Iran's Islamic Revolution turns 39: Anti-Shah movement overthrew 2,500-year-old monarchy, restored Shiite control

Iran on Sunday marked the 39th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. In his annual address, President Hassan Rouhani called for a "year of unity" in the wake of anti-government protests last month. "I request that the 40th year of the revolution, the coming year, be the year of unity. I ask conservatives, reformists, moderates and all parties and all people to come and be together," AFP quoted Rouhani as saying in a speech before a huge crowd in Tehran.

Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has experienced signficant change in its economic as well as geo-political fortunes. "In the last 39 years, we have progressed in many fields, but at the same time we have had shortcomings," Rouhani said on Sunday.

Rouhani's above statement requires a reader to know the genesis behind the revolution.

The Islamic revolution saw the ouster of the Pahlavi Dynasty and its ruler Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. His ouster also ended the 2,500 years of continuous monarchy in the country.

The revolution began on 7 January, 1978 when a State-owned newspaper published an article calling Ayatollah Khomeini as a "British agent" and a "mad Indian poet". This agitated the Islamic leader's ardent supporters who clashed with the police. In the seminary town of Qom, at least seventy supporters were killed as per the opposition.

As Shiite forces gained momentum, the opposition rallied behind the ayatollah, a scholar who was in exile in France after opposing the Shah's liberal reforms.

According to BBC, the ayatollah promised the economic and social reforms for the disadvantaged sections of the society. "The ayatollah prescribed a return to traditional religious values, which struck a chord with many Iranians," the BBC noted.

As the protests against the regime increased, the Shah and his queen consort left the country in January 1979. While Shah's trip was officially called "an extended vacation", he was never to return home.

On 1 February, 1979, the ayatollah returned from his exile in France and was welcomed by the revolutionaries. In a last ditch effort to save the monarchy, the Shah appointed a foreign-educated politician Shahpour Bakhtiyar as the prime minister.

 Irans Islamic Revolution turns 39: Anti-Shah movement overthrew 2,500-year-old monarchy, restored Shiite control

Representational image. Getty images

But on 11 February, just five weeks into his tenure, he was forced to abandon his power as revolutionaries ran through Tehran declaring Iran an "Islamic Republic."

Immediately, the ayatollah appointed Mahdi Bazargan as the prime minister of a provisional government. Bazargan later conducted a referendum to seek people's approval for the new republic. On 31 March, 1979, 97 percent of the voters voted in favour of the Islamic Republic. Ayatollah was declared the "supreme leader" of the country, while the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was created to protect the Islamic system. In December of the same year, the country also got its new constitution.

Many experts were caught by surprise due to rapid pace with which the revolution took place, arguing that there were no usual signs of an imminent regime change.

With the US-led West strongly supporting Iran, few expected the Shah's regime to fall so quickly. But it did.

While things looked normal on the surface, there were historical reasons for the eventual overthrow of the Shah, who had bestowed upon himself the title of "the light of Aryans."

Given his penchant for westernisation and his perceived closeness to the United States, the Shah came to be considered an "American puppet," a BBC documentary, The Last Shah, noted.

In fact, it was the US which, with the help of the UK, propelled the Shah back to power by overthrowing the popularly-elected Mohammad Mosaddegh. This intervention created a poor impression of the West among secular as well as religious Iranians.

Shah's 1963 White Revolution, which attempted to modernise the country, angered the clerics, led by the ayatollah. Critics also pointed out that the benefits of the modernisation never reached the villages and the lower strata of the society.

Shah continued his crackdown on the Communists and Islamists, even as state profligacy and low standards of living remained a major cause for concern, Financial Times report said.

One of the biggest symbols of Iran's dysfunctional reforms came in 1971, when the Shah celebrated the 2,500th year of monarchy. Even as the country was going through a turmoil, the Shah decided to treat his Iranian guests to a five-course meal and the rarest of wines.

"Every party leaves a few hangovers. This one left a country reeling, never to recover. It crystallised the Opposition, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. More than any other event, this party marked the break between the king of kings and the people of Iran he reigned over," BBC noted.

With inputs from AFP

Updated Date: Feb 12, 2018 15:49:29 IST