Iranian Oral History Project | Harvard University Center for Middle Eastern Studies

Fatemeh Pakravan

Wife of Gen. Hassan Pakravan (Chief of the State Intelligence and Cabinet Minister)


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Transcript Text

Transcript 1 of 4

Narrator: Fatemeh Pakravan
Date: March 3, 1983
Place: Paris, France
Interviewer: Habib Ladjevardi

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Q. Mrs. Pakravan, if I could ask you to begin this interview by giving a little background about yourself and the deceased General Pakravan; and then if you could take us to the time when he became the director of the Security Organization in Iran.

A. What kind of background do you want? Do you mean my studies and things like that?

Q. Well, things that you think would be interesting.

A. Well, it's not really interesting. I was educated in France since childhood and went back to Iran. I had what they call paramedical studies, and on my return to Iran I became the head of a hospital, which belonged to the Mossadegh family.

Q. Najmiyeh Hospital?

A. Najmiyeh Hospital. I met my husband and married him in 1941. He was a captain at the time. Then ... well we had four children. And what is important, I think, is that, after a stay in Pakistan where my husband was the first military attache of Iran, and following a long, very long, visit that the late Shah made to Pakistan, my husband started what I would call, a political-military career. That means that he was appointed Chief <of the> G-2 General Staff, which at that time was different from what it became later on. And every service had separate and independent, more or less, headquarters.

After a while that he worked there, first as assistant and then as director -- although he was much too young.... He was a full <unclear> only one year and he was quite young at the time; that was in 1950 -- he must have been thirty-nine. He accepted the job, first of all, because as an officer he thought that he mustn't discuss the decisions, and also because he had a very idealistic conviction about intelligence work. For him intelligence work never, never, never was something consisting only <of> spying on people and trying to catch them at something wrong. It was to know exactly who was trying to subvert different classes or even the country; and to somehow, either by conviction, by talking to them, or by human needs, trying to change their opinion.

I remember when he was Chief G-2, it coincided with the period -- some time in the period -- when Mr. Mossadegh was prime minister and also minister of defense. That's something people keep on forgetting, that Dr. Mossadegh as minister of defense governed practically all the time under martial law. This is something again that people have forgotten. And also, that actually it was Dr. Mossadegh who put the seed of what came to be known as SAVAK.

Q. Did he?

A. Yes. Because he established -- you know at the time the Communist Party, the Persian Communist Party called the Tudeh, was extremely active because the Russians had hardly left Azarbaijan and the so-called democracy, republics, that they had instituted in Kurdestan and Azarbaijan, and were extremely strong. And Mossadegh was well aware of the danger it represented to have these people infiltrating every activity in the country. So he established something called the National Council of Security, presided <over> by himself and the head<s> of the three services (the army, navy, and air force) and the head of the police department (gendarmerie), and the Chief G-2 -- that was my husband. Of course, my husband was very junior and he never opened his mouth. Well, that will be for another time, his impression of Dr. Mossadegh.

But I remember asking Gholam-Hossein Mossadegh, the son, I said, "How come that my husband -- whenever there is ... something happens, your father immediately changes all the military chiefs and he never touched my husband? Does he know that this Colonel Pakravan is my husband? You better ask him." Then he told me the next day, "No, he didn't know if he was your husband, but he said, 'I will never change him. I know him <to be> absolutely loyal to the Shah. But I know also that he has absolute respect for the law of the country. And because of that, I know he'll never start something against me, who is the legal, legitimate prime minister of the country.'"

I think that at the time, later on in the late 50s -- '52 -- I think there must have been already plans to upset Mossadegh. My husband was not in these plans, but he was worried because in his job, naturally, he knew rumors and things like that; and the Shah didn't confide in him. Because I think that the Shah -- this is, by the way, an explanation -- was extremely enthusiastic about my husband. But after awhile, it seemed that his views were not ... how shall I say ... he wasn't for security for security's sake, but to something more ... bigger. I wouldn't say liberal, because in America the word liberal has a very bad meaning, which it has not in French. In French, it means a man who is a democrat.

And anyway, my husband was terribly worried and he insisted that I and the children -- at that time I had only three children -- should go to France, where my husband was established; he lived here. And I refused, but he insisted. Then after a while, he came to Paris on the invitation of the French general staff. And also he received word that he was appointed assistant military attache until August or July -- I don't remember, you know, the Persian -- when the Mossadegh government was...

