Revolution of '79

The documentary looks at the socio-political events which led to the 1979 Islamic revolution of Iran.

Iran’s Revolution of 79 Part 1

August 19, 1953. Iranian history took a critical turn as Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran’s democratically elected premier, was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by Anglo-American agents. The coup paved the way for Mohammad-Reza Shah to rule the country with an iron fist for a quarter of a century. Years later, the Anglo-American chickens came home to roost when the anti-American sentiment brought down the curtain on the reign of the US-backed Shah, under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini.

20 years fast-forward

At the end of the year 1976 and just a few days before US presidential elections, Mohammad Reza Shah pointed out in a press interview that, “Iran controls a significant part of the Free World’s energy resources and the Free World cannot stand the loss of Iran.”

During the run-up to US presidential elections, the Shah of Iran pulled for Ford and supported him financially.

There were no bones of contention between the US and Iran of the Shah before the argument over the price of oil; the United States was going to keep Iran within the global alliance system; and the Shah of Iran could rest easy as long as he had the US by his side.

As soon as Jimmy Carter took office, he expressed his willingness to meet with the Shah. In a meeting with President Carter, Ardeshir Zahedi, Iranian Ambassador to Washington, said, “The ties between Iran and the US have never been so close and strong.”

According to the national census conducted in 1976, Iran had a population of about 33.5 million that year; a young country which the US counted on for the stability of the Persian Gulf region. Iran was also a major oil supplier of Israel.

The first sign of disagreement between the Shah and the Carter Administration popped up as the US refused to sell aircrafts to Iran by cancelling the AWACS contract. In an interview with Business Week, the Shah said, “Iran has a capacity to become a ten-billion dollar market per annum for the US artillery products, and if the US refuses to sell arms to Iran, it will lose that opportunity.”

As the news over the tension between Iran and the US broke, the media in both countries began to adopt new attitudes towards each other. Meanwhile, “the Island of stability” was undergoing massive changes in its underneath layers.

On January 21, 1977, Mahmoud Jafarian, the head of Rastaakhiz (Resurrection) Party said, “Imperialism is intertwined with Iranian blood, race and culture.” Two years later, when Iran was plunged in revolution Parviz Adl, the Foreign Ministry Spokesman, called Iranians “Shah Worshippers”. He also advised the Iranian people to keep the peace. The country was to be thrown into political turmoil. But the regime was not in the picture.

On February 3, 1977, 66 political prisoners were released from Ghasr Prison. All of them denied being tortured when in detention. This was part of their freedom deal.

Three days later, Ali Akbar Etemaad, the head of Iran’s Nuclear Energy Organization, announced plans for constructing twenty nuclear power plants in the country with the help of foreign companies. And on June 4, 1977 it was announced that the world’s largest nuclear reactor would be built in Boushehr in four years’ time. Iran was clearing the decks for joining the international nuclear club.

On June 4, 1977 Mohammad Reza Shah stated, “Democracy bears fruit here in Iran. For us, democracy is not an imported concept.”

And on July 5, 1977 Iranian Prime Minister Amir-Abbas Hoveyda declared, “The government cherishes freedom of expression and believes firmly in a diversity of opinions.” The statement heralded seismic changes in the regime’s behavior to come in line with Carter’s human rights policy.

On August 6, 1977, Hoveyda stepped down his post as Prime Minister after 4603 days to be succeeded by Jamshid Amouzgar. At the same time, Asadulladah-Alam handed in his resignation as Minister of Royal Court. Cancer had nearly struck him down. These fundamental changes in the structure of the regime left the Shah high and dry, especially in making decisions. The revolution was moving towards a climax.

On August 13, Dariush Homayoun, former Minister of Information and Tourism, said, “No one should fear to voice criticism.” After all, he had been arrested and imprisoned on the Shah’s orders during the period of adjustment in 1977.

In September 1977, Ayatollah Taleghani’s lawyers objected to his 10-year imprisonment. Three years before, the Shah had announced in an interview that in his country only communists were prosecuted. It was there that he coined the term “Islamic Marxism”.

Talking to Keyhan Newspaper on September 11, 1977, the Shah said: “We ask those who cry for freedom just one question: what kind of freedom do you want?”

By the mid 1977, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had branded all his opponents as a bunch of terrorists. Meanwhile, the Shah was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo intensive treatment. His ill health had cast a gloom over his future.

Ruling the country had been a bumpy ride for the Shah. Poor health and weakness of character had made the situation even worse. He also had a recurring nightmare of losing the US support. On the other hand, the gap between social classes was yawing as never before. The country was on the brink of a great revolution. Suddenly, the price of oil began to soar. It was one minute to midnight for the crestfallen Shah to keep the throne for a longer time.

