Dr. Kazemzadeh-The Day Democracy Died:



The 50th Anniversary of the CIA Coup in Iran


Vol. 3, No. 34 (October 2003).
Masoud Kazemzadeh, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor at the Department of History and Political Science at Utah Valley State College.

August 19 [28 Mordad], was the 50th anniversary of the worst day in our modern history. On that horrible day, which shall live in infamy for the rest of our history, we lost our independence, freedom, democracy and constitution.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, under the direction of CIA and MI6, and with the help of high-ranking Shia clerics, [1] anti-democratic military officers, and paid mercenary mobs composed of prostitutes and thugs from Shahr-e Nou (Tehran's red light district) attacked our democratic government and replaced it with a brutal tyranny.

Ayatollah Kashani and his son played major roles during the coup as well as during the activities prior to the coup.[2] Kashani was publically attacking Mossadegh and supporting the Shah since late 1952. When the Shah announced that he was leaving Iran on February 28, 1953, Ayatollah Kashani made the following statement:

"People be warned! Treacherous decisions have resulted in the decision of our beloved and democratic (dimukrat) shah to leave the country... You should realize the if the shah goes, whatever we have will go with him. Rise up and stop him, and make him change his mind. Because, today, our existence and independence depend on the very person of His Majesty Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, and no one else." [3]

Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA chief of operations in Tehran, gave $10,000 to Ayatollah Kashani on August 18, a day before the coup. [4] Two weeks after the August 19 coup, Ayatollah Kashani said in an interview that "Musaddiq was guilty of high treason and had to be punished by death."[5]

According to Dr. Mark J. Gasiorowski, American Political Scientist and one of the foremost scholars of the coup:

"Several days after the coup, the British received a report from the Iraqi ambassador in Tehran that the Shah and Zahedi together had visited Kashani, kissed his hands, and thanked him for his help in restoring the monarchy. See ‘An Account of Conversation', 1 September 1953, FO/371/104571. One CIA officer told me that Kashani's son visited him several times after the coup to remind him of the role played by his father (July 1984 interview)." [6]

Ruhollah Khomeini's role on the day of August 19 is not clear, but we do know that before and after the coup he opposed Dr. Mossadegh and cooperated with the Shah. According to Iranian historian, Nasser Pakdaman, in January 1953 [Dey 1331], after Mossadegh's cabinet had submitted a bill to Majles granting women the vote, Ayatollah Kashani opposed it. Ruhollah Khomeini — who was a hojatolislam at the time -- gave a sermon in Qom and called upon the folks in the mosque to go out and protest against the Mossadegh government and the bill. According to the prominent historian, Ervand Abrahamian, while Khomeini was a clerk for Ayatollah Uzma Brujerdi, he secretly delivered messages from Brujerdi to the Shah during the post-coup period.[7] Khomeini had supported the Shah's regime until 1961, and began opposing the Shah only after the bills on land reform and female franchise were introduced.[8]

It is imperative to add that there were a handful of clerics who opposed the coup such as Ayatollah Abolfazl Zanjani and Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani. Both Zanjani and Taleghani were imprisoned and harshly tortured for their support for the Mossadegh government and opposition to the coup.

The violent Islamic fundamentalist group, Fadaian Islam, also played a major role during the coup according to itself and the CIA history. Fadaian Islam had already made an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Dr. Hossein Fatemi and had also planned to assassinate Dr. Mossadegh.[9] The CIA had mobilized the Fadaian Islam militants during the August 19 street demonstrations. The day after the coup, the newspaper of Fadaian Islam boasted in the following words:

"Yesterday Tehran was shaking under the manly feet of the soldiers of the Muslim and anti- foreign army. Musaddiq, the old blood-sucking ghoul, resigned... under the annihilating blows of the Muslims... All governmental centers were captured by the Muslims and the Islamic army..."[10]

Iranian fascists and Nazis played prominent roles in the coup regime. Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi, who had been arrested and imprisoned by the British during World War II for his attempt to establish a pro-Nazi government, was made Prime Minister on August 19, 1953. The CIA gave Zahedi about $100,000 before the coup and an additional $5 million the day after the coup to help consolidate support for the coup.[11] Bahram Shahrokh, a trainee of Joseph Goebbels and Berlin Radio's Farsi program announcer during the Nazi rule, became director of propaganda. Mr. Sharif-Emami, who also had spent some time in jail for his pro-Nazi activities in the 1940s, assumed several positions after 1953 coup, including Secretary General of the Oil Industry, President of the Senate, and Prime Minister (twice).[12]

On August 19, 1953, we lost our political and economic independence. Our most precious natural resource, oil, which was nationalized and put under Iranian control, was given to a consortium of American and British oil companies.

