From the State Look at August 18 coup to the Relation Between Land Reforms & the US

Review: Ardeshir Zahedi Memoirs

Meysam Gholampour
Translated by: Mohammad Bagher Khoshnevisan


In the book’s preface, Ardeshir Zahedi says, “History is written from different viewpoints and those who are born after a historic period, have the right to get familiar with it beyond a narration and interpretation in order to judge better.”

In the history of the Pahlavi era, the surname of Zahedi recalls us two characters; Fazlollah and Ardeshir, a father and a son who played important roles politically under the Pahlavis. Fazlollah Zahedi had the positions like Police Chief and Gendarmerie, a senator in the Senate, Interior Minister, Prime Minister, and Iran’s Permanent Representative in the UN European Office. But despite all this, he is more famous for his role in the August 18 coup and restoring Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to power. Thus, his name in history has been put before the name of Mohammad Mosadeq. The son of Zahedi like his father rose to higher levels of politics and was appointed to the positions like Iran’s ambassador to America and Britain and Foreign Minister under the 2nd Pahlavi.  Ardeshir Zahedi had earlier released his sporadic memoirs and interviews the first of which was published in Ettela’at Monthly in sequence after the event of August 18; a collection which was later republished by different publications. But at present, a two-volume collection of his memoirs has been released. Although the first volume had earlier been released, the second one with almost a long delay, along with the republication of the first one has been released.


A glance at the book

Apart from the interviews, both volumes of the memory book of Ardeshir Zahedi include a rich collection of photos and documents. The photos of the collection have been selected from different times of Ardeshir Zahedi’s life. It also consists of more than 250 documents. Most part of the book’s documents which cover a large amount of both volumes is in English, consisting of documents from the British and US foreign offices. A positive point of the book is its footnotes in which documents, memoirs, reports and other things from different figures have been included according to various subjects which have been expressed from the language of Zahedi.

The book’s first volume has eleven chapters which have started by mentioning the family and childhood of Ardeshir Zahedi to resignation of his father from premiership. “The Family of Father and Mother”, “Reza Shah and General Zahedi”, “The Father’s Detention and Exile, “From the Battlefield to Arena of Politics”, “Childhood, Education, Employment”, “The Start of Storm”, “The Event of February 28”, Hiding Times”, “Five Critical Days”, “My Duties after August 18”, and “Relations between Shah and Prime Minister” are the titles which have been selected for the first volume. The second volume starts from the trip of Ardeshir Zahedi along with Mohammad Reza Shah to India and ends with the event of the Shah’s assassination attempt on 9th of April 1965. “Memoirs for the trip to India and Pakistan”, “Love and Marriage”, “Coup in Baghdad”, “the Fake Story of Ordoubadi Coup”, “A Wife for Shah”, “Mission in Washington”, “Mission in London”, “The Death of Father and Separation from Wife”, The event of April 9”, and “About Iran and Britain’s Relation” are the titles of the second volume. However, Zahedi’s memoirs remained incomplete because it does not cover the events after the end of his ambassadorship in Britain for example an important period like his ambassadorship in the United States. It seems that we should witness the release and publication of the continuation of Zahedi’s memoirs in the future. Therefore, the current book lacks one of the most important times of Zahedi’s life namely the beginning of his career as Foreign Minister until the victory of the Islamic revolution. Thus, the book does not deal with a subject such as being considered of the Zahedi’s name for the position of premiership after Howeida.


Zahedi in the way of reputation

According to Zahedi, his mother was of Qajar origin. His mother was the daughter of Mo’atamen al Molk (Hossein Pirnia), a lawmaker and minister during the constitutional movement. He was also the parliament speaker from the 2nd to 7th terms of the parliament.  Mo’atamen- al Molk was the son of Moshir al-Dowleh (Mirza Nasrollah Khan), a prominent prime minister of Qajar era. On the other hand, Eshrat al-Saltanah, Ardeshir’s grandmother was also the daughter of Muzaffareddin Shah Qajar. But the paternal descendants of Zahedi go back to Sheikh Zahed Gilani and his grandfather was one of the big landowners of Hamedan.