Q. August '53.

A. That's right, was upset. Very shortly after that, my husband was recalled back to Iran.

Q. When did he come to Paris as a...?

A. He came into Paris in May...

Q. In May of '53.

A. '52.

Q. Two. I see, so all during the year preceding the....

A. That was because there was a long-standing invitation from the French general staff. Because my husband, being of high military rank, and <that> he was of entirely French education, so he was very well known among the army here. (Actually, I have to complete that somehow.) But the chief-of-staff, who was <General> Baharmast at the time in Iran, refused to let him go -- although he pretended to be like a father, and this and that. And eventually I appealed to Gholam-Hossein Mossadegh, and I said, "Look here, everybody goes to Europe at the expense of the government. Now here, my husband has been here for twenty years. He has a very, very difficult job. He's tired; he's demoralized. He's invited; it doesn't cost you anything." So Mossadegh was very nice and he let him go.

Now shall I tell you about my husband's education here? Well, he came to.... First, his father was diplomatic agent, because at the time Egypt was under a British protectorate so he was a kind of an ambassador for ten years in Egypt, where my husband received his education at the French school. Then he went to lycee....

Q. In Cairo?

A. In Cairo, Alexandria and Cairo. He went to Belgium and he went to high school in Liege. After he finished his high school, he went to the university to start service for ... to train for engineer. But his father was very close (I wouldn't say friend, but shall we say ... I mean, close) to Reza Shah and wanted him to go for military studies, because Reza Shah was trying to modernize the Persian army, and he wanted the sons of good families to be trained as officers for this army. So my husband went to Poitiers which was an artillery school, and from there he went to Fontainebleau to a higher artillery school (which doesn't exist anymore) -- it was called Ecole des Caissons d'Artillerie. And he graduated from there and went back to Iran to the cadet academy, where he was commanding a -- what you call -- CateshbarD, gun. He trained young officers, young cadets, for artillery. So, all the friends he had in these two schools, they were progressing in their careers and then had left the army. But still, my husband had many, many friends.

Anyway, he came to Paris in May '52 -- '53, sorry, in May '53 (I think I made a mistake) -- and it was twenty years since his last trip to Paris. And he ... in August, there was this uprising ... of which I am still not absolutely convinced that it was only the job of the CIA. It's now the custom, and even the fashion, to say that in 1953 the Shah was established on his throne through the CIA. Probably it was because you can deny that. But there was also great popular feeling, of that I'm absolutely sure, although I wasn't there, but I'm saying that from ... information I received.

Anyway, after ... I think in September, my husband was recalled back to his job. The conditions of his job had changed. Because I think that already at the time ... perhaps there were some convictions, some belief that one has to be very, very, very strict about ... security and information. Not that my husband wasn't, you see -- I don't want this to be misunderstood -- but in a more, how shall I say, technical way, less human. And anyway, my husband ... I don't know, really, because he never said anything about his job except things that he could tell anyone.

He resigned in the spring of 1954 -- so after a few months. And he wanted even to resign from the army. But the Shah, who liked him very much, said, "I know that Pakravan likes to be abroad. I give him, I propose him a job either in Switzerland as military attache or in Pakistan or India." My husband chose India because Pakistan ... it was silly to return there after a few years and Switzerland was much too expensive and the army wasn't ... the officers were not paid that much. So we went to India and we liked it very much, both of us.

But in October of 1956, he was called to Tehran. He was called to Tehran and he stayed two weeks and he came back very enthusiastic. My husband was a very, very enthusiastic man. He was ... it doesn't mean that he was stupid, he was certainly the most learned and most good man and very intelligent. I will show you, for instance, one of the great French journalists, Andre Fontaine <?>, what he has written about him in his book, and many people know that he was something very exceptional.

Anyway, he came back. He was very enthusiastic. He said, "We're returning back to Iran." I said, "Oh, no, no, no, no! Please. We will stay. We still have two more years here." He said, "I'll tell you why. They have set up a new organization which is fantastic. And they're offering me the head of the foreign department of this organization." I said, "Did you...?" I didn't know what it was, you know. He said, "It's an overall organization that will look after security and information." And here, in his idea, security and information go together -- you cannot have security if you don't have information. And he said, "And besides, you know, I am a little bit cut off from everything. After all, I'm an officer, and it's so pleasant to work with brother officers." He still had some illusions at the time.

