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Mordad 28 th Coup d'etat in Iran and the Role of Three Men

By M.Behnoud

Another August 18 th arrived; the anniversary of a major turning point or breakthrough in the contemporary history of Iran; an event that broke some hearts and resulted in enmity between generations. Although I have reviewed this incidence several times, but it is as though there is no way out other than to pay another visit to the warehouse of history.

In the past hundred years, we Persians (Iranians) "have played all kinds of musical instruments" as an old proverb says. We had two revolutions and two coup d'etats; we dismissed four kings and one president and experienced Reformation several times, the most important of which were the ones undertaken by Reza Shah, Mossadeq (the Prime Minister the ex-Shah), Mohammad Reza Shah (the ex-king) and finally the reformation movement of Khordad 2 nd   (23 May 1997). And although the above reformation movements had little in common, but the aim of each was to correct the shortcomings of the previous ones.

Whatever we have today, we owe it to those major and minor reformations, (the minor ones are too numerous to enumerate here). If we enjoy some comfort and security today, we owe it to the reformation carried out by Reza Shah and if we still crave for independence, we owe it to the Nationalist Movement and if we enjoy the blessing of having drinking water, electricity, relative prosperity and a longing for reaching the peak of civilization, it is due to the reformations carried out under the reign of Pahlavi Dynasty and the years spent on reconstruction of the country after the devastating eight years war with Iraq. And our main demand in the latest reformation movement Khordad 2 nd was freedom which we still demand, as it completes the album of our pleas.

We should simultaneously remember that none of the major transformations of the past hundred years could take place without the presence and intervention of foreigners. Even during the Khordad 2 nd Reformation in which not only their share was insignificant, but they were taken by surprise, the political isolation of our ruling system and the international pressures had a role and share, even though it was not as noticeable as their role in the Constitution Movement and the coup d'etats (of Feb. 1921 and August 1953 )No doubt that the main role in all of the above turning points was played by people as without our readiness and cooperation, no revolution could happen and no coup d'etat could be successful. The story is still the same.

As I recently wrote, those two revolutions and coup d'etats were supported by people who only insisted and focused on their demands and saw nothing other than that. During the Constitution Movement, their main demand was justice, as they were mortally tired of despotism and tyranny. They demanded a constitution as they were told that the antipode of the spell of despotism, tyranny and injustice was the rule of law. Their goal was achieved and for that many were executed, but violation of the same constitution and laws by the rulers and people in their first encounter with the rule of law, they created a kind of anarchy that destroyed everything and while relationship with European countries was extending and ramifying and the number of people visiting these countries and thereby their insistence on reaching a similar ruling system considerably increased, but they had nothing, most of all social security which was brought about by the first (Feb.1921) coup d'etat. The rebels were suppressed, roads were constructed, significant urban development plans were carried out and social security was accomplished. But along with all this, despotism returned and on 1941 freedom was the primary public demand. Twelve years later, the movement for nationalization of oil originated from that same demand for freedom, with the aim of complementing it with (both economic and political) independence. What a great aspiration! What a justified human desire and longing. But let us whisper quietly in each other's ears that such a grand aspiration needed powerful theoreticians and planners that the above Movement lacked. Mossadeq attempted to manage such a great task and struggle with the whole world watching him with the help of ten to twenty companions. No doubt that at the beginning, he did enjoy the blessing and support of the public opinion of the small middle class of the cities. His most significant ally was Ayatollah Kashani who accidentally was chosen by Mossadeq and not vice versa.

