I witnessed the Iranian Revolution of 1979 as it unfolded
February, 2015—ten day long celebrations are afoot in Iran, commemorating 36th year of Inqilab-e-Islami-e-Iran, virtually a life time has passed, as I reflect back on the event. In 1979, February, the 12th, along with some friends, I was atop a five storey building in Central Tehran watching the majestic arrival of Imam Khomeini from Paris. We watched Imam Khomeini stepping out of Air France chartered plane on TV. From the verandah attached to the living room, we had a fair view of avenues below. Crowds were swelling on the streets, virtually a sea of humanity, lined on either side of avenues, wherefrom the man awaited for 16 years was about to pass through. He had been exiled to Najaf in 1963-64. On TV, as well as the avenues below, martial music was being played with the famous tune of the times:
Khomeini-e-Imam, Khomeini-e-Imam, Aye Mujahid, Aye Mazhar-e-Sharaf
Mazhar-e-Sharaf epitomizes the gentle, the gracious, and the great. There were reasons enough for an epoch ending and another starting.
Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi called in Persian ‘Ala Hazrat Hamayou’n [His Imperial Majesty] Arya Mehr [Jewel of the Aryans]’ had left. Albeit, with an earthenware pot of ‘Khak-e-Iran’. Writ large on his face was a note of resignation, he didn’t expect a return. He had sworn in a new Prime Minister—Shahpur Bakhtiar, leading a breakaway faction of Iranian liberals. Francophile to the core, Bakhtiar was rejected with a resounding slogan:
Bakhtiar, Bakhtiar Nukr-e-Bay’Ikhtiar [Servant without powers]
In judging Bakhtiar, masses were right, power was still vested with Shah’s security apparatus, the dreaded SAVAK—Sazman Itelat VA Amniyat-e-Kishwar [Bearau of information and national security] the security apparatus though was crumbling, the jackboots on avenues had lost their thump. They had shed the blood of their own people, the scary feeling had dawned, and they were prepared to do it no more. Before Shahpur Bakhtiar, Shah had tried other changes, replacing PM Amir Abbas Hoveyda with Jamsheed Amozgar, later Jafar Sharief, believed to be close to clerics. Nothing worked. Shah blamed USA and UK of planning his ouster.
Anthony Parsons—British Ambassador in Tehran is Shah’s closing days recounts in his memoirs of period, a meeting he along-with US ambassador had with Shah, two weeks before he left. The duo were openly blamed of hobnobbing with opposition—the clerics and Mahdi Bazargan led liberal lobby. Shah however had himself to blame for running an oppressive regime, notwithstanding his Rasta-Khaiz [Persian for renaissance]. He called his economic plank, Inqilab-e-Safaid [white revolution]. Economy did register progress, so did the widening gap between elite of North Tehran [in lay-out Europe of East] and South of the city [as rough as any eastern city]. Licensed prostitution was rampant. Night life was wild, Tehran was called Paris of East. It was far beyond what could be acceptable in Islamic realm. And Iran had a wide ranging seminary in Quom, not far from Tehran.
It was in seminary of Quom that organized opposition emerged in 1963-64. Initially led by Ayatollah Kashani, Ayatollah Khomeini soon emerged as the nucleus. There were other Ayatollah’s, nevertheless none with political instincts, as sharp of the one, eventually maturing to be an Imam. Shahpur Bakhtiar proposed a Vatican for him a la Pope of Rome. Imam Khomeini brushed the proposal aside. He could not be caged in Quom seminary with an exalted status, while a political regime would take office in Tehran. There was no division of roles in Islam. Church and the State had to be one, and the buck did stop there, as Imam Khomeini made his triumphant entry on Feb: the 12th 1979. The moment turned out to be the catalyst to a plethora of events that followed.
History was unfolding, the jottings on billboards, the arches noted the event. Particularly appealing was an Iqbalian poetic quote from opening poem of Zaboor-e-Ajam:
Me’rasad Murde Ki Zanjeer Ghulama’n Bi’shi’kanad
Deedam Az Rozan-e-Dewar Zindan-e-Shuma
Cometh the man to break the shackles of slavery
I saw it from hole in wall of prison that holds you
The fact is hardly registered that Allama Iqbal’s poetic message continues to be a catalyst of change. The great academic, high caliber social activist Ali Sharyati made it the central plank of Iranian resistance against autocratic oppression. Exiled, Sharyati was shot dead in London in 1974. It was widely believed to be SAVAK work. Present leader of Iranian revolution—Ayatollah Khamenei is another Iqbal devotee. He has commented extensively on Iqbalian poetic message.
As Imam Khomeini’s miles long caravan of cars rolled past, with the leader seated on a decorated vehicle, he was waving, partly somber, partly with a smile. He did not choose palaces, nor a comfortable dwelling but a simple quarter in Hussaniya-e-Irshad, a quarter with easy access for ones devoted to learn. There he would interact with masses, the ones he called ‘Mustazafeen fil Ard’ downtrodden masses, until the day he ceased to be in flesh and blood.
Imam Khomeini had some clerics of substance with him—apart from Ayatollah Khamenei, Ayatollah Rafsanjani—highly versed in political art, Ayatollah Baheshti—an efficient organizer, Ayatollah Talqni—held central stage among Tehran clerics. In Tehran University Friday sermons that I attended on multiple occasions, Ayatollah Rafsanjani’s political discourses were always punched with wit and eloquence, though in oratorical art Ayatollah Khamenei remains unsurpassed. Given to dwell less in politics, more in philosophical discourses, his sermons formed a spiritual treat, especially with Iqbalian quoting. Though by temperament a Muslim first, nevertheless bred in Hanafi traditions, I felt treated with respect. The prayer format did not matter, I felt at ease in folding my arms. The sermons remain a cherished life-long memory.
Thirty six years hence from Feb: 1979, Iranian revolution is still unfolding, it has been a harbinger of series of events, that would take volumes to analyze
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]