On this day fifty year ago, we lost our freedom. The very first decree Dr. Mossadegh issued when he took office in April 1951 was to the Tehran Police Chief ordering him to stop harassing and harming any journalist or newspaper that criticized his government. Under Dr. Mossadegh, we had full freedom of the press. Papers from diverse ideologies were published freely and they openly criticized the Iran National Front [Jebhe Melli Iran] and Dr. Mossadegh. Some opportunists even took advantage of these freedoms and kept insulting and slandering Dr. Mossadegh and other leaders and members of the National Front. The monarchist and Tudeh papers kept viciously attacking, insulting and making false and ugly accusations. Despite all their cruel lies, the wonderful and intelligent people of Iran continued their support of the only government in memory which had bravely protected their interests from attacks from cruel kings and colonial masters.

We lost our democracy on this day fifty years ago. After fifty dreadful years, still our people can not have free elections in which they, the people, can choose their representatives. In the past fifty despotic years, either SAVAK and the royal court [darbar] during the monarchy era have screened and chosen the members of the Majles, or the Council of Guardians [Shoray Negahban] during the fundamentalist era has done the same pre-selection.

We lost our constitution on this day fifty years ago. After the coup, Mohammad Reza Shah replaced the rule of law with personal tyranny. Tyranny, although in a collective form, continues to the present.

We lost our only legitimate and democratic government on this day fifty years ago. The National Front government was the only government that Iran has had which was the result of the free vote of the people. INF members of the Majles were among the very few among Majles deputies who were elected despite the rigging and corruption in elections orchestrated by the royal court.

Initially, the coup on 25 Mordad failed. The Shah fled to Baghdad, and then to Rome. Col. Nasiri following the CIA-MI6 plan, had gone to the home of Dr. Mossadegh after midnight. On the way, he stopped to arrest Chief of Staff, Gen. Riahi. However, Dr. Mossadegh found out about the coup and had Gen. Riahi arrest Nasiri. Another convoy of coup plotters had gone to the home of Foreign Minister, Dr. Hussein Fatemi and had taken him to prison.

On the morning of Mordad 26, Radio Tehran announced that the coup against Dr. Mossadegh's government had failed. The people were so happy that they went to the streets and celebrated when they heard of the news.

The Shah fled Iran, but the CIA agents on the ground continued their activities to overthrow Iran's only democratic leader. The CIA had infiltrated the Tudeh Party and used these agents as agents provocateurs to go to the streets and create disturbances including setting places on fire.

U.S. Ambassador Loy Henderson (in collusion with Kermit Roosevelt) met Dr. Mossadegh on the morning of August 19 and deceived Dr. Mossadegh. Complaining about the harassments of American citizens, Henderson asked Mossadegh to restore law and order and protect Americans. Otherwise, Henderson threatened that the US would withdraw its recognition of the government. Dr. Mossadegh, then, called upon the troops to clear the streets. The CIA had its elements in the armed forces to instead go towards Dr. Mossadegh's home.[13] A three-hour tank battle ensued between the troops defending our only democratic Prime Minister and the troops send by the CIA. Several weeks earlier, the monarchists had kidnaped, tortured and murdered Gen. Afshartoos, the head of Tehran Police and a loyal supporter of INF and Dr. Mossadegh. On August 19, about 300 were killed in Tehran.

The coup regime arrested, imprisoned and murdered many of our heros and the best children of our land such as Foreign Minister Dr. Fatemi and journalist Karimpour Shirazi. From August 19, 1953, a hellish nightmare was imposed on the Iranian people and the voices of democrats were brutally suffocated. Kangaroo courts tried pro-democracy leaders. Our hero, Dr. Mossadegh was imprisoned for three years, and then placed under house arrest for the rest of his life, and deprived of contact with pro-democracy activists. The monarchists raped Dr. Fatemi's wife in front of his eyes, then made an assassination attempt while being taken to the kangaroo court, and finally executed our brave democratic Foreign Minister. Karimpour Shirazi was severely tortured and then burned alive in prison to an agonizing death. In the Shah's kangaroo courts, brave INF leaders such as Dr. Ali Shaeygan and Dr. Gholam-Hossein Seddighi put the illegitimate regime of the Shah on the court of public opinion.

