As part my Dissertation module, for the last few months I have been researching the Iranian revolution of 1979, when the Shah was overthrown my extremist Islamic leader Ayatollah Khomeini. My dissertation focuses specifically on how women are using the internet as a platform for women’s rights activism, since the country began abiding by Islamic laws written in the Quran. In order to understand modern day Iranian culture, it was imperative to my research to explore the origins of where it rooted from. Since reading about the 1979 uprising’s of campaigns and protests against the Shah, by the Iranian people-and discovering the consequences of these demonstrations of what they thought would positively reform the country, has made me want to explore personal accounts of people who lived through the revolution.
Being half Iranian myself, has sparked my interest towards this topic. Reading books and memoirs which recite personal events during the revolution such as ‘Iran Awakening’ by human rights activist and Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, has not only taught me about my countries heritage and history (which I was previously not as aware of) but also inspired me to speak to my family about their experiences.
My mother was born in 1962 and was the second older out of four children. All her siblings were born and grew up in Tehran, the capital of Iran- until 1979 when her and her eldest sister were sent to a boarding school in England.
A brief history of Iran 1953-1979
Until 1979, during the reign of the Pahlavi family, more specifically when Mohammad Reza Shah was appointed by the USA and UK as the ruler of Iran in 1967 during a coup d’etat overthrowing Mosaddeq, as he had nationalised the oil industry in Iran, rather than in the hands of Britain and the USA. From this day forwards the Shah would be nicknamed the ‘Puppet of the west’. The Shah introduced a development programme called the ‘White revolution’ which aimed to modernise Iran, for example roads, aeroplanes, education- however he was criticized for transforming Iran into an increasingly westernised country by inheriting western culture from America.
Although the reformations were supposed to increase his followers ands strengthen the his countries support, it was clear that the Iranian citizens public interest was not his priority. Many Iranians became increasingly frustrated with him as they felt as if he was neglecting their needs, especially the lower class. One particular event which outraged people was the celebration held in Persepolis in 1971 which commemorated 2500 of the Pahlavi family reign. This excessively extravagant event costing $40 million aggravated Iranian citizens as it undermined poverty, unemployment and homelessness which were very prominent problems in society at the time. Iranian wanted a new leader who would actually acknowledge the needs of Iranian citizens and society, instead of abiding to the orders of the West to keep them happy. In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, with sweeping support (over 10,000 people on the streets) overtook the Shah’s role as leader of Iran. From books such as ‘The return of Ayatollah Khomeini’ and ‘Iran The Illusion of Power’ it seems that there was no other opposition. Shirin Ebadi said that although she was anti-Shah, before she knew it she was pro-Khomeini without even realising it. As Khomeini was the only opposition, Iranian people sided with him- under the false pre-intentions.
During Khomeini’s deportation from 1977, he published a book named the ‘The Liberation of Means and Islamic Government’ in which he denounced any government in the muslim world which did not strictly obey the Quran- and the ruler being a tyrant. Heikal has presented Khomeinis ideals in his book ‘The Return of the Ayatollah’:
- Takhiliya: getting rid of the obsolete ideas and practices and Tahliya- the sweetening process, adding of new things
- Introduction of Faqaha: an islamic jurisprudence and Islamic law
- Imams: An islamic leadership position- the worshiping of leaders of mosques to replace government officials.
Heikal has argued that Khomeini was the right person at the right time, saying the right things, stating it was a ‘revolution for democracy, against autocracy, led by theocracy, made possible by xerocracy’ (139p)
In the years to come, Iranian citizens had began to realise how mislead they had been during the revolution by Khomeini’s objectives for the country. With the enforcement of the Islamic law, many women realised that many of their rights in society had been revoked, such as singing/ dancing in public, equal rights to men, the veiling of women. Khomeini was far more anti-west than anyone has expected, therefore cutting ties with America and England was a priority, thus leading to beginning of many sanctions imposed against Iran.
From my famillies point of you, over the years I have gathered from multiple discussions regarding this time period, that their main objective was to leave Iran as soon as possible. However due to hostile relationships between the west and Iran, it was extremely difficult for them to get Visa’s to leave. My Grandmother and her two youngest children essentially travelled to anywhere country that would issue them a visa, in the hope to get in England, whilst my Grandfather was still in Iran attempting to leave. Living in a variety of foreign territories for months at a time, not knowing the language, being exposed to drastically different cultures- whilst two of their children were alone in England, was an extremely stressful and daunting time for my Grandparents. Leaving their whole life behind in Iran- family, friends, jobs in a bid to escape the oppressive regime that they had though would positively reform the country.
Fast forward 37 years, and all the children have successful jobs and are living comfortably in different areas around the world. In my documentary I want to explore the different routes all the different children took since leaving Iran. I want to create an observational documentary which visually presents the memoirs of the family members. I think it would be interesting to compare the different paths all four children and the parents took since escaping Iran, and exploring their opinions towards the period of the revolution.