Former Diplomat, Student Recall Iran's Revolution

It's been 30 years since the Islamic revolution in Iran. Two men recall their memories of the Revolution — and their very different fates. One man flew with Ayatollah Khomeini from Paris to Tehran in 1979. The other was a student and was swept up in the revolution.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne in Washington.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep in Tehran. We've come here as Iran marks the 30th anniversary of its Islamic revolution. A ceremony we heard this week at the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini was just the start. The government is also unveiling construction projects, premiering symphonies, even unveiling a postage stamp. And it all ends with a giant parade next week.

Even as this happens, two very different men are recalling their revolution and their very different fates. They spoke with NPR's Mike Shuster.

MIKE SHUSTER: In Iran, celebrations of 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution begin as all public events do - with a recitation from the Koran.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

SHUSTER: This is the arrival hall at Tehran's Mehrabad airport. The hall has been cleared of passengers. A huge replica of the nose of an Air France 747 has been constructed, an escalator functioning as the plane's staircase. At the top of the steps, at the open door: a life-size photograph of Ayatollah Khomeini, who flew here from exile in Paris on this day at this hour 30 years ago. The revolution had triumphed, the Shah was overthrown, and the revolution's undisputed leader, the ayatollah, had returned.

Ebrahim Yazdi was on that plane. Yazdi was a close advisor to Khomeini and became the new Iran's foreign minister. But he soon broke with Khomeini and for much of the past 30 years he has been banned from political activity. Nevertheless, Yazdi still believes in the revolution.

Mr. EBRAHIM YAZDI (Khomeini Advisor): It was unavoidable. It was necessary. It was anti-despotic, the regime of the Shah, and anti-foreign domination in our internal affairs. I don't have anything to regret of what I have done for the revolution. I'm proud of whatever I have done for my own country.

SHUSTER: Those days were chaotic, tumultuous and exhilarating for many. But once it was clear the old regime was gone and Iran was in the hands of the revolutionaries, then, says Yazdi, disagreements erupted.

Mr. YAZDI: We were united on what we didn't want. Very rarely and seldom we discussed and came to a common understanding on what we wanted.

SHUSTER: That's the way Ali Shamans Ardekani(ph) remembers it too. Ardekani was a student at the time, educated in the United States and then swept up in the revolution. For some years he was a diplomat. Now he is an economist and successful businessman.

Mr. ALI SHAMANS ARDEKANI (Economist): Really nobody was putting forward an economic platform or a socialist platform or any kind of well detained, well drawn economic position. It was people who just wanted to change the regime. And they did it.

SHUSTER: Ardekani had a notion in his mind of creating a democracy in Iran on a Western model.

Mr. ARDEKANI: I myself was one of the guys who said, look, the best thing is to keep the constitution. Wherever it says the king, you put the president. And then you combine the president's office with the prime minister and make a representative system similar to American system.

SHUSTER: Soon it became clear that Khomeini wanted a government that was controlled by the clerics, an Islamic Republic combining elements of Western democracy with theocratic institutions unique to Iran.

(Soundbite of music)

SHUSTER: The symphonies celebrating the revolution are patriotic, nationalistic and martial in tone, hailing the progress and achievements of the Islamic Republic. But for both men, veterans of the revolution, the state the revolution created has not fulfilled its promise.

In Ardekani's eyes the state has been unable to realize the economic aspirations of Iran's people.

Mr. ARDEKANI: The government should become smaller. The current government should then become smarter. The government should have a smaller body, bigger head. And not now, it's a dinosaur, a small brain, a small head and big body.

SHUSTER: For Yazdi, despite the restrictions he and other reformers function under, democracy is still the goal.

Mr. YAZDI: It is going towards democracy. We see something, some treatment harsh, we continue to see some violation of the basic rights of our people, but overall down deep within the society everything moving toward that direction and it is unavoidable the future belongs to democracy in Iran.

SHUSTER: Mike Shuster, NPR News, Tehran.

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