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The Seminar for Iranians Abroad: Millions of Tomans For a Message to Obama


By Nazanin Kamdar, Rooz Online

Tehran last week witnessed a seminar that brought hundreds of Iranians living abroad into Iran. But its chief organizer, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai who is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and also in charge of the affairs of Iranians outside the country, came under harsh public criticism. But not from moderates or the president's opponents. They came as much from the ruling faction's members. Kayhan newspaper, whose editor in chief is directly appointed by ayatollah Khamenei himself and which is a staunch supporter of the president wrote that the seminar was an "indication of misuse of the president's trust." Javan newspaper, another daily that tows the official line, wrote that "contrary to the claims of the organizers of the event, the participants of the event did not commit a single Rial to be invested in Iran."

The seminar was held in Tehran on Saturday in an atmosphere where even the names of its participants were not publicly announced, but merely referenced as "Iranian innovator," "Iranian specialist," etc. Ramin Mehmandoost, the foreign ministry spokesperson even said that he knew nothing of the list of the invitees. The event participated by "warriors with God, seditionists, traitors" as Kayhan's editor called them, which has cost billions of Tomans, also presented a speech by Ahmadinejad who announced his readiness to talk with US president Barack Obama.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

During the seminar, which contrary to normal practice was not broadcast by Iran's national radio and television network apparently for "technical reasons," Ahmadinejad announced his readiness to talk with Obama in a "manly manner" during his September visit to the United Nations in New York. "When Mr. Bush was in power we announced that we were ready to talk with him in front of cameras. They said he was uncertain. I said that is ok, and he can bring his advisors. Last year prior going to the UN in New York I said that we were ready to talk with Mr. Obama. This year when we go to New York to participate in UN's General Assembly meeting we are again ready to meet Mr. Obama face to face and put the problems of the world on the table in a manly and free manner in front of cameras and see who has better solutions," he declared.

During his speech, Ahmadinejad also spoke of a plan by "stupid Zionists" to assassinate him, adding, "stupid Zionists hired people to assassinate me. What has happened after your assassination of so many Iranians? Each Iranian is a Rostam, Siavosh (legendary hero warriors) and a brave warrior."

The other speaker at the gathering was Mashai. Like in his previous talk, he referred to Iranians as "the children of Cyrus the Great," the Great Ferdowsi and the Shahnameh (the epic Book of Kings and its tenth century author) in praise of pre-Islamic Iranian heroes which contradicts much of the daily propaganda of the Iranian regime. He also spoke of "coming changes in the world under the leadership of Iranians," a theme he is said to have architected which Ahmadinejad also regularly mentions. According to state affiliated Fars news agency, these remarks startled some participants.

Esfandiar Rahim Mashai

Mashai called Israel a weakling state and said, "They believe this weakling state is a threat to Iran, whereas it is nothing. What are you doing in Afghanistan and Iraq. Why have you spent so much money there and got caught in a quagmire. The reason for your presence in the region is because this regime (i.e. Israel) is dead."

Mashai's words about Iranians and Islam were as absurd. "God has always been worshiped in Iran and He has always been Great. This is because Iranians speak of God in grandeur terms. Iran has always been the creator of human civilizations. The human being was found in Iran's pure soil. As to what is this soil and what is its nature that produces such historic figures is a different question unto itself. When Cyrus was invading Babel and declared the end of slavery there, and Iranians had of course opposed slavery eve before then, many documents show that Arab people have a debt to Iran even for the grandeur of their language. There is no doubt today that if there were no Iranians, Islam would have been buried under the illusions of Arab nationalism," he retorted.

Mashai went on, "The right of Iranians to nuclear technology is just a small part. I defend the right of the Iranian nation to leadership. Today the world has accepted, and major powers too have realized that they must change their policies because this necessity cannot be negated. Today I want to highlight this right: can one negate the big right of the great Iranian nation and its rightful share in changing the world?" We assert that if the world is talking of change today, of reforms in the world, the greatest share of this belongs to Iran and we must view this as the beginning of a new chapter that has been laid by the Iranian nation. The Iranian nation is the leader of change in the world. We are determined to implement change in the world. We are confident that a better future awaits the world and the Iranian nation. We have learned from Ferdowsi to speak in the language of epics."