Anyway, we went back. We went back. And he was ... Alavi-Kia must have told you that the organization was two services, two departments: the interior ... the internal and external. Hassan was external, and they were completely separate from each other -- that means there was a real wall. Because many times when the question arose of this and that, my husband really didn't know -- because he did know in a general way, but he didn't know for sure because they were not exchanging <information>. And as it was <unclear>, something that my husband knew was important for the internal situation or <unclear> for the external situation.

And it was the time I met <Teimour> Bakhtiar. I found him a very shy person.

Q. Really?

A. Really! I remember we invited him, for he wanted to meet some people. I invited him to dinner at our house, which was very modest, but not as modest as his. And he was always like that, like a little boy. He gave you the impression of the wild tribal chieftain, although he was educated. But I don't think his education had changed him as a person. You know, sometimes education is very superficial. Sometimes it changes thoroughly a person because it gives reflection and a philosophical point of view. Anyway, he was very shy with ladies -- although from what we hear, he wasn't.

And I wouldn't know, really, how he came to resign. I can only tell you what my husband said to me. Bakhtiar and my husband had gone to London for a meeting -- you know, they had all the time these meetings of branches of RCD <Regional Cooperation & Development> sent ... oh, to here and there and everywhere. And, while there, they went to a doctor, a heart specialist at Harley Street, called Dr. Courtney Evans. Because it was a time when the pressure of work started to give heart attacks to many people everywhere; you know, you always heard so-and-so had a heart attack and all that. So they went to have a checkup, and the doctor made a checkup, and he said, "You know, it doesn't mean a thing, because the heart attack, you can have a checkup perfectly all right and you go past my door and you drop dead." Anyway, from what my husband told me, and I don't have any reason to disbelieve him, at that time Bakhtiar started to worry about his possible heart attack. Now, I don't know, in view of what happened later, if it was just a smoke screen, or he really was -- perhaps it was the two.

Q. They both had this checkup or Bakhtiar had the checkup?

A. Both of them. Yes. My husband was very amused because he said Dr. Evans examined him for a full hour. Then he came back to Iran and he saw a heart specialist who said exactly the same thing in five minutes as Evans said, "You know, I cannot prevent you from having, but what you can have is certain hygiene in your life. You must stop smoking, you mustn't put <on> weight, and you must have exercise. If you do that, you'll lessen the risk." Anyway, it was my husband who had the heart attack later.

So they came back, and from that moment -- that must have been in the early '60s -- that Bakhtiar started to say, "Oh well, I am...." -- or '59, perhaps '60, I don't remember, I have a very bad head for dates. "Oh, you know..." he pretended to confide to my husband, he said he was very impressed by my husband. Many people were, you know. My husband was a very, very easy approach and very courteous and very charming person. Somehow ... his mother used to say, you know, "In Iran, virtue, real virtue is admired although not practiced." And he was admired because everybody said he is so wonderful, because it was easier to admire than to practice, you know ... honesty, all this and that. Anyway ... and it used to make him laugh because he had a great sense of humor.

Eventually, Bakhtiar said, "You know, I am fed up with this job. What's the point?" You know, this kind of conversation. "What's the point. You work, you work, you work, and then suddenly you drop dead and all you have done is as nothing. I must resign. I must do this." At one time even -- I think, I'm not sure -- he said, "I would like to be ambassador in some quiet place."

Anyway, my husband was away -- where was he, he was in Turkey, I think for CENTO or RCD, something like that -- when suddenly he was recalled back. Bakhtiar ... Alavi-Kia told me. Now, at the time the Chief <of G-2> was a certain General Kia, who had a very, very bad reputation. And what I'm saying now to you ... I think it was my husband who told me, perhaps also General Malek -- but not Malek.... My husband was recalled. I remember that it was so complicated to come back from Turkey: he had to go to Europe to catch a plane and come, and he was kept waiting for 48 hours before the Shah received him. And he said the Shah told him, in a very business-like way, "Bakhtiar is resigning. I wanted to make changes in the upper level of the army. My intention was to make you chief of G-2 instead of Kia. But now that Bakhtiar has resigned, I want you to take his place." And my husband, I must say, was overcome because it was a terrible responsibility.

Q. He wasn't anxious to have this job?

A. No, he wasn't. And so he asked for a short period of reflection. And the Shah said, "All right, take time and give me ... but don't be too long in deciding." So my husband came home, and that he discussed with me. He said, "You know, I have a conviction that I can do much good in this job. It all depends on my ... who is going to work with me, if I have a free hand." And he was walking up and down, up and down, all the time. And I said, "You know, the most important thing is that really you say that you can be of use, then okay." And of course, in the last resort he took the decision himself.