Let us look at their differences; it serves as a good example. Mossadeq had studied law and was from a well-known disciplined aristocratic family, faithful to their homeland. He wanted to take away the oil from the hands of concessionaires who were abusing the ignorance of its owners and used it as a source for the advancement and development of the country, but he knew he could not succeed without the international support. Thus he attempted to utilize the international antagonisms for this purpose. He knew we lacked the required specialists and we were incapable of undertaking such a sophisticated operation (after 50 years, it is still the foreign specialists who do the job of oil detection and extraction for us) and we had to wait to train our own specialists in this field. In that divided world, who could he appeal to help a poor country such as Iran? Except the United States of America with its good reputation and its willingness to help all the liberalist of the world to free themselves from exploitation and colonialism and was not like Britain, a small island greedy for the resources of its colonies, nor was it like the Soviet Union, the advocate of a certain ideology with the threat of annexing our country - or certain parts of it such as Azerbaijan - in case we tended to establish closer ties with it as our neighbor. USA was a great, rich and remote country showing no signs of the will to hegemony; it appeared quite innocent and immaculate. Under those circumstances, any poor, desperate, yet reasonable being would naturally appeal to USA. Mossadeq moved in this direction with utmost prudence and caution and on the scene of the antagonism going on between USA and Britain, he indeed played the game masterfully. Before him, Ahmad Qavam (the ex-Prime Minister) had played the same game during the incidence of Azerbaijan, but using the conflicts going on between the victorious Allies and forced Stalin to sit back. Mosadeq had closely watched that sly subtle man, i.e. Stalin and supported Qavam.

On the other hand, there was Ayatollah Kashani's mass movement whose presence could mobilize the Moslems. Who was Ayatollah Kashani? The man who apparently had not much problems with despotism, as he was among the distinguished figures who voted in favor of Reza Shah Reign, when Mossadeq had just done the opposite. But in Iraq he had dealt with a situation similar to that we are witnessing today, meaning that he opposed the English (who suppressed all movements that fought for freedom, bombarded Iraqi villages by chemical bombs for the first time in history, and used a great deal of violence in Najaf and Karbala). In fact, it was his anti-English position that drove him toward Mosadeq and the nationalist movement, at the expense of provoking the ecclesiastics sitting in Qom. The main reason for this unfavorable, unsupportive clerical reaction went back to the fact that Ayatollah Brujerdi, the Shiite leader of the time residing in Qom was very much against the intervention of the clergy in politics and for that he never supported Ayatollah Kashani's involvement in the nationalist movement. Ayatollah Kashani was attracted to this movement because of its role in driving the English out of the country. For the same reason he approved Mossadeq.


To do justice, here we should name another significant supporter of the nationalist movement, the young king who in search of gaining popularity was pro-democrat at that time, even if for the sole reason that the society showed no inclination to surrender to re-establishment of dictatorship in the county. In the New Year of 1951 these three men and their companions attended Razm-aara's funeral service. Right or wrong, all the three of them feared General Razm-aara (the Prime Minister of the time) and considered him as an enemy. So now their common enemy was assassinated and they had nothing to worry about. Once appointed as the Prime Minister by the Shah, Mossadeq went to Ayatollah Kashani's house and they vowed to support each other. People were content too. No "Death to..." was heard anywhere except "Death to the Oil Company." Nobody wished to overthrow the monarchy or oppose Kashani's influence and concerns and everybody was supporting Mossadeq whom the whole world was watching. Inside the country, only the Toudeh Communist Party enjoyed a certain degree of power and opposed the nationalist movement due to the blunder of its leaders. Mossadeq considered this opposition useful as it granted immunity to the nationalist movement in the eyes of the Westerners while at the same time proved the independence of this movement. In the opposite front was the sly cunning England which did not wish to lose the Iranian oil at any cost, particularly in such a lawful acceptable way. The WWII had ended and England was already losing India. It was the country that had suffered most during the war as before the appearance of the Soviet Union and USA on the scene, it had fought the German Monster all alone. So it did not wish Mossadeq to act as an exemplary. It did whatever it could in this regard, but did not achieve much because just as the nationalist movement was growing in Iran, the Labor Party came to power and because of its populism, it did not wish to re-cast the traditional colonial image of Britain. Thus it could not do much except to tolerate this movement. But having an enemy like the cunning England had made Mossadeq very sensitive and suspicious. He saw the English behind every opposition and antagonism, which was not that much wrong.

