The first moderate
Shapour Bakhtiar: We
cannot move from the dictatorship of the boot to the dictatorship of
By Fariba Amini
January 8, 2003
When chants of "Bakhtiar Nokar-e Bee-ekhtiar"
(Bakhtiar the powerless servant) were heard in the streets of
Tehran, we were not dismayed or even a bit troubled as we were all
fiery in the fervor of the revolution. We thought at the time that
Shapour Bakhtiar had no guts or that he succumbed too easily to the
demands of the Shah.
How wrong we were.
The first Prime Minister during the revolution who
understood the real nature of the regime taking power in the
post-revolution period was a man of wisdom and true to his words.
When I heard of his ruthless stabbing at the hands of the henchmen
of the Islamic regime, I cried like many other Iranians. I thought,
we lost a great man, a first class politician who was not only
secular but also a protector of law and a disciple of the late
Following Bakhtiar's appointment as Prime
Minister, he freed all political prisoners and dismantled the
infamous SAVAK, allowed a free press and advocated a government by
the people. Alas, his time in office was cut short as those seizing
power acted swiftly. He knew the beastly nature of the beast and
warned all Iranians of the disaster that was coming.
naive and deaf we were to hear his voice of truth. His famous words
were, "In principle I will neither compromise with the Shah or
Khomeini... In life there comes a time when one must stand firm and
say no... The Ayatollah, upon his return [from exile], has lost his
epic-making figure. I have never seen a book about an Islamic
Republic, neither has anyone else for that matter... Some of the
people surrounding the Ayatollah are like violent vultures... the
clergy should go to Qom and build a wall around themselves and
create their own Vatican..."
Shapour Bakhtiar who came from
the famous nomadic Bakhtiari tribe, spent a great deal of his life
in prison. As a member of the National Front, he bravely spoke of
his ideals for a secular and democratic Iran.
several attempts by his cousin Soraya Esfandiari, the Shah's second
wife, and Teymour Bakhtiar, to intervene for his release from
prison, he stood firm by his beliefs and did not budge. Until the
end of his life, he remained faithful and as the daring man that he
was, gave up his life for the dream of seeing a Western-style
democracy in Iran.
I spoke recently with an old friend and a
close associate of Dr. Bakhtiar who wishes to remain nameless. Here
are some of his recollections of Dr. Bakhtiar.
was very close to Bakhtiar's father. My uncle didn't have any kids.
I was like a son to him. He used to read history and knew much by
Shapour Bakhtiar had just arrived from Europe when I
first saw him. I was about 14 or 15. He was in his early thirties.
He was a distinguished looking young man, quite attractive with
light hair and greenish eyes. He dressed nicely.
time I met him, he asked if I knew poetry. My uncle had told him
that I liked literature and poetry. He asked me about
Malek-ol-Shoaray-e Bahar. He asked me to recite one of his poems. I
recited the famous "Damavand"
poem. Then he asked if I knew any poems from Vosough-ol-Doleh. I
knew his poetry by heart so I recited one from the time he had been
exiled from Iran.
Bakhtiar was quite impressed and told my
uncle to bring me along whenever he went to visit him. That was our
first encounter. I found out later that Bakhtiar's father was a
close friend of Bahar. That is one of the reasons he had loved
poetry. They said Shapour knew ten thousand verses. Apparently, he
loved horseback riding so his father would make him memorize one
verse for every ride on the horse!
His father, Mohammad Reza
Khan Sardar Fateh was a grand man who was very educated. He
commanded the Arabic and English languages. He loved to read and
when traveling in those times, a number of mules carried his books
from one place to another. He was the head of the Bakhtiari tribe
and commander in chief in Yazd. My uncle used to work in his
When Shapour Bakhtiar had just arrived from
Europe, he was looking for a job. He had studied philosophy and law
in France. He went to the University of Tehran for a position. Dr.
Sanjabi was the head of the law school there. Although, he was above
many other candidates, Bakhtiar was denied the position he wanted.
He didn't want to work in the Foreign Ministry either as he would be
closely associated with the court and the Shah.
With the help
of a family friend, Ghobad Zafar, who had arranged a meeting with
the Shah, Shapour went to see the monarch. The Shah was quite
impressed by the young man. But Bakhtiar could not see himself
working so close to the system. He then went to the Labor Ministry
where Nafissi helped him find his first job.
He was quite
good at his job. He would take the side of the workers. The head of
the petroleum company was a British man named Drake, who had fired
many of the oil workers. Bakhtiar had taken their side. He was
In different companies and factories
where he worked, he always kept the highest ethical standards and
managed the places with utmost professionalism.
He had a
special aura about him. While being a serious person, he had a very
sarcastic side as well. If you met him for the first time, you would
get the impression that he was a self-centered man. But quite the
contrary, he was very down to earth and had a special humorous side
He always sided with the dispossessed. He considered
De Gaulle as his idol. Among the French writers, he loved the work
of Anatole France. In the opinion of Gaillard, the then prime
Minster of France, Bakthiar spoke French better than a Frenchman.
When he was a youngster he had been sent to Beirut to study
mathematics. But he didn't like the subject. He studied German
instead. It was there that he began despising the fanatic side of
religion, any religion. I believe that is one of the many reasons he
stayed secular his whole life. Then for his higher education,
Bakhtiar went to France, where he mastered the fields of law,
philosophy and economics.