So he asked for an interview and he went and saw the Shah. And he said that, "Your Majesty, you should know me. You know my ideas, you know my education, you know my convictions. I don't have to define them to you, but one of my convictions is that you cannot ensure security in a country by fear. You can only ensure it by making life ... not easy, but give them security, to people, and for the poorest. Not the upper class, because they always manage to settle and to organize their life, but people who have absolutely no recourse to anywhere."

And the Shah said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, I think that the economical welfare will broaden this question of security. If people are happy, if people are satisfied -- and they don't want much, they want the means to earn their living, the means to educate their children, the means to look after their well-being and health -- that's all they want, people are very modest. The Shah said, "All right. It's a point of view. I'll give you the means to apply your methods and we'll see."

So, he reorganized, first of all, the Organization of Security and Information. And he said that, "It wasn't ... there was no point in having one external, one internal department because the two were so mixed together; we have to have all information, have a pool." Then, of course, what he did ... he started to establish a fantastic library and insisted that the people, all the officials from the smallest to the highest, reads. And also they had training -- training in history, training in philosophy, training in security, training in all the subjects that could be related to the necessity of ensuring the security of the country.

Of course, later on he became a little bit bitter in his humor, and when one of the young men <Parviz Sabeti> that he had educated and was wonderful, everybody admired him, became a horrible fellow under Nasiri, so horrible that I refused to sit beside him at a dinner, I told him, I asked my husband, I said, "But how come? He was one of your trainees. He was so wonderful. Everybody loved him." He said, "Moghtaziyat-e zaman," it can be translated in this way, that you act in a certain manner when the fashion is to act like that. When it's out of fashion, well, you go after the new fashion. So if under Pakravan it is democracy and humanity, and <under> another one it is oppression and torture and things like that, all right you go after that, because this is that.

One of the things that my husband used to say after he finished, after he left that <SAVAK>, he said, "You know, I think..." He was never boasting, I must say that, because everything I'll tell from him, I don't want it to give you the impression that he was boasting. It was just a fact that he recognized. He said, "You know, I think that in three thousand ... in all the history of Asia, I am practically the only fool that never practiced torture." And he used to laugh and say, "My prisons are like four-star hotels." And it was confirmed because I remember Allahyar Saleh was sick and he was taken to the hospital. Well, he was ... he came from prison to the hospital, and he used to say, "I don't want to see anybody except my dear General Pakravan." You know, he was respected and all that.

Anyway he started, for instance, the economic things that he wanted to ... that he started. One was to make the COstandariD of Banader, that was the governorship of the Persian Gulf ports and harbors, which were ... you couldn't call them ports and harbors because they were just fishing, small fishing <villages> except for a few. And he said that, "We cannot have them dependent from another governorship, because they're not interesting. They're poor. They produce nothing. They're practically, not savages, but I mean very primitive people. They have small tribal organizations which fight each other all the time." He did that because, as a chief, he was at one time (this I mustn't forget), he was at one time political officer and also civil governor in Boushehr. At the time the British were in Boushehr, they had their political agent there. At the time it was Geoffrey Pryor.

And my husband was horrified to see in what conditions people lived. That was when he was very, very young. That was, let me see, I was expecting ... in 1945. So he had seen that from close. He saw the fighting and the killing between these tribes.

I'm sorry to go back all the time.

Q. No, no, it's fine. No problem.

A Then, he also established .. in the early '60s there was a terrible earthquake around Qazvin. And we had a friend who was half-American -- her mother was American and her father was Iranian -- Mehri Gharagozlou.

So we had this friend, half-American, half-Iranian, Mehri Gharagozlou, who had been, before the agrarian reform, one of the important landowners in Hamadan. She had married a Bakhtiari chieftain. She knew practically all the languages of the tribes. She was an extraordinary women. And when this earthquake happened, because she was interested in it, she saved the day for many, many peasants because she was the only one who, as an agriculturalist, knew that the most important thing was not to give them kettles and pots and pans, but it was autumn, was to plow the land and to sow to ensure the next harvest -- otherwise, they would die of hunger.

And because she did that in such an intelligent way, my husband said, "Mehri, I'm going to entrust to you the well-being of all the tribes." But he didn't want her to be attached to his organization, so she was attached to the Ministry of Housing, the head of which was Dr. Nahavandi, who liked and admired my husband very much, so he accepted that. And also they started building very nice houses with bazaars and mosques in the south of Tehran, which was horrible. People were living in hovels, in <unclear>, where they had taken, you know ... they had <unclear> the land and all that. It was very bad.

