Thursday, January 6, 2011

All the Shah's men (part 5)

Establishment of OPEC cartel in 1960 to take control of the oil prices by oil producing and exporting countries, based on a proposal by Venezuelan Minister of Energy Juan Pablo Perez Alfonso, started a new era in relations between oil producing nations and international oil companies. Initial members included 5 nations of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela but successful operation of the cartel in the beginning to increase oil revenue for member nations, attracted most of major oil producing nations in the years after that. By late 1960's and early 1970's, OPEC was strongest oil cartel in the world which held control over the international pricing of this important source of energy. Increasing price of oil had a great impact on development and flourishing of economy in Iran which was still suffering of poverty after noisy events of early 1950's in the oil dispute with British that had not produced the nation with enough resources from oil production to implement major development projects.

In the same year that OPEC was taking shape, another organization which later influenced developments in political affairs of Iran was formed by some Iranian students who lived in some western countries. This organization that took the name of Confederation of Iranian Students (CIS for short), was started by those Iranian students who were mostly followers or sympathizers of Tudeh Party and National Front of Iran while sympathizers of National Front dominated the organization in the beginning. CIS continued to grow by attracting more of Iranian students which their number continued to rise and, later moved to United States that, in those days, had biggest attraction among Iranian young generation and students who wished to continue their studies abroad. Supremacy of nationalist elements within CIS did not last very long and shortly, Marxist elements along with those who wanted to combine Marxism and Islam became dominant in the organization and National Front supporters took the back seat.

In 1962, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had a visit to United States to meet President John Kennedy in order to receive more aid for industrial development of the country and expansion of military. President Kennedy advised Shah that United States would like to see some political and social reforms in Iran. Dr. Ali Amini who was favored by US administration to implement such reforms had become prime minister of the country nearly a year earlier (Shah has mentioned support of US government for this appointment in his book). Iranian parliament had been dissolved in the beginning of Amini's premiership as a precondition for him to take the job with the promise of election in near future. During that year, Hassan Arsanjani who was Minister of Agriculture in Amini's cabinet, initiated a limited land reform in order to create a balance in distribution of wealth in Iranian society which was mostly made of peasants. This limited reform did not include vast properties of many big land owners whose associations with centers of power helped them to influence the process of affairs in the government in their own interest. During the same period, Mohammad Derakhshesh was minister of culture in Dr. Amini's cabinet which at that time, was responsible for the affairs of education from elementary level to post graduate studies. Mr. Derakhshesh was a member of teachers association from earliest times and had contributed to teachers strikes against government in different occasions from which, one was during the Prime Minister Qavam-Ol-Saltaneh when Dr. Shayegan was minister of culture. Apparently the appointment of Mr. Derakhshesh to cabinet position was to resolve the issues which Iranian teachers were struggling with at that time but no real important change came out of that and teachers association was turned into an entity that Tudeh Party (despite being officially banned of activities) continued to influence and manipulate.

A couple of months after return of Shah from United States, Dr. Amini's government was replaced by Asadollah Alam who himself was one of major land owners of Iran in the north-eastern part of the country, the province of Khorasan. Earlier, Alam had implemented his own version of land reform in the region belonging to his family which was welcomed by the government. About seven months after Alam became Prime Minister, Shah launched a "6 point program" that included reforms in different social and economic areas for the nation. This reform was labeled as "White Revolution" due to overwhelming support that it received by Iranian people all over the country through a referendum without spilling any blood. This matter did not last very long. A couple of weeks later, Ruhollah Khomeini, an unknown middle aged cleric at that time, strongly denounced the Shah's reforms in Qom to create a stir in the society. This matter dragged Iranian armed forces to Qom under orders of government to silence the opposition. During the months after that, clashes between Iranian government forces and clerics and other supporters of Khomeini escalated into a bloody confrontation in which a number of Khomeini's supporters and clerics were killed.

The foundation of Khomeini's opposition was based on the arguments in which he accused Shah of violating the constitution by proposing and launching such reforms. He also accused Shah of promoting corruption in society by granting more rights to women and yielding to demands by Americans for reform. This notion was promoted quickly and became a solid belief among those who opposed Shah during the years after that (probably even today) to claim that "White Revolution" was cooked by American government while a former US Ambassador to Iran in an interview with Dr. Lajvardi of Harvard Oral History Project, has made it clear that American government, other than expecting to see some reforms in social affairs, had no part in details of "White Revolution" and were even surprised by one of the articles that called for sharing profits of manufacturing units with workers. In a CIA report of the same years which has been declassified recently, Khomeini's actions were compared with the actions of ayatollah Behbahani and ayatollah Tabatabee during the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (early 1900's) in which those ayatollahs intended to limit the power of monarch while, according to this document, Khomeini opposed the expansion of monarch's powers. In another communication document of CIA, the actions of Shah in meddling with selection of Shiite Marja after death of Ayatollah Hakim to prevent Khomeini from ascending to status of Marja is discussed which indicates the importance of the matter to US government for unknown reasons at that time. Khomeini was arrested and released shortly but this matter did not have any effect on his activities and speeches against the government.

