonic traitor who was ordering the brutal suppression of the people, and that he should relinquish the government, for Iran to achieve ‘freedom and independence’. Not much thought was given to a replacement government, but an Islamic Republic was frequently mentioned, where the ideals of decency and democracy could rule together. Toppling of the much-feared Shah’s regime seemed such a remote possibility that the opposition could not readily perceive a future system. The silly general sentiment among the resentful intellectuals was that ‘anything would be better than the Shah’!

The first half of 1978 was filled with sporadic violent riots in major Iranian cities, which were often brutally suppressed, resulting in several hundred causalities. However, most observers still believed that the regime could weather the disturbances, and that the Shah’s carrot and stick policy would save the day. The Shah’s regime provided several incentives, including the cancellation of ‘imperial’ calendar; the dissolution of Rastakheez party; and dismissal of the notorious chief of Savak (Nasiri) and a handful of other infamous characters.

Indeed during that summer, the rioting abated, until a disastrous calamity in Abadan reignited the powder keg. The Cinema Rex torching, which has since been blamed on the Islamists, was squarely attributed to the Shah’s Savak and was believed so by the distrustful masses. Overnight, there was a tenfold increase in widespread demonstrations! In response, Shah ordered a brutal crack down of Tehran’s protests on the Black Friday in Zhaleh Square, which effectively removed all hope for a peaceful compromise.

In the autumn of 1978, everything started to fall apart. The rebellion spread to universities, then schools and finally to factories, offices and even the oil industry. Widespread strikes paralyzed most government functions and large-scale desertions weakened the armed forces. In secret, Shah was terminally ill, but would not relinquish any real power to his hand picked governments or even the army generals. During the past 15 years of his despotic reign, every decision and action was so directly dictated by him, that the whole country fell into a state of convulsion, as he was being tormented by an incurable cancer and an implacable enemy.

Khomeini’s resolve was unrelenting, even though his moderate aides were recommending a compromise to save the country from collapse. His single-minded utterance set the target: ‘Shah must go’! In early 1979, after Shah left the country for an extended ‘vacation’, neither his last liberal prime minister (Dr. Shahpor Bakhtiar an aide to Mosaddeg), nor his army generals, who were being coached by the Americans, could withstand Khomeini’s return and the tsunami wave of popular uprising.

With the collapse of Shah’s regime, like in other major revolutions, a frenzied rush to fill out the power vacuum started. Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamist alliance (loosely called the Hezbollah) quickly gained momentum and established itself both in the political arena (through the Islamic Republic Party) and the military front (through the Revolutionary Guards). However, the first provisional government was assigned to the liberal moderates (led by Bazaargan, another Mosaddeg aide) who had decades of anti-Shah resistance credentials as well as technical and organizational experience.

The revolutionary leftist groups (most notably the Peoples Mojahidin and the Fadaiyan) were not trusted with any role in the new government, and were soon denounced by the Hezbollah, as infidels and apostates. The Hezbollah militants also started a systematic persecution of the previous regime’s leaders and notables. Several hundred were executed, with thousands more jailed and tortured. The savage behaviour of Hezbollah rapidly alienated most of the educated middle class and the secular intellectuals, but invigorated the lower classes who enjoyed a measure of revenge, as well as material benefit from the confiscations and lootings.

Most leftist groups considered the liberal government as a transitional phase, before the radicalization of revolution would give them a chance to take over and turn the tide, as in the Russian revolution of 1917. Therefore, they started a frantic recruiting drive among the students, workers and the ethnic minorities, who were more susceptible to leftist propaganda. Their efforts quickly paid off in the Sunni Kurdistan region, where many police stations and army garrisons were ransacked, and an autonomous district was established. The ensuing savage civil war between the Hezbollah and the Kurdistan leftists antagonized the clerical leadership of Khomeini, who issued an all-out war edict against the ‘infidels’. But the newly formed Revolutionary Guards were still too weak to defeat the Kurdish resistance.

A relevant reference: Roots and Results of Revolution, by N. Keddie.


