Imperial State of Iran

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Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. ~ Jimmy Carter

The Imperial State of Iran was Iran between the years 1925 and 1979, during which the country was ruled by Reza Shah Pahlavi and later his son Muhammad Reza Pahlavi.



By Iranians

Every aspect of life was better then, everyone was happier. ~ Anonymous
Are these mules, jackasses, apes, leopards, dragons, sharks and gorillas the chosen members of our society? Is this zoo the ruling class of Iran? ~ Reza Baraheni
You had a real intellectual elite in Iran then. - Marjane Satrapi
  • I was taught in my history classes that the Shah was a tin-pot dictator installed by the CIA to subdue Iran’s leftists and secure American access to the country’s oil. That he was extravagant and capricious. That his secret police, the Savak, tortured and spied with impunity.
    Much of this is probably true. Mohammad Reza was definitely the intended beneficiary of an at-least-attempted CIA coup in 1953. And he was definitely a dictator (though whether he was benevolent or tyrannical is debatable).
    But I must admit to ambivalent feelings towards the Shah and his government. Under the Shah my grandmother gained the right to vote and to divorce her emotionally abusive, opium-addicted husband. My relatives benefitted from his land redistribution and industrial profit-sharing programmes. My father learned to read from the Shah’s literacy corps and received government-subsidised meals and textbooks.
    So who am I to tell them that he was a lousy guy, that he was a despot, that his policies were too pro-western? They don’t care about that. They were starving and he gave them food, that’s all they need to know. In my household I was always taught that Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his father were the greatest leaders Iran ever had. My family loves the man like a grandfather, or even a god. Growing up, we always had a Shir o Khorshid in our house.
    “Every aspect of life was better then,” my father loves to say, “everyone was happier.” When he comes to visit Iran he blames every imperfection personally on Khomeini. The teller at the bank is rude? Khomeini. The metro is late? Khomeini. The internet is slow? Khomeini. When he was growing up, people were nicer, food tasted better, the Azadi Tower looked bigger.
    • Anonymous, "Why Iranians are lapping up Shah memorabilia", The Guardian (17 June, 2015)
  • In the Shah’s time, when I went to Italy, they stood up for me, they talked to me with respect. When I went to France they respected me as an Iranian. Now when I go anywhere in the world they think we are terrorists, they think we are barbarians.
    • Anonymous, "Why Iranians are lapping up Shah memorabilia", The Guardian (17 June, 2015)
  • To witness the collective dispossession of the nurtured tradition and way of life in an entire nation, travel to Iran. The people of the country are being alienated from their cultural and ethnic roots and thus from their identity. They have been denied all that is of merit in the West while their own values are corroded. The cultural denuding thus involves a double alienation which gnaws at our vitals like a cancer.
    • Reza Baraheni (1977) The Crowned Cannibals: Writings on Repression in Iran, p. 5.
  • Iran is the country of the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. The lot of the majority of people in Iran has not moved forward even an inch during the last fifty years of the Pahlavi dynasty's reign, though the seven-year-old middle-class boy of fifty years ago, namely, the present Shah of Iran, has grown to be one of the richest men on earth.
    • Reza Baraheni (1977) The Crowned Cannibals: Writings on Repression in Iran, p. 10.
  • The reason most of my countrymen would tell you that they carry a grudge against the United States is that the U.S. government has given its unconditional support to a monarch who has terrorized a whole nation, plundered its wealth and bought billions of dollars' worth of military equipment which neither he nor our nation knows how to use. Iran is a dangerous quagmire in which the United States is sinking deeper and deeper. The future will speak for itself. But if Iran becomes the new Vietnam, we can be sure that it was the inhumane and irresponsible policies of the U.S. government, the excessive greed of American arms corporations and the extreme stupidity and adventurism on the part of present Iranian authorities that led to the creation of that crisis in the history of humanity.
    • Reza Baraheni (1977) The Crowned Cannibals: Writings on Repression in Iran, p. 10.
  • In Iran one cannot stage Hamlet, Richard III or Macbeth because no Iranian should see the death of a prince or a king on the stage. He might jump to conclusions, as if contemporary Iranian history itself is devoid of attempts at regicide.
    • Reza Baraheni (1977) The Crowned Cannibals: Writings on Repression in Iran, p. 11.
  • It is a zoo in a glass tower. There are no kings, queens, princes, princesses, generals, ministers or secret agents here. There are beasts instead. Nobody speaks the language of human beings here. The gory shadows of these animals are reflected on the walls and mirrors. The beasts hop up and down on the tiles and silk rugs, howling, bleating, roaring, mewing, grinding their teeth and breathing savagely through their palpitating nostrils. It is like being in a public bath with lepers. The tails, the muzzles, the claws and paws rise in the air, scratching at each other, touching and twisting each other, cornering, buggering each other, and sinking in an infernal, abysmal pleasure. Are these mules, jackasses, apes, leopards, dragons, sharks and gorillas the chosen members of our society? Is this zoo the ruling class of Iran?
    • Reza Baraheni (1977) The Crowned Cannibals: Writings on Repression in Iran, p. 93.
  • I envisaged future generations of Iranians proudly taking their rightful place among the vast family of nations, and fulfilling their responsibilities with dignity. I hoped to see dispelled for ever the medieval shadows from which Iran had emerged only half a century ago, and that the light which is the very essence of Iranian civilization and culture would prevail. Throughout my reign, I lived only for the realization of this dream which was beginning to become reality.
    It will be seen that I worked tirelessly and keenly to this end. I had ceaselessly to struggle against all sorts of obstacles and difficulties. I had to confront innumerable plots and intrigues both inside the country and abroad. I combated the all-powerful, multi-national trusts and cartels when all my advisers warned me against such challenges. I may have made mistakes, of course, but this long battle was not one of them.
  • They say that [martial law] would have cost my country less than the bloody anarchy which is there now. I can only reply that it is easy to play the prophet a posteriori and that a sovereign may not save his throne by shedding his compatriots' blood. A dictator can, because he acts, because he acts in the name of an ideology which he believes must triumph whatever the price. But a sovereign is not a dictator. There is an alliance between him and his people which he cannot break. A dictator has nothing to hand over. Power lies in him, and in him alone. A sovereign receives a crown and it is his duty to pass it on.
  • I wanted to build up Iran while we still had oil and thus to guarantee the life of the country after our oil reserves were exhausted. Therein lay the solution. We had to move fast, we had no time to spare. Finally, it is unquestionable that the oil lobby contributed actively to my downfall.
  • It is evident that a lot of mistakes and excesses have been committed before the revolution. I don't deny it, on the contrary - there was evidently a lack of political liberty. I don't deny either that the revolt was popular, but those that spearheaded the revolution didn't want this result, Iran has regressed for twenty-two years. I prefer to speak of the future, history will judge what happened in the past.
  • As you educate society, and as you modernize the country, and as people’s economic status becomes better and better, so would be the expectation of more participation. The level of liberalization in a political sense was a challenge that was not negotiated the best way possible. Keep in mind, this was in a period of the Cold War. There was a constant menace of the Soviet bloc trying to have a hold and satellize many countries through their various networks. We had at the time in Iran the Communist party, which was the second-oldest after the Russian communist party in the world.

By non-Iranians

The friendship between Iran and the United States, strong and enduring, has been enriched by the shared experiences of our two nations. ~ Lyndon B. Johnson
  • A situation in Asia that was not without considerable promise for the USA was to become far more threatening in 1979. The overthrow, in the face of mass-demonstrations, of the Shah of Iran, who left Tehran on 16 January 1979, and his replacement by a theocratic state hostile to the USA, combined with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 1979 to create a highly volatile situation that posed problems for analysts. There was the prospect, first, that the USA might lose the struggle for regional hegemony and, secondly, that this might have wider consequences across Asia. Although authoritarian and prone to initiatives that were not always welcome, Iran was America’s leading ally in South Asia, an opponent to Arab radicalism, and a block to Soviet expansionism and that of Iraq, a key Soviet ally. The USA had used Iran to support the Kurds against Iraq, and, in 1973, to send troops to help the Sultan of Oman overcome left-wing rebels based in the region of Dhofar, rebels backed by Communist powers. Iran was also a major purchaser of American arms, and a key oil exporter. Under the Shah, it had long played a central role in the forward containment of the Soviet Union, not least by providing important radar bases to screen the southern Soviet Union. After the collapse of Iran, the Americans fell back upon Israel.
  • Persia is a country in transition between past and present, a boiling mass of half East, half West. It is sharing these labels, but still has something that is more Eastern, in a very deep way, than anything we know, and yet it's more Western than even we'd like it to be.
    • Peter Brook, as quoted in A. C. H. Smith (1971) Orghast at Persepolis.
  • Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.
  • We deeply value our friendship and our ties with Iran, and we will remain strong in that friendship now and for the future. In an interdependent world, we remain deeply grateful for the constructive friendship of Iran, which is playing a very important role in pursuit of a more peaceful, stable, and very prosperous world. And we, for our part, remain constant in our friendship with this great country. We pledge ourselves to insuring that our ties are creatively adjusted to meet the pressing problems and changing realities of the present world.
  • Inspired by the success of the Cuban, Algerian, and Vietnamese revolutions and insurgencies, Iranian opposition groups of all political stripes, from Marxists to nationalists, religious fundamentalists to Islamist modernists, were exploring the option of an armed insurgency against the king of Iran. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had been on the throne since 1941, when his father, Reza Shah Pahlavi, had abdicated. The Persian empire was 2,500 years old, but the Pahlavi dynasty was young. In 1925, with help from the British, Reza Shah, a brigadier general in the Persian Cossack army, had put an end to two centuries of Qajar dynasty. Both father and son had faced challenges as they tried to force the rapid modernization of the country. In 1963, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had launched a wide program of reforms he described as a White Revolution. Khomeini and other clerics denounced what they saw as the Westernization of Iran by a despotic ruler. They were particularly incensed about the greater rights granted to women, including the right to run for elected office and serve as judges. Spurred by the clergy, leftists, antiroyalists, and student activists also took to the streets, each for their own reasons. The shah crushed the protests, killing dozens. Opposition leaders who were not arrested went underground or scattered abroad. Khomeini went to Turkey, then Iraq, but Lebanon provided convenient proximity for Iranian dissidents, along with religious and social affinities and even entertainment: the more secular revolutionaries could train during the day and go to the beach in the afternoon or spend their evenings in the bars of Beirut.
    • Kim Ghattas, Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East (2020)
  • The Shah was at the apex of a hierarchy of parasites fattening themselves off the Iranian economy. He was followed by lesser Pahlavis and their relatives, a total of some sixty-five families. Of the $2,000 million exported annually during the period 1973-8 half of it belonged to the Pahlavis. The Pahlavi Foundation, set up by the Shah in 1958 as a charity organisation out of the sale of crown lands to the tenants, came in handy to the Pahlavis as a means of funneling their funds out of Iran.
    • Dilip Hiro (1985) Iran under the Ayatollahs, p. 95.
  • When we visited Tehran in 1962 we saw for ourselves the energy and the determination and the skill with which His Majesty and his ministers are carrying out great programs aimed at the welfare of his people. His leadership has been a vital factor in keeping Iran free and in modernizing this ancient land. So it gives me great pleasure and it is a high privilege today to ask those of you, our friends in this country, together with our guests to join in a toast to a reformist 20th century monarch, His Imperial Majesty and the Empress Farah.
  • The friendship between Iran and the United States, strong and enduring, has been enriched by the shared experiences of our two nations.
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