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Iran : Ayatollah Montazeri, a green martyr

rand Ayatollah Montazeri, one of the main artisans of the Islamic revolution and a recent outspoken figure of the Green movement, passed away Saturday at an unconfirmed hour at his home in Qom. Montazeri, labelled as a dissident Ayatollah by the Western press, was according to Iranian political experts close to the regime extremely popular and capable of mobilizing a large number of Iranians on the occasion of his funeral that will take place this Monday.

This event merits a triple deciphering.

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The dissidence myth | It is common to say that Montazeri who passed away yesterday at age 87 (below in a 1998 picture) was a dissident Ayatollah because of his supposed opposition in August 1988 to the execution of thousands of PMO (People’s Mujahedin Organization) prisoners. It is believed that he fell in disgrace with Khomeini due to this opposition losing his support that was necessary to succeed him as the Supreme Leader and was thereafter assigned to residence confinement. It seems that the occidental press never consult their Iranian homologues for the above affirmations have no factual or chronological reality. The press confounds two or three different events that took place at distant dates to arrive at such a conclusion.

The truth can be discovered in part in the epistolary correspondence between Khomeini and Montazeri which are archived on the latter’s website : Montazeri had approved of the thousands of executions that took place from the beginning of the revolution until 1988, and even recommended that the condemned be emptied of their blood before their execution, affirmed that he was in total accordance with Khomeini on the necessity of executing the PMO prisoners. What he differed upon was the method to be employed and the number that should be executed.

Khomeini’s decision to execute the entire PMO imprisoned population dates back to the 26th of July 1988. At that date and 24 days before the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the PMO former revolutionary companions of Khomeini, removed from power by the father of the revolution, had launched an invasion offensive on Iran from Iraq were the PMO had installed their military camps under the patronage of Saddam Hussein. Maryam Rajavi, Massoud Rajavi’s (leader of the PMO) wife had then made a memorable hysterical call for the launch of the attack code named “Eternal Light.” The PMO had formed an army of 5000 soldiers of both sexes and entirely equipped with American arms.

Simultaneously, the Mujahedin imprisoned in Iran provoked turmoil in the prisons. The PMO and their patrons were extremely confident of their victorious outcome for the Mullah regime was extremely weakened at that time. Massoud Rajavi (the hidden Imam of the Mujahedin, reportedly in Jordan at the present time) had announced that he would give his victory speech in Tehran on Azadi Square after what they thought would be a speedy affair. Unfortunately Rajavi found his Nelson in the person of Ali Sayad-Shirazi a brilliant former Imperial officer who had joined the revolutionary camp. In a defensive operation named Mersad (ambush in Arab) Sayad-Shirazi decimated the PMO army in merely three days, killing 2506 of their combatants and imprisoning another 566.

Khomeini and his entourage, including his half-brother Rafsanjani, Chief of the War Council, took the decision to execute all the Mujahedin prisoners, even those who had nearly purged their sentences.

It is at that moment that Montazeri, Khomeini’s friend, man of confidence and his brother-in-law, wrote a friendly letter to him explaining in 6 different points that they had legitimately the right to execute all Mujahedin prisoners, the 566 captured on the battlefield and hundreds of others who had caused turmoil in the prisons. Where he differed was pertaining to the Mujahedin prisoners that did not belong to either of the above categories. He analysed that by executing the others the regime would lose the international sympathy capital gained from the attack. He also pointed that the timing was wrong for they were then during the Muharram period, a Shi’a mourning period, which was not compatible with such actions and that they risked to create martyrs that would be difficult to manage later.

Khomeini’s loyal companion did not fall into disgrace at this point, and therefore did not go into dissidence as we read here and there. Khomeini wrote him back a simple explicative letter of his decision. He explained to Montazeri that he considered the Mujahedin as abjured and therefore condemned to the capital punishment as per the Sharia laws. He also thought that they were condemnable a second time to death due to their quality as foreign agents and spies. He prayed Montazeri to act in consequence without pity and armed with the revolutionary spite. It is also necessary to remind our readers that this same Montazeri who is being transformed into a dissident hero had organized the arson that destroyed a cinema theatre popular with oil workers extremely attached to the Shah. Armed with the revolutionary spite, this man burned to death 400 men, women and children in an effort to put the responsibility on the Shah’s account and trigger general strikes that they had not succeeded in organizing despite great efforts and considerable amounts of Bazaari money. The two accolades understood each other once more and carried on with their revolutionary work.

Following this epistolary exchange and during two months, according to Montazeri’s archives, a group of 13 Mullahs appointed by Khomeini, judged and ordered the execution or 2800 to 3800 prisoners without the so-called dissident Ayatollah ever protesting again or going into any opposition form whatsoever. Montazeri stayed wisely at the side of Khomeini waiting to succeed him in time and in reward for his revolutionary services such as the arson of the Rex Cinema. The disgrace that pushed him into dissidence came 8 months later in March 1989.

