• 7 April 2008
  • Posted By Ali Scotten
  • 10 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Events in DC

If you’d been living in DC this past year, you could have made a full time job out of attending all the Iran events throughout the city. It seems like every day someone’s holding an Iran talk, whether at a think tank, local university, or up on the Hill. But Thursday’s event was something special. After shaking hands and chatting with former US embassy hostages, the reformist—and former revolutionary leader—Ebrahim Yazdi, spoke to a packed house at a Middle East Institute event called “The Iranian Situation.”

Read below about Yazdi’s message to US policy makers, and to VOA Persian.

Yazdi said the US needs to “negotiate with Iran without preconditions” in order to resolve the tensions and to allow for Iran’s political development. He further said that “US policy in Iran is not helping the cause of democracy in our country. It needs a very drastic overhaul…as far as democratic progress is concerned in Iran.” He even mentioned being targeted by clerics who falsely accused him of receiving State Department funding.

Yazdi then engaged in a heated exchange with a VOA Persian reporter in the audience. “VOA Persian must act as non-partisan media,” he said in his 5 minute diatribe directed at the reporter. He argued that VOA needs to review its policies to gain credibility as a news outlet rather than being a mouthpiece for monarchists. His attack on VOA Persian was greeted by applause from a number of audience members, including a senior American journalist from Time magazine. “The age of revolutions is over,” he told the VOA reporter, and spoke candidly of how his revolutionary generation had failed to see past the short-term goal of removing the Shah (just as many are calling today for regime change). He now asks young reformers to learn from his mistakes, to not seek short term fixes for complex social problems.

It was fascinating to witness the meeting of former US embassy hostages, Ambassadors Langdon and Limbert, with Khomeini’s former assistant. There was a clear sense of mutual respect and camaraderie. This was obviously because Yazdi had been strongly opposed to the embassy takeover, and even resigned from the government in protest. Ambassador Langdon asked him why he hadn’t been able to help end the hostage situation. Yazdi told him that he had assumed that he’d be able to help (as he had in the first US embassy takeover 2 days after the revolution), but that the second time there was a faction among the Islamic revolutionaries who wanted to hijack the movement for their own purposes, and who saw the embassy takeover as meeting their own personal goals. These more radical groups eventually coalesced around Khomeini.

Hearing Yazdi advocate democratic values of acceptance of pluralism, tolerance of alternate ideologies, and the importance of cooperation and compromise—as well as his criticism of the ruling clerics whom he feels lack the qualifications to lead a modern nation state—really made me wonder what could have happened if Yazdi had been able to maintain his position of leadership in the early days of the revolution. Would the US and Iran be in the tense position they find themselves today?

Posted By Ali Scotten

    10 Responses to “Former leader of revolution, Ebrahim Yazdi, calls for US-Iran talks, rips into VOA Persian”

  1. azadeh says:

    I wonder as well.

  2. Mehdi says:

    The age of revolutions is indeed over. I hope we will truly understand that. As a bit of a side note, I think the whole “hostage situation” was a setup designed by CIA agents (working for those who benefit from wars and revolutions). I wonder if this is too outrageous to consider 😉

  3. Babak Talebi says:

    Thank you Ali for your concise and insightful analysis… the piece about his contentious back-and-forth with VOA was quite interesting too.

    I find it amusing that the Monarchist and MKO types, stuck in the mindset of three decades ago, seem to function in the same exact short-sighted mindset that Yazdi describes.

    I am also excited about our conference tomorrow and quite curious to see what kind of shenanigans these guys are going to try to pull to disrupt our event. But we are ready for them, and thankfully, the US is certainly no pre-revolutionary Iran where thugs can get their way with force and insults.

  4. nader says:

    There were never any “hostages “. To undrestand that you need to go back to operation Ajax and the role some US embacy “personel” played in it. The fact that these people were let go is indicative of kind heart and goodness of Iranians everywhere.

  5. Michael Mahyar Hojjatie says:

    What Azadeh said.

  6. Babak Talebi says:

    Mehdi and Nader –

    First – I think that the hostage situation that took place after the revolution was a heinous act that was correctly condemned by the entire world. No matter what the historic grievances of the revolutionaries dating back to the ’53 coup, the action itself was an egregious mistake. Morally speaking, two wrongs simply do not make a right.

    Not only was the action morally indefensible, it’s single most lasting effect has been to isolate the Iranian people from the rest of the world. To this day, our people and our nation are remembered in all corners of the world by those acts – and THAT is truly unfortunate.

    On the issue of a CIA conspiracy – though there have been many former CIA operations unearthed over the past few decades, this one does not strike me as such – it was far more related to the intent of the revolutionaries to establish their claim to the leadership of the post-revolutionary period.

    But the main point I think – is that today – when the Iranian people need most of all to break through the isolating walls created by the politics of their rulers and geopolitical games of world powers – it is imperative to look to the examples set by the former hostages and former hostage takers (like Akbar Ganji) who have moved beyond their personal grievances to recognize the need for reconciliation, dialogue, and forgiveness.

    As Ghandi once said – an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.

