IRAN’S HISTORY IN BRIEF AND BACKGROUND TO THE “ISLAMIC REVOLUTION”

by Hasse-Nima Golkar

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A totalitarian monarch was forced to flee the country, and this paved the way for a Shia Islamic dictator. The overthrow of Mohammad Reza Shah was realized on February 11, 1979, but another even more brutal dictatorship took power under the leadership of Ruhollah Khomeini. The armed uprising of the people was defeated with the full support of global capitalism and its military and civilian agents. My generation’s illusion sufferers’ dream of freedom turned into a horrible nightmare.

Notes:

This text was my compiled C-thesis for the Swedish language published in Graphic School’s Journal at Spånga Gymnasium in Stockholm – Sweden, in June 1986, (where I have studied). /H.N.G.

“PEOPLE ARE THE DRIVER POWER OF HISTORY”

If one disregards mythological dynasties narrated by the national poet Ferdowsi (935 AD) in his famous work “Shah Nameh” (Book of Kings) about the ancient king Keyumarth (Keyumars) (ca. 6500-10000 years BC), or the great hero Rustam (ca. 200-1800 BC), Iran’s history would be almost as old as Chinese history. However, the real story began with the Medes (ca. 800 BC), which Cyrus made lord of Persia (ca. 550 BC), which stretched from India in the east to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean in the west. Iran was conquered (330 BC) by Alexander the Great, and after his death, the power passed to the Seleucids of Syria (312 BC).

The Seleucids were overthrown by the Arsacid of Parthia (256 BC), who ruled the country for more than 400 years. A new Persian Empire was established under indigenous kings, i.e., The Sassanids of Persia (210 AD), which was crushed in 642 AD. Through bloody war by the Arab Caliphate (the Prophet Muhammad’s deputy). Thus, Iran was forcibly converted from Zoroastrianism to the teachings of Islam. After the Arab caliphate (642-833 AD), a few different domestic and foreign dynasties ruled the country. The Safavids (1499-1736 AD) with the capital Isfahan proclaimed Shiitism as the state religion of Ismael the First in 1502 AD. The judiciary included ambassadors from England, Russia, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and India. Then the Afsharids (1736-1760 AD) came to power.

The first cruel prince of the clan was Nader Shah, known as the “Napoleon of the East.” He invaded India and abducted the Peacock throne from Delhi. Nader Shah married his son’s daughter and made the son blind. Later, he was murdered by his bodyguard in 1747 AD. During the Qajar dynasty (1795-1925), the country was dominated by colonial powers, including England and Russia. At that time, Iran became increasingly dependent on European capitalist interests, which manifested themselves in railway and mining concessions and banking activities.

The “Imperial Bank” was founded in 1889 by Europeans in Tehran. The Gendarmerie (Rural Police) was organized by the Swedish “Persian General” Vestdahl. He was appointed by Nassereddin Shah (1848-1896) as head of the Gendarmerie. The “Constitutional Revolution,” a democratic bourgeois movement, forced Qajar King Muzaffareddin Shah (1896-1907) to accept a constitution issued on August 5, 1906, limiting the king’s power and guaranteeing the people certain rights, which never followed by him.

In 1907, Iran was divided into three zones; a southern zone under British influence, a northern zone under Russian control, and a neutral zone in the central country. With the support of England and Russia, the popular movements were crushed in Tehran, but in the northern provinces of Azerbaijan and Gilan, the fighting continued. In February 1908, another Qajar king, Mohammed-Ali Shah (1907-1909), was bombed, which failed. He fired at the parliament palace with cannons and dissolved the parliament. After him came the 13-year-old boy Ahmed Mirza (1909-1925) on the throne, who became the last in the Qajar monarchy.

During World War I, Iran became a transit area for both Russian and Turkish armies. An English troop force was also on standby in the country. On February 21, 1921, a British military coup was carried out under the leadership of Reza Khan (1925-1941), the first monarch of the Pahlavi dynasty. Reza Shah took all power into his own hands and created a harsh fascist dictatorship.