After ratification of a bill in the parliament to grant political immunity to American Military personnel during premiership of Hassan-Ali Mansur who became Prime Minister after Alam, Khomeini argued that Iranian government had submitted to capitulation by accepting that American military personnel in Iran to be exempted from being trialled in Iranian courts for any legal issue. This, apparently, was a prerequisite by American government for providing military aid to any friendly nation and Iran was no exception in this way. This issue resulted in Khomeini's arrest and imprisonment for a few months before he was sent to exile for continuing his opposition to reforms and policies of the government. Many of Khomeini's supporters among lower rank clergies and also some in Tehran bazaar were arrested as well. Khomeini's revolt was suppressed temporarily and calm returned to Iranian cities. The White Revolution reforms provided the nation with relatively good development opportunities in the areas of social and economic affairs while political arena was still reserved for certain group of people who had proven their loyalty to the establishment (as it is in every society) which was heavily influenced by the top figure, the Shah himself, who micromanaged almost every affair of the government. This matter in fact, had paved the way for favoritism by those who had found their way in the circle of power and therefore became an important element of negative propaganda against the Shah by those who were unhappy with such atmosphere in society.

About a year after Khomeini was sent to exile, Prime Minister Hassan-Ali Mansur was assassinated by "Fadaian Islam" in January of 1965. His assassination was allegedly carried with assistance of Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Mansur was from a new generation of politicians with a long family history in politics and links to Qajar aristocracy. His plans for deep economic reforms which started with a sharp rise in price of gasoline and bus fares was confronted with violent reaction in demonstrations of university students in Tehran and nationwide strike by cab drivers. Consequently, gasoline prices and bus fares dropped back significantly to settle the unrest in society but this was not enough for those who wanted to disrupt the process of development of the nation. Shortly afterwards, an Islamic fanatic, Mohammad Bokharaee, shot Prime Minister Mansur in front of national parliament's door and he died in hospital a few days later. Hassan-Ali Mansur was followed by Amir-Abbas Hoveyda who was a close friend and associate. Before writing about the era of Mr. Hoveyda's premiership, I would like to take a look at some issues that have left their marks on the history of our nation and influenced the political path that our nation has followed after that.

The stories of corruption and shortcomings in government and all organizations related to that prior to Islamic Revolution is undoubtedly not unique to Iran (even though Iran was not comparable with most of other nations in that regard) but this matter had most definitely created best opportunities for manipulation of portions of the society by enemies (both internal and external) in direction of their own interests through any means possible. Formation of Rastakhiz Party by direct order from Shah in 1975, which has remained a mystery till this day, provided more ammunition to those who wanted him and the system that he represented to be gone for good. This was a year after Shah had been diagnosed with some form of mild lymphoma sickness which was later identified as "human T-cell leukemia", a deadly disease that was not seen among humans much earlier and is closely related to "acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome" (AIDS) virus. This virus, according to Dr. Len Horrowitz, was artificially made in the labs of BIONETICS company (a contractor for US army in the field of BIO weapons), under direction of Dr. Robert Gallo. Based on a brief report from "Health News Network" on history of human experimentation by US government, HTLV (Human T-cell Leukemia Virus) was initiated in Fort Detrick's Center for Biological Warfare Research for US Navy which was renamed later as "Fredrick Cancer Research Facilities".

The argument about involvement of US government in human experimentation for creating biological and chemical weapons which has also been brought up in some unfounded stories by some concpiracy theorists to taint the atmosphere with misinformation, is a well established fact that was proved in the court of law which ordered the government of United States to pay damages to families of some victims during 1990's. Eileen Welsome, a journalist in a small town in United States accidentally discovered some discarded government documents that contained information about the human experimentation which was conducted by US government on American citizens during the years of WWII and afterwards. These experiments were allegedly to make certain biological and chemical materials that could produce desired effects on people in direction of objectives of US military and government. Discovery of the documents directed Eileen Welsome on a path of research that resulted in a great book which she won the Pulitzer prize for that. The documents presented in this book which is named "Plutonium File" became the foundation for a lawsuit on behalf of victims of human experimentation against the government of United States that ended with victory of the families of victims and they were awarded one million dollar each at the end. It goes without saying that such matters have never been limited to this particular case. It is reasonable to believe that these kinds of experimentation have been conducted in more than one area with variety of results and possibly continue till this moment.