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more from Arash Monzavi-Kia

For worse

by MRX1 on

The tilte should be: The Outbreak that Changed the World for worst. Islamo facists were marginalized groups every where. no one cared much what they have to say and what they do. After several hundred years of being a nobody, their victory over a NON ARAB country with a population that was/is largley secualr opened a pandora box which I believe will end in some form of tragedy to the scale that we have not seen yet! I don't believe the major players who brought this nightmare to the world had any idea the magnitude of the problem we are going to be facing. They are so arrogant (Typical behavior of liberal idiots and leftitst these days) that brezinski one of the architects of so called Iranian reveloution once was asked in interview wheather it was worthed in lew of what has happend since 1979, to use islamists to break down soviet Union and his answer was yes!

Arash Monzavi-Kia

Two good references

by Arash Monzavi-Kia on

1. All Fall Down, by G. Sick, I.B. Tavris Publishers, 1985.

Gary Sick was a central part of the Iran team in the Carter adminstration.

2. Mission to Tehran, by R.E. Huyser, Deutsch publishing, 1986.

General Huyser was the American agent in charge of coordinating a coup in 1979, as the back up plan to the Bakhtiar government.



by Mehrban on

Regardless of what Einstein may have said, a theory that is being presented as history should try to be accurate rather choose to be simple.   I am not implying that yours is not accurate.  History as you well know could be quite complicated.  Iranian history certainly is.  

Please see my response in your blog on this subject. 

Arash Monzavi-Kia

Mehrban dear: there can be no end to conpiracy theories

by Arash Monzavi-Kia on

My favorite conspiracy theory goes like this :-)

Martians came to earth in 1914, and started the first world war, in order to kill all humans and take over the planet. WWI did not work; so they tried WWII, which did not come close to their goal of 98% human-cleansing either. So they instigated the cold war, hoping for a nuclear Armageddon. Soviets did not play ball and fizzled out, so the Martians went for the Islamists to create a grand war of civilizations, etc. etc. Now, replace Martians with Jews, Freemasons or Literati and you will find that some people are ready to believe you!

Sorry, I am not saying these just to make fun of your ideas, but to show that with enough imagination, ANY CONSPIRACY theory can work! As Einstein has said, "all we say is a theory, but a good theory should be as simple as possible and not any simpler".

Arash M-K


Arash Monzavi Kia

by Mehrban on

My sincere gratitude for your time and concern in responding to my questions. About the role of The US in the outcome of the revolution what you say is a plausiable scenario and is consistant with what I have heard in - as one example- BBC as well.

However, some folklore surrounding the revolution present a more active role on US's part. Basically a suggestion that the Carter administration with Brijinsky at the National Security Advisor post and concerned with the Soviet infiltration or influence in Iran coupled with the Democrats' historic dislike of the Shah, decides that a religious government in would be more effective in curbing communism in Iran.  That also the Brijinsky model had been successfully tested in Afghanistan.  Also prior to the coming to the head of the revolution there were Americans in Iran that were in contact with high ranking military personnel who together contributed or maybe even planned the quick dissolution of the Iranian Army,etc.  Any thoughts on this version?

I left the same post in the "role-america 1979" blog that you had kindly provided in case it is easier to respond to there.


Dear "Arash Monzavi-Kia"

by MiNeum71 on

I appreciate your time and effort, but at least the facts should be true:

Economic improvement in Iran was dependent on Shah´s goodwill (personal expenditure, military expenditure, widespread corruption). That "most of the Shah Era problems were actually the generic 3rd world country issues" is really something very new. And nobody remembers your fifteen years of uninterrupted economical and social progress and five years of great financial boom.

From 1975 through 1980 Iran's Human Development Index remained
stagnant at 0,569 (lowest limit for developing countries). This was quite an embarrassing performance (even today´s Iran has a better value of 0,777).

GDP per capita, annual growth rate in %:
1973: + 2,4
1974: + 6,1
1975: + 2,5
1976: + 14,0
1977:  - 4,4
1978:  - 10,4

The roots of the Iranian revolution were economic ones, the tools were political ones.

