Swiss educated Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was a very fine example of the falsity of the term ‘objective history’. He was full of himself. Shah was not good enough a title for him. On October 26, 1967, six years after a guy orbited the earth for the first time, and two years before another stepped on the moon, the Iranian king organized a gala party, declared himself to be the Shahenshah (the Emperor) as his lackeys applauded their palms red and drank champagne to their hearts content at government expenses. It was the same man who unleashed a whirlwind modernization of Iran, code-named White Revolution. It was also the same man who had created a fearsome secret police, Sazman-e Ettelaat va Amniyat-e Keshvar, (Organization for Intelligence and National Security) to weed out every whisper of political opposition. The US Government’s Library of Congress handbook on Iran candidly informs us, “Formed under the guidance of U.S. and Israeli intelligence officers in 1957, SAVAK developed into an effective secret agency whose goal was to sustain the government of Iran as a monarchy.”
Well, that has been the Shahensha’s problem since at least 1951: he couldn’t rule without the West’s stilt. In April 1951 a nationalist leader Mohammad Mosaddegh became the Prime Minister of Iran with an overwhelming support of the Majlis, the Iranian Parliament with limited powers. Soon he began enacting pro-poor policies with far reaching consequences. That would have been quite okay with the West had he not also nationalized all oil refineries in the country, with unanimous support in the Majlis. The British saw red. They dived into US President Dewitt Eisenhower’s feet, and convinced him that this Mosaddegh was
Rally in Support of Mohammad-Mosaddeq
Tehran US Embassy Occupation
Soviet agent, conspiring with the Iranian Left Tudeh Party to turn Iran into a Soviet bloc nation. This of course was a blatant lie. But during those Cold War days, chances couldn’t be taken. Eisenhower ordered the would be Emperor that Mosaddegh be removed forthwith. Mohammad Reza signed a decree to that effect, choosing in Mosaddegh’s place one Fazlollah Zahedi, once arrested by the British Army for Nazi connections.
A delighted CIA pledged all support to Mohammad Reza Shah in his venture and botched up the operation so badly that Mosaddegh remained but the Shah had to flee to Rome! Millions of Iranians took to the streets in Mosaddegh’s support. The thrilling account of how in 1953 the CIA in its second attempt removed Mosaddegh, brought back Mohammad Reza Shah, and made Zahedi the premier, spending 1 million dollar, can be read in detail in William Blum’s book Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. The US government denied the people of Iran a historic opportunity to establish a secular democratic regime in Iran. Within quarter of a century the people of Iran took it out on the perpetrators of that historic injustice and insult with all the vengeance they could marshal. On November 4, 1979, they stormed the US Embassy, occupied and ransacked it with a demand that Shahenshah Mohammad Reza Pahlvi, who had fled to the US, be extradited to Iran to face trial. The US refused. To this day Iran is one of the few nations where the US doesn’t have an Embassy. On December 2-3, 1979, the ratified constitution put an end to 2500 years of kingship, and instituted Iran’s first Republic, but not a secular democracy. The Shahs and the Shahenshahs were finally relocated to where they belong – history.
And in time the huge arrangements where they lived were turned into museums for tourists to be shocked at the opulence of the royalty, when the rest of the country struggled in deep poverty. One of these arrangements is the Kakh-i-S’adabad (the S’adabad Palace). In the 1970s here lived Shahenshah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Gate of S’adabad Palace
As I and Sayad stand in front of one of the palace’s many gates, my dear friend’s generosity nearly gives me an opportunity to include in my memoirs a first-hand account of the Iranian prison. In museums all over the world foreigners have to pay more for entry tickets. Iran is not an exception. But Sayad is pissed off with this discriminatory system, “Why should you have to cough up so much money? You are my guest. I am an Iranian citizen. And at any rate you are not a rich American either. Wait here let me see.” Leaving me stranded outside the gate he vanishes into the building where the ticket counter is located, before I could convince him that such injustice is the part and parcel of the world order today, and we could surely plan a revolution to change it, but for now I am prepared to purchase the requisite ticket paying a few dollars more. After waiting for some time I seek out the counter. There he is animatedly arguing his case before the guy on the other side of the window. Finally he returns with two tickets. As we enter Sayad in a very casual tone starts talking to me in colloquial Farsi, of which I don’t understand a single word, and hands over the tickets to the guard without even looking at him. It takes me a few seconds to realize that his noble case was dismissed at the ticket window, and out of obstinacy he has purchased two tickets for Iranians. By this strange acting he is trying to convince the guard that two Iranian friends are engrossed too deep in a conversation to pay much attention to such insignificant things as entry tickets.
There is a minor problem in the revolutionary plan, however. It is easier to pass off the ugliest raven as a peacock than to pass me off as an Iranian. So, I am immediately intercepted by the guard, who starts talking to me in chaste Farsi. My knee-jerk reaction is to run. In the meantime the guard blows his whistle. In a flash several policemen armed with automatic rifles encircle us. Of course it doesn’t take them more than a moment to figure out that it was Sayad’s fault. I have no clue as to how Sayad turns a situation, which doesn’t have any other escape but profuse apologies, into first a shouting bout and then almost a fistfight with the guard!
What ensued was such hilarious that even at the thought of a dingy dark cell couldn’t keep from laughing.
In our country we do have a saying in Hindi – Sina taan kar (difficult to translate, but roughly: expanding your chest) when it comes to a daring showdown. But I have never seen two men literally rush at each other screaming at the top of their voices (I surely missed the juicy expletives because of my rudimentary Farsi) and bump on each other’s chest. Then the two withdraw a few feet and repeat the collision. I remember a pair of angry flamingos I once saw in a NatGeo programme. Even as this goes on a crowd gathers around us, which include the armed to the teeth policemen. Soon they start begging to both of them to end this ugly altercation because, from what I could gather, it is devastating the image of the nation before a Musafir! What a shame!
Finally, when I also start gesturing my profound apologies, and assure the guard that I am ready to purchase the right ticket, the quarrel stops. Handshakes. Hugs. Happy ending. Thus begins our S’adabad Palace tour.
- Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Iran: a country study/edited by Glenn E. Curtis and Eric Hooglund. – 5th ed. 2008