The Day Shah Came to the White House

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Faramarz
by Faramarz
13-Dec-2009
 

The telephone calls from Iran always came in the middle of the night when you were sound asleep and this time was no different. It was my father. After asking me about my grades in school and making sure that his investment in my education was not being wasted, he said, “The word came from the top the other day at the office that His Majesty Alaa Hazrat is coming to the US in a few weeks. They would like to have a gathering with the university students so that he can learn about their lives in the US and their issues and challenges. I passed on your telephone number. Mr. G. from the embassy may call and give you more details.” Then he said, “Of course now that you are in college, you are old enough to make your own decisions.” I knew exactly what he meant. I went back to sleep and completely forgot about the conversation!

A couple of days later Mr. G. called. It took me a few seconds to put it all back together. He repeated what my father had said and also mentioned that they would be providing the tickets and the hotel room for the brief stay in Washington D.C. I said that I would be interested to come and also my two roommates may want to come as well. He then said that he would call in a couple of days to get their names and finalize the trip.

“Guys, listen to this. They are paying for us to go to DC to have a gathering with the Shah. I am sure that there will be a reception at the embassy with great food, and some nice looking girls! We can wear our white John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever suits, take a few pictures and if it got boring, we can quietly slip out and check out the night scene in Georgetown! What do you say?” My roommates were not as enthusiastic as I was. Babak’s older brother was fairly active in the student movement at his university. “From what I am hearing from my brother, they are organizing hundreds of anti-Shah students to go to D.C. and protest his visit. It may get ugly. I don’t think that it is such a great idea for us to go to the embassy.” Babak Said.

There were around 100 Iranian students at my university and they fell into 4 broad categories. The first group always avoided any contact with other Iranians. They came and went without saying hi or speaking Farsi. So we just ignored them.

The second group was comprised of the leftist students of different shades. They were always sitting around a big table at the Student Center. We had nicknames for most of them. Their leader was Mammad Che Guevara and the second in command was Parviz Sandinista! They always had booklets and leaflet at their table and were ready to engage you in never-ending political discussions.  

The third group was a small Muslim crowd. They usually sat at a table next to the wall and they didn’t look friendly at all. Their pack leader was Jafar Khareh (stupid Jafar!) He had a beard and his wife wore the hejab on campus which was very unusual at that time. The rumor had it that once he slaughtered a sheep in his living room to have Halal meat for Ramazan. His neighbor saw some blood coming out of his place and called the police to investigate. That whole incident elevated him to a new level in our eyes.

Then there were the rest of us. We had our own big table at the Student Center. We generally talked about school, social things, sports, etc. We all got along just fine.

When Mr. G. called again, I could tell that his tone had changed. He talked about how the patriotic Iranian students should come to D.C. and show support for his Majesty. As he spoke, it became very clear to me that he was organizing a counter demonstration, and not a fancy reception at the embassy. As a kindergartner I remember going to Elizabeth Boulevard in Tehran with my teachers and classmates and wave flags as Shah and foreign dignitaries drove by. But, as a college student, the idea just didn’t appeal to me.  So I started to slowly walk back from my prior commitment. I mentioned that I had exams coming up soon and I needed to finish my term paper. I also said that my roommates are in the same situation. And not to get into trouble with the embassy, I said that I would call him in a couple of days to let him know. I never called.

In the days leading to the Shah’s arrival, there was a certain buzz at the leftists’ table. They were making plans to rent vans or cars to go to D.C. And then they all disappeared for a few days.

Shah’s arrival at the White House was the biggest news item on the Evening News with Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings. There were hundreds of protestors in ski masks and placards. They were kept behind the fences and away from the White House. The D.C. park police was in full force on their horses. The small pro-Shah crowd was in a spot away from the others. As the motorcade approached the White House, the chants of “Down with the Shah” and “Marg bar Shah” were heard all over the place.

The Evening News showed anti-Shah protesters jumping fences and going after the pro-Shah crowd with the sticks. D.C. police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. And as Jimmy Carter was welcoming Shah on the south lawn, the wind blew the tear gas into Shah’s eyes. He looked visibly upset as he wiped his eyes. Carter apologized for “the poor air quality in D.C.!”

I learned later on that Shah’s arrival was broadcast live on Iranian TV and people in Iran saw basically the same images and heard the same chants.

