Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

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On January 8 2017, the founding member of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and president for two consecutive terms Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani passed away after suffering a heart attack.

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Narration: Sunday– January 8 2017.Thousands gathered outside the hospital in Tehran's Tajrish neighborhood … The founding member of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and president for two consecutive terms Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani passed away at 7:30 p.m. local time after suffering a heart attack. His death left the country in a state of shock.

VOX POPs [Persian] Local Citizens: “I have great respect for him. My tears don’t allow me to speak. I was a child when late Rafsanjani was President. As far as I remember, he was titled the Commander of Construction and I have heartfelt respect for him.”

Narration: Rafsanjani’s body was taken to Jamaran, the residence of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini, where relatives, politicians and religious figures gathered to pay their last respects.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Mohammad Javad Zarif Foreign Minister, Islamic Republic of Iran: “Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani was in fact a colossal pillar of our Revolution and system. He was always with Imam Khomeini and Supreme Leader as a compassionate companion. For us in the foreign policy area, his comments were always helpful and to be honest, words cannot express our feelings for losing this senior personality.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Hassan Rouhani, President, Islamic Republic of Iran: “Mr. Hashemi was a great thinker, a clever politician, and a man who would resist and tolerate easily in front of mountains of problems. He never diverged from the Revolution. No where can we see traces of the Revolution and the system without traces of Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani.”

Narration: Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was born in 1934 in south-eastern Iran to a family of farmers. He studied theology in the holy city of Qom. He began his political activities as a close confidant and adviser to Ayatollah Khomeini. He was a member of the inner circle of Islamic revolutionaries active during Ayatollah Khomeini’s exile years. Rafsanjani was jailed five times for his oppositions to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. With the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Rafsanjani became a key member of Iran's Revolutionary Council.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iranian Politician: “If we were to get the CIA and KGB agents understand that they are wasting time in Iran, the best way was that one of us to get martyred and this honor was granted to Morteza Motahari. And all of us are prepared – I swear to God – that is we welcome it.”

Narration: He helped organize core political structures that would transform the revolution into a stable political system, including the adoption of a new constitution and forming the elected parliament. On May 25, 1979 Rafsanjani nearly escaped an assassination attempt.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iranian Politician: “What I felt was that he fired a bullet in the back that came out of my stomach. I didn’t have the power to resist and I sat on the floor. There, my wife and children helped me and prevent him from shooting me in the head or a vital point.”

Narration: In 1980, he became the first speaker of parliament, a position he held until 1989. During Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran, Rafsanjani was Ayatollah Khomeini’s top representative in the supreme defense council, acting as the de facto commander-in-chief of the Iranian military. In the last year of the 8- year war with Iraq, Grand Ayatollah appointed him acting commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

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SOUNDBITE [Persian] Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iranian Politician: “It’s about one and a half year that this nation are doing great in the battlefield. Behind the front line, the people are the same as the early days of the war and care about the war as they did then. And due to martyrs in many families, the people see themselves the owner of the Revolution and are ready for more sacrifices and regard history owing them. They will resist and invest more in this. I think when the war ends, when our young veterans come back home, our society will be guaranteed against any invasion for many years to come.”

Narration: He was a main mover behind Iran's acceptance of the UN Security Council resolution which ended the war. When Ayatollah Khomeini passed away in 1989, Rafsanjani played a leading role in passing the mantle of leadership to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iranian Politician: “We talked to the Imam about this. We said, “We have no one to propose in society.” Because we were looking for a person who was a marja’ (Religious source to follow). The Imam said, “Why not? Mr.Khamenei.””

Narration: In 1989, Rafsanjani moved from the speaker of the parliament to the president, who served two four-year terms. During his presidency, Rafsanjani faced the challenge of reconstruction after the imposed eight-year war. Under him, Iran went through an extraordinary transformation as the country focused on post-war construction and industrial revival. He propagated a program of economic reform and some privatization of state-owned industries that helped bring economic growth that soared above 10% in 1990 and 1991 and remained healthy through much of the rest of his ten year. He built roads and connected villages to electrical, telephone and water networks for the first time, earning the title Reconstruction Commander.

In the years after his presidency, Mr. Rafsanjani took less prominent roles, though he remained deeply tied into the country’s political structures as the head of the Expediency Council and a member of the Assembly of Experts, a body charged with choosing a new leader. He served also as one of the leaders of weekly prayers at Tehran University, a prominent place to deliver religious and political messages.

A chance to return to the presidency arose in 2005, when Rafsanjani ran as a moderate against conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He didn’t win.

Rafsanjani’s political life wasn’t without turmoil or change in attitude; from favoring opening up Iran’s economy to the world to resuming relations with the West, to his support of moderate candidates during recent elections, as his political allegiances gradually shifted from conservatives towards reformists which reached a peak after the 2009 disputed presidential elections. But even then, he never crossed the red line. He remained steadfast in his loyalty to the Islamic Revolution and its leadership.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iranian Politician: “You cannot find two people more close to each other in this country than the leader and I. So answer the last part of the question. Do you still like him? Very much. I love Mr. Khamenei.”

Narration: At the time of his death, Ayatollah Rafsanjani was chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council, which advises Iran’s Leader and resolves disputes between the parliament and the Guardian Council - a body that oversees elections and constitutional matters. He struggled for his Islamic and revolutionary causes to the last. He was 82 at the time of his death. 


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