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Haunting Headlines from the Past - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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One of the amazing gadgets that Sinbad the Sailor finds during his marvellous trips is a kalaeidoscope that contains images of past and future life. Modern technology cannot offer the future in image. But images of the past are aplenty, and, thanks to Internet, are at anyone’s disposal with the click of a button, causing pleasure or pain as the case may be.

Last week, a friend in Tehran, a prankster in his youth, emailed me pictures of the front pages of Kayhan, the daily newspaper of which I was Editor in the 1970s.

The front pages belong to the period October 1978 to February 1979, the Khomeinist revolution’s decisive and ultimately successful phase.

The front pages offer an almost surrealistic image of what was about to happen to Iran. A historian who depended on them would be led up the garden path. However, the cumulative image that the front pages provide offers an alternative, and perhaps more sobering, reading of a revolution based almost entirely on deception.

Let us examine a few headlines from those heady days.

Here is one: “Islamic Government Has Democratic Content.”

This is a quotation from Sadegh Ghotbzadeh at a press briefing in Paris where Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini spent four months before his return to Iran.

At the time, Ghotbzadeh was regarded as a spiritual son and confidante of Khomeini. Once the mullahs had seized power, this adventurer was appointed director of the state-owned radio and television before becoming foreign minister. Two years later, he was executed on a charge of plotting to murder the ayatollah.

Here is another headline: “Full Freedom Is The First Goal of the Revolution”.

This banner is a quotation from Abol-Hassan Banisadr, then a student in Paris but also regarded as a spiritual son of Khomeini. Within less than a year, Khomeini had made him the first President of his Islamic Republic. A year and a half later, ‘Abol’ had to flee back to Paris to save his life.

To do so, ‘Abol’ had to hitch a ride from one Massoud Rajavi, an Islamist-Marxisit militant, who had hijacked a passenger aircraft to fly into exile.

The next headline comes from Rajavi whose guerrillas had helped Khomeini by murdering policemen, robbing banks, and setting up roadblocks to terrorise the people.

Here it is: “Under Islam All Parties Will Be Free”.

The last time I heard of Rajavi was in 2008 in Baghdad where he lived in a house that had once belonged to Izzat al-Duri, Saddam Hussein’s vice president.

Let’s move to another headline: “Do Not Buy Homes. We Shall Give Everyone A Home.”

This promise came from Ayatollah Ali Tehrani, another Khomeini pupil and confidante.

Known as “Sheikh Ali” this mullah had the additional advantage of being married to the sister of Ali Khamenehi, the future “Supreme Guide” and a member of the secret Islamic Revolution Council.

Very soon, however, Sheikh Ali had to flee to Iraq where he worked in a Persian-language radio set up by Saddam Hussein against Khomeini. After the Iraq war, Sheikh Ali obtained a safe-conduct from his brother-in-law and returned to Iran. The safe-conduct proved worthless and the Sheikh ended up in prison where, according to reports that we cannot confirm, he was tortured. Soon afterwards he died.

Another headline?

Here it is: “ The Revolution Guarantees The Rights of Kurdish Nation”.

This one came from the leader of the Iranian Democratic Party of Kurdistan, Abdul-Rahman Qassemlou, an honourable man who found himself in the company of scoundrels supporting Khomeini.

One of the first acts of the Khomeinist regime was to massacre the Kurds in the village of Naqadeh, writing one of the blackest pages of Iran’s history.

To add insult to injury, Khomeini declared the Kurds to be “children of Satan”, providing another headline.

Less than a decade later, Qassemlou who had fled into exile, was murdered in Vienna by a hit squad from Tehran. According to reports that we could not confirm, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who later became President of the Islamic Republic, played a small role in the operation.

Yet another headline: “Parties of The Left Have Freedom To Operate”. This comes from Nureddin Kianuri, leader of the pro-Soviet Communist Tudeh (Masses) Party, basing his claim on assurances from Khomeini.

In the early phases of his regime, no political party helped Khomeini more than Tudeh did. Tudeh was especially useful in leading the regime’s secret police to the hideouts of leftist groups that had broken with Khomeini.

Three years later, however, the Tudeh was banned and Kianuri was in Evin Prison along with his entire Central Committee. Over 300 party cadres were executed while hundreds of others fled to exile.

To save their lives, Kianuri and a few other top leaders converted to Shi’ism and appeared on television to confess to having spied for the KGB. According to the confessions, Kianuri received a monthly stipend of $800 from the Soviet secret police.

Despite the confessions and demands of pardon from the “Imam”, as Khomeini’s devotees like to call him, Kianuri and other Tudeh leaders were to die in prison or under house arrest.

What about this headline?

“The Revolution Will Create True Parliamentary Democracy”.

This claim comes from Karim Sanjabi who had briefly served as a minister of the Shah in the 1950s and was to become Khomeini’s Foreign Minister for a fleeting moment.

Sanjabi and his Mossadeqist friends had presented a kind of mild opposition to the Shah because, they claimed, he violated parliamentary rules.

In 1978, they hoped that the ayatollah would restore what the Shah had taken away in 1953.

Facing an arrest warrant, Sanjabi had to flee Iran in 1982, ending up in the United States where he died broken-hearted in 1995.

This headline is also interesting: “Revolution Will Restore Rule of Law”. The quotation comes from Ibrahim Yazdi, a naturalised US citizen of Iranian origin who landed by the side of Khomeini just before the revolution and became the ayatollah’s contact man with the Carter administration.

For a few months, Yazdi became a foreign minister under Khomeini and managed to protect the US Embassy from the first attempt at seizing it by leftist groups. However, the second attempt was successful and Yazdi had to resign along with the entire cabinet headed by the clueless Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan.

Since 1983, Yazdi has been in and out of prison. But he has also been allowed to travel to the US on occasions to visit his family and American friends. Casting himself as an opponent of the regime, he is now in prison and describes the Islamic Republic as a “ lawless land.”

One more headline: “Islamic Republic Is Not Religious Government.”

This one comes from one Dr. Muhammad Mokri. I cannot recall who this gentleman was, but I suppose that he was one of the many figures who jumped on the Khomeini bandwagon in those chaotic days. I don’t know what happened to him; I hope nothing bad.

Let’s finish with two headlines: “ I Do Not Want To Head the State” and

“ No Mullah Should Become President.”

Both came from Ruhallah Khomeini.

No comment needed.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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