a memorial for all wars: the Polynational War Memorial


Iranian Revolution

Years: 1978-1979
Battle deaths: 1,100 [1]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]

Published prior to 2013 | Updated: 2013-08-15 11:44:19
In 1977, following human rights pressure from U.S. President Jimmy Carter (who threatened to cut arms shipments), more than 300 political prisoners were released, censorship was relaxed, and the court system reformed. This loosening of restrictions led to more campaigns from the opposition where writers campaigned for freedom of thought, and people began to demonstrate.

This early opposition was lead by Mehdi Bazargan and his Freedom Movement of Iran. It was a liberal secularist group that was closely linked to Massadegh’s movement of the 1950s. This group saw significant support in Iran and abroad in the West.

More radical was Ali Shari’ati who combined Marxism and Shia orthodoxy in a revolutionary movement inspired by the Cuban and Algerian revolutions. His alleged murder in London in 1977, which was blamed on SAVAK agents, greatly inflamed tensions.

The Ulema were divided, some allying with the liberal secularists and others with the Marxists. Khomeini, who was in exile in Iraq, led a small faction that advocated the overthrow of the regime and the creation of a theocratic state. In late 1977, Khomeini’s son Mostafa was found dead of unknown reasons; again the Shah security forces were blamed.

The various anti-establishment groups operated from outside Iran, mostly in London, Paris, Iraq, and Turkey. Speeches by the leaders of these groups were placed on audio cassettes to be smuggled into Iran. The speeches could then be listened to by the largely illiterate population.

During the period up to 1978, the opposition to the Shah mostly came from the urban middle class, a section of the population that was fairly secular and would support a constitutional monarchy. It was the Islamic groups that first managed to rally the great mass of the population against the Shah.

In January of 1978 the official press ran a libelous story attacking Khomeini. Angry students and religious leaders protested against the allegations in the city of Qom. The army was sent in dispersing the demonstrations and killing several students.

According the Shi’ite customs, forty days after a person’s death memorial services are held. In mosques across the nation, calls were made to honour the dead students. Thus on February 18 groups in a number of cities marched to honour the fallen and to protest against the rule of the Shah. This time violence erupted in Tabriz and over a hundred demonstrators were killed. The cycle repeated itself and on March 29 a new round of protests began across the nation. Luxury hotels, theaters showing "unethical movies", and other symbols of the Shah regime were destroyed; again security forces intervened, killing many. On May 10 the same occurred.

The damage from the demonstrations, along with rampant inflation, further ravaged the Iranian economy. As a result, in the summer of 1978 the government introduced austerity measures that saw many public works projects shut down and wage freezes imposed. These measures created widespread unemployment and labour unrest, mostly among the poor labourers living in the slums around Tehran and other major cities. Increasingly, the working class joined the students and middle class in the protests against the regime.

By September the nation was rapidly destabilizing with major protests becoming a regular occurrence. The Shah introduced martial law and banned all demonstrations. On Friday, September 8 a massive protest broke out in Tehran, and in what became known as Black Friday the regime used the full force of its weaponry to crush the protests. Tanks, helicopter gun ships, and machine guns killed hundreds.

Black Friday succeeded in alienating much of the rest of the Iranian people, as well as the Shah’s allies abroad. A general strike in October resulted in the collapse of the economy, with most industries being shut down.

The protests of 1978 culminated in December during the holy month of Muharram, one of the most important months for Shia Muslims. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed each day, yet each day the protests grew. On December 12 over two million people filled the streets of Tehran to protest against the Shah.

The army began to disintegrate as conscripts refused to fire on demonstrators and began to switch sides. Some soldiers turned on superior officers, killing them, and took over military bases.

The Shah agreed to introduce a constitution and appoint the moderate Shapour Bakhtiar as Prime Minister, but it was too late for compromise. The majority of the population was loyal to Khomeini, and when he called for a complete end to the monarchy, the Shah was forced to flee the country on January 16, 1979. Khomeini returned to Iran on February 1, 1979, invited by the anti-Shah revolution already in progress.

Source: Wikipedia, published under the GNU FDL. Retrieved [dat]


Notes on fatalities

[1] Battle deaths: Correlates of War, Intra-State War Data v4.1 #813

More about sources


NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.



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