Shah's illness was kept not only from public but also from all those who were very close to him as in the beginning, probably neither Shah himself nor his doctor believed that his life would be under any grave danger. It is said that, during the last visit to US before his sickness, Shah and his court minister, Alam, both underwent a full medical checkup without finding anything significant and yet they both became ill not much longer after that. US Ambassador, Richard Helms, who had received the information about the illness of Shah from General Hussein Fardoust in 1976, reported that to Washington. According to Fara (Faramarz) Mansoor who allegedly has access to some secret documents about activities of US intelligence service in Iran before 1979, G.H.W. Bush who was the head of CIA at that time, sent a secret memo to Helms inquiring about mental state and quality of decision making of Shah and the effect of his illness on such activities. This matter, indicates that head of CIA was fully aware of the situation and the initial effects of such illness in preliminary stages before it completely deteriorates the health of patient and ends his life. During the years after 1953 to 1979, in multiple occasions, CIA had requested assessment from its field officers in Iran regarding possible effects in the government system if the Shah was taken out of the scene either through assassination or illness. This kind of information combined with more than one coup attempts against the Shah in which, CIA allegedly had a hand, makes one wonder about the nature of relations of US government with Iran and the late Shah and also their real intentions in such regards.

During the years after creation of CIS (Confederation of Iranian Students), their activities against Iranian government grew and, the organization continued to recruit new Iranian students that their number in United States was increasing rapidly. The first major demonstration of CIS members against Shah occurred in front of the White House during his visit to President Kennedy in 1962. Sadegh Ghotbzadeh who had no success in his academic career in United States at that time, was among the leaders of that organization who paid a visit to Robert Kennedy, who was the Attorney General of United States at that time, before going to the area around White House and chant slogans against Shah. Ardeshir Zahedi who was Iranian Ambassador to US at that time has recalled this visit to Robert Kennedy by students later in a meeting with US Ambassador in Iran. In that conversation which was reported by US Ambassador to Washington, Mr. Zahedi also mentioned that Robert Kennedy had presented all Iranian students who met him with a ball point pen (new at that time) which was decorated with his own picture! This matter is also confirmed by Carrol Jerome (Ghotbzadeh's girl friend) in her book,"Man in The Mirror".

Increasing organized activities of CIS in their opposition to Iranian government which spread throughout the western world became a matter of concern. Due to lack of enough educational institutions at graduate and post graduate levels, Iran needed to send students outside the country in order to take advantage of European and American academic facilities and arm the new generation with the required scientific and technological skills that were needed for national development in different fields. Start of the armed rebellion and guerrilla war against Iranian government by some remnants of Tudeh Party's youth organization and other newly created communist groups which were mainly made of young graduates during the same period of time was an indication that Iranian young generation seemed to have found such activities very attractive. Exaggerated views and rumors about oppressiveness and power of Iranian security police (SAVAK) might have contributed in creating and spreading such tendencies to resist and fight among a portion of younger generation which tends to rebel easily by nature. Considering the wide spread propaganda about leftist rebellion throughout a bipolar world in which communism was very fashionable and attractive, young Iranians and young generation in other under-developed countries, were easy victims to fall for such unrealistic and false promises of social justice and prosperity.

It was under such circumstances that in the year 1971, a CIA humiliation broke out by an Iranian student claiming that he was recruited by CIA to work with CIS (Confederation of Iranian Students) and gave an interview to news papers in Tehran under guidance of SAVAK and the story was ready to be broadcasted on Iranian national TV. This matter caused an unpleasant wave in relations between the two governments. Shah was very angry to hear about such developments while American Ambassador was working hard through his contacts (the ministers of royal court, Alam, and foreign affairs, Zahedi) to control the situation and prevent the escalation of the issue into real difference between the two nations. This matter that US intelligence agency was involved in stirring opposition against Iranian government through CIS was a surprise for many Iranians but to others who were aware of previous events and activities against Shah with CIA involvement, it was not such a crazy idea. Finally, the matter was settled with the help of Mr. Alam and Ardeshir Zahedi who reminded US Ambassador of unpleasant experience of his own about demonstration of Iranian students (with a ball point pen from Robert Kennedy in their pockets) against Shah when he served as Ambassador to United States. US government blamed the whole event on communists. It is interesting to remember a conversation between Shah and Leonid Brezhnev in mid 1970's which happened in Moscow during which Shah thanked Brezhnev for excellent education and training that they provided to Iranian engineering students for steel mill factories and in return Brezhnev said: "If you want well trained students then always send them here but if you want well trained communists send them to US".

After that humiliating event, Ghotbzadeh who had moved to France, along with a few other friends started an Islamic students organization to follow with the agenda which he had in mind and never spoke much about, the destruction of constitutional monarchy establishment and starting a republic system (probably with himself as permanent president). It is not clear that how many of Iranian students joined the Islamic students organization at that time but the organization later received the moral support of Ali Shariati who met the founding members in Paris and encouraged them to contact Khomeini because, in his view, Khomeini was different than other mullahs.

To be continued...

Sohrab Ferdows
August 18th/2010