Our Persian boy
Conversations with Farhad
By Fariba Amini
January 15, 2004
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there
is no path and leave a trail.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
I got into my seat at the conference in Chicago. The first panel
was about to finish and I was looking around in search of some
friendly faces. Sitting next to me was someone that I knew and
I began to talk to him about the conference (Thwarting Democracy
in Iran and Guatemala).
As I turned my head I noticed that, sitting
just behind us, was an older gentleman, tall and gaunt. He handed
some photos to my neighbor. They were photos from the coup d'etat
of 1953, which I had never seen before. He introduced
himself as Farhad Diba. Oh, then I realized that I knew him through
an email he had sent to me regarding articles about Dr. Mossadegh.
I shook hands with him and introduced myself. He was very charming,
had a sort of noble look about him and in his low but kind voice
he explained the photos to us.
Immediately I knew that I wanted
to talk to him more about his uncle and his teenage years, when
he had disobeyed his parents and taken off on his own to witness
a historical event in his country; the final acts in the staging
and the planning of the CIA coup of 1953 against his uncle, Dr.
I had struck gold, as I knew talking to someone
who witnessed history himself and was part of it, was really an
important occasion for me. I have become intrigued by what happened
in those days and the reasons behind it. My interest also lies
in the fact that I ask myself many times over, why are some monarchists
and the religious fundamentalists still so afraid and wary of this
man, even fifty years after the fall of his government and almost
40 years after his death.
Farhad Diba was only 16 when he
encountered tanks, a rioting populace and street fighting in
the capital city, in those eventful days
of August 1953. I put the following questions to him in the hope
of discovering more about the person and the imprint of perhaps
the most famous politician in 20th-century Iran.
TEENAGE ENCOUNTERS WITH A COUP D'ÉTAT
I was at boarding school in England and would sometimes go to Tehran
for the holidays, especially in the summer. So it happened that,
during the summer of 1953, I was staying in Tehran, at our house
in Shemiran. My father's office was an old building, which had
belonged to my grandmother, in the compound of Najmieh Hospital.
Dr.Mossadegh's mother, Princess Malektadj Firouz, Najm-e Saltaneh
(my grand-mother) had established it as a charity hospital.
The office and hospital were on Hafez Avenue, facing the Park Hotel
owned by my father.
During my holidays, on some days, I would accompany
my father to the office, early in the morning and return with him
at 2pm. This is how I found myself in town on 19 August 1953 (28
Mordad). The morning had started quite calmly and there was no
hint of what was to follow. When I heard some rumours of a demonstration
not far from where I was, I ventured out into the streets, armed
with my miniature Minox camera, a recent present from my father.
went south towards Hassan Abad Square and, there, I came face-to-face
with a group of demonstrators, heading north up Hafez Avenue.
I tagged along, thinking I would slip back into the Park Hotel
once we reached it, they had closed the very heavy and large
green wooden door. There was a lot of noise and chanting in the
and no one asnwered my frantic knocking on the door.
Curiosity overcame fear and I continued following the marchers,
eventually arriving at the intersection of Kakh Avenue. There,
the crowd had become huge. Some tanks were positioned on Kakh Avenue.
Although I was not far from Dr. Mossadegh's house on Kakh (which
also served as the prime ministry), I decided to turn northwards,
away from the crowd, and went to my sister's house on Kakh Circle.
By this time it was around 2pm and the demonstrations had turned
into riots. We telephoned my parents, who sent a driver to collect
me and take me to our house in Shemiran. On the way, all along
the Shemiran Road, there were groups who had created roadblocks.
They obliged every car to take out a currency note, with the Shah's
picture on it, and display it on the windscreen.
The next day, two lorry loads of soldiers arrived at our house
in Shemiran and thoroughly searched it, saying that Dr.Mossadegh
might be hiding there. Other soldiers were despatched to a summer
garden restaurant owned by my father - the Park-e-Now (New Park)
- and completely ransacked the place. I have to add that this restaurant
was extremely fashionable at the time, and presented competition
to the Darband Hotel restaurant, owned by the Shah (Pahlavi Foundation).
When they had finished searching our house, one group of soldiers
was posted at the gate and we were virtually under house arrest.