By the end of the year 1977, Iran’s oil exports exceeded 5.2 million barrels per day. And thanks to the windfall oil revenues, the country could import goods from 129 countries around the globe.


00:49 This is the strong hand of the nation that - without any help - put an end to 150 years of destructive activities of the foreigner and onslaught of the veteran enemy launched on our country’s natural and spiritual resources. It defeated the demonic forces of colonialism and brought down the curtain on half a century of its plundering for good. 12:43 In your speeches and explanations, you have addressed different social groups. What groups are they? 12:51 All groups. Intellectuals, workers, employees, employers, students, clerics. Different social strata. We believe that all Iranian people worship the Shah and love their country so we think it’s our duty to inform them of any foreign plots. And we are certain that the Iranian people will wake up as soon as they get informed of the plots hatched by enemies of freedom and independence. 14:24 Since the government is not responsible to people and there isn’t any buffer between the monarchy and people, the first man of the country, as a result, has become the target of all objections. That’s while I think the responsibility shouldn’t have manifested itself in this way. Anyway, these guys are responsible to people according to the constitution. They are responsible to the nation according to the constitution even if even His Excellency has ordered them in written form. 15:26 The current discontent in our society has roots in wrong economic, social and political policies adopted by different administrations over the past 15 years. I think depriving people of freedom was top on the list of their mistakes. They didn’t allow people to get together as they used to in forms of parties, meetings and the like. These occasions would provide people with an opportunity to express their problems and opinions. 16:03 Today, another step was taken toward peaceful use of nuclear energy and also more technological and industrial cooperation between Iran and France.

18:10 You must take into consideration that how much salary a junior employee can earn. Figures the authorities have released about the cost of living or inflation are not correct. Such employees could feel the real purchasing power. You know better than me since you were among the people. A small minority had unlimited purchasing power while purchasing power of others was very low. There are many instances in this regard. So don’t put your finger on them and don’t put your finger on future governments. So if you arrest the ringleaders of corruption and everybody knows them by name I promise that people will calm down to a great extent.

Part 2

Mohammad Reza Shah had a tough time during the mid 1978. He was straining every nerve to keep his relations with the Carter Administration. But, the US didn’t seem to grasp the gravity of situation in Iran. Set against such a backdrop, the Shah appointed Jafar Sharif-Emami as his prime minister. His close connection to the clergy had made him the successful candidate in a competition with more qualified rivals. The appointment was a desperate attempt to restore peace to the country. Wining the vote of confidence, Sharif-Emami told the Parliament about his plan for “National Reconciliation”. By September 1978, the Shah had changed his tune on public demonstrations. He called for martial law in the capital city of Tehran and other big cities. Demonstrations were proscribed; night-time curfew was imposed and arrest warrants were issued for opposition leaders. On September 8, 1978 the faint hope of reconciliation between the protest movement and the Shah’s regime vanished when a great number of demonstrators were slaughtered near Jaleh Square in Tehran. The day was called the Black Friday. In September 1978, Houshang Nahavandi gave a speech in front of Niavaran Palace about some academic reforms. The country had passed the point of no return and such measures couldn’t change the situation for better. In a span of four months, from October 1978 to January 1979, momentous events happened just to accelerate the downfall of the Shah. The period was marked by widespread opposition, massive strikes and demonstrations through the whole country. During this period of time, the Shah’s men left the country one by one; and soon, the Shah found himself alone, in deep depression and under the world’s media spotlight. The US seemed to be a fair-weather friend of the Shah this time. Sharif-Emami effectively began a policy of "meeting the opposition's demands before being made". He did away with the unpopular Rastakhiz Party and announced all political parties in the country legal. Hundreds of political prisoners were released and freedom of expression became a civil right. The Prime Minister also curtailed SAVAK's powers, and closed down casinos and nightclubs. The imperial calendar was also abolished. During the heyday of the Rastakhiz Party, Mohammad Reza Shah once said, “The Party will include all people of Iran, except those who are rebellious.” In an interview with Iran’s Channel 2, Parviz Adl talked about an unsacred unification that the Shah had called “the sinister union of the red and black reactionary elements”. He was referring to the cooperation between all opposition groups – whether religious or secular. Politically inept, the Sharif-Emami Administration was unable to appease the angry opposition. And as for the Americans, they hadn’t reached a consensus on what attitude they had to take toward the revolution. The disagreement between Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Advisor and Cyrus Vance, the Secretary of State was just a case in point. By the autumn, popular support for the revolution was to the max. Those against the revolution preferred not to speak out. That’s while some predicted that "the victory would be achieved by the mid-November." On 6 November 1978, General Gholam Reza Azhari succeeded Sharif Emami. A military government was the last hope. On December 2, over two million people in Tehran took to the streets heading for Azadi Square. They called for the downfall of the Shah and the return of Imam Khomeini. A few days later, on December 10 and 11, reportedly around nine million people throughout the country staged large demonstrations. Even discounting for exaggeration, these figures may represent the largest protest event in history. By mid-December, the Shah's position had deteriorated to a point that he "wanted only to be allowed to stay in Iran." But he was turned down by the opposition. In the late December, "he agreed to leave the country temporarily; and still he was turned down." On January 16, 1979 the Shah and his wife left Iran. Scenes of spontaneous joy followed and "within hours almost every sign of the Pahlavi dynasty" was erased. On February 1, 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran in a chartered Air France Boeing 747. The welcoming crowd of several million Iranians was so large that he was forced to take a helicopter after the car he was being transported in from the airport was overwhelmed by an enthusiastic welcoming crowd. Now the undisputed leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini was greeted with cries of 'Khomeini, O Imam, we salute you, peace be upon you” and "Islam, Islam, Khomeini, We Will Follow You".