And so it went until the Khomeini business started. It started in a very insidious way, by preachings in the mosques. And photographs of this man -- he was in Tehran -- photographs of this man everywhere. I remember asking a little ... a family who had not exactly an antique shop, a junk shop -- people used to go there and find something. I said, "Why do you put this, put all these pictures?" He said, "He's someone to imitate" -- CMarja'e TaghlidD <a religious leader to follow>. And I'd never heard that before. I said, "You don't need to imitate someone. If you live in your religion, if you practice a good life, you don't need to imitate him." That was the feeling, you know.

And women were looked at because they were not wearing the veil. And unfortunately, what started also, I think, a little bit later, was the mini-skirt for ladies, and Iranian women for that were really scattered-brained: any fashion that came -- one day it was skirts sweeping the floor, the next day it was really practically naked.

Anyway, my husband saw these religious preachers, Falsafi, Shari'atmadari, and whoever. I remember at one time they were to come every day. There was this enormous attendance in our house. My husband talked to them, and he said, "Please, if you have anything, why don't you go to the proper authorities? Why make people ... I mean, madden people and try to subvert them and to prod and all that? What are you going to gain by that? I have the authority to stop you, but don't let me use the means that are at my disposal. Please, remember, you are Iranians, this is your country. Please think about the results of your present action, which is absolutely thoughtless. What do you think you will achieve? What do you think you will obtain?"

Of course the thing that made religious people mad, starting with Khomeini and the rest who, because they thought they will gain something ... was this agrarian reform. Here I again have to say something which is not directly related to things. Arsanjani did a lot of wrong to the country, because he was the one, not much later after Mossadegh, he was the one who really put the seed of class hatred in Iran, when he said, "bloodthirsty landowner". And that friend of mine, Mehri Gharagozlou, when she rang me up, she said, "This is Cmalek-e khounkharD speaking" ("This is the bloodthirsty landowner speaking").

And he ... they also were not very clear about this agrarian reform. They started by saying it will be only the big landowners, the big absent landowners. Okay? So the rest, I mean the average and the small and the middle and all that, the <unclear>, they said, "Well, never mind, he's not...." Then after a few months, it was the middle ones. So it went by steps to the point of a man who had two acres of land was practically sure to be kicked out of his land. And so, seeing he was not escalating <?>, but going down, down, down, down, reaching the smallest landlord....

The mullahs and the religious people were afraid for what they called religious endowments. Because all the sanctuaries and shrines were extremely rich -- most of them. For instance in Emam Reza, Shah Abdol-Azim, Shah Cheragh -- all the shrines, they were extremely rich because people donated land, money, jewels, precious antiques, rugs. They would donate anything. And actually who took advantage of all these donations, it was the mullah. They had ... in some cases when it was too obvious, like Mashhad, they had hospitals, they had orphanages, they had all kinds of charitable activities, but still the greatest part of all these benefits went to themselves. Naturally, they spent also.... But I think even they didn't spend for the upkeep of the shrines. I think it was the government in his -- what was that?-- the endowment organization, Oghaf, who did that.

So, little by little we reached the summer of ... June 1962? '63?

Q. '63.

A. '63 -- I'm always mixing up the dates -- when it was the <month of> Moharram and they had these processions, religious processions. This started, really invited people to rise. It was a proper, not revolution, but the beginning of it. And what they did in order ... because the army was alerted, was put in the street, was to put small children in front of the procession so nobody could do anything. And under the pretense of religious processions, they went and really broke everything in sight -- even the telephone booths, the benches, the shops. Everything, anything, anything.

Naturally the government has to react. And my husband did something which was certainly wrong from a Persian point of view, because sometimes ... he forgot that he had to deal with orientals -- orientals not in the sense of America, far <eastern> oriental, no extreme oriental, I mean Japanese, but people from the East, the Easterners let's say -- whose mind does not evolve in the same way. I don't say it's wrong, I mean that you have to talk their own language. Why Khomeini succeeded this time -- because he speaks the language of the people -- and why the other gentlemen don't succeed because they speak in a too complicated way, too literal, literate.

