Journalist, Deputy Premier & Foreign Minister of Iran
Ebrahim Norouzi, MD
Hossein Fatemi (1919-1954)  was an Iranian journalist and political figure who became perhaps the most vital member of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh’s nationalist government; serving as Deputy Prime Minister, official spokesman, and, at the age of 33, as the youngest Foreign Minister in Iran’s history.
A promising child
Born in Naein, a small desert city in the province of Esfahan, Hossein Fatemi was the youngest in a family of six (five brothers and one sister). He was an exceptionally bright and self-assured child, becoming a favorite of his school teachers. One of Hossein’s cousins, H. M. Naeini, remembered him as a defiant youngster whose older cousins could not bring under their influence.
At age 13, Hossein was sent to Esfahan for his high school education which included a period in a school run by British missionaries. It was during these teenage years that he experienced the death of his parents, both within a short time.
Journalism — a natural calling
While in Esfahan, Hossein also worked at the office of Bakhtar, a literary magazine owned by his brother, Nasrollah Saifpour Fatemi. Bakhtar closed down after two years, yet Hossein found the experience so fulfilling that he decided to embark on a journalism career.
In pursuit of this goal, a 20 year-old Fatemi moved to Tehran in 1937, where he landed a job as a writer and reporter at the office of Setareh newspaper for a starting monthly salary of 20 toomans. Though he could not afford housing, he was allowed to sleep at the office. Hossein worked long hours writing social and political commentaries for the paper, and before long, in recognition of his good work, Setareh owner Ahmad Maleki raised his monthly salary to 30 toomans.
During this period, under the despotic rule of Reza Shah Pahlavi, independent journalism was a perilous profession. Fatemi’s commentaries led to him being investigated by the office of press censorship, but he was excused presumably because of his young age (the office head, impressed with his abilities, told him that he had a bright future as a writer). Though Fatemi endured the episode unscathed, from that moment on, he was placed under police surveillance.
In early 1941, Nasrollah Fatemi persuaded his brother to return to Esfahan and work as the editor of his newly resumed Bakhtar, now published as a newspaper focused primarily on current events and political matters. For Hossein Fatemi, this was a golden opportunity to integrate his journalistic calling with his advocacy of social causes.
War comes to Iran
In the summer of 1941, in the wake of World War II and occupation of the country by British, Russian and later American forces, Britain orchestrated Reza Shah’s removal and exile, placing his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on the throne. Reza Shah had risen to power through the help of the British, but had exhausted his usefulness to their imperial designs. There was a silver lining to Reza Shah’s departure, however, as the social atmosphere in the country improved and many political prisoners were released.
The dismantling of Reza Shah’s police state apparatus improved conditions for political expression and allowed the 22 year-old Fatemi, along with many others, to resume their political activitism more openly. One liberated prisoner of the former regime was Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh. A former governor, minister and Majles deputy, Mossadegh had either been in prison or under house arrest at the command of Reza Shah for the preceding 13 years.
Another of Reza Shah’s many victims was the progressive cleric Seyyed Hassan Modarres, who had dared to oppose Reza Shah’s tyranny and had paid the ultimate price. Hossein Fatemi organized a memorial gathering for martyrs including Modarres — who had been murdered in his jail cell on Reza Shah’s orders in 1937 — giving a stinging condemnation of the crimes committed by the deposed Shah. Later that evening, Fatemi was arrested and imprisoned. His loyal sister, Saltanat, tirelessly campaigned for his release, which came about after several days only when a new police chief was assigned to the post.
In mid-1942, in order to have a greater journalistic impact, Fatemi transferred Bakhtar newspaper to Tehran. In his first editorial, God, Iran, Freedom, he wrote:
Fatemi’s writings were audacious and targeted. He often wrote about what he viewed as the appalling legacy of Reza Shah. On the occasion of the exiled Shah’s birthday on March 15, 1943, Fatemi recalled that the dictator had the habit of “arresting innocent individuals merely for longing freedom and after confiscating their belongings and incarcerating them for 5, 10 or 15 years would poison them to death, returning their lifeless bodies to their unfortunate and grief-stricken families.”
Fatemi also frequently assailed the corrupt activities of the elites, meddlesome foreigners, misguided Communists and successive governments for press censorship and arbitrary closure of newspapers. Consequently, he made powerful political enemies, and in particular, became the object of intense attack in the Tudeh (Communist) press.
A kindred spirit
As a young journalist in Tehran, Fatemi became captivated by the work of Mohammad Masoud, Iran’s most iconoclastic journalist and owner and editor of the popular Mard-e Emrouz weekly newspaper. Through its pages, Masoud crusaded mainly against the privileged class, but also jabbed powerful Islamic clerics, Communist leaders and members of the royal court.
Mard-e Emrouz enjoyed the highest circulation in the country, yet during its five year existence, authorities suspended it more than fifty times. Masoud and Fatemi shared a similar journalistic style and in due time, these like-minded patriots developed a strong personal bond.