05:00 They have no high expectations. I knew even then that the clergy wanted to be venerated. And everyone in the country has to be respectful of them because the vast majority of the people are Muslims. After all, they are religious leaders and people follow them in religious issues. The clergy have never been dependant on the state. As I’ve said time and again the clergy have nothing to do with the state and the state has to ensure what the clergy want. 10:35 Death to the Shah … Death to the Pahlavi … Death to the Shah … 16:15 Yesterday I was in Shah Street. The price of the tangerine was 8.5 tomans a kilo there but here it’s 12 tomans. Have you still boycotting fruits? Yes, in my hometown. In your hometown, that is Zanjan? Yes, in Zanjan. Thank you, sir. It’s too pricey. In comparison with before the New Year? It’s a bit better. Before the New Year, I bought fava beans for 3 tomans a kilo here. My wife bought them there for 5 tomans a kilo. The government must eliminate tariff on fruits so consumers can buy them at a lower price.

Part 3

There is no doubt that Ayatollah Khomeini was successful in extending his influence over the whole Middle-East, and not just Iran. As an Iranian religious scholar and political leader, he managed to make his country the world's first Islamic republic.

Being an outspoken critic of the regime, Ayatollah Khomeini used to denounce the Shah's programs. In a proclamation issued by him and undersigned by eight senior Islamic scholars the Ayatollah specified the Shah’s violations of the Iranian constitution, and condemned him for corrupting public morals and kowtowing to the US and Israel.

On the dawn of November 4, 1964, the Shah’s commandos surrounded the Ayatollah Khomeini’s house in Qom. They arrested him, and took him directly to Mehrabad Airport in Tehran. Soon after, he was flown out of Iran to Turkey. “Out of sight, out of mind”; that was the rationale behind his exile. The stay in Turkey was not congenial, for Turkish law didn’t allow Ayatollah Khomeini to wear the cloak and turban of the Muslim scholar, an identity integral to his being. On September 5, 1965, he left Turkey for Najaf in Iraq, where he would stay for thirteen years.

On October 23, 1977, Mustafa Khomeini, the Ayatollah’s son, passed away in Najaf. Defending national independence, Ayatollah Khomeini chastised the Shah’s regime, saying: “We witnessed that while Muslims were in war with Israeli forces, Iran’s government recognized the Israeli state on the Shah’s orders.”

In November 1977, the Shah made a visit to the US. The police had to use tear gas to disperse anti- Shah protestors during President Carter’s speech in front of the White House. The media captured the Shah and the President shedding tears, a scene many revolutionary groups liked. During the visit, Carter fully supported the Shah and the Shah announced his agreement on fixing the price of oil.

In an official ceremony held in the royal court, in November 1977, Ali Amini, Iran’s former Prime Minister said, “Fortunately, the Iranian people are still bound to religion.” In response to his remark, the Shah said, “Religion is a primary element in social solidarity. I’m talking about a real religion, not Islamic Marxism!”

On March 2, 1974, Rastakhiz (Resurrection) Party was formed at the Shah’s instance. All legal parties and trade unions had to be merged into it. Soon after, membership in the party became mandatory. In one of his speeches, the Shah noted: “All people are required to join the party if they want to show their good faith to the throne; otherwise, they have to leave the country. And if they don’t leave the country, they will be sent to prison.” The regime announced that passports would be issued for those not interested in the party.

Mahmoud Jafarian, the vice-president of Rastakhiz Party, who was once involved in communist activities, said, “It doesn’t make any difference to be leftist or rightist, if you are going to be disloyal to your country”. The revolution was still in its early stages and the authorities attacked religious and secular opponents on every occasion. But talking down the opposition groups got the regime really in trouble.