Several years later I met a couple at a party. We talked about the situation in Iran, the war, the hostage crisis and then I told them the whole episode with Mr. G. from the embassy. The woman laughed and said, “You are lucky that you did not go. Because I DID! I had the same plans as you had; a free trip to D.C. a meeting and a reception at the embassy and some sightseeing the next day. But when we arrived at the hotel, Mr. G. gathered us at the lobby and told us that we needed to be downstairs the next morning at 7:30 AM to get on the charter bus to go to our spot near the White House. So I figured that I just won’t show up in the morning until the bus had left and then I go about my plans. I could always apologize later to Mr. G. for sleeping late because of the time changes.”

Then she said, “The next morning at 6:30 AM there was a big knock on my door. I tried to ignore it, but it wouldn’t stop. Mr. G. went from one hotel room to another and woke everybody up and made sure that everyone was in the lobby at 7:30 AM. We got on the bus. He then passed on the flags and shepherded us to our spot. As Shah’s motorcade went by, we waved our flags and then the whole hell broke loose! They were coming after us with their sticks. We just ran for our lives. I ran for a few blocks and then took refuge in a shop.”

I’ve always wondered how Shah felt as he drove by the protesters. These were the youth of Iran, the “cream of the crop”, and the future of the country. He could not afford losing them. Maybe he realized then that it was all over.

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more from Faramarz
 
IRANdokht

Ramin

by IRANdokht on

Read the blog before you comment on my comment and make a fool out of yourself (again).

Those words and the idea that Shah had known it was over were in Faramarz' blog. I only asked him if he was sure.

This obsession and childish behavior is absolutely pathetic. Get a life!

IRANdokht


ramin parsa

Irandokht and Ali P.

by ramin parsa on

Irandokht writes, If he knew then that it was all over and he hung on to everything until the last month and then he simply packed up and left with his family, then why are some people still beating their chests for the Pahlavis?  

As Ali P. rightly points out, how do you know that the Shah thought it was all over for the monarchy in November, 1977 (the actual date of his visit, some 16 months before the revolution succeeded) just because a bunch of spoiled idiots were protesting his visit? As far as we know, the Shah perhaps thought he had a fighting chance, all the way up to the Black Friday incident (orchestrated by the mullahs/Palestianians) in Septmber 1978.

Please use your God-given brain before you jibber-jab at your keyboard. And why do you still "beat your chest" for the murdering/raping system of Velayat-e-Faghigh? Don't you know it's all over for you and yours?

Ali P. astutely writes, "No, he didn't think anything was over. The opponents orchestrated this to send a signal to him to stop modernization." And that's all he saw it as.I  It wasn't until late 78, when he accepted that difeatist attitute, and that had much to do with his cancer."

Excellent blog, Faramarz! Your analysis and points are 100% on the mark! Well done!


acopier101

Faramarz,

by acopier101 on

The students were not wearing “ski masks”, as it is mentioned in your blog.  The masks were made of paper, with the words "Protest Shah's Visit" written on them, as seen in this picture:
 
http://www.corbisimages.com/images/U1917032-20.jpg?size=67&uid=10F54BF9-B64A-4E81-863B-D7B4ABCCC93E
 
Also, there was not any fences separating pro and anti Shah demonstrators from each other.  Pro-Shah people were on the side of the streets closer to the White House, as seen in these pictures:
 
http://www.corbisimages.com/images/U1917032-8.jpg?size=67&uid=F0D42D2A-5DF8-462A-8D21-9FC11ADEF216


http://www.corbisimages.com/images/U1917032.jpg?size=67&uid=0807D1EF-944B-43CA-9CE1-16FD129912CD

Also, as seen in those pictures the pro-Shah people look well-to-do.  Their placards are professionally printed and they are of all of ages, including children; whereas the anti-Shah people were mostly all students, with not much income.

As you stated, it was rumored the expenses of the pro-Shah people were paid by the Iranian government, whereas the individual anti-Shah students had paid for their own expenses.

There were two places where people had gathered, the anti-Shah people were in Lafayette Square, north of Pennsylvania Ave, and in the South side of the White House, which must have been the President's Park.  In either location, the pro-Shah people were closer to the White House and only the streets separated the two opposing camps.

The attack was pre-planned by one of the more radical group of the student organizers.  They were carrying a heavy cardboard placard that was used as shield to prevent the police from hitting them, meanwhile the sticks from the placards were used to attack the police and the pro-Shah people.  The signal to attack was the sound of the firing of the ceremonial cannon.