Who could know, the promises of economic and political justice that helped spur the movement would remain unfulfilled ...


Arash Monzavi-Kia

Replies to Mehrban

by Arash Monzavi-Kia on

For more detailed discussions, please refer to the draft version of my full text in the following web link.


Q1: If the intellectuals (or others) had an implied confidence that the system in place would survive without Shah?

Yes, after fifteen years of uninterrupted economical and social progress and five years of great financial boom, the intellectuals were certainly confident that Iran was a great country; that they were a great and smart bunch; and that prosperity was their birth-right through the god-given petroleum reserves. They actually saw Shah’s court and cronies as the key impediments to a just wealth distribution, further social progress and political liberation. Yes, the thinking was that: if you could get the evil Shah out of the equation, everything would work very much better.

There were two follies to that general sentiment. First, Shah was much “better” than people thought he was, except that he had grown corrupt and intoxicated by absolute power. We have all heard the statement that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. That certainly was the case of our last Shah. However, most of the Shah Era problems were actually the generic 3rd world country issues, and not directly related to his mismanagement or malice. Secondly, every catastrophic collapse of state (including revolution), creates a power vacuum and a structural imbalance, which unleashes the meanest rivalries among the competing social and political groups. Typically, revolutions don’t do much immediate damage, but it is the post-revolution fighting and destruction, which can often devastate the whole country. Hence, it is said that “revolutions eat their own children”.

Q2:  I would very much like to know your view on the true role of the Americans in the outcome.

Sorry, but the answer is getting too long. I have turned it into a blog.



Arash Monzavi Kia

by Mehrban on

I know the story of 30 years ago may be tedious to some of my fellow readers but I would very much like you to continue this series because I find them very interesting and useful in filling the many blanks still in my mind about the revolution of 1979. 

You mention that the intellectuals thought that anything would be better than the Shah, about this I ask, if the intellectuals (or others) had an implied confidence that the system in place would survive without Shah and would not completely unravel with him leaving. But the centralized system which was centered on the king and only on the king did not have a chance to survive without him.  

You also make a cursory mention of the Army being advised by the Americans.  I would very much like to know your view on the true role of the Americans in the outcome. (I know this one could have a long explanation and that maybe I should wait for a separate segment of your writings)    


We have to pay to fix it for the next generation

by TJ (not verified) on

The last generation screwed it up, we must pay for their mistake, at the same time we must fix their mistakes and make it a true democracy, separate religion from politics, and create a FREE IRAN for our kids and the generations after that.

What Turkiye did in the 1930's with the leadership of Ataturk, and Reza Shah had the chance to do and did not, must be done now. Any religious expression must stay at home. Religion is a poison for democracy and politics.

Farhad Kashani

It definitely changed the

by Farhad Kashani on

It definitely changed the world in the following senses:


1-     The revitalization of Islamic Empire theory.


2-     The creation of Islamic fundamentalist agenda.


3-     The beginning of an era of attempts by fundamentalist Muslims to rise up to take power, commit atrocities in the name of Islam in their country, and attempt to bring death and destruction to the world they see as corrupt and non-Islamic.


Khomeini is the godfather of the Islamic Fundamentalist movement. All attempts post 1979 by fundamentalists to “apply Islam in their countries and elsewhere” is inspired by him. That goes for both Sunni and Shites Muslims. Remember, Hamas is Sunni.

 Until his legacy is alive, Iran will never be free, the threat of global terrorism will never go away and liberalism and human rights in all corners of the world will be in threat of annihilation by their bullyism and their leftist enablers


just a taught

by maziar 058 (not verified) on

hopefully the next page of Iran's history will be with true free Iranians from anything and U.S.I (united states of Iran ) may be our next hope for generations to come.
No foreign intervention and no more analyzing any events needed.


dear arash

by bob (not verified) on

I am a young person. i am 22 years old. i lived in year and i go every year there to visit family. you are right iran was a closed society back then but only political.
one still had social freedom, religious freedom and good economic growth. there were only 1 country in the world at that time who was doing better in terms of growth.

