In the 1970s, Iran Air had made a name for itself as "the fastest growing" of the world's airlines. According to Encyclopedia Iranica, Iran Air was the most profitable company after the National Iranian Oil Company and was also recognized by the Flight Safety Foundation as one of the safest airlines in the world. This accomplishment is associated with the name Lt. General Ali-Mohammad Khademi (1913-1978), who managed Iran Air for sixteen years. His service ended few months before the Islamic Revolution with his sudden resignation.
Gen. Khademi was killed forty years ago on November 7, 1978 in his home in Tehran. Despite the testimony of his wife and the soldiers who were working at his residence, the state-run media published his killing as "a suicide." Several international media outlets (such as the New York Times), however, concurrently ran the news as his murder. General Khademi held the highest position in a government institution from among Persia's Baha'i community. His religious leanings, which were secret to no one, were tenaciously opposed by groups of Muslim clerics.
A Murder That Was Forgotten
Rarely is anything spoken of Ali Mohammad Khademi's murder or the person responsible. Just a few months after his killing, the Islamic Revolution was victorious in Iran and a large number of officials from the Shah government were sent to the execution squads. It seems the extent of the killings and tumultuous environment of the country allowed whatever happened to the director of Iran Air to fall through the cracks.
Cyrus Alai, a former professor at Tehran University and a friend of Gen. Khademi, has spent several years investigating the documents pertaining to this murder. With the cooperation of Khademi's family, he was able to publish for the first time a collection of documents from the Imperial Armed Forces Command in Tehran in the Persian-language journal Irannameh in 2015. It was recorded in one of these documents that three bullet casings were recovered beside Khademi's body. Based on this document and the report of an officer who investigated the scene of the crime, Gen. Khademi was "assassinated" by "a group of at least three people," and a forensic medical examiner also confirmed his murder by a bullet wound in the back of the head. The names of three members of the Anti-Sabotage Joint Committee (Komiteh-ye Zedd-e Kharabkari) are also present in the documents, one of whom was identified at the Imperial Armed Forces Command in Tehran by Bahieh Moayyad (Khademi) as the shooter of her husband, Lt. Gen. Khademi.
Despite the identification and apprehension of these individuals by the Imperial
Armed Forces Command, none of them were ever put on trial or punished. A short
time later, the Organization of National Security and Intelligence (SAVAK) held
Bahieh Moayyad (Khademi) for about one month that she might declare her
husband's death a suicide. She did not acquiesce in this request.
Cyrus Alai says, "In those days, the government organizations were so overwhelmed that they would do anything to keep the environment calm. The murder of Lt. Gen. Khademi - one of the most prominent Baha'i figures - was an action that not only did nothing to help calm the situation, but added to the people's outrage as well as exasperated the clerics."
Ali Mohammad Khademi among "Eminent Persians"
A special article on Lt. Gen. Khademi was published in the book Eminent Persians (Abbas Milani, 2008). In the book, it reads, "Khademi's dream was to fly, and he immediately enrolled in the Air Force Flying School. After graduation, he finished his training in England; he was the first Iranian to receive a commercial pilot's licence." Milani considers Gen. Khademi's life's work to be an exemplary model in modern Persian history, which shows how bravery and honesty, along with a policy of meritocracy, can impact society.
On the fortieth anniversary of Lt. Gen. Khademi's murder, Abbas Milani says he has seen "no compelling evidence" that the Shah's security apparatus played a role in Khademi's murder. He adds: "In my opinion, the evidence suggests that the religious forces played a role in this incident, but in the end, they tried to pin everything on SAVAK. Without having any support network inside the government, Khademi brought Iran Air to the highest position from nothing. This operation was a thorn in the side of those who would not be able to reach this kind of success and who today, prevent Baha'is in Persia from receiving an education."
The Director of the Iranian Studies department at Stanford University adds: "Even his critics did not paint him as corrupt. During his management, Khademi made every effort to free Iran Air from depending on foreign pilots, and he was also renowned for his strict terms for employing skilled pilots and preventing flight delays-was exemplary among most senior government officials.
Opposing Views on the Shooters' Identity
The media in Persia at the time of the Shah all announced Lt. Gen. Khademi's killing as "suicide." Abbas Milani sees the reason for this is unclear, but to an extent, a consequence of Persia's critical situation at the time. He says: "Now it has become entirely clear that religious forces played a role in the Cinema Rex fire, but at the time when Dariush Homayoun announced this, no one believed it. This was also the case in regard to the murder of Lt. Gen. Khademi. The Shah's regime had lost its credibility and anything it would say was used against it."
Cyrus Alai, however, outright denies the role of religious forces and considering the evidence, believes that the role of the Anti-Sabotage Joint Committee is clear in this regard. However, Alai insists that Mohammad Reza Shah was unaware of the Committee's operations; the Committee, which had become extraordinarily powerful at that time, was obstructing the Imperial Armed Forces' pursuits in punishing agents by exerting its influence.
Management of Iran Air (HOMA) and International Air Transport Association (IATA)
After completing his education in Persia and Britain, and some years of service with the Iranian Air Force, Khademi continued his studies. In 1957 he graduated from the U.S. Air Force War College in Alabama, and for four years he was the Chief of Staff of Iranian Air Force, beginning in 1958. Khademi was appointed the general manager of the newly founded company Iran Air in 1962. Shortly thereafter, he completed the Air Transport Senior Management course at American University in Washington DC.
In his book The History of Commercial Aviation in Iran, Abbas Atrvash makes note that at this time, Iran Air had thirteen small aircraft and about 750 employees. In 1978, this figure rose to 37 Boeing aircrafts and more than 12,800 employees.
Beside the expansion of Iran Air, in 1970 Persia was host to the International Air Transport Association (IATA)'s general meeting (the first to take place in Asia). Lt. Gen. Khademi was the president of the IATA from 1970-1971, being the first Asian to obtain this position.
During this period, Iran Air's flights expanded from the Near East and Europe to the Far East and North America. While he managed Iran Air, Khademi displayed his lasting drive for training and maintaining a modernized fleet. The consistent training courses for employees held in Tehran and management courses organized all over Persia (Iran) are an indication of this mindset. In 1977, Northrop University in California granted Khademi an honorary Ph.D. for his accomplishments in the commercial aviation industry.
Confiscation of Property and an Unresolved Case
Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Khademi's property in Tehran was confiscated, but his murder case still remains unresolved. In one of the administrative letters received from Tehran, it is noted that should the surviving family members seek to follow up on the case, it can be reopened. Monib Khademi, Gen. Khademi's eldest child, traveled to Tehran in 2004 to prevent the case from becoming buried, but did not reach any conclusion. He says: "Government Officials told me 'You cannot do anything in regard to this case, as it is related to the issuance of an edict from Ayatollah Khomeini in connection with the seizure of the properties of Baha'is.'"
Monib, with support of his sisters Mona and Minou, has compiled a collection of documents pertaining to his father's activities and assassination, which will soon be gifted to the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University for researchers to use.
Lt. Gen. Khademi was laid to rest in golestan-e javid (The Baha'i cemetery in Tehran). This cemetery was bulldozed over and demolished in 1981, after the Islamic Revolution.
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