The Causes and Main Factors behind the failure of Iranian National Movement

An interview with Dr. Ehsan Naraghi

Interviewer: Morteza Rasoulipour

Q: When the oil industry nationalization bill was approved in the parliament, you were involved in student activities in Europe. In what international situation was the oil nationalization implemented and what was the reaction of Iranian students in Europe to the approval of the bill?

As you know, after World War II, the United States gradually replaced Britain and ever since then, the aim of the Soviet Union was to fight the US. Since, the Britain was seeking to secure its oil interests in southern Iran, during Azarbaijan crisis, it did not really oppose to granting the concession of northern Iranian oil to Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union’s failure in gaining more oil concessions was actually due to the US obstinacy and Truman’s opposition. Oil excavation in Iran in the beginning of the twentieth century had put the country in an exceptional situation, because it was a powerful energy resource and of great importance internationally. In the years after World War II, this energy resource became an important tool for campaign against Britain. The political significance of oil for Iran was like that of Suez Canal for Egypt. As you mentioned, I was involved in student activities since two years before the oil industry nationalization and had leftist orientations like many others. The oil issue was what distanced me completely from Tudeh Party and the Soviet Union. Although, I had already wavered about the validity of their opinions, the oil nationalization movement clarified for me to what extent they were far from the truth. I could very well see that the Tudeh Party and Soviet Union having an ideological interpretation of oil and the national movement, believed that in a dependent and colonized country, a national movement would not appear spontaneously and it is imperialism which is going to destroy proletariat forever by triggering national bourgeoisie in Iran. From their viewpoint, this movement had no authenticity since it did not fit into Marxist frameworks and Iranian National Movement was the first one to have been found against the neo-colonization.  When I met Iraj Eskandari in Paris, this movement was unbelievable for him. He said that this was the US game and had no originality of its own. At that time, perhaps the Soviet Union had not shown its true face and many supporters still thought that the country was the cradle of freedom and the defender of the oppressed nations. I remember that when Engineer Razavi, a leader of the National Front became the parliament vice-speaker, since he had some inclination toward Tudeh Party, announced officially in the parliament that we do not allow our oil to go to the west and glut the Europe. This, in a way, was favoring the eastern bloc and Soviet Union.

To what extent were the Iranian political representatives, ambassadors and foreign ministry staff abroad especially in Europe coordinated with the policies of Iranian national leaders?

When I was in the first student movement in Switzerland, for two months the country’s newspapers strongly attacked Iran. The Iranian embassy in Switzerland did not even try to defend Iran, because it did not dare to speak against Britain. In general, the Iranian embassy officials could not even imagine standing against the British policies.
I remember that on an Easter holiday, I organized a meeting. We decided to write a letter to Dr. Mosaddeq and inform him of the situation in Switzerland and the country’s newspapers. We wrote to him that the Swiss papers had asked why the British navy fleet does not bombard Abadan, who do these illiterate and lowbrow people think they are to say they want to nationalize their oil?! When the university opened, we held another session with regards to this matter. In that session, we received a letter from the Iranian Ambassador in Bern, Abolqassem Forouhar, in which he had written that our meeting was not official and we should have informed us two weeks in advance, and secondly, what we have said was none of our business! This was while we had already received Dr. Mosaddeq's letter in which praising us a lot, he had said that we were their real ambassadors abroad.

Q: When did this happen?

A: When Dr. Mosaddeq was the head of Special Oil Commission in the sixteenth parliament and had not become prime minister yet. The ambassador’s letter was extremely disgraceful. Interestingly enough, when Dr. Mosaddeq was appointed as the Prime Minister, the first ambassador to be dismissed was Forouhar. I mean, the foreign ministry apparatus at that time was not working in line with goals of Mosaddeq and the oil national movement at all. Perhaps, around 80 percent of our diplomats thought the same as Forouhar and this was one of the main problems of Mosaddeq who later suspected such statesmen because he could see that the diplomacy apparatus did not share his views. Our diplomats were not attentive at all to the problems Mosaddeq had. Dr. Mosaddeq did not trust them either. This is why when he went to the US he prevented Nasrollah Entezam from taking part in the negotiations; the story everyone knows about. He did not trust diplomats of the foreign ministry apparatus and it was one of the problems this old man struggled with. Anyways, the activities of students abroad were followed by such response from Dr. Mosadqq.

Q: What kind of relation was established between Britain and the United States outside Iran? What is obvious is that the Americans at first approved of oil nationalization movement. How come they change their opinion?

A: Yes, in the beginning, the Americans, agreed with this current and the Britain was angry with the position the US took but, since it did not have the power to pressure them, it was looking for any opportunity to change the US opinion little by little. After Churchill, from the Conservative Party, came to power in Britain, the situation changed a little. Mr. Allahyar Saleh told me: "when I was Iran’s ambassador in the United States, Truman’s deputy told me in a meeting to tell Mosadeqq that they could not oppose to Britain more than they already have for their own sakes because Britain has stood by them through every step of the World War and is among their allies, you, yourselves, solve the problem with the Britain somehow!" The US change of attitude was to some extent due to the cold war, Soviet Union and the US's fear from Communism, and to some extent due to its economic interests.

Q: What's your take on the disagreements between Ayatollah Kashani and Dr. Mosaddeq? When did it start and over what issues?

