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(The IRANIAN REVOLUTION – continued)

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The IRANIAN REVOLUTION (2 of 3)

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The Pahlavi Monarchy Falls

In 1976 the Shah further upset some clerics by replacing the old Islamic calendar with a secular calendar. And, when a prominent critic of the change was found murdered, many assumed that it was the work of the Shah's security agents – SAVAK.

On 20 January 1977 Jimmy Carter became President of the United States. The Carter administration suggested that if Iran did not improve its human rights record, aid, including military assistance, might be terminated. In February, the Shah's regime released 357 political prisoners, and lifting the lid of repression even slightly encouraged the Shah's opponents. An organization of writers and publishers called for freedom of thought, and 64 lawyers called for the abolition of military tribunals. Merchants wrote letters requesting more freedom from government controls. Some people took to the streets, perhaps less fearful of being shot, and they clashed with police. A group of 120 lawyers joined together to publicize SAVAK torture and to monitor prison conditions. Dissident academics formed a group called the National Organization of University Teachers, and they joined students in demanding academic freedom. Political dissidents started disseminating more openly their semi-clandestine publications. Some people complained openly about the Shah's sister, Princess Ashraf, going between Mecca and Monte Carlo casinos, and they passed along rumors that she had a strong sexual appetite and was living licentiously.

In late October in the city of Najaf, the Ayatollah Khomeini's son, Mustapha, was found dead in his bed. Islam did not allow autopsy, and what killed Mustapha remained a mystery, but many suspected that SAVAK had committed murder. Then came a verbal attack on Khomeini published by the Shah's information minister. Theological colleges in the city of Qom closed down in protest. In January, 1978, 4,000 religious students demanded restoration of freedoms. The police came and pointed their guns at the demonstrators. The demonstrators dared the police to shoot, and the police did, killing between 10 and 72 demonstrators.

Khomeini called for demonstrations of mourning for the killed demonstrators. Disorder erupted in Tabriz, and numerous Iranian embassies abroad were attacked by Iranian students and local Communist youth groups. In Iran, many clerics joined the protests, and 87 religious and secular leaders called on the public to stay away from work. In the demonstrations that followed one demonstrator was shot to death, while the mood of the demonstrators, mainly poor people, was rage. They chanted "Death to the Shah!" They attacked liquor shops and theaters showing movies they considered lewd. And they attacked banks, believing, it is said, that they were attacking the rich.

The Shaw declared martial law and moved against the demonstrators. The common ingredients in successful revolution appeared: some policemen changed into civilian clothes and escaped from confrontation with the demonstrators, and an army garrison refused to fire on protesters. Approximately 100 more demonstrators were killed and about 600 were injured, and the rioting was quelled. But the Shah was worried and made a public apology. He paid a visit to Iran's greatest Islamic shrine, the Imam Ali Reza shrine in Mashbad. He promised to re-open the Faiziya seminary in Qom. He increased the quota of people who could make the pilgrimage to Mecca. He banned movies considered pornographic. He ended price inspections and released merchants who had been imprisoned for over-charging. In early June he removed from office the much-hated general Nemotallah Nasseri, head of SAVAK since 1965. And the Shah instructed members of his family and relatives to sever their ties with commercial interests.

It was too late. Too many of those who had at least tolerated the Shah's rule had been lost. Demonstrations continued. The Shah declared martial law again and a curfew, following a fire at a theater that killed 410 people. The likely culprits were Muslim firebrands opposed to movies, but many were blaming everything on the Shah and SAVAK. The Shah was determined to control the streets rather than just let the demonstrations burn themselves out. He put General Gholam Ali Oveissi in charge of controlling the capital, Teheran. On the first day that martial law returned, troops and tanks attacked crowds of protesters and others on the south side of the capital. The troops had been ordered to shoot to kill. They attacked, and assisted by helicopter gunships they drove people down narrow streets radiating out from the city square.

Barricades went up around the city, and people armed themselves with Molotov cocktails. The day became known as Black Friday. The government claimed there were 168 casualties; demonstration organizers claimed 2,000 or 3,000.

A relative of General Oveissi writes:

The government at night announced 87 dead from the Jaleh Square incident. The clerical opposition claimed 2,000 to 3,000. These exaggerated figures come from the same clerics that ordered the burning of 400 Iranians at cinema rex and subsequently blamed the Shah's SAVAK. Such revolutionary propaganda was clearly to incite anger among the masses. Dr. Manoucher Ganji, at the time one of the Shah's ministers recalls General Oveissi's statement the day after the Jaleh Square incident:

"I swear to God and to my soldier's honor that their sharpshooters started firing into the crowd and toward the soldiers. Since yesterday I have more than thirty soldier families who are in mourning in Tehran alone. They also belong to this country..." (Defying the Iranian Revolution, Ganji).

General Oveissi was a great soldier that loved his country. According to numerous sources, he did not want violence to erupt at the Jaleh Square gathering. Crowd agitators and sharpshooters incited a bloody confrontation. "The revolution needs martyrs" Khomeini declared, and that's what the agitators and sharpshooters were there to make sure of.

From Iraq, the Ayatollah Khomeini was giving guidance to people eager to overthrow the Shah. He called for work stoppages. The Shah responded by managing to have Khomeini expelled from Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Khomeini flew to Paris, where he found that he had more freedom of action, and to newsmen he began giving four to five interviews per day. There were more demonstrations in Iran and more killing by the army. The work stoppages spread. Oil workers, postal employees, bank employees, journalists, mineworkers, customs officials, transportation workers all went out on strike. So too did almost all universities and high schools. There were demands for better wages, for the dissolution of SAVAK, the ending of marital law and for allowing Khomeini's peaceful return. Iranians with a lot of money, including high ranking military officers, were sending their wealth abroad, and everywhere people were destroying portraits of the Shah. 

The Shah didn't accept that his rule was finished. On 7 November 1978 he broadcast on television another promise not to repeat past mistakes. He promised to make amends. The next day he had thirteen prominent members of his own regime arrested. By November 18 he was deeply depressed. Military protection for the Shah's regime was melting away – as it had for Tsar Nicholas in February 1917. The Shah agreed to go abroad for a vacation. He accepted a new government led by an old opponent, the head of the dissident National Front, Shahpour Bakhtiar. On 6 January 1979, Bakhtiar pledged to launch "a genuine social democracy" and to end the corruption and abuses of the past. On January 16 the Shah and his family left for Egypt. 

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Copyright © 1998-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.

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