When Ardeshir was born in 1928, his father was fighting in Gilan. Since Fazlollah Zahedi was continuously at war, he did not want his son to stay here and liked to send him overseas to continue his education. This happened. After finishing elementary and high schools, he got his diploma from a school in Beirut affiliated to an American university. Then he left Lebanon for America. He continued his education in the fields of agriculture and economics. It was in America that his father and mother separated from each other. When Ardeshir was in America, Mohammad Reza headed for the country for the first time. It was at this time that Ardeshir as the representative of Iranian students in Utah State welcomed the Shah and the visit was a spark for the beginning of his familiarization and relation with Mohammad Reza.

Later, when Dr. Harris, the dean of the university where Zahedi was studying was appointed as the head of the Fourth Principle of Truman and was going to come to Iran, invited Ardeshir to cooperate with him. Ardeshir accepted his invitation and started his work in the US embassy and was appointed as treasurer and deputy head of the Joint Commission of Iran and America. When his father Fazlollah who was the Interior Minister of Mosadeq government at that time disputed with Mosadeq and resigned his position, Ardeshir also resigned of his position as the head of Truman’s Fourth Principle.


Zahedi’s narration of August 18 coup

A large part of the book’s first volume has been allocated to explain about the issues between Fazlollah Zahedi, Mohammad Mosadeq, and Mohammad Reza Shah. This part is especially notable for those who research about the events before and after the August 18 coup, because they have been expressed from the language of someone who had been in the context of the event and against Dr. Mosadeq. In fact, Zahedi’s view shows the official viewpoint of the then government regarding the August 18 coup. He has provided debatable information while explaining about the details of the events that led to Mosadeq’s defeat and the victory of Fazlollah Zahedi. Ardeshir Zahedi played an important role in turning around the event in the interest of his father. While the situation was apparently advancing in Mosadeq’s favor, he gathered the representatives of foreign news agencies, reading the text of his father’s message. The message read that Mohammad Reza Shah had dismissed Mosadeq because he had annulled the senate and parliament and replaced Fazolollah Zahedi as prime minister, and the procedure of Mosadeq government at that time could be considered as a coup or an uprising against the constitution and the constitutional regime. Moreover, the photos of the order of Zahedi’s premiership were distributed among the reporters.

When Zahedi was asked, “There are two viewpoints about the coup; one is those who regard it as a national uprising and the other as an American-British coup for toppling a national government. What is your reaction as an effective element in the coup?” In response, he naturally criticized Mosadeq and defended his father; a viewpoint which shows the perspective of the then regime. In response, Zahedi at first says that Mosadeq ruled the whole country at that time, mentioning examples such as Mosdaeq dissolved both senate and parliament and that he enacted laws himself, delivered the army to his trusted forces, imprisoned everyone he liked and … and then raising this question whether it is believable in such a situation that such a prime minister who was said the people worshiped him, was removed by a few Americans so easily and within a few hours? Zahedi regards Mosadeq’s dismissal as Shah’s legal authority, accusing Mosadeq of arbitrary operation. He believes that Mosadeq had reached the end of the line and neither he could rule the country, nor was ready to solve the problem of oil with the best conditions of that time for Iran, and had accused many political, military and religious figures of betraying. In Zahedi’s viewpoint, if the coup did not take place, the Tudeh Party removed Mosadeqa from power a while later and the US and Britain seized Iran for themselves and Iran was separated like Vietnam and Korea.  For proving his claims, he criticized Roosevelt’s statements in this regard, bringing the documents of the US State Department as evidence.


Land reforms and US role

In the first trip of Mohammad Reza Shah to America after the August 18 coup, Ardeshir accompanied him as the state adjutant. He also accompanied the Shah in different trips such as India in 1955 and Turkey and Soviet Union in 1956.         