Later, my sister and I were able to return to England to boarding
THE PERSON OF DR.MOSSADEGH
My uncle was very good with children and we all had enormous love
and respect for him. Before, during, and after his premiership,
he would unfailingly send a hand-written Norooz note of good wishes
and (as I was at school at that time of the year) he would commission
my father to give me some money as "Eidi", the next time
that my father was in England. Of course, after finishing my education
and returning to Iran, we would make a special Norooz visit to
him, at Ahmadabad.
It was at that simple village house that I came to appreciate
him the most. Perhaps because I was already in my twenties and
because on our Friday visits we were only a small family group.
This group, often composed of my father and some or all of Dr.Mossadegh's
children (Dr.Gholam Hossein, Ahmad, Massoumeh Matin-Daftari), would
engage him on some political conversation and I would be glued
to their discussions.
On a personal note, whenever I had a falling out with my father
(and there were many!), I would take my problem to my uncle and
he would iron it out with my father, in a very gentle and logical
manner. Being the younger brother, my father was obliged to follow
CHURCHILL AND DR.MOSSADEGH NEVER MET, BUT . . .
I was at a boarding school called Harrow, which has a long list
of luminaries amongst its old boys. The school was divided into
some dozen Houses, for accommodations, and the rooms were triple-,
double or single-bed, depending on seniority. At my time, the beds
were in a wooden cupboard and were folded down at night, to be
replaced inside the cupboard during the day. Inside these cupboards,
past residents would carve their names. Mine had Byron in it.
whole system was based on rules and privileges. When we became
monitors (school prefects or guardians of the rules), we had some
very special privileges. Once a year, we had a Churchill song day,
when Winston Churchill (an old boy who had been sacked for failing
Latin!) would come into the auditorium and we would all sing songs.
Afterwards, the monitors would be invited to the Head Master's
study, to take sherry with Churchill. I was introduced to him as "Our
Persian Boy" and, in his usual gruff voice: he said something
like "jolly good, carry on". I have no idea if he knew
my connection to Dr. Mossadegh. By autumn 1953, he had put the
whole issue behind him and, as Stephen Kinzer (author of All
the Shah's Men) has said, Churchill's biographer
states that there is not one single mention of 28 Mordad in
all his memoirs and letters.
My years at Harrow coincided with the oil dispute between Great
Britain and Iran. As a Persian boy, I was well bullied for it!
Other Middle Easterners at Harrow in the same period, were King
Faisal of Iraq and King Hussein of Jordan.
KERMIT ROOSEVELT - THE BUSINESSMAN
Our paths crossed well before my interest in sifting through the
facts of the 1953 coup d'état. Roosevelt was an advisor
to the National Cash Register Company (NCR) of Dayton, Ohio. I
was a member of Abolhassan Diba & Co., a multi-faceted company,
established by my father in Tehran in 1922. A section of our work
was the representation of NCR in Iran, for which I had to go very
often to Beirut, where NCR had its regional HQ. Roosevelt had an
apartment there, at one time, which he shared with Miles Copeland.
My brother-in-law, Frederick Benedix III, lived in the same building.
Some time later, In Tehran, I was invited to a small dinner at
the Palace of the Shah. Roosevelt was there. The Shah asked me
what I was doing and I, very proudly, told him about how well NCR
was progressing in Iran. When I reported that to my father the
next day, he said "You are a fool". Sure enough, within
the year, NCR (which my father had introduced into Iran and, over
25 years, it had grown into a large business) was taken from us
and given over to the Pahlavi Foundation. I learned that Roosevelt
had been given a 3% share - presumably for his intervention.
About ten years later, in 1978, I was in Washington to research
and interview for my book on Dr. Mossadegh. I met up with Roosevelt
and, without telling him that I was writing a book, I asked him
to tell me about his days in Iran during 1953. We had a few lunches
together and dinner at his house, where he and his wife Polly were
generous hosts. Kim liked his vodka and he also liked to brag about
his exploits and his involvement in the coup d'état. Depending
on the intake of vodka, the story would be recounted in various
She was Dr. Mossadegh's youngest daughter, out of three daughters
and two sons. She was a teenager when, in 1941, her father was
arrested and sent to prison in Birjand. On the way, he tried
to commit suicide because he knew that Reza Shah was going
him killed. This was known to others and especially to his young
daughter, who worshipped her father. She was staying in our summer
house in Shemiran when, waking from a nightmare in the early
hours of the morning, she ran with her nightgown to the garden
shouted to be let out to see her father.
