Return of Imam

Selected by Fatemeh Beheshti
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


After Muhammad Reza Shah left the country on January 16, 1978, Shapour Bakhtiar as his prime minister tried his best to prevent overthrow of the Pahlavi government in Iran, which was completely predictable. One of the most important actions he took in this direction was to prevent Imam Khomeini from entering the country. When Imam announced he wants to return to Iran, Bakhtiar ordered closure of all airports in the country and refusal to accept planes from outside Iran on January 25. Imam Khomeini (RA), who was ready to return to the country, had an interesting reaction after being informed about this decision taken by the Iranian government. Hedayatullah Behboodi narrated it in his work called “Alef-Lam Khomeini”, which we will be considered in the following.




Closing airports[1]

On the morning of the January 25, about two hundred journalists and photographers were waiting next to Imam Khomeini's residence for what the leader of the revolution would say about closing of Iran's airports. The French police closed the street leading to those two houses from both sides.[2]

The number of policemen and guarding had increased these days. Ayatollah came out and stood near entrance of the house[3] and said, “I intended to be among the people tomorrow and I will be with them in whatever suffering they are going through. But the traitorous government prevented this and closed all the airports in Iran. And I will go immediately after the airports are opened and let him know that you are a usurper and a traitor to our nation.” Imam called the people of Iran both to continue the movement and to calm down. He said, “I will go to Iran and joined my people as soon as possible to be killed with them or to take back rights of the nation and return them to the nation.” He said Bakhtiar betrayed his own tribe, let alone the Iranian nation. The journalists started to ask question. Like most of the interviews, Ebrahim Yazdi was the translator. Ayatollah gave short answers to five or six questions. Someone asked about reopening of the airport by armed people. “At the present, I have no intention of ordering to arm. Whenever I see fit, I will do this and let them know what they should do.” It was asked that your return might cause more bloodshed. “I must be with my brothers”, he said.[4]

On the same day, Imam wrote a few lines to the waiting people of Iran and told them that he would return to Iran after a few days of delay and on January 28 (8th of Bahman). He thanked all those who came from far and near places to Tehran to welcome him, and added that the current government falsely attributes things to me, which I deny all of them. “I have never negotiated with illegal governments and I will never do so.”[5] Yesterday / January 24, while presenting two bills to the National Consultative Assembly, Shapour Bakhtiar had said I conducted negotiations with the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini through trusted representatives, which as It has not been finished, until it reaches a definite conclusion, I will not explain further now.[6] Perhaps Bakhtiar meant the negotiation of his representatives with Council of the Islamic Revolution. He did everything to prevent Imam from entering the country. He was buying time, maybe the situation in the country will change in his favor. “Engineer Mr. Bazargan and a group of members of Council of the Islamic Revolution including myself, with people who were representatives of Bakhtiar’s government Like Mr. Abbas Amirentezam, General Ahmad Madani, we were seriously pursuing the policy of negotiating with Bakhtiar and several army commanders with the aim of preventing more bloodshed and peaceful transfer of power. It was during these negotiations that suggestion of Bakhtiar's resignation was given and he apparently agreed and even wrote a text for the same purpose” which we had presented it in the meeting of Consultative Council of the Revolution. Then we finalized it with amendments for Bakhtiar's signature, but practically, Bakhtiar made signing of the resignation subject to a trip to Paris and a meeting with Imam.”[7]

In the continuation of his message to people of Iran, Imam wrote that this government has hidden its betrayal under cover of the constitution and if it believed in the constitution, it would have stepped down. He considered goal of the Bakhtiar government to restore the Shah and continue rule of that dynasty over Iran, “but it is already too late and iron will of the nation, by the will of God Almighty, will also squash this last conspiracy.”[8]




On the other hand, the decision taken by the government to close the airports for a few days had its own consequences in the society and resulted in strong reactions from the people. In the following, we will read together narrations of the events of those days:

The first narration:[9]

Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani also writes in his memoirs describing the story of that day:

“They closed the airport on the day Imam was supposed to come. On January 30, … we were at Refah School when we heard people had gathered in Azadi Square and the crowd was moving floodingly toward the airport. People's slogan was that we are going to open the airport. Some said we will fire there, some said what to do with the planes. Now and then, such news was heard. Several clergies and I were assigned to go there. A minibus from civil aviation was given to us by a friend named Mr. Nasser Atabaki, who was later died a martyr in the front and was a friend in the mosque we went. In order to have a cover, we also took our families along with ourselves ... Mr. Hamid Naghashian was also there... Mr. Ayat Goodarzi was there. Mr. Ayat ... Mr. Hadi Dianatzadeh were there... among the clergy friends were Messrs. Rabbani Shirazi, Taheri Khorramabadi and Rabbani Amlashi. Finally, we moved in group from Enghelab Street... to Azadi Square; ... until we reached Azadi Square. People were very excited and upset there.