In his official visit to Iran, President Carter of the US stated, “The military alliance between Iran and America is indestructible.” Just a week later, Ettelaat Newspaper published an insult to Ayatollah Khomeini in an article by Ahmad Rashidi Motlagh. The article hurt public feelings and rocked the country. The epicenter was the city of Qum.

During the 70s, Iran-US commercial transactions hit a pick. The turnover between the two countries rose by 15 times in ten years.

In 1977, spiraling inflation added up to widespread discontent across the country. The Shah called for drastic measures to reduce prices. In protest at high prices, Prime Minister, Jamshid Amouzgar, joined a boycott on fruits.

Opinion is divided as to whether the Shah was conscious of his illness. But one thing is for sure; during the last years of his reign, the Shah was always in two minds, unable to make right decisions. What’s more, he was half afraid that the Americans would bring him down the throne if they knew about his illness.

In the spring of 1977, a year before the victory of the revolution, political prisoners in Ghasr Prison went on a hunger strike. As the new Iranian year of 1357 came in, Ayatullah Khomeini issued a proclamation paying tribute to Tabriz martyrs and attacking the United States of Americ, “The US is the root cause of the hardship we’re suffering because it supports the despotic Shah”. The Shah had kept his cancer secret even from his nearest and dearest. But the symptoms of the disease were undeniable. The Shah’s inability to make decisions was one. On April 14, 1978 Assadullah Alam died from cancer in New York City, USA. The Shah lost his chief advisors.

As the revolution gained momentum in Iran, the Shah blamed the US for withdrawing its support, having no idea how influential the clergy were in leading the revolution. Meanwhile, Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State, came to Iran to meet with the Shah.

But neither the Americans nor the Shah’s men had a finger on the pulse of the revolution. Barking on the wrong tree, they had been focusing their attention just on leftist forces for several years.

In 1978, mass protests were organized to support Ayatollah Khomeini. The regime, as usual, responded with an iron fist. Alarm bells had started to ring; Ayatollah Khomeini was in the neighboring country of Iraq and it was too close for comfort. At the Shah’s instance, the Iraqi regime asked the Ayatollah to give up his political activities; otherwise, he had to leave the country. In October 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini flew from Iraq to a new exile in a suburb of Paris. By the time, the Ayatollah had developed an international reputation as the spiritual and political leader of the Iranian revolution. Being thousands of kilometers away from his homeland, Ayatollah Khomeini set the course of the revolution, urging Iranians not to compromise and ordering work stoppages against the regime. During the last few months of his exile, the Ayatollah received a constant stream of reporters, supporters, and notables, eager to hear the leader of the revolution.


03:43 Lack of communication is the root of these disagreements. No matter how many they are, if we communicate and negotiate with different groups and come to an understanding with them, the disagreements will be resolved. If they are right we must agree with them. And if they are wrong we must convince them that for this or that reason they are wrong. I think that this way we can come to an agreement with the critics with goodwill. But if there is a small group with bad intention and irrational behavior, well, we prefer to let them alone because they will not be convinced at all, no matter how cogent our argument is. 04:48 I’ll kill, I’ll kill the person who killed my brother … I’ll kill, I’ll kill the person who killed my brother … 05:37 Will the government change its policy on social liberties considering the fact that martial law has been declared? 05:44 The government policy on social liberties will not change, by no means. We have had to make such decisions because of the current situation caused by a few number of people. But we guarantee full liberty and as I declared in Parliament it will begin from Parliament wherein people’s representatives are. All parliamentary debates will be reflected in the mass media and people will find that parliamentary debates won’t be confined to Parliament anymore. 09:06 The young generation must consider what has happened as history. With all due respect, it has passed. Now new slogans are needed. There are new problems and a new generation. We must communicate with this new generation to know about their demands and then draw a plan for it. Currently, we need short-term plans in economy and politics for solving the problems. Then we must make mid-term and long-term plans. The long-term plans need more time because the current economic crisis cannot be solved easily. In my opinion, we have to work hard for ten years just to have the same conditions we had ten years ago. We have to make up for the damage if we cannot make progress. 11:02 Is there any possibility that new parties will be formed? And if so, will the government recognize them? 11:05 As it has been declared, new parties are allowed to be formed and pursue their social activates. There will be no obstacle in the way. 11:54 So they get involved in provocations and plots. And we witness unholy alliances between the Left and the Right to prevent us from upholding rights. So such events are quite predictable. 12:12 And there’s a tiny minority of people who are provoked into starting riots. We even consider them as the children of this country. And the committee is serious about guiding and informing them. We are sure that if the informed one will come back.

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