I returned to Iran in August 1952 and due to my family relation with the late Ayatollah Kashani, I went to his house from the very first days. Ayatollah Kashani used to ask me to interpret the foreigner reporters and the diplomats who came to his house. And I was very interested because it was very informative for me. His house was like a political club for me. Different people ranging from the Bazaar leaders to the clergymen and the members of the National Front, lawmakers and those who were interested in National Front used to go there there. There were still close relations between the leaders of the movement. But the there was no such situation in the house of Dr. Mosaddeq and official meetings were held mostly there.
When Dr. Mosaddeq proposed the authorities bill to the parliament in July, although it was approved, the murmurs of opposition were heard little by little.  However, Ayatollah Kahshani's objection became serious only when Dr. Mosaddeq called for the extension of the authorities bill for another one year. The problem started when the opposition forces and a number of parliments came to Ayatollah Kashani and expressed their dissatisfaction. Ayatollah Kashahni opposed to the approval of the bill the first time because he very well understood the country’s critical situation. But, he did not tolerate its extension for another one year. However, we should acknowledge the fact that when Dr. Mosaddeq was granted the approval of the authorities bill, he managed to enact bills which reformist could only dream of. What I mean is that, he did not want to misuse this power to his benefit. He had asserted many times that he was not a despot. He believed that the situation of the parliament was as such that it did not let such proposals to be enacted. This was one of the disagreements between Ayatollah Kashani and Dr. Mosaddeq. Another disagreement was over the people Mosaddeq appointed. Mr. Kashani told him that:"you always charged the former prime ministers of being the puppets of the British embassy. Now how is it that you have appointed Sahamos-sultan, one of your relatives, as the head of the board of directors of the Oil Company?" He also disagreed with the appointment of Brigadier General Mohammad Daftari as the commander of the Armed Guard because, when they wanted send Mr. Kashani to exile, he as the commander of the military police arrested Kashani in an insulting way and Ayatollah Kashani was very angry at him. They also had disagreements on the appointment of Reza Fallah in the Oil Company because they believed that since he had been granted the insignia of protection from the British Queen, it was not appropriate to appoint him as a close consultant in oil affairs. In the Oil Company, people like Engineer Parkhideh and Hassan Nowzari did not have a favorable view toward Fallah and considered him as an Anglophile. Such opposition disclosed gradually to the extent that once, at a lunch party in my house where all the relatives were invited and so was Ayatollah Kahshani, my father and uncle, who were Kashani's relatives, and in fact had grown with him, told him that they had managed to send him to France for medical treatment and that they had prepared his passport and visa. He said that he’d better to consult the issue with Dr. Mosaddeq. Dr. Mosaddeq had told him that he must stay in Iran. The distrustful people around Ayatollah Kashani said that Dr. Mosaddeq wants him to stay because the disagreements would be intensified and that Mosaddeq wants to decrease Kashani's popularity, whereas it was unknown whether or not weakening Mr. Kashani, would be to the benefit of Mosaddeq.

Q: To you, who mostly provoked the disagreements?

A: I believe that, Dr. Baqaee because of positions he took, was an element which intensified the disagreements. He was very stubborn. Ever since the oil bill was brought up in the parliament and the minority congressmen especially Makki resisted the approval of Gass-Golshaiiyan annexed bill, Baqaee got very close to Ayatollah Kashani. When Baqaee put himself in the opposite position with Dr. Mosaddeq, in view of his stubbornness, exploited Ayatollah Kashani's interest in him. However, when Dr. Fatemi was appointed as the foreign minister, he intensified the disagreements with his special way of thinking.

Q: How much do you know about the February 28, 1952 event?

Well, I was with Mr. Kashani on February 28 from early morning until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. The event of February 28 intensified the problems because, nobody knew that the Shah wanted to leave Iran and Dr. Mosaddeq had kept the issue secret since he feared that the opponents would foment. The story became an instrument for the instigators to plan for conspiracy.

Q: The oppositions had also some forces inside the National Front which has been less addressed. I am talking about the disagreement between a number of Dr. Mosaddeq supporters and the extremists of Dr. Fatemi. Do you know anything about this?

Yes, Mr. Sepehr Zabih in his book "Iran, during Dr. Mosaddeq's time" has addressed the issue that in my view it is of great importance. He was a friend of Dr. Fatemi. Referring to his talks with Fatemi in July 1953, he said that Fatmi's opinion about the split of the leading leaders of the National Front was that their split would cause the national government to be strengthened because most of them were opportunists who had joined Dr. Mosaddeq for political and personal benefits. Fatemi was sure that most of Dr. Mosaddeq supporters would denounce the splitters as "betrayers". Fatemi trivialized people like Kashani, Dr. Baqaee and Makki and believed that their political past testified that they were opportunists and not politically reliable. About the activities of Tudeh Party, Fatemi underestimated the threat of the party in intensifying domestic unrests and publicly insulted the second-ranking leaders of the party. From Fatemi's view, the west was intentionally exaggerating the threat of Tudeh Party in order to frighten the Iranian conservative groups. On the other hand, Fatemi believed that Shah was in a situation no better than the days before the uprising of July 21 (30 Tir) in terms of conspiring against Mosaddeq. He believed that Mosaddeq had the power to rise against other politicians and kick them out, and that the Shah's efforts for separating people like Dr. Baqaee and Ayatollah Kashani from the National Front would, in practice, have more gains for Mosaddeq. The events which led to the collapse of Mosaddeq government showed that Dr. Fatemi was still optimistic until the last days of Mosaddeq premiership while his assessments were not correct in most cases. He did not pay attention to domestic unrests and dissatisfactions and believed that our country has survived without oil for centuries and it can do it now. Maybe the biggest mistake of Fatemi's calculation was about support of the public for the National Front and the passivity of Tudeh Party. However, the people were tired. I believe that, Mosaddeq had more animosity with Shah and the Britain than Tudeh Party.

 Translated by: Mohammad Baqer Khoshnevisan

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