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Two Days in Tehran in 1979

By Brian H. Appleton


Day One


             As I recall in mid morning on January 16th, 1979, my new driver Hossein, who the company had hired for me, with his orange taxi with a fringe of dingo balls around the tops of the windows and a clear blue acrylic sun visor on top of the windshield, and I were trying to get across town. The crowd in the streets was all around us like we had been engulfed by a vast herd of sheep reminiscent of when I was a boy with my family driving back roads in Greece. I had never seen so many people out dancing in the street in my life and it went on all day. I found myself waving and smiling at the crowd and making the peace sign with both my hands. Drivers had tied white ribbons on their windshield wipers and had clicked them forward so that the wipers did not touch the glass when they swept from left to right waving the white ribbons like cheering flags. I had never seen so many laughing, happy, jubilant, dancing people anywhere before in my life.

It was the culmination of months of fighting, months of shouting “Marg Bar Shah”, Death to the King, from the rooftops after curfew, from the voices of many millions of souls. How must that man have been feeling at that moment looking from his airplane at Mount Damavand sticking through the cloud cover for the last time. How had he managed to lose the popular support which was the only support he had ever really had from the time he handed the former serfs land grants? The old aristocracy had never liked him.


cow towing in 1960’s

Peasant kissing Shah’s Feet during land grant ceremony 1962


Where had he gone wrong? He had stopped appearing in public and had started sending a life size photo of himself in his limo instead on the day of the annual parade celebrating the put down of the revolt in Azerbaijan in 1947. He had become inaccessible to the people and in desperation he had appointed Shahrpour Bakhtiar as Prime Minister, a man who had opposed him his entire career. It was Bakhtiar who asked him to leave, it was Bakhtiar who forbad the troops from firing on public assemblies. I often wonder if the Shah had not ordered his troops to fire on the people if things might have gone differently. Certainly rubber bullets, tear gas and even salt would not have created martyrs. But then what poison had The Shah sewn within his subjects with his SAVAK and their tortures, rapes and executions. They say that SAVAK raped Ayatollah Taleghani’s daughter and forced him to watch. “As you sew so shall you reap…” He had allowed no loyal opposition. And the ways of dictatorship and tyranny and revenge his subjects had learned well.



lists of victims of SAVAK on the walls of the US Embassy
its diplomats were being held hostage




      and still Shah had his supporters in January 1979 in a demonstration in

     Amjidieh stadium as well as his detractors:




Poor Bakhtiar, a well-educated man who could have led a secular Iran into a great era of democracy, basically signed his own death sentence by accepting the position. Did he do it because he thought it was his patriotic duty?


Shahrpour Bakhtiar



Day TwoEnter the Dragon


February 1, 1979. When I got up and went outside, Tehran was a ghost town. Not a creature was stirring…in fact there was no movement, no sound…I remember the only motion which caught my eye was a dead leaf twirling around in a little dust devil from a breeze in the middle of the street. It was as if the city of millions had become a ghost town or perhaps all humanity had been wiped out by radiation. It could have been a warning of the endless rounds of death, torture and execution, which were to come…

            It was ironic that on the day the Shah left, everyone was dancing in the street, which it seems that they should have been doing on this day if this new leader had come with love in his heart, forgiveness and peace but instead Tehran was like a cemetery that day, empty of human life. I didn’t even see cats or dogs… The reason the city was deserted of course was because the masses had gone out to the airport to witness his arrival.

            I never saw Khomeini smile. His dark angry eyebrows were like thunder clouds, sinister and frightening to me in all the posters and photos of him, which had been plastered all about even in Bank Windows in hopes of not being broken by bricks. If he represented God at all, it was only His wrath.




What if like Nelson Mandela after 30 years in prison ushering in the end of Apartheid in South Africa by calling for a general amnesty, what if Khomeini had done that? What if the new leader of Iran had won a Nobel Peace prize…

And why is this man smiling?


... Payvand News - 7/16/07 ... --

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