So he went, he always had this sense.... Now when I say he made a mistake, in my opinion, because even intellectuals, even educated people didn't understand what he meant to do. He spoke on the radio, and exactly what he said is written in my mind. He said, "I came...." Because there was after that the army took over and there was of course, I think, plenty of reprisals. He said, "Everything is my fault." (Although he had ... he didn't order ... do anything ... the army took over and all that.) "Because for months and months I spoke. Most of my activity consisted in speaking with the religious heads of this country in order to convince them to obtain whatever they wanted, or what there was they criticized, through talks, through consultation, to remember that they were Iranians, not to put the country in danger. That was my mistake and I'm sorry that I didn't know what kind of people they were. That I was sincere and they were not." And of course everybody said, "Poor Pakravan, he made a mistake so he came and..." It wasn't that at all. What he said, he said, "They were not worth my time -- my losing time to try to persuade them not to act that way." Anyway, here I....

Q. Well, why did he do this? Why did he make this radio broadcast. It's unusual for the head of a security agency to....

A. I know it's unusual. Because he was ... he was ... his opinion was that first of all, as often as possible .. you could ... you must tell the truth to the population of a country because you must have some respect for them, for them as adults, not as stupid idiots who don't understand anything except ... the <?>. Then he wanted to show to the people, to the population who had followed these people, that these religious, these mullahs were not sincere. That whatever they had promised to him -- because they had made promises: "Yes, General, you are absolutely right. We'll do exactly, we admire you, we respect you...." He wanted to show them, so that they wouldn't follow. <He wanted to tell the people, "You were duped by these people, they didn't tell you the truth, they didn't mind you being killed. They put your children in front of their processions. If the army had not received orders not to shoot, your small children aged from seven to twelve would have been killed." That was what he meant: that you have been duped by these people. "If they didn't want ... if they refused to accept what I told them, what I asked them to do, they should have said no. They should have stood their ground."

Another thing my husband hated was lack of courage. One day I remember there were some close people, some people close to the Shah, who wanted also to mix him in some hanky-panky. And when they saw it was not so good, they begged a friend, a common friend, to meet Hassan, my husband, and to discuss the thing. And they started, "You know, Teamsar <General>, we didn't really want to do that, we didn't want to make a revolution." And my husband looked at them. He said, "You know, you nauseate me." They were very surprised because they were important people. I was there. He said, "You know, you nauseate me because you want to subvert this country. But the moment you see that your safety might be in danger, you crawl." He said, "You don't have the courage." He said, "At least have the courage of your opinions and your actions. Be a man." He was disgusted by people who, you know, would like to do something and then when they saw that you stood your ground, they crawl.

Anyway, that was that. Now here I'm not very clear exactly on the ... because I was working, you know. I was working at the time myself. I always worked in Iran. So, I wasn't ... how shall I say? ... I didn't have the same interest. I was interested, I won't say that, but I wasn't exactly political-minded, because like many royalists -- you know, people who think not particularly this Shah or another Shah, but the idea of royalty in a country, the regime of royalty in a country -- prevents you from being from left or right or middle or anything. You just want the regime to be there. Of course you want to improve it. You want to see it ... you want to see it improved on. You don't want things to stay exactly as they are. But you are not political-minded as in Europe or America.

Anyway, so I will sum up. You have to recoup with somebody else. Khomeini was arrested. He was arrested in his house and taken.... No, no, no. He was arrested and taken into a villa, because the organization <SAVAK> had several villas when they received foreign guests like CENTO, or conferences and things like that.

And another thing which is interesting is during the time of my husband, nobody ever said "SAVAK", except inside, you know, the people who worked there, I guess for shortness, said "SAVAK". Outside it was always "Organization of Security and Information". I never heard the word SAVAK. I remember making fun of them. I said, "It's ridiculous. SAVAK sounds like an Armenian first name." And I think there are Armenians called Savak. I said, "Why? I don't like <it>."

Anyway, he was put in this villa, and I went back to Tehran.... No, in the summer of '78 my husband told me a few things, and also a servant we had. Because the organization had a club, very nice club, where we used to give receptions or conferences, and all that. And I had with me an orderly I had taken with me to India so that he would speak Persian to the children, and then I had trained him as a butler, as a cook -- he was a very good butler. So when they started this club, they didn't have trained personnel, so he went there. And he told me in the summer of '78 that Khomeini was in this villa and he was taken up to him.