In 1944, Fatemi enrolled in the School of Social Studies in Paris, France to study law and journalism. During his absence, Bakhtar’s circulation dropped significantly and was eventually forced to close down. Fatemi, however, continued to write commentaries on important issues such as the Soviet Union’s covetous assistance of pro-autonomy movements in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. In place of Bakhtar, these articles were featured in Setareh newspaper and prominently in the weekly Mard-e Emrouz.
In February 1948, Fatemi received word from Tehran that Mohammad Masoud had been assassinated by a secret member of the Communist Tudeh party. The shocking news plunged Fatemi into a state of deep depression. In a letter from Paris to Nasrollah Shifteh, his journalist colleague in Iran, he wrote that losing Masoud in this way had destroyed not only his hope for his homeland, but even for the human race as a whole. He expressed his sorrow by citing a poem from Aref-e-Gazvini; “Don’t tell me to stop crying, crying is all I can do / tears are my only link to my dead friend.”
Fatemi decided to keep the memory of Mohammad Masoud alive by continuing to publish Mard-e Emrouz, urging Shifteh to obtain the permit to resume publication. After only five issues, however, the paper was suspended by order of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. From its very inception, the Shah and his family had harbored great resentment toward the paper for its critical stance on the Pahlavi dynasty.
After obtaining several diplomas and a doctorate degree in Journalism, Fatemi returned to Tehran in late 1948. The title of his theses was “The Problem of Labor in Iran”.
While Hossein Fatemi was in Paris, Ahmad Ghavam, the conservative veteran politician was serving as Iran’s Prime Minister for the 4th time. During this term, Ghavam faced a strong challenge from Dr. Mossadegh, an opposition deputy then representing Tehran in the 14th Majles who had been elected with the highest number of votes from Iran’s capital.
When the time arrived to elect deputies for the 15th Majles, Ghavam managed to prevent Mossadegh from being re-elected through manipulation of the electoral process. Having been denied re-entry to the Majles, Mossadegh continued to provide guidance for his supporters from the outside on many key issues. One such issue was Iran’s insufficient share of the profits from the British owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC). Consequently, in late 1947, the liberal faction in the 15th Majles demanded that the government renegotiate the oil agreement with the AIOC for a more equitable deal. Ghavam, however, was soon out of office and in a span of 12 months, three successive prime ministers failed to make any progress on the oil issue.
It was not until July 1949 that Premier Mohammad Sa’ed presented the Majles with an agreement he had negotiated in secret with the AIOC. The so called “Supplemental Agreement” had allocated Iran 26% of the company’s net profits — 10% more than the existing share, but far below the 50-50 arrangement that was in effect in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The 15th Majles never had a chance to deliberate the Supplemental Agreement as its term ended shortly thereafter.
The birth of Bakhtar-e Emrouz
Simultaneous with the oil nationalization issue coming to the forefront, Fatemi began publishing his newly certified Bakhtar-e Emrouz newspaper in Tehran, intended to embody the spirit of both Bakhtar and Mard-e Emrouz. To assure financial viability, the paper had a fresh design with varied content including world news, commentaries, political analysis, news from the bazaar, sports, science, culture, humor and film reviews.
The first issue of Bakhtar-e Emrouz hit the newsstands on July 30, 1949. In an article titled “Give me freedom or give me death”, Fatemi outlined that the mission of the paper was to fight for the interests of “the barefoot and hungry people of Iran...the hapless millions who live in dark ages unaware of their rights and the twentieth century world”.
“These Thieves Want More Free Rides” was the title of a subsequent article in which Fatemi labeled many conservative Majles deputies as despicable crooks who had been elected by means of dishonesty and sycophancy. The government reacted by bringing about the suspension of Bakhtar-e Emrouz for several days, the first of many more to come.
Yet Fatemi’s return to Tehran was welcomed by many like-minded figures including Dr. Mossadegh, now returned to active participation in politics, who invited him to join a group of progressive journalists and recently elected minority deputies for a strategy session at his house.
The September 13th gathering was about the perennial issue of government meddling in elections, including the upcoming vote for the 16th Majles. During this meeting Dr. Fatemi suggested the formation of a coalition party to include different groups with a common view on some fundamental national issues. A few days later in another meeting in Dr. Mossadegh’s home, "Jebhe Melli" [National Front] was born. In order to reach the goals set, Dr. Fatemi emphasized the need for freedom, independence and social justice as its core values. He was given the responsibility of promoting the National Front platform, and his paper Bakhtar-e-Emrouz became its unofficial newspaper.
A month later, on October 14th, Fatemi joined Mossadegh and eighteen others for a sit-in on the grounds of the Shah’s palace, primarily to protest the fraudulent election of the 16th Majles. The demonstration may have been effective, as shortly thereafter, the election committee supervisor admitted the existence of irregularities and recommended that the voting in Tehran be redone.
Origin of the National Front
In a subsequent meeting at the home of Dr. Mossadegh, the participants of the triumphant sit-in founded the National Front, an umbrella party for the nationalists and democratic groups. Its formation was an idea first advocated by Fatemi, and of the twenty who formed its core membership, there were seven lawyers, four civil servants, three journalists, two law professors, two engineers, and two clerics.