A year passed in struggle. The English policies were working. Mossadeq did not allow any excuse and advanced his policy in agreement with international laws. However, as the time passed the complexity of the struggle increased and the scope of the English craftiness extended, now partly to meddling with the internal affair as well. Simultaneously, the oil income was cut down, poverty increased which demanded the society to show a greater degree of sacrifice and devotion that it seemed ready to show, but the leaders wanted a share and had different tastes. Meanwhile the Toudeh Party began to act more radically and as its rationalism was based on not the collective wisdom, but on the knowledge of its leaders of Communism which was limited to some old fake translations of communist doctrine and on the basis of a erroneous analysis of petit bourgeois and enmity with aristocracy, it began to oppose Mossadeq. Should have Mossadeq suppressed this party? This was not his will. Thus, he came to be known as their advocate; Mosadeq who was called the 'anchor of nationalism' and the servant of foreigners - meaning Western capitalism - due to the irrational approach of this party. On the other hand, Mossadeq's insistence on political freedom and therefore the continued presence of the Toudeh Party provoked fear in the Shah and Ayatollah Kashani, each for a different reason. The Shah was concerned about his reign and Kashani about his religion; while the cunning enemy was busy playing a game with the three of them. And considering the artlessness of Tehrani actors, the result of this game was already evident. Thus a new conflict, struggle aroused everyday, and with the manipulations of the foreigners, the existing antagonisms intensified. However, a grand opposition demands great discipline which was beyond our national capacity. Finally, fearing the Toudeh Party, the royal court went on its own way with some of Kashani's companions doing the same. So the other two men, i.e. Kashani and Mossadeq were left alone with a bombardment that instigated opposition between them.

Meanwhile, the state of affairs on the international scene turned against us. In USA, the Republicans won the election and worse than that the Labor Party, lost power in Britain; Winston Churchill and the Conservative Party came to power once more, while General Mason and his assistant in the WWII won the presidential election in USA with their team consisting of the owners of oil companies (led by Dallas Brothers), just like George Bush and his team, today. Churchill, who had served the British in the best possible way during the war, was removed from the post of Prime Ministry right at the time he went to Yalta to sign the peace treaty by the British people who were tired of war. He thus harbored a grudge and wished to show his power. But he could see that he was losing the most important heritage of the British Grandmother, the Queen Victoria, which was the jewel of the country's colonies, i.e. India and he was not willing to face another defeat by losing the Iranian oil. Therefore he moved to the house in Downing Street with a plot against Iran in his head. Under such conditions and with great subtlety, Mossadeq beautifully continued the game until Tir 30 th , when on one hand, his ties with the court were completely torn and with Kashani came to the verge of breaking because contrary to the first time, this time it was Ayatollah Kashani who brought Mossadeq back on the scene and so he now had his own demands. In his turn, Mossadeq was now suspicious of everybody around him and in search of discipline regarded himself independent of all, depending only on the support of the people as he recorded in his writings. Thus, he was left alone with the Toudeh Party whose leaders had finally obtained the permission from Moscow to cooperate with Mossadeq, alas it was already too late. Moscow refused to give such permission before, because it found Mossadeq's nationalism and Kashani's religiousness against its ideals and regarded Mossadeq as an American agent on the basis of a flawed analysis. No doubt, Moscow knew that the United States is going to be the future leader of capitalism and was not willing to help an "American agent" to defeat England. Meanwhile, Stalin died and the tooth of the 'red bear' partly lost its sharpness. So after Tir 30 th when Mossadeq was left all alone, Moscow revised its policy in regard to him. There were some talks behind the curtains between Ayatollah Kashani's entourage and the royal court. Therefore, the change of policy of the Toudeh Party was not really in favor of the nationalist movement as it created the opportunity for Churchill to warn the Americans and make them to fear Mossadeq. In other words, the Toudeh party did not defend the Movement when it should have and Kianoori's attempt to find a way to establish ties with the leader of nationalism through his wife (Mosadeq's cousin) was in no ways to the benefit of the movement now. Such a disordered caravan stayed on its feet from Tir 30 th (21 July 1952) to 19 August 1953 only due to Kashani's good intention and Mossadeq's subtlety and of course the support of the people whose life was getting increasingly harder. When with the intermediacy of America and Britain, the big oil companies gathered together, planning the future of the Iranian Oil and the secret services received the proper orders, the owners of these companies took the responsibility to lead CIA too. This was indeed the first step to separate and isolate Mossadeq and Kashani as the English had very well realized that they would get nowhere as long as the two men worked together, while without each other they could do nothing. The ground was prepared. The coup d'etat took place on Mordad 28 th .