He said, "But you were told to pretend not to know that he was Khomeini." So I asked him how it was. He said, "Well, he was very courteous, very nice. Every morning when I came, I would greet him, and he would greet me very nicely, and would say, 'What's new in the town?'" And he said, "One day there had been some upset in the city, so I told him there was some upset yesterday. He said, 'Why?'" He <the butler> said, "Because Ayatollah Khomeini had distributed some tracts." And he <Khomeini> said in a very nice way, "Can you give me a copy of this tract?" I <butler> said, "Yes sir." He <butler> rushed and brought it. He <Khomeini> really shook his head and he said, "I never wrote that!" I said, "Oh, you are the Ayatollah?" He said, "Yes, my child. I am the Ayatollah." That is what this ex-servant of mine told me.

My husband told me, he said, "You know, I had lunch every week with Ayatollah." I said, "Yes, I knew that but you never told me what was the atmosphere of these meetings." He said, "Very good, very cordial. Very friendly." He said, "Ayatollah used to say, you know in this very flowery eastern way, you know, 'Teamsar <General>, I count the days until we reach our lunch day.'" I said, "How was he?" He said, "He was very handsome." And I'm sure he's not as old as they say. I'll tell you why. He's very handsome. He has extraordinary presence, a power of seduction." He said, "You know, he had a great charisma." You know, it's a word that is used very often now -- charismatic, charisma and all that -- but actually in the Christian religion it's applied only to the whole spirit, because charisma means presents and also gifts. Okay.

I said, "What was the object of your conversation? What did you talk about?" He said, "Well, about religion, about philosophy, about history." I said, "Is he a very learned man?" He said, "Well, his religion, I cannot say because I'm not a religious person. I suppose he is because he is a specialist." "But," he said, "his ignorance in history and philosophy is something unbelievable." You know, the man who said America has oppressed Iran for the last twenty-five thousand centuries. He said, "He's very, very, very ignorant." I said, "But what ... struck you in him, what did you find was the most striking aspect of his temperament or his character?" He said, "His ambition." I said, "Ambition? What do you mean ambition? What kind of ambition, political, religious?" He said, "I couldn't find out because he's very secretive." But he said, "You know, it made my hair stand on my head. It was frightening."

Q. This was in 1963?

A. Yes. He said, "It was frightening." And after that, well, I know that Khomeini was sent ... because you know that in the beginning....

Q. He told you this ... when?

A. In '78. In '78 he started to tell me several things which he never said about his job. And you know that one of the things in the light of this adverse propaganda was that Khomeini had been rolled into a carpet, thrown into a sack, a bag, and taken to prison. It's not true. My husband was.... It was ... in '78 it was a time when you could not deny or try to ... simply be murdered at all these lies, because everybody believed them. Everybody believed every lie, even the burning of the Cinema Rex.

But at that time, I had said, "So, darling, he wasn't rolled into a carpet and taken?" He said, "Nonsense. We asked the Turks to be kind enough to accept him." And he said, "We gave him the red-carpet treatment. Then from there he wrote a very, very respectful letter to the Shah" -- this is a well-known fact -- 'allow me to go to Najaf, I want to study,'" and all that.

Now here is something I've learned recently from someone I can trust absolutely. He said, "You know that...." Well, everybody knows that my husband saved ... Khomeini was condemned to death. You know that?

Q. I had heard, I didn't know this specifically.

A. All right. He was condemned to death and my husband was very, very upset by that. He said he knew that after all, the population of the country is not its elite, it's the real people. These are not very literate. They are not very ... they are simple. They are full of superstition. And even though most of the Iranians have no respect for the mullahs, they still have for what they represent. So he tried to convince the Shah: "Please commute this." The Shah said, "No, no, no." And my husband insisted. The Shah said, "All right. But how?" After all, contrary to what people think, the Shah wasn't a despot, he said, "After all, he was condemned by a tribunal. I cannot go over the tribunal. Find a way, a legal way."

My husband was on very good terms with Shari'atmadari. So he went to see Shari'atmadari and said, "Please, do something." And Shari'atmadari said, "You know the only way is to make him Ayatollah." So, they made a religious decree, which is called Fatva, to make him Ayatollah -- which he wasn't. And this was taken by my husband and Seyyed-Jalal Tehrani to the Shah. And Seyyed-Jalal Tehrani said afterwards, "It was the only time I kissed the Shah's hand, so much I begged him."

And the Shah said, "All right. And then what are your plans for him? You're not going to let him continue what he wants to do?" My husband said, "No, he should be sent to a far-away village, small village, where we can control his movements and control the people who go to see him, and after a while he'll be forgotten." He gave the example of another Ayatollah ... Qomi or something like that, who at one time wanted to make trouble and was exiled inside the country. This is very important.