Early in 1950, Fatemi was one of a dozen National Front members who participated in the Tehran election for the 16th Majles. When the result was announced in April, Mossadegh was the number one representative from Tehran, having received more than half of the 56,000 votes cast. Fatemi and five other National Front members had also won seats as Tehran representatives.
Matrimony — or political suicide?
For years, Fatemi shunned the idea of marriage, believing that his all-consuming career would preclude being a family man. That was before he fell in love with a 16 year-old girl named Parivash Setvati, the daughter of a retired general. At the time, the teenage Parivash reportedly had no interest in getting married, nor did she have the same romantic feelings for Fatemi, who, at 31, was nearly twice her age. Nevertheless, she promised to marry him if he gave up all of his political ambitions. Amazingly, he agreed.
On November 27, 1951, Hossein Fatemi and Parivash Setvati were united in matrimony. Yet his decision to abandon all political activity caused an outcry from his supporters. The noise ended only when his wife, realizing the consequences of her demand, changed her mind and consented to his return to the political arena.
Gen. Razmara and oil fever
Not long after the opening of the 16th Majles, a special 18-member oil committee chaired by Dr. Mossadegh was formed, assigned with the task of studying the Supplemental Agreement with a recommendation for action. In December 1950, the oil committee concluded that the Supplemental Agreement had failed to safeguard the legitimate interests of the nation and should be rejected. This recommendation was viewed by some, foremost among them the AIOC, as a prelude to the nationalization of the country’s oil industry.
On June 26th, 1950, Premier Ali Mansour, abruptly resigned from his post after only three months on the job. The same day the Shah appointed General Ali Razmara, the chairman of joint chiefs, as Prime Minister. Razmara was a favorite of the Americans because of his domineering personality and more importantly, for his opposition to oil nationalization.
From the beginning, Razmara faced strong opposition from the nationalists for his anti-democratic tendencies. Fatemi portrayed him as a power-hungry general, more concerned with serving his foreign masters than the interests of the nation. This characterization angered Premier Razmara, who ordered Fatemi’s arrest and detention in the basement of the police headquarters. Razmara’s action was widely criticized in the Majles and by Tehran University students. The uproar brought about Fatemi’s release after three days.
On March 7th, 1951, Razmara, just nine months into his premiership, was assassinated by a member of the Feda’ian Islam extremist group as he attended a memorial ceremony at a mosque. The following week, on March 12th, Shah confidante Hossein Ala took the helm as Premier. Only three days later on March 15th, the Majles voted unanimously to nationalize the oil industry. National Front secretary Hossein Makki hailed it “one of the greatest days in the history of the Iranian nation.”
The rapidity with which oil nationalization became the law of the land took everyone by surprise, including the British. In an attempt to block its implementation, the British pressured the Shah to appoint Seyyed Zia Tabatabai, the known Anglophile politician who had promised to make an acceptable deal with the AIOC as Premier. Right on cue, on April 26th, Hossein Ala resigned as Prime Minister, vacating the seat for Seyyed Zia Tabatabai.
The accidental Premier
One of the most seminal events in the history of the country took place in the Majles on April 28th, 1951. Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, the veteran nationalist politician, was suggested for Prime Minister by none other than his arch-enemy, ultra-conservative deputy Jamal Emami. Emami had expected Mossadegh to refuse, as he had done on several occasions before, thus paving the way for the nomination and election of Tabatabai. Instead, Mossadegh, who was well aware of the British scheme, stunned him by accepting the nomination.
After all was said and done, Mossadegh was elected overwhelmingly, receiving nearly 90% of the votes. The following month, Premier Mossadegh presented his first cabinet to the Majles with Dr. Fatemi as his political and parliamentary deputy.
As Deputy Prime Minister, Fatemi was required to meet weekly with the Shah, briefing him on the government’s policies. On one occasion the Shah complained to Fatemi about his repeated negative commentaries about his late father, Reza Shah. Fatemi responded:
Meanwhile, the British, who had threatened to invade the country, unleashed all-out economic warfare on Iran. This included blocking the sale of Iranian oil in the world market and freezing their sterling accounts in the British banks. In June 1951, Anglo-Iranian tensions reached new heights when the Iranian government closed all the British consulates throughout the country (except Tehran) on the grounds that they were engaging in subversive activities against the government.
By late September, Great Britain registered a complaint with the UN Security Council for “failure by the Iranian government to comply with provisional measures indicated by the International Court of Justice in the Anglo Iranian Oil Company case.” The World Court decision of July 5th was itself the result of an earlier complaint by the British. Lacking competence to rule in the matter, the court had issued a temporary restraining order urging Iran to suspend repossession of the oil facilities. Iran did not abide by the request.
In October 1951, Mossadegh traveled to America for the UN Security Council hearings on the British complaint. According to son Dr. Gholam-Hossein Mossadegh, Fatemi proved himself to be the most helpful member of his father’s team. While in New York, Fatemi regularly held press conferences for a large number of U.S. and international reporters. When in his first press conference an Indian correspondent asked whether the Iranians were capable of operating the Abadan oil industry on their own, Fatemi answered: “We are as sure about