Dr. Shapour Bakhtiar In the winter of 1979, as a collective madness called the "Islamic revolution" was gripping Iran, there was only one courageous voice willing to stand up to the impending catastrophe that was about to befall Iran.   In that tumultuous atmosphere, Bakhtiar's call for peaceful transition to democratic government, respect for the 1906 constitution, and above all separation of state and religion fell largely on deaf ears. For more than 40 years of political struggle, which began in the 1930's against Spain's General Franco and Hitler's Nazi Germany, he was steadfast on the principles of human dignity, political freedom and social democracy. And he remained loyal to them until his assassination at the hands of Islamic Republic in August 1991.   In reading this collection of Dr. Bakhtiar's interviews, speeches and writings, one is moved by the passion and commitment of his message, which was rooted firmly in the secular humanism he tirelessly championed. This site is dedicated to his life and times.

Hooman Bakhtiar

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once

--Shakespeare’s Julius Caesa

Times Newspapers Limited  

The Times

August 9, 1991, Friday

SECTION: Features

LENGTH: 1580 words

HEADLINE: Shapour Bakhtiar


  Dr Shapour Bakhtiar, the last prime minister under the Shah of Iran, was found dead from stab wounds yesterday aged 77 at his home outside Paris. He was born on June 26, 1914.

  SHAPOUR Bakhtiar was a politician of liberal persuasion who opposed both the Shah of Iran's regime and the fundamentalist rule introduced by Ayatollah Khomeini. He was a deputy minister during the National Front government of Dr Mohammad Mossadiq from 1951 to 1953 and, although he was imprisoned several times during the Shah's reign, it was to him that the Shah turned in January 1979 in a last desperate bid to save the monarchy from the fundmentalist revolutionaries. He agreed to become prime minister on condition that the Shah went into exile but after five stormy weeks in office during which he strove to introduce radical reforms Bakhtiar was forced to resign in despair as Khomeini was swept to power on a tide of fundamentalist fervour. Five months later Bakhtiar established himself in Paris from where he headed the National Movement of the Iranian Resistance. He favoured the institution of a constitutional monarchy under the Shah's son, Reza Pahlavi.

  Shapour Bakhtiar's life-long stance on the centre-left of his country's politics was largely determined by the circumstances of his birth. His father, a scholar and a chieftain of the ancient Bakhtiary tribe in south-western Iran, was hanged by Reza Shah after a dispute with the central government, and his grandfather, who was prime minister twice under the previous dynasty of the Qajar shahs, had been one of the main leaders of the civil war that earned for the country a parliamentary mode of government at the beginning of the century.

  After the death of his mother when he was seven, Bakhtiar was educated in Iran, the Lebanon and France, where he obtained degrees in law and philosophy from the Sorbonne. Before returning to Iran, he spent eleven years in France, with the result that he became involved in the turbulent politics of pre-war Europe. Showing some interest early on in the rise of German nationalism, he was alienated by the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and the Nuremberg rallies, at one of which he sat a short distance from Hitler at the invitation of German friends. Subsequently he supported the cause of Republican Spain and voluntarily joined the French Army on the outbreak of the second world war. The previous year he had married a French woman.

  According to his autobiography Ma Fidelite (Edition Albin Michel, Paris, 1982) his artillery unit saw very little action, though at one time it was surrounded by the Germans, and Bakhtiar soon found himself posted to the Spanish border region after the signing of the French armistice treaty. However, he never lost confidence in the ultimate victory of the allies and spent 15 days in a military jail for fighting a fellow officer who saw little hope for France and Britain.

  For the remainder of the war, he transferred his wife and two children to the small town of Saint-Nicolas-du-Pelem and acted as a courier in the resistance between Paris and Brittany. He also permitted the resistance to use his apartment in Paris and helped to hide an American airman, coming close to capture by the Gestapo - several times. Towards the end of the war, Bakhtiar returned to the Sorbonne to obtain a doctorate in law, his prophetic thesis being on the relationship between church and state in the classical world. For the rest of his life he would remain committed to secularism in politics.

  On his return to Iran in 1946, he was received kindly by the young Mohammad-Reza Shah, whose pro-German father, Reza Shah, had died the previous year in exile in Johannesburg. Bakhtiar joined the new Ministry of Labour, rising to its top position of permanent secretary within four years before being sacked for displeasing the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later BP) and the Shah for advocating radical reforms in the area of labour relations.