And Amir-Asadollah Alam was prime minister. He said, "No, let's send him away." And somehow he convinced the Shah. And my husband said to the Shah, he said, "You know, you're giving him the means. You give him an international platform." The Shah said, "No, no. I think he promises that he will keep quiet." And of course, rumor is that <Sheikh-Sadegh> Khalkhali was sent as a mullah, because there were many mullahs in the pay of the organization <SAVAK>, apparently, that he was sent there too, but I don't believe it. Anyway, so Khomeini was sent there.

I asked my husband that summer of '78 how he came to know Khomeini. Because in that summer of '78 ... my husband at the time was working in the ... had a position in the Ministry of Court. He came one day very thoughtful and a bit sarcastic. I said, "What's the matter?" He said, "You know, I had a visitor today." (That was in '78.) "And who was he?" He said, "A friend of Khomeini, who came to see me to say, 'Please, Teamsar, go to Paris. Talk to Ayatollah Ozma. You are the only one that he would listen to.'" My husband said, "You're mistaken. He will listen to nobody." "Then let me go." Because at the time, I don't know, <General Gholam-Reza> Azhari said nobody should go. "Let me ... get me permission to go and get me a message from His Majesty for Ayatollah."

My husband said, "I cannot do that." Because it was the time when they had put horrible ... put a montage of the Queen in the most insulting, in the most obscene way. He said, "You are a Moslem. You know that the wife of the Moslem is sacred for him. Nobody has the right to say anything. Do you think the Shah, after his wife, the mother of his children, has been publicly insulted, and been insulted night and day, will give a message of friendship to Ayatollah? You're greatly mistaken. But I can grant you permission to go." So he went, naturally. He wasn't received there. From what I hear he was executed. That was Haj-Roghani.

And my husband said, "It's through him that I met Khomeini." He said, "At the time he started, in the early '60s, before June '63 ... at the time he started, you know, in some very insidious way to subvert people, I was very mad, I was very annoyed because they had big projects, you know. They wanted to really execute these big projects instead of having to deal with a few mad mullahs." And so Haj-Roghani came and said, "Teamsar, I think...." Because this man, Haj-Roghani, was a very peaceful man. He was terribly upset by fighting and, you know, unpleasantness. He was always trying to bring people together so that they will explain, talk to each other, and all that. So he came to my husband -- that was in '60, end of '60 -- "Let me take you to Ayatollah, to Emam, to Mr. Khomeini." (I don't want to use that name) "He's very good, he's very intelligent, you'll like him." And this Haj-Roghani was a merchant, a bazaar merchant of Qom. Later he came into Tehran.

So my husband said, "Okay." He went all the way to Qom, which is 150 kilometers, I think -- 120. He said, "We went there. He came. He explained his position. I explained mine. And there was no...."

Q. Common ground...

A. "...point of meeting. He stood on his position and I stood on my position because what he was saying was ridiculous. They had all their propaganda on the fact that the religious movement will be taken back by the government. "And of course, with that, they said that the government doesn't want to please the peasants who cultivated this land, but wanted to grab everything for himself ... for themselves. And also that the women will be turned into soldiers. The girls will be turned into soldiers, and naturally all morality of the ... classic morality of the Persian girl would disappear, and it would become a country of completely immoral people." Unfortunately they did that in the end. Not the way he said, but they had these units.

So ... the page was turned and life went on. Everything was calmed down again. Don't forget that we had these days, these upheavals and uprisings, all the time. My sister gave me letters -- my sister is married to an American -- letters I wrote her in the '40s, and we always had uprisings and killings and martial law. It's a very, very violent country, contrary to what people say.

In 1965, if you remember, January of '65, my husband was away in Kurdestan.

Q. I'm sorry, there a few minutes left on this tape and I'd like to come back to a point. Then when did he leave SAVAK?

A. I was coming to that.

Q. Sorry.

A. My husband was on a mission to Kurdestan. There was some, I don't know....

Q. '65?

A. '65, January '65. Some unrest. I personally was with Mr. Pahlbod, the minister of fine arts. And we had a meeting ... for some reason ... I don't know, and he never appeared. And we asked the head of his staff, "Where is His Excellency?" He received a secret telephone call, he became pale and said, "Well, His Excellency will not be able to come." And that was ... the Ministry of Fine Arts is behind, I mean it's quite close on the Majles, on the Parliament Square in Tehran.


Copyright 2003 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College (Harvard University)
Dr. Habib Ladjevardi
Iranian Oral History Project
Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Harvard University
1430 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
617.495.4232 (tel)