The famous Colonel Rahimi... was giving a speech to the people and inciting them to attack the airport. He said why did Bakhtiar's government prevent our Marja to enter? People, go and open the airport. When we got there, we saw the Guard soldiers had taken a position in front of the people and were ready to attack, and from this side the people were ready to move and attack the airport. Azadi Square was full of people. I took the microphone there and introduced myself. I said I am Mahdavi Kani, Imam of Jalili Mosque. I said I and my companions have a mission from the committee to welcome Imam's to tell you not to attack the airport, Insha’Allah, the Imam will come. When Imam comes and the government is formed, we need the airport and the planes must remain safe. If we attack the airport, some people may take advantage of this attack, and some may be died a martyr, and the airport may be destroyed, and this is not beneficial. Colonel Rahimi came and said, “Agha! Why are you talking in this way? They have stopped our Marja. We have to send people to seize the airport. Why don't Messrs. let? I said, “It is not expedient for us to provoke the people.” ... Finally, we left and came back. A large number of people had gathered near the university and we saw a group of youths and people with bloody hands. It was said that many were injured and martyred. When we reached Saheb al-Zaman Mosque on Azadi Street, I gave a speech to the people there and invited them to calm down and told them to come back. God willing, Imam will come. One of the Kurdish brothers also came there and gave a speech, and called for unity between Kurds and non-Kurds. We also encouraged him.”[10]




The second narration:[11]

Hamid Naghashian, a member of the security committee of the Committee for Welcoming, who was assigned by Martyr Beheshti and Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani to return the demonstrators to Enghelab Square, describes the incident in detail in his memories. He says:

“Another event was the massive gathering of people for the Imam's return and reopening of the airport. In this rally, some were inciting people to go to the airport and open it theirselves. When the committee for welcoming heard this news, the late Beheshti (PBUH) called three people, Mr. Mahdavi Kani, Ayatollah Agha Sayyidhasan Taheri Khorramabadi, and Rabbani Amlashi, and assigned them to go to Shahyad Square (now Azadi) and prevent people go to the airport; because they considered this a conspiracy by SAVAK... When these three people were ready, the late Beheshti assigned two or three other friends and me to go with these three people to help them. We took a minibus and boarded with these three gentlemen and three or four other people; including the little daughter of Mr. Mahdavi Kani who came with us in this minibus. I drove the bus. Since it was not possible to go to Azadi Square from the center of Tehran, we went from an intersection in north of the city and from the north of the city through byway roads... and we arrived Azadi Square. When we entered the square we saw a huge crowd that maybe they had filled the square were leading people to go to the airport while chanting very hot slogans. We climbed the minibus and took the loudspeaker in our hands and first introduced Ulama who were with us... in such a way that their prestige would make people pay attention to what we were trying to say. We chanted some slogans too. Some people followed us, and some people in order to disparage us said “Savakiye, Savakiye (means they are SAVAK’s forces)” and did not allow us to speak. They were chanting and making a noise; we came north of Azadi Square with these introductions and that we brought you a message from Paris and the like. A relatively notable crowd joined us, I chanted and the slogan caused them to gather together, and then I explained that the people! We want to go west and prevent some people from taking the airport. A conspiracy is at work that when we arrived there, Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani will climb the minibus and explain to you. We went with this plan and many people aligned with us and we managed to take the crowd that was going to the airport to Enghelab Square. People listened to us and accepted our word, they didn't succeed either, and in short, we were still above the minibus that we reached almost end of (formerly) Shademan Street or (now) Shadmehr or Behbodi in front of Saheb al-Zaman Mosque. There, the guard forces were all lined up on the sidewalk and were watching what people were doing; when they saw a very irregular crowd coming back and this crowd, who were also going to the airport, either dispersed or joined us or gave up, they attacked our minibus. They beat us and injured our heads and hands. I had a pistol on my waist so I dropped it under the chair, Mr. Mahdavi's daughter picked it up, and finally rest of the guys came and they were beaten badly. Finally, when they retreated a bit, we started the minibus and escaped from the danger, but this pressed the government more and the crowd increased moment by moment in front of the university. The sit-in worked and the government was forced to open the airport.”[12]




Finally, according to the circumstances that a small part of it was narrated and indicated the anger and strong reaction of the people in this issue, Bakhtiar decided on January 29, 1978 to issue the order to reopen Mehrabad Airport, and Imam Khomeini (RA) also returned to the country on Feburary 1.


[1] Source: Behbodhi, Hedayatullah (2017) Alef-Lam Khomeini. Institute of Political Studies and Researches, p. 1057.

[2] Rouhani, Hassan, Memoirs..., vol. 1, p. 522.

[3] Etelea’at’s reporter sent an interesting report of these minutes to Tehran. (Etela’at Newspaper, No. 15770 (January 28, 1978), p. 8.

[4] Sahifeh-ye Imam, Volume 5, Pp. 530 and 531.

[5] Ibid., p. 528.

[6] Etela’at Newspaper, No. 15768 (January 24, 1978), p. 2.

[7] Imam Khomeini Narrated by Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, Pp. 73 and 74.

[8] Sahifeh-ye Imam, Volume 5, Pp. 528 and 529.

[9] Source: Ghasemlou, Akbar & Aghajanpour, Masoumeh (2014) The Oral history of the Committee for Welcoming Imam Khomeini, Islamic Revolution Document Center, p. 120.

[10] Memoir of Hojjat al-Islam Mahdavi Kani, Pp. 192-194.

[11] Source: Ghasemlou, Akbar & Aghajanpour, Masoumeh (2014) The Oral history of the Committee for Welcoming Imam Khomeini, Islamic Revolution Document Center, p. 121.

[12] Authors' interview with Hamid Naghashian, May 29, 2012.

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