Iranian i am sorry [ to which i am one] we not ready for political freedom back then. when one believes that someone is going to come out of the ground and solve the worlds problems that shows backwardness. people during that time forgot how far iran had came since reza shah time. they forgot that women being equal and religious group having they freedom this could have only been done by a [ i hate to say it] dictator. iranians back then would have voted for backwardness. the reforms made back then have started the ball rolling towards rationalization and a move away from backwardness.

again i will say thank you to my parents generation for doing stupid things.

the shah was a dicator but we could have worked with him. when he came on tv and said i will give free elections and i will go back to being a constitutional monarch. my parents generation should have take the offer. instead of burning things in the street like animals



What is new?

by dhhcfo (not verified) on

Can anyone tell me what is new in this article? It is not an analysis, it is not an opinion driven writing. Its merely a recount of what has happened pre and post revolution. Everybody knew that; what purpose does this serve? It was complete waste of time to read it. Monzavi-kia, please do not follow-up!


NOTHING will change! NOTHING!

by Rest assured (not verified) on

" This year, there is a new chance; let's learn and make the right choices. "

I don't know what you mean by a new chance? are you encouraging people to vote for Khatami or Mousavi? what would change?

They have both sworn their undying allegiance and loyalty to the Supreme leader and the system of velayat-e-faqih, ultimately Khameneii will run the show!

What will change?

NOTHING will change! NOTHING except people will get poorer and more miserable and if they make the
slightest squeak, mullahs will kill them all with absolute impunity since they've got oil and the world cannot afford to ignore that in this horrible worsening economy.


Well said, ...

by MiNeum71 on

... dear "Arash Monzavi-Kia"; there is still one point, which also should be addressed: lack of modernisation of the economically underdeveloped areas, mainly rural and characterized by above-average unemployment.

My hypothesis: this lack of modernisation was the root of the revolution; between '73 and '76 many of these Vah-shee-ha and Bee-savad-ha came to Tehran (and other big cities) to get a work, but after Shah´s mismanagement and the following economical crisis they became an easy prey for the Islamists.



that article in the

by ali1224 (not verified) on

that article in the newspaper was right on the money monzavi!that moron was indeed a british stooge....the sole purpose of his miserable existence was to come in and set iran back a 1000 years
any sane person, and not on the the mullahs payroll, can attest that the mullahs have made the shah into a saint!
don't try to analyze this so called fiasco of a revolution....akhoonsd had the backing of blood suckers like the brits and the french, who wanted to oil to flow freely at a dirt cheap price, and the shah had become too independent.....his only weakness was that he didn't let sabeti and savak finish murdering lunatics like rafsanjani and khomeini back in the 60s!

Arash Monzavi-Kia

Well done?

by Arash Monzavi-Kia on

It is not an issue of stupidity, dumb mistakes, etc. Closed societies are not good at reforming, and Shah's Iran was politically speaking, a very closed society.

When change came, it took everyone by surprise. Besides, there was no source of knowledge and information. Unlike now that you can Google everything in 5 seconds; back then, most people heard Khomeini's voice, only when he was already in Iran and well in power.

The new generation can only judge and pass a verdict, if they can learn from the past, and use if for positive change in the present. This year, there is a new chance; let's learn and make the right choices. 

Arash M-K


well done!

by bob (not verified) on

well done for destroying iran! well done.
all the people died for what?
leftist believe in silly ideologies that did not work, mmm soviet union. did anyone of them go there.
islamist wanted a system of backwards, mmm well done again.
iranians deserved what they got. if they believed in silly things like this then deserve the government in tehran.
if they really wanted democracy they would have let the last prime minister do his work. but no we iranians are too backward.

the last generation deserve this but we do not we did not take part in stupid ideologies why should we pay for our parents mistakes?

we want to decide our future and we do not want it decided by our parent's dumb mistakes.

we are paying the price for your actions.

thank you