On 9th of September 1957Ardeshir Zahedi married Shahnaz, the only daughter of Mohammad Reza Shah from his first wife. A chapter of the book’s second volume deals with how the two became familiar and married each other. Since then, Zahedi was both the Shah’s special adjutant and son-in-law. Zahedi’s relations with the Shah were so close that even he played a role in Mohammad Reza’s familiarization and marriage with Farah Diba. The details of the event have been explained in the book.

Ardeshir Zahedi gained a very important post in January 1960 and was appointed as Iran’s ambassador to the United States. He had become familiar with Kennedys in his trip with the Shah to America. During his post as Iran’s ambassador to America, Ardeshir Zahedi had apparently good relations with John Fitz Gerald Kennedy, the then US president. However, his ambassadorship term was not so long and took some two years, and came to an end with his resignation. The reason for his resignation was his difference with the government of Prime Minister Ali Amini. Amid the events, the story of land reforms happened. In this regard, the book’s interviewer asked the question, “To what extent is it true that the land reforms plan in Iran was proposed by the Americans and with their pressure?” in response, he first says that the division of lands was already in the mind of Mohammad Reza and that he had taken the initiative of transferring Pahlavi’s lands and the Omran Bank had been set up with the aim of helping the farmers and recovering the villages. According to Zahedi, Mohammad Reza had such thought and morale and if new ideas were proposed to him, he would think over and accept. He also believed that a few American generals offered a plan for reforms in Iran one of which for example was the use of the army’s facilities for civilian purposes in a way that the army participated in developing operations such as road construction, bridge construction and agriculture and established closer relations with the people. According to Zahedi, the Shah approved the idea and its implementation was led to the establishment of the Corpse of Science, and then the Corpse of Health, Development and Promotion.

The final chapters of the memoirs of Ardeshir Zahedi refer to the term of his ambassadorship in London the beginning of which dated back to 1962. At this time, he lost his father on one hand and on the other hand separated from his wife Shahnaz. The observations of Ardeshir Zahedi from the event of the 11th of April 1955 namely the assassination attempt of Mohammad Reza Shah is another chapter of the book, an assassination in which Mohammad Reza survived. 


The unsaid cases

Some of the moral characteristics of Zahedi have not been mentioned in the book naturally and in this regard, the remained documents should be assisted. For example, the SAVAK documents refer to instances of Zahedi’s swearing which did not match his status as an ambassador or a foreign minister. For instance, one of SAVAK’s documents related to the period of Zahedi as Foreign Minister says, “Lots of things have been heard about the foreign minister’s swearing and affront among the employees of the foreign minister which is interesting and notable and it is said that the current situation in this ministry is totally exceptional and unbelievable, creating many opponents for himself.” Even it seems that such behavior had weakened his status. According to SAVAK documents, in a meeting held in Finance Ministry in 1969, when the participants heard about the rumor of Zahedi’s premiership, an advisor to Finance Ministry says Ardeshir was almost clos to this post, but since he is swearing even at his deputies, his status has weakened. “…Foreign Minister Ardeshir Zahedi writes insulting words under his office letters and pays attention to nothing. His Majesty has been informed, causing the weakening of his position.”

SAVAK documents show that Zahedi was a pleasure-seeking man. In this regard, a document reported by the Washington Post about Zahedi says, “According to the reports heard in Washington this week, the luxurious parties of Ardeshir Zahedi Iran’s ambassador to the US has attracted the attention of the Shah, raising his eyebrows.”  According to news reported by Pars News Agency, a foreign journal has mentioned Zahedi’s reputation as one of the biggest holders of parties. There are also different documents concerning his relations with women. Zahedi’s relations with two of the world’s most women Jaclyn Onassis (former wife of John F. Kennedy, US ex-president) and Elizabeth Taylor (American famous actress) had spread among foreign circles.

At any rate, reading the memory book of Ardeshir Zahedi is good for researchers of contemporary history, because more recognition of the historical figures, currents, events and… needs the studying of the viewpoints of historical actors with different and even contradictory perspectives to which has been referred in the beginning of this text quoted from Zahedi.

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