  According to his own account his main aim had been to reduce the influence of the pro-Soviet Tudeh (communist) Party among oil workers, but the real reason for earning the displeasure of the palace may have been his growing links with Dr Mohammad Mossadiq, the nationalist aristocrat and member of the Majlis (parliament) who advocated the nationalisation of the oil industry and the curbing of the power of the monarch. Bakhtiar had joined Mossadiq's Iran Party immediately after his return from France.

  He became minister of state for labour in Mossadiq's second cabinet in 1951 and played an active part in guiding Iran's defence of its nationalisation of British oil assets at the International Court of Justice at The Hague and at the United Nations. However, he found himself in prison following the coup that toppled the nationalist government in August, -1953. Having turned down the offer of a full seat in the new cabinet of General Zahidi, he spent nearly six years in jail over the next 25 years, the first term for ''insulting the Monarch and co-operating with the Tudeh Party'', despite his well-known anti-communism. His continued opposition to the new regime was especially intolerable on account of his being related to Queen Soraya.

  His underground activities at this period included the setting up (with, among other Mossadiquites, Mehdi Bazargan, the future first prime minister of the Islamic republic) of printing units for anti-government publications and the direction of efforts to get opposition supporters elected to parliament, a largely futile pursuit. But he did play an important part in 1962 in preventing the Mossadiquite National Front coalition of parties and societies aligning itself with Islamic fundamentalist rioters led by Ayatollah Khomeini.

  Sixteen years later in 1978, by which time he had become the Front's deputy leader, he would be defeated on this same point by three votes to two. When rioters had taken over the streets all over the country, he broke away from his colleagues on the council of the National Front and was turned to by the Shah to come to the rescue of his tottering dynasty by forming a government.

  So weak was the Shah's position by then that he accepted Bakhtiar's condition (and apparently the United States' recommendation) that he leave the country, so that Bakhtiar's claim that liberals were at last in charge of Iran would sound credible. Knowing that time was not on his side, Bakhtiar and his cabinet of former National Front figures set out on a programme o radical changes: press freedom s restored; all political detainees were freed; the hated SAVAK secret police agency was disbanded; and the enormous assets of the palace in the Pahlavi Foundation were transferred to the government.

Bakhtiar later wrote that his request to the Shah to leave the country was not a heartfelt desire but the consequence of hard-headed deliberation: if the Government succeeded in restoring stability to Iran, the Shah would resume his plotting: ''After all, I would never be as strong as Mossadiq.''

  But Iran's first liberal government for 25 years lasted only 37 days. The vast majority of the country's mosques were now controlled by supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini who, after his return from exile on February 1, 1979, appointed Mehdi Bazargan, Bakhtiar's former fellow inmate and colleague in the National Front, as provisional prime minister with the mission to seize the reins of government from its ''present usurpers'' as soon as possible.

  Nine days later, fighting broke out all over Tehran after the rebellion of a unit of the air force. Army barracks and police stations were attacked by mobs of fundamentalists and armed left-wing partisans, resulting in ''a declaration of neutrality'' by the chiefs of staff of the armed forces, who were all appointees of the Shah. Bakhtiar went underground and surfaced in Paris in July. His premiership had come too late to have a chance of success. For this he blamed the Shah and the US ''which did not contact the Iranian opposition for 20 years''.

  In Paris Bakhtiar formed a party out of his supporters in exile, the National Movement of the Iranian Resistance. He was sentenced to death in absentia by the Tehran authorities and was heavily guarded by the French police following two assassination attempts on his life by men pledged to the Ayatollah. In one of these incidents in July 1980, four Arabs attacked his flat, shooting dead a policeman and a neighbour. He lived under permanent guard, mounted by four French policemen and his own security men. He expressed disquiet last year whenthe French government, which was seeking to improve relations with Iran, freed Anis Naccache, the Lebanese who had been jailed for the assassination attempt.

  During Iran's war with Iraq Bakhtiar criticised the west for supplying the Khomeini regime with military spare-parts and called for a boycott of Iran's oil. He formed an alliance with another liberal former prime minister, Dr Ali Amini, who shared his aim of restoring a constitutional monarchy in Iran but was scathing in his attacks on his left wing rivals, the National Resistance Council headed by ex-president Abolhassan Bani-Sadr and the Mujahedin lader, Mussad Rajavi, both of whom also lived in Paris.

Bakhtiar was twice married. He had two sons and two daughters from his first marriage to a Frenchwoman. His second wife was Iranian. Away from politics, he was a keen mountain climber and loved Persian and French poetry.


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