The disgrace myth | The French media and their western counterparts in general make the mistake of dating Montazeri’s disgrace to the time of the above letter. However, the disgrace came much later, and that pretended opposition to the Mujahedin’s execution letter was used as an official excuse to pushing Montazeri aside from power. The media are negligent in stating the essential details of the connection between the letter and his disgrace. Montazeri was officially disgraced after being accused of having communicated the content of his infamous letter to Khomeini to the BBC to be read on air. There is no sense in this accusation for Montazeri not only was not in the possession of a letter sent 8 months earlier, he had above all no interest in doing so.

It was quickly settled that the disgrace letter could not have been written by Khomeini for he was at that time already very ill, but by his son Ahmad who was then his private scribe. The comparison between the styles of the letters written by father and son tend to prove the fact that Ahmad was the author of the letter sealing Montazeri’s disgrace. Also, as Khomeini’s private secretary, Ahmad was the only person who had access to the eight-month old letter, and therefore it is clear that he was the only person who could have sent the letter to the BBC in order to discredit Montazeri.

Ahmad had no animosity towards his aunt’s husband, but was in the process of eliminating the candidate of the Shiite clergy to his father’s succession, a religious body that had been swept away from power by members of the Khomeini family who held all key posts of the regime at the time and did not wish to lose their power after Khomeini’s death.

After eliminating Montazeri, Ahmad Khomeini revealed the existence of an unknown testament by his father (a fake) in which he designated Khamenei as his successor even though the latter did not have the religious credentials necessary to attain the supreme magistrate. Khamenei’s first significant measure as the new Supreme Leader was to organize a referendum allowing the constitution to be altered giving all powers to the Council of Discernment an organ created a year earlier by Rafsanjani (Khomeini’s half-brother). Rafsanjani crowned himself as the veritable political leader of the regime until his death for members of this organ are appointed for life. It is clear that Rafsanjani was the mastermind behind the BBC’s lecture of Montazeri’s letter and Khomeini’s forged letter announcing his disgrace.

It is certain that Montazeri destined for a brilliant career in the regime was the victim of a political plot organized against him by a number of lesser important clergy in Khomeini’s entourage. His disgrace had nothing to do to his soft opposition to the execution of thousands of Mujahedin prisoners.

After his disgrace, he evidently became discreet and stayed aside for he understood that he no longer weighed in the Iranian political arena. Montazeri’s first notable opposition to Khamenei came only in 1997 when during a speech he accused the Supreme Leader and the younger clergy of being ignorant. His audience outraged by his accusations invaded and sacked his house. In response to his provocation Khamenei condemned him to five years of house-confinement. Despite the Western Media’s assertion his confinement had nothing to do with his opposition to Khomeini in his innocent letter in which he explained his opinion about the unwelcome timing and methods of certain executions, a letter titled : Unmethodical Executions.

Claim to popularity | If Montazeri had not been eliminated from the power race by Rafsanjani’s clique he would have succeeded Khomeini not only in view of his position in the religious hierarchy but mostly because of his Islamist engagement and his revolutionary past in order to continue the path traced by the father of the revolution (Hezbollah, Sharia, etc…). But this methodical man ran out of luck, or it would be more judicious to affirm that he lacked the clear sightedness and discernment necessary to reach such a supreme position. A flaw in clear sightedness that was once more seen lately in his tardy adherence to the Green movement, a strong position that might be the cause of his death.

Montazeri joined the Green movement only when it started attacking Khamenei in person accusing him of being a dictator. Montazeri ceded to his aversion for a man who had deprived him of the position he was destined to without realizing that the Green movement was attacking a man without any real power since 1989 in order to replace him with its own leaders, Mousavi and Karroubi, two members of the Council of Discernment. Two powerful leaders being presented as victims of the regime in order to gain credibility as democratic alternatives to the leaders in place and as the true representative of the Iranian nation.

Montazeri therefore adhered to a movement imagined to permit the leaders of the regime to legitimately refuse any compromise in the nuclear issue by apposing a popular stamp. We can consider his error as indirect for this movement has no veritable base amongst Iranians and has a difficult time to mobilize. By engaging himself alongside the Green movement he became a notable opposition leader without actually being part of the Green organization’s management. His stature being validated by the Green movement’s diva Shirin Ebadi who discerned him her annual award for his combat in fighting violations in human rights. He presented himself on a platter to a Green movement in difficulty as a martyr that could attract international attention and mobilize Iranians.

But as always, the regime is hoping to achieve even more from this timely death by leaving nothing to hazard. According to the Muslim rite we should congregate on the seventh day following a death in order to pay homage to the deceased. In the case of Hussein-Ali Montazeri this 7th day coincides with Ashoura a date of celebration of the martyr of Hussein, Shiite Islam’s most important prophet. Is it a happy coincidence that the day of Ashoura was already earmarked by the Greens as a day of protest against the Ahmadinejad government ? The regime is hoping a double take in the mobilization by attracting the partisans of Montazeri, their bonus Green movement leader, amongst the believers already celebrating Ashoura.

In seven days we will know if Montazeri’s sacrifice was worth it, but we already know that the Green movement and its animators are merciless.

The french version of this article :
- Iran : L’ayatollah Montazéri, le martyr du Mouvement Vert
- (21 DÉCEMBRE 2009)

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