The coup d'etat which once again aborted the national movement for freedom and independence had enormous price for Iran. It separated the nationalists from religious activists and turned them against each other. People like Bazargan made trouble for a group of the religious supporters of the Movement, and pushed the court toward the West. Until then, the young king had not looked to foreigners with his back toward his people, but he did it now. Mossadeq enjoyed a good name, was trialed and died while imprisoned at his private home. Kashani did not enjoy a good name, sat at his home and died in isolation. The Toudeh Party experienced a bloody liquidation which was the first condition for the presence of American advisors in Iran. The Shah considered himself, the victorious, but was affected by a kind of inauspiciousness that despite all that he did in the next 25 years, he could not clean that ominous stain from his kingship. A quarter of a century later he was forced to hand over the power to the followers of Mossadeq who were still the purest political figures of the country.

Fifteen years after the coup d'etat, when the Shah was in quite a powerful position, he carried out all that which was the goal of the nationalist movement and put the oil in the hands of Iranians, nevertheless, he did not receive legitimacy and it was recorded in his birth certificate that it was the American President Roosevelt who returned his throne to him. He lived long enough to see almost everybody wishing his death and say nothing about his services and if in 1953 Mossadeq became the Time Magazine's Man of the Year, this time, he enviously saw Ayatollah Khomeini becoming the Man of the Year of the same magazine because of overthrowing him. The stigma of Mordad 28 th never allowed him to believe that the people who poured out into the streets were actually Iranian and maintained this belief that it was the English and BBC who overthrew him. The coup d'etat of Mordad 28 th gave meaning to what his father had written to him when he was sent to exile by the allies. The message Reza Shah sent to his son was 'do not ever get attached to this nation, because the Iranians do not recognize what is good for them. The same hands that brought me into power when nobody knew me removed me from power when everybody supported me and all that service I did for the country did not play the slightest role in this fate, but the game I played with the English ruined my fate. The young king did not pay attention his father's warning until he saw August 18 th and after that -in the same manner as his father- he became "Endeared Uncle Napoleon" until he died.

In this group, all members attributed their own faults to the foreigners or unfaithfulness and betrayal of the people of Iran while none of these alone was the cause. The cause was and unfair war with the grand power of the time. What   was needed was prudence, unity and solidarity that when present the nationalist movement was successful and when lost, the enemy succeeded and another defeat was recorded in the history of Iran.



The dates of the Persian Calendar are not changed into the corresponding dates of the Christian Calendar on purpose.   Mordad 28 th ( August 18 th 1953) is the date of the coup d'etat that brought back the ex-Shah into power, Esfand 3 rd (February 22 nd   1921)   is the date of the coup d'etat that brought his father into power. Khordad 2 nd (May 23 rd 1997) is the election day of President Khatami.   And Shahrivar 20 th ( August 29 th 1941) is the day when Allies invaded Iran, forced Reza Shah to resign and sent him to exile. Tir 30 th (July 21 st 1952) is when people poured into the streets and shouted "Long live Mossadeq" and "Death to the Shah" leading to the August 18 th coup d'etat when the same people poured into the streets again, this time shouting "Long live the Shah," and "Death to Mossadeq."