To the credit of the student organizers, once the pro-Shah people were dispersed the students organized themselves and things settled down.  Guns were drawn by the police but no shuts were fired.  There were several injuries from both sides of the protestors as well as the police.  There were SWAT team on top of the White House ready to shoot anyone who would enter into the White House ground, which no one did.


hamsade ghadimi

as i remember...

by hamsade ghadimi on

faramarz,

you stirred up some old memories. i also remember shah’s visit.  the group of students were pretty much divided as how you described; although, i never saw the first group!  the leftist group was probably composed of eight smaller groups (cheriks, mojahed, peykar, …) being the collective non-islamic (except the mojahed) opposition group.  then there was the islamist group which was quite small unlike what i had experienced in the west coast.  then there was the pro-shah group and there were few straddlers like me who they called “khat-e shish.”  being from the “sixth line” meant that i wasn’t a follower of any ideology and would sit down in the cafeteria with any iranian regardless of their group.

when shah was coming to the u.s., some of my friends were driving or taking buses to d.c. while some other friends got their airplane tickets and hotel rooms paid for by the Iranian embassy.  i remember some of my “leftist” friends were sore at me during this time when they’d notice that i spend time with the “pro-shah” crowd.  ironically, many of my “leftist” friends from the good old days turned out to be very successful capitalists!

at that time, i had a busy school and work schedule and passed up on the trip to d.c.  but I remember watching the shah crying from the tear gas on t.v. and having a good laugh.  my friends from both camps returned with claim of victory: one group made a spectacle and the other made off with a free trip to d.c.


maziar 58

.....

by maziar 58 on

Faramarz khan FYI Back in 79 (the same rally) you're talking about the u.s Intelligents gathered a whole documented evidence against all those Islamic crowed and I remember meeting 2 homeless iranian one from huntington Beach,ca  (he had his pic in an American high school) andcalifornia issued ID's and the other guy from toronto.....

Italy was not requiring visa to enter so they some how ended in Rome after being deported from usa.         Maziar

marg bar siyassat. 


mahmoudg

The Shah left, because he was a humanitarian

by mahmoudg on

The same cannot be said about this ruling bunch.  The rahbar just re-iterated today that he will fight the masses with every force he has got.  Precisely what the Shah said he will NOT do.  So that makes the Shah a humanitarian and the Mullahs the murderers.  In fact we have not even seen the beginning of the massacre what will be unleashed on the iranians by the Mullahs in the name of God.  i think the Mullahs and Islam will put Torquemada and Christianity to shame. 


vildemose

Faramarz: Your data point

by vildemose on

Faramarz: Your data point are excellent and refreshingly insightful. Were you or your family close to the Shah?


Faramarz

Irandokht Jaan, Some additional thoughts

by Faramarz on

Of course only he knew what he was thinking about when he saw the protesters in front of the White House. But later on he did say that he was very disappointed to see the students that got the opportunity to study abroad because of him, were out there protesting against him.

I am not sure at what point he knew that the gig was up, but I think that towards the end, he was both indecisive and confused. Here are some data points.

He attended a boarding school in Switzerland and like most people who do not spend their childhood around their own kind; he did not have a great understanding or connection to the average person.

He was a religious person and in his book he talked about how he was saved from falling from his horse by the invisible hand of Hazrat e Abbas! Maybe towards the end he thought that some miracle would save him.

Because of the whole Mossadegh episode, he relied very heavily on the advice of the Americans. Again, towards the end he only sought guidance from the American ambassador in Tehran. By then the Americans had already closed the book on him. And that could be because they already knew about his medical condition.

Throughout his rein, he had difficulty with strong military people in Iran’s armed forces. Maybe he did not want another Mossadegh situation. He either retired them pre-maturely or never promoted them. And towards the end when some of these high ranking people that you call “amoo jaan” went to him and wanted to do something he rejected their plans.

Many of the people who were left behind truly believed that they were innocent and wanted to help build a new Iran, but they were killed without merci and that is a tragedy.

I think that the women’s right issue was an important one because while the society as a whole was not quite ready for it, he pushed it forward anyways.    


IRANdokht

Thanks

by IRANdokht on

Faramarz jan

It's interesting that you think you have to defend Shah to me only because I asked a question. Ali P. seems to think that you were wrong in saying that he knew it was the end of him then...Do you agree with him?

A couple of people I used to call "amoo jan" were killed after Shah ran away. I needed to know if he knew in advance and didn't do a damn thing about the fate of his most loyal "servants". That has nothing to do with women's right. 

Manoucher jan,

not only "harf-e mard yekieh" ;-) I guess any question is considered an attack too!  