On September 1, 1928, Iran entered the United Nations. On March 21, 1935, the country’s name was changed from Persia to its ancient name, Iran. Just before World War II (1938), Germany increasingly assumed the dominant role in the country. Although the Iranian regime formally declared itself neutral, it did support Nazi Germany.

In August 1941, the country was occupied by the Allied Powers. The British navy crushed Iranian troops in the Persian Gulf and withdrew their forces from Iraq. And the Soviet Red Army withdrew from the northwestern border. On October 16, 1941, Reza Shah was deposed due to his sympathies for Adolf Hitler and was taken prisoner to Mauritius in South Africa, where he died in 1944. After him, his son Mohammed-Reza Pahlavi took the throne when he was 22 years old.

In 1942, Britain and the Soviet Union signed an agreement to respect its territory and withdraw all its troops. In November 1943, the “Tehran Conference” began with Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill at the head. Mohammad Reza Shah increasingly approached the United States.

1945–1946 after the end of the war, several social-political movements developed, e.g., in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, which were brutally crushed by the Shah’s military power. In 1951, a progressive government came to power, led by Mohammed Mossadeq. He tried to put an end to the long period of British domination, i.e., “Anglo-Iranian Oil Company,” by nationalizing the country’s oil resources. As this act would threaten foreign interests, a coup against Mossadeq was planned by the U.S. intelligence service, C.I.A., in close cooperation with England’s M.I.6. The Shah fled the country in 1953.

On August 19, 1953, during the Truman presidency, the United States carried out a coup, known as the “$ 50 million coups”. Mossadeq was deposed, and the Shah regained power. After that, a dark political period of persecution, imprisonment, torture, and executions marked by Pahlavi’s police rule began.

In 1954, a settlement was concluded. The successor to the Anglo-Iranian oil company, British Petroleum (B.P.), received damages of £ 25 million and an international consortium. B.P. had a 40% share that took over the oil extraction. The fascist Shah regime joined the Western-oriented Baghdad Pact, CENTO – Central Treaty Organization (1953), i.e., a defense agreement between Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Great Britain, and Turkey. The United States remained “outside” membership but still participated in the military committee.

In 1956, the Shah’s notorious and terrible security police – SAVAK (Organization of the Country’s Security and Information) was created with the help of C.I.A. and the Israeli intelligence service Mossad. Now the oppression and exploitation of the working people began to be organized in an even crueler and more systematic way. Trade agreements were concluded one after the other with the multinational and monopoly companies in the U.S.A., England, France, West Germany, Japan, Sweden, and others and with the Eastern Bloc.

During 1953-1960, the United States’ involvement in the military apparatus with arms deals increased by one billion dollars according to SIPRI 1971 (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), and thousands of Iranian officers were trained in the United States. An essential aspect of the U.S. economic interest in connection with the military rearmament of the country was the direct gain obtained from the arms trade: “The U.S. authorities emphasize that in addition to the purely military purpose, arms exports to Iran have also helped U.S. arms manufacturers get out of it. The crisis arose after the Vietnam War. It has also helped the United States to address its trade deficit “(New York Times, February 22, 1973).

From 1962 to 1963, the Shah regime introduced a series of neo-colonial reforms of the American brand, the so-called “White Revolution,” which failed to provide a progressive picture of modernization. The white reforms implemented from above consisted of 6 points, which were later expanded by a further 13 points. The Shah received fierce opposition from the people and some backward-looking criticism on some reform points, e.g., land division and women’s suffrage by the great landowners and the clergy, with Ayatollah Khomeini at the helm. On June 5, 1963, the citizens expressed their dissatisfaction with the Shah’s American reform in the form of several large and peaceful demonstrations, which were crushed militarily with several thousand casualties. This movement came under Khomeini’s control and became one of his exiles, first to Turkey in November 1964 and later to Iraq in October 1965.