In the National Front, which I also
had the privilege of being a young sympathizer, he was closest to
Dr. Sadighi. He could not understand or be close to the religious
elements, although he always argued in a respectable manner. He was
in the secular faction within the Front.
It was after the
August 1953 coup when Bakhtiar's cousin Soraya -- with the help of
Amir Hossein Khan Zafar, who was a senator -- encouraged him to
accept a post in the Zahedi government. Bakhtiar sent a message
saying,"go tell your boss that I worked in Mossadegh's government. I
am not a piece of clothing to be dragged everywhere. I will not work
for a coup d'etat government."
Before 1979, Bakhtiar worked
solely in the private sector while still holding on to his ideas. I
remember a most haunting and sad incident. It was during the
turbulent time of the revolution when there was talk of Dr. Sadighi
taking over as the prime minister. There was also a rumor that the
position might be filled by Bakhtiar.
I asked to see him in
his home. He told me to come for lunch. He took me to his study
where there was a small basin surrounded by books, Hafez poetry (his
favorite Iranian poet) in calligraphy and a huge picture of
Mossadegh. We sat and I said very arrogantly: "Aren't you ashamed of
your father's bloodstained shirt (he had kept in his trunk the
bloodied shirt of his father who was executed by Reza Shah) to want
to work with his son now?"
Bakhtiar innocently looked at
me, bewildered. But with a firm voice he said: "This isn't the time
for revenge. It isn't about me anymore. It is about the country."
Then tears rolled down his cheeks and he sobbed.
voice that I could never forget, he said: "You don't understand. The
country is on the verge of collapse. How can I speak now of
something that happened 40 years ago? This isn't the time to take
revenge for my father's blood. If the religious elements (akhunds)
take over the affairs of this country, no one will remain, neither
me, nor you, the Shah or this country; all of us will be
I still tremble when I think of Bakhtiar's somber
face as he said those words on that historical day. I said to him
again, "Don't you care about your reputation?" He responded again,
"Why should I care about my reputation at this important and
decisive time in our history? Do I need to take my reputation to the
When I left that day to go to Sanjabi's house,
Alahyar Saleh and Dr. Azar were present. They said, "Forget about
this Shapour. He is good for nothing."
I remember one evening
during the revolution when cries of "Allah O Akbar" (God is Great)
and prayers were being heard on the rooftops in Shiraz as in Tehran.
I called Bakhtiar with great enthusiasm. I expected his positive
response, but instead he said, "Listen... We are after freedom and
democracy. We cannot move from the dictatorship of the 'boot' to the
dictatorship of 'na'layn' (clerics' slippers). We must advocate
freedom. We have no right to be taking the people to a darker
At that time, I didn't really understand his logic
and was a bit annoyed at his response. As we know, the rest is
history. Amidst the blood and fire in the capital in the afternoon
of the February 11 1979, Shapour Bakhtiar left his lunch untouched
and got out of the his office for an unknown destination. The new
revolutionary leaders and most of the newspapers in the capital
started foul mouthing Bakhtiar. Only a few journalists and
respectful politicians discretely agreed with his assessment of the
Dr. Bakhtiar was determined to do away with
the monarchy and declare a republic but he was concerned about the
army's reaction in attempting to organize a coup. He was worried of
unnecessary bloodshed. He wanted to move things slowly and smoothly
so that army can be neutralized.
Bakhtiar was a courageous
man but sometimes maybe too careless. A no-nonsense man who was not
always diplomatic. He trusted people without hesitation. I think
that is the reason why and he died. He trusted his killer (Boyer
Ahmadi), even though people had warned him that his brother was in
the revolutionary guards.
many others, he was not a two- faced politician. He was a fidele,
honorable, true to his word. But he took things lightly at times.
And that in a most horrid way brought him to his untimely death.
Nevertheless until the day he died, he was a man of honor, of
exceptional intelligence and quite optimistic about the future.
In a way, the Islamic regime knew of the strength of Dr.
Bakhtiar, and how he was a real challenge to their existence. That
is precisely the reason they got rid of him. He was ahead of his
time. Only when time passes, will we all appreciate the true legacy
of this man. His unconditional love for Iran and Iranians, and his
loathing of the theocratic regime. One day, history will judge him
Bakhtiar said in an interview in the book,
Thirty- seven days after 37 years, "I am sorry to repeat this
once again but it must be done for the sake of history: If during
these 25 years, the Shah had allowed moderate political parties --
and not even those having Marxist or social democratic tendencies --
to exist, simple-minded people would not have followed the likes of
Khomeini and believe his ideas.
Heykal, the renowned Egyptian journalist wrote, "When the Shah
finally decided to to form another cabinet in January 1978, he chose
this Mossadegh disciple and stubborn man, who believed that simply
by having spent years in prison and enduring pain and suffering he
would be received by the majority of the people. That's why he
accepted the nomination.
If he had been elected in any other
third world country, Bakhtiar would have been an exemplary leader.
He was a freedom-loving intellectual who was against fascism and
No one knows what were the exact contents of talks
between Mohammad Reza Shah and Bakhtiar at the time of his taking
office. But sources close to the Shah told me in Cairo that the Shah
was apologetic for his maltreatment of Mossadegh's followers and he
had reiterated it to him.
Unfortunately, it was a little too