This is the second gathering of Iranian expatriates organized by the president's office in Iran, with the first one being held about 5 years ago. This is an exercise initiated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but the media in Iran has complained about its exorbitant costs.

A journalist residing in Iran talked on the subject with Rooz and said, "some in Iran believe this is something that Mashai is advancing in Iran as part of his efforts to run for the presidency. Others consider this to be related to his views of the return of the 12th Shiite imam. Mashai is said to believe that for the missing imam to return, global connections must be established so that supporters and forces are present across the globe as a measure to launch the global revolution."

According to this reporter, these views are challenged not only by moderates in Iran but also by the very conservatives who support the president and the administration. Critics say that he spreads superstitious ideas and they have had a deep impact on Ahmadinejad himself.

Conservatives had criticized these seminars in the past. Hossein Shariatmadari, the officially appointed editor of Kayhan newspaper last week wrote a piece criticizing the event and questioned those who were invited and what the outcome of the gathering would be. He also said that he did not want to be the first to criticize this particular gathering, hoping others would intervene and stop it. "Hushang Amir-Ahmadi is one of the key invitees and participants in the seminar who is a resident abroad and staying at room no xx at Esteglal Hotel in Tehran. He is a prominent counter revolutionary and a known CIA colleague who is pursuing the policy of de-Islamization of the regime," Shariatmadari wrote in his piece on the seminar.

"Although the names of the invitees and participants have not been revealed, Kayhan has obtained the names of some of the guests whose views are similar to those of Amir Ahmadi. So the question is why have these individuals been invited to the seminar? These are the very same people who view the Islamic regime to be 'regressive' and 'bloody,' and view the Islamic nature of the regime to be problematic and pursue the removal of the velayat faghih (i.e. rule of the cleric leader) from the constitution," the piece read.

Another media outlet, Javan Online wrote this: "It had been heard that some of the invitees had made promises of transferring their capital to Iran, but till now not a single Rial has been invested by these individuals while some have managed to take possession of their confiscated property." This extremist site that supports Ahmadinejad further wrote that some individuals who were against the foundations of the Islamic republic had been invited and had come to the gathering, while arrangements had been made to hide their identity from the pubic, and some of the participants had come on privately chartered flights.

Farda website which is closely affiliated to Ahmad Tavakoli, a conservative member of Iran's parliament, the Majlis, and a former minister in Mir-Hossein Mousavi's cabinet in the 1980s, spoke of the exhibition banners being removed in Tehran by the municipality.

Iran's Fars news agency which is affiliated to the security forces also criticized the gathering writing, "Officials had said that some 1,200 Iranians had been invited to participate but only about 450 actually came. 476 had been invited from the US, 210 individuals from the UK, 100 from Germany, 49 from Canada, 28 from France and 15 from Sweden. The gathering cost about 3 billion Toman in advertising" (about USD 300,000).

This report wrote that, "There are rumors among opposition groups outside Iran that some of the invitees had been given judicial and security guarantees, something that no security or judicial official in Iran has confirmed. Hushang Amir Ahmadi who is an American dealer and a counter revolutionary is among the guests who came with his wife and daughter and initially stayed at Esteghlal Hotel but changed his hotel after his identity had been broken. Each invitee could bring up to 4 individuals as paid guests of the Islamic republic. The guests were also taken to other cities in Iran on chartered planes. Mohammad Reza Shajarian (the famed musician and singer) was also invited to attend, but he turned down the invitation."

The spokesperson of the ministry of foreign affairs also distanced himself from the gathering telling reporters that he knew nothing of the list of invitees.

In their criticism of the event, Fars news agency and Raja news wrote pieces condemning the gathering particularly the participation of women musicians and even wrote of some middle level clerics who had left the gathering in protest, naming one of them to be cleric Razini.

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