The notorious SAVAK was created to imprison, torture and assassinate our pro-democracy activists. Thousands upon thousands of Iran's pro-democracy activists were subjected to sever torture under the Shah's brutal savage rule. Torture by monarchists included rape of daughters of political prisoners in front of their eyes; the most infamous case being the rape of the daughter of Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani, the respected liberal cleric, a leader in the resistence to the coup regime since August 1953 coup and a member of INF until 1961. The monarchists, like the fundamentalists after them, used rape as a form of torture of female political prisoners. Human rights violations were so severe that Amnesty International declared the Shah's regime as "the worst violator of human rights in 1975." [14]

The coup regime is the main cause for fifty years of misery of our tortured and oppressed nation. The coup regime so disarticulated Iran's civil society and so brutally suppressed the democratic opposition, that Khomeini could deceive the people and present himself as a liberator.

In the past fifty horrific years, our brave pro-democracy activists have fought against two brutal regimes. The victims of the 1953 coup, Iranian democrats, are being oppressed and harassed by the current fundamentalist tyrannical regime as they were by the monarchist tyranny.

On this day, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of democracy in Iran, we remember our pro- democracy heros who have carried the torch of freedom. Their resistence against brutal dictatorships of monarchists and fundamentalists have been inspiration to thousands upon thousands of young men and women who fight for democracy today and will fight for democracy tomorrow. It is no accident that the pro-democracy activists hold the pictures of Dr. Mossadegh during the demonstrations on 18 Tir, 16 Azar, and Forouhars' funeral and memorials. On this day, we renew our solemn oath to continue this struggle until we establish our century-long demands of independence, democracy, liberty, rule of law, human rights, modernity, progress, and social justice.


[1] Ayatollah Abolqassem Kashani, his son, Ayatollah Behbahani, and Hojatolislam Mohammad Taghi Falsafi (later Ayatollah) played central roles in the coup. Ayatollah Uzma Brujerdi, the highest ranked cleric, gave quiet support to the Shah before and after the coup without playing a major role during the operations of the coup. After the coup, Brujerdi publically welcomed the Shah back to Iran in a not-so-implicit sign of support. See Homa Katouzian, Musaddiq and the Struggle for Power in Iran (London: I.B. Tauris, 1990), pp. 156- 176.

[2] See the official CIA history of the coup written by one of its main architects, Donald Wilber. Clandestine Service History, Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran, November 1952-August 1953. This document was published by the New York Times on June 16, 2000 with names of many Iranian collaborators of the CIA redacted. Cryptome was able to recover the majority of the names and has published the full text on its Internet site at:

[3] Kashani's statement has been translated and quoted in Katouzian, p. 172.

[4] Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (New Jersey: Wiley and Sons, 2003).

[5] Katouzian, p. 174.

[6] Mark J. Gasiorowski, "The 1953 Coup D'Etat in Iran," in International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 19, No. 3 (August 1987), p. 285, footnote 67.

[7] Ervand Abrahamian, Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). Abrahamian writes that Khomeini "served as Borujerdi's teaching assistant and personal secretary, at crucial times conveying confidential messages to the shah." p. 9.

[8] Willem Floor, "The Revolutionary Character of the Iranian Ulama: Wishful Thinking or Reality?" in International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1 (December 1980). Masoud Kazemzadeh, Islamic Fundamentalism, Feminism, and Gender Inequality in Iran Under Khomeini (Lanham: University Press of America, 2002).

[9] Farhad Kazemi, "The Fada'iyan-e Islam: Fanaticism, Politics and Terror," in From Nationalism to Revolutionary Islam, ed. Said Amir Arjomand, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984), p. 166.

[10] "Nabard Mellat" August 20, 1953, translated and quoted in Katouzian, op. cit., p. 174.

[11] Kinzer, pp. 6, 13. In addition to the secret $5 million dollars CIA delivered to Zahedi, the US government sent another $28 million in September 1953 to assist Zahedi in consolidating the coup regime. Another $40 million was delivered in 1954 as soon as the regime signed the oil consortium deal giving Iranian oil to American and British oil companies. See Ervand Abrahamian, "The 1953 Coup in Iran," in Science & Society, Vol. 65, No. 2 (Summer 2001), p. 211.

[12] Also see Habib Ladjevardi, "The Origins of U.S. Support for an Autocratic Iran," in International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 15, No. 2 (May 1983).

[13] Abrahamian, "The 1953 Coup in Iran."

[14] Fred Halliday, Iran: Dictatorship and Development (London: Penguin, 1980).