Best

IRANdokht


Faramarz

Irandokht, Just to be fair

by Faramarz on

Before anything else, we have to acknowledge the good things that Shah did. He kept the country together after the WW II, especially with a neighbor to the north like the Russians who had demonstrated on many occasions their willingness to roll their tanks into their neighbors’ territories. He also built a strong military that the likes of Saddam never even thought about crossing our borders. The Iranian Air Force pilots used to joke about how they would circle over Iraqi air space before landing in their air bases, just to piss Saddam off!

His other major contribution, I believe, was the women rights. That was never an issue with him.

But the man had his shortcomings, like anybody else!


Faramarz

Ali, the Campus Scene

by Faramarz on

Ali,
I remember seeing your blog while back and I was tempted to respond, but I could not quite formulate a very concise reply.

Back at the college days, the leftist students were better organized than other groups because they had a play book. They had the ideology, the books and all sorts of other things. They also used the power of persuasion and at times intimidation to indoctrinate people. So when an 18-year old freshman from Iran arrived on campus with no background in politics or free speech, and with only a suitcase full of textbooks, clothes, pistachios and monabat kari, it was easy to persuade him to join their ranks. And remember, this was all before the democracy movements of the 90’s or the color revolutions that followed that. So there were no other alternatives.

Those were interesting times. We all grew up so fast! 


Ali P.

To answer your question, Irandokht.

by Ali P. on

One would say:"No,  He didn't think anything was over. The opponents orchestrated this to send a signal to him to stop modernization." And that's all he saw it as.I  It wasn't until late 78, when he accepted that difeatist attitute, and that had much to do with his cancer."


Manoucher Avaznia

ایراندخت جان؛

Manoucher Avaznia


تو خود حدیث مفصل بخوان ازین مجمل. اگر در کتیبۀ بیستون داریوش نخست پس از دو هزار و پانصد و بیست و نه سال دگرگونیی یافتی، در برهان و اعتقادات این گروه هم پس از سی سال دگرگونی خواهی یافت.

 

درود بر تو


IRANdokht

Mirza and Phantom

by IRANdokht on

Thanks for the translations.

It's just sad that one simple question brings out a whole bunch of personal attacks and insults... All I wanted to know was why someone who knew what was happening did not try to remedy the situation by easing up on the people in time to make ammends with them and finally deserted the country... Why would such person still have any support at all. 

I guess some don't remember what happened to the ones who were loyal to the king until the last day...

IRANdokht


IRANdokht

Darius jan

by IRANdokht on

I hope you have a fantastic birthday and best wishes to you for a healthy and happy year.

;-)

IRANdokht


The Phantom Of The Opera

"Imperial Office Of Euphemism" presents... Irandokht

by The Phantom Of The Opera on

One has to be really amazed by the new set of vocabulary used by the Pahlavi bunch: "Absolute king" for "a dictator", "not abdicated" for "overthrown"...

The Pahlavis and all mullahs must disclose the source and the amount of their wealth.


میرزا چغندر

Now you know, Irandokht

by میرزا چغندر on

سینه زنی‌ اینها جنبه انحرافی دارد، در اصل جای دیگرشان میسوزد.


Darius Kadivar

Answer ...

by Darius Kadivar on

Because if it may have escaped you Irandokht ...

OUR SHAH DID NOT ABDICATE !

Not Everyone Gives Up Like YOU Khanoum Jaan !

Shapour Bakhtiar On Regime Change (1989):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNBFTWXz5_Q

Reza Pahlavi's message on the Anniversary of the 1906 Constitutional Revolution in Iran

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFjjjGwEDkQ

But the understanding is I suppose too complicated for a Hezbeh Baad midset like yours ! ...

So I won't bother explaining it to you ! ... I am sure you will always have a pocket full of arguments to re iterate your justifications for your swinging from one Pro Reform to another Republican mindset !

Cheers,

DK

 


IRANdokht

I have a question

by IRANdokht on

Faramarz khan, thank you for sharing your memories and the experience.

At the very end, when you said "Maybe he realized then that it was all over." only one question came to my mind:

If he knew then that it was all over and he hung on to everything until the last month and then he simply packed up and left with his family, then why are some people still beating their chests for the Pahlavis?

IRANdokht

 


Ali P.

Interesting

by Ali P. on

Back then, I went to high school in Iran, and all I did, was chasing a soccer ball, but it would be interesting to hear from people who were there- on either side- and from those four groups of students in your campus. I tried to find out about the leftists, in an earlier blog, but all seemed to have had vanished in thin air:

http://iranian.com/main/node/24690