My parents brought her
back to the house to calm her down and I, then only a 4-year
old, still vividly remember that I was placed on her lap
and she was
talking to me. Anyway, her health became worse and she was
operated on, but the operation went wrong and she went into a vegetative
state. They sent her to a clinic in Switzerland, where she
for over 50 years. Her hospital expenses were paid out of a
trust, which her father had set up for her in Tehran. At the revolution,
these assets were seized and, for the rest of her life, her
Majid Bayat (Dr. Mossadegh's grand-son) cared for her. She
died a year ago in Switzerland.
I have enjoyed friendly relations with Ardeshir and, through
his mother, we are distantly related. He has always been
to me and I have enjoyed his hospitality wherever he was
as ambassador, as well as at his house in Saheb-Gharanieh.
my uncle and, until I started my research, I was not aware
of his close involvement. Since the revolution, I have only
a couple of occasions, at a family funeral.
DEATH OF DR.MOSSADEGH
I was very close to my uncle during his last days. He
was allowed to come to Tehran and was at the Najmieh Hospital.
Since my office formed a part of the same complex, I was
at his bedside many times during the day.
One day, when he felt a little better, he expressed the
desire to see how Tehran had changed. Ahmad Mossadegh
had a blue
Volkswagen and he seated his father in the back, so that
he would not
be noticed. I sat in front with Ahmad Mossadegh driving
three of us
took a short drive around the area of the nearby streets.
At one point, someone recognized Dr. Mossadegh and, with
expression, pointed him out to other passers-by on the
street. We then made haste to return, as he did not want
the terms of his right to stay in the capital.
Some days later, I had only left him a few hours earlier
and was in my office when the news came of his death.
over to the hospital and the family quickly gathered.
Dr. Gholam Hossein Mossadegh, his son, contacted Mr.
see if they would allow for the burial to take place
Dr. Mossadegh's wishes, alongside of those who died
during the 30th
The reply came that the Shah would not permit
it and would only allow burial at Ahmadabad, Dr.
house, about 140 kilometers from Tehran, and that
there was to be no funeral procession. His corpse was placed
in a white
and we began to follow it. However, the driver must
a Savak agent and tipped off to prevent any kind
of cortege building up. So he took off at a fast pace and tried
to shake off the
of cars that were following.
Anyway, we met up at Ahmadabad and dug a grave for my uncle in
the ground floor room of
which had previously served as a dining room. It
was a very simple burial and an extremely touching scene.
I felt that
this was more appropriate for him, because he had
one for pomp and ceremony. [Present were Ayatollah
Taleghani and Zanjani who did the Islamic burial.]
I never heard Dr. Mossadegh clearly putting the blame
of his downfall on anyone, except for the British.
the same token, he was including the people who
helped the British, covertly or overtly. I think that he
considered his undertaking,
namely the nationalization of the oil in Iran,
as a dangerous task and that he accepted his downfall
He envisaged that he would be assassinated and
was well aware of his enemies inside the country.
Dr. MOSSADEGH AND THE NEW GENERATION
The very fact that there is so much interest in his legacy, adverse
or sympathetic, is proof enough of the man's lasting mark on
his country - Iran. The generation that did not experience the
Mossadegh era in Iran is now marking that period as a time of
democracy and national self-determination. It is seen as a moment
when Iran held its head high and viewed itself as a proud nation.
Generally, there is a thirst for secular democracy, clean, honest
and truly participatory. Dr. Mossadegh is now viewed as the embodiment
of that desire.Farhad Diba now lives in Spain. He has collected
a vast library of books, newspapers and periodicals, photographs
and archival material on Iran, in European languages.
covering every aspect of Iranology, is the largest of its kind
in the world and is now in the process of being catalogued by
him. He has written two books: "Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh:
A Political Biography" and "A Persian Bibliography".
He is currently revising the book on Dr. Mossadegh for a new
I asked Farhad if he had any letters addressed
to him directly by Dr. Mossadegh. His reply was: "all my
letters, photographs, tape recordings of my uncle (which I had
in Iran) were stolen from my house, when the akhunds ransacked
it and grabbed it. Especially my father had a superb collection
of letters from his brother, but they all went as well."
Many readers have asked how it is that Dr. Mossadegh's brother
is a Diba and if he is related to Farah Diba? Dr. Mossadegh's mother,
Najmieh Saltnaeh was married three times (unusual for those times).
One of her husbands was
a Diba. Farhad Diba is therefore related to Farah Diba Pahlavi.
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