When the British forces withdrew entirely from the Persian Gulf, the Shah regime completely took on its new role as the guard of the Middle East by the so-called “Nixon Doctrine.” In 1970-1974, the country’s arms increased purchases from the United States 40 times, reaching $ 4.3 billion, representing almost half of all U.S. arms exports. The military regime’s military spending in 1976 was among the highest in the world after the United States and the Soviet Union. (The Arms Bazaar, Coronet, London 1978). In 1973-1974, the fourfold rise in oil prices caused a sudden billion-dollar flow into the Iranian economy. Oil revenues rose from $ 2.4 billion in 1972 to $ 14.9 billion in 1974, according to SIPRI in 1975. The bulk of government spending and the consequent “modernization” was probably purely military, such as arms purchases, military installations, or military connections, such as highways, major ports, and so on. The then Soviet Union also had some share in the Shah regime’s militarism. In 1975, Iran was the third-largest market for Soviet exports to the so-called “third world,” according to the Middle East Research and Information Project, number 39 – July 1975. In 1977, GDP fell from 33.9% (1973-1974) and 41 6% (1974-1975) to 2.8%, while inflation remained as high as 35%, according to the Financial Times, September 12, 1978. As the Iranian economy was part of the world economic system, the country’s internal political and economic problems were affected by the crisis of the highly industrialized countries. Inflation reached enormous heights, and the widespread corruption within authorities and institutions caused significant waste of resources. Numerous scandals arose because foreign companies bribing top puppet government bureaucrats, often members of the so-called “Royal Family Thousand Families,” according to the Washington Post, January 1977.

The gap between the poor and the rich grew more extensive and profound. Thanks to the “white revolution” and “modernization”, the poor peasants were driven from their lands, forcing them to move from the village to the cities in search of work. The expelled peasants were forced to live in slum suburbs and often occupied land due to extremely high rents. These slums were utterly devoid of electricity, water, and sewage systems. More than a million people lived in such horrific conditions in Tehran alone, according to Dagens Nyheter (Swedish morning newspaper), November 20, 1978.

The slum population began to make violent resistance to the municipal authorities who demolished what they had built “illegally.” In June-August 1977, mass demonstrations against house demolitions began in some Tehran suburbs. Violent clashes between people and the police required many deaths and hundreds of arrests. In October-December 1977, thousands of students demonstrated. In January-July 1978, thousands of people demonstrated in the big cities. Military units were called up along with armored vehicles and helicopters. Hundreds were killed and thousands arrested. In August-September 1978, martial law was introduced in Tehran and eleven other cities. In September 1978, medical strikes began across the country. At the same time, more than 20,000 workers went on strike. On September 8, 1978, protesters were shot dead in Jaleh Square in eastern Tehran in a bloody massacre. On October 6, 1978, Ayatollah Khomeini arrived from his exile in Iraq to Neauphle-le-Château, a suburb of Paris, where he hypocritically praised “gold and green forests.”

On November 6, 1978, the Shah switched to a military junta. The military occupied the major newsrooms and reintroduced censorship. All newspaper employees went on strike. On November 7, 1978, the army occupied the oil fields in Abadan on the Persian Gulf. On December 31, 1978, the Shah appointed a civilian government with Shapour Bakhtiar as prime minister. Khomeini categorically refused to acknowledge him. On January 11, 1979, US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance announced that Shah would be traveling abroad on “vacation.” On January 16, 1979, the Shah left Iran and flew to Egypt and later from there to several other countries to seek asylum in vain. On February 1, 1979, after 15 years in exile, Khomeini returned to Tehran, welcomed by millions of illusion-stricken Iranians.

On February 9-11, 1979, the Shah’s Imperial Guard attacked, among other things, an air force base in eastern Tehran to arrest anti-government soldiers, where the attacks led to a major armed uprising. The citizens took over several police stations and military bases. The Shah’s brutal regime fell, but the whole socio-economic system with all its affiliations remained. The Shah’s monarchist system of government was transferred to Khomeini’s Shia Islamic system of government under the name ‘Islamic Republic of Iran,’ and in this way, Khomeini became the Shah’s successor.

Translated in English by Hasse-Nima Golkar, on 11 February 2022.

Sources in Swedish:

– “The rulers of all Iran”, Åke Ohlmarks, Bonniers 1979

– “Iran, the fall of the Shah regime, the struggle continues”, Iranian Student Union in Stockholm, June 1979.

 

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