    It is the far-sightedness of peace-makers such as Ganji, Yazdi, and Ambassadors Langdon and Limbert that should provide an example for Iranians as well as Americans.

  7. Mehdi says:

    I am definitely in agreement that no matter what happened, the solution today and forever is like Babak said: “the Iranian people need most of all to break through the isolating walls created by the politics of their rulers and geopolitical games of world powers.” Count me in!

  8. nader says:

    Babak-

    First, you cannot separate the “hostage” crisis from all the dastardly actions that the Americans had committed in Iran. These people were in Iran doing no good work. Evidenced by hundreds of documents found in their compound. They were involved in counter revolutionary planning and work that if allowed would have caused more violence and and the lives of perhaps thousands of Iranian people.

    Second, I for one would never be ashamed for the actions of the revolutionaries . It was through their sacrifice and service to the country that a whole nation was able to rise up and topple a vicious dictator and get rid of its foreign backers looting the country . To me the Iranian revolution was one of the greatest positive events for humanity.

    And I got to tell you , as far as revolutions go, the Iranian one was pretty mild. For example far more violence was committed during the American or the French revolutions.

    Lastly, you say that the Iranian people need to break through the isolation wall built by the policies of their rulers. This is an old American trick that really doesn’t work on non-Americans. Its called commit the crime and blame the victim. I am sure you mean well but rest assure that no matter what Iran does or doesn’t do The Americans will find something to complain about. With them nothing short of full spectrum dominance is acceptable.

    And one more thing , no matter what we hear about the political and religious rulers in Iran, one thing is for sure, they have proven themselves to be very capable and patriotic men an women.

    Best regards

  9. Aris says:

    By 1979 I had lived outside Iran for over twenty years and was teaching math at a university. When the very unfortunate and damaging hostage taking took place, my students arranged for a meeting to get my take on the issue. I went to the meeting, but couldn’t think of any reason or justification for the heinous act. All I could do was to apologize for and condemn it. I had been an ardent anti-monarchist all my adult life, and witnessed firsthand the upheavals and events that led to the 1953 coup (we lived a couple of blocks from the Majlis). I have no doubt that Mossadegh would have opposed it and would have used everything in his power to prevent it. As has been pointed out here, that shameful act alone has tarnished permanently the image of the Iranian nation.

    Ordinary Americans are good and fair minded people. Before the hostage taking, they expressed almost unanimous empathy and understanding of the wretched situation of the Iranians under the brutal and treacherous regime of Shah. The act of forgiving and attempt for reconciliation by Limbert and Langdon are admirable and provide hope that reason would triumph over belligerence. Yazdi’s current stance is somehow hard to accept as repentance. He followed Khomeini obediently and slavishly. At the time he was not a young, inexperienced and idealistic novice. On the contrary, he was, or at least he gave the impression, a savvy and shrewd politician. It is hard to believe that he believed that a bigoted, dogmatic, ignorant, brutal and savage person like Khomeini would ever implement anything resembling democracy. The man, Khomeini, was an uncompromising dualistic fanatic: his version of Islam and anything else all lumped together as the anti-Islam. I still have the tapes of Khomeini’s rants while in France about how he would bring freedom to the masses. I was rather astonished that based on the nature of the man anyone would believe that he was capable of implementing anything remotely resembling to what he was ranting about. Yazdi was in power when Khomeini and his gang were summarily executing people of all walks of life on the roofs of buildings by the thousands. Does he claim he was not aware of it? Does he claim that the killings would have somehow resulted in democracy and freedom? The massacre after the French revolution resulted in the rise of Napoleon, which annihilated the goals of the revolution. The killings after the 1917 October revolution brought Stalin to power, which laid the foundation of the eventual demise of the Soviet Union. And the killings during and after the 1949 revolution in China led to Mao’s and gang-of-four’s brutal and suffocating rulings.

    In 1978 I was doing my postdoc. I knew Iranian students from across the political spectrum who supported the revolution. In 1979 many of them quit school and went back to help to rebuild the country. Almost all those on the left were executed. Since his faction was thrown out, and perhaps even subjected to terror and execution, Yazdi’s current stance ought to be taken with a large dose of esceptism. Surely he is not a traitor. And surely he thought he was helping the country. Perhaps he is genuinely repenting, and feels guilty about being deceived by Khomeini and regrets deeply about the path the revolution took.

  10. Mehdi says:

    Nader, I think it is important to separate the people of America with the Government or America. Even then, it is important to distinguish different factions and individuals within the US government. It would be a mistake to generalize and attack a whole government, or worse, a whole nation, because of the ill work of a few. This applies to any nation and any government.

    When you say “The Americans will find something to complain about. With them nothing short of full spectrum dominance is acceptable.” I hope you realize that this is not true of American people. Such confusions are so counter-productive. It only helps the bad apples to get support from people! You target “Americans” and they react! They support bombing of any country that says that! You see how that is counter-productive? You had no fight to pick with American people, yet you just got one!

    In fact if you take the nationality and other grouping out of it, in the end, it is one or more INDIVIDUALS who are bad apples. It’s never a whole group!

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Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.

Sincerely,

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