In a series called "Forty Years, Forty Interviews,” Radio Farda’s Farhang Ghavimi is sitting down with 40 prominent Iranians who played a role in events leading up to the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago. In a recent episode, he spoke with the first President of the Islamic Republic, Abolhassan Banisadr (February 5, 1980 - June 20, 1981). Once a favorite of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini, Banisadr fell out of favor less than two years into his term as president and was forced to flee to France, where he was granted asylum and lives to this day.
The leader of anti-monarchy revolutionaries, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had lived in exile in Iraq for fifteen years when he was confronted by Iraqi soldiers on October 6, 1978, and given a choice: either stay in Iraq and abandon all political activities or leave the country. He chose the latter, first attempting to enter neighboring Kuwait. When Kuwait denied him refuge, Khomeini’s close allies, among them Banisadr, arranged safe passage for him to Paris.
"Khomeini moved to an apartment in Paris where I used to live in with my family. We moved out and he moved in," says Banisadr, who was also living in voluntary exile in the French capital, promoting anti-monarchy ideas among the Iranian diaspora.
Iranians living in France and reporters from all over the world were frantic to get a look at the mysterious 78-year-old Ayatollah unifying all of the anti-Shah elements and fomenting unrest in Iran. In an attempt to avoid the attention, Banisadr says Khomeini moved to a nearby village called Neufle-le-Chateau, but the crowds and reporters followed.
As Khomeini did not speak any foreign languages, Banisadr, along with the U.S.-educated Ebrahim Yazdi (later the Islamic Republic's Foreign minister, 12 April 1979 – 12 November 1979) and a political activist, Sadeq Qotbzadeh (Sadegh Ghotbzadeh) were assigned as official interpreters, translating the Ayatollahs responses to the questions raised by journalists.
While this group formed Khomeini’s inner circle in France, things would quickly turn south once the Ayatollah came to power. Qotbzadeh was executed on September 16, 1982, charged with conspiracy to kill Khomeini and overthrow the new Islamic ruling establishment in Iran. Yazdi was imprisoned, and Banisadr fled to France.
Banisadr says Khomeini was less than confident about a return to Iran during his time in France.
“He was planning for a long stay in France, and even looking for suitable schools for his grandchildren,” Banisadr said.
But, Banisadr says, anti-Shah sentiment was strong at home, and when the Shah left the country, Khomeini triumphantly returned. Soon after, the Imperial Army submitted to the revolutionary forces and recognized the Islamic Republic.
Then, a group of young revolutionaries calling themselves the Moslem Student Followers of Imam Khomeini’s Line, stormed the U.S. embassy on November 4, 1979, taking more than sixty American diplomats hostage.
Banisadr says he was assured by Khomeini and the hostage takers that the U.S. diplomats would be released within a week. But in a U-turn, Khomeini began to fear the Americans would try to undermine his power, and ordered the hostages be kept until parliamentary elections were held and the Islamic Republic’s constitution was endorsed. But even after these steps were achieved, the hostages stayed captive, Banisadr says, because Khomeini was after a secret deal with the Regan campaign, and had agreed to release them after Regan’s election in exchange for weapons and money. This theory, known as the “October Surprise” has never been conclusively proven.
Another event that helped Khomeini consolidate power was Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's decision to invade Iran on September 22, 1980.
Almost 39 years after fleeing his country for his life, Banisadr says he believes Khomeini was personally behind his political downfall.
"I was at the war front in western Iran,” Banisadr said. “Khomeini’s nephew visited and handed me a private message from Khomeini ordering me to condemn eight political parties and endorse his secret deal with the Americans.”
Banisadr says he rejected the orders, effectively signing his own death warrant.
“The clerics in power were worried that I would end the Iran-Iraq war successfully and return triumphantly on a tank to Tehran, in such a way that no one would have dared challenge me."
Now, almost four decades after the establishment of the Islamic Republic, does the ever-revolutionary Banisadr believe, like many other observers, that the Islamic Republic is at risk of collapsing?”
"The collapse of the Islamic Republic is not a possibility, it is inevitable. It will definitely happen,” said Banisadr. “Its goals are against the Islamic Revolution, the Iranian Revolution. The people of Iran and Islam itself have fallen victim to a ‘mulltaria’ (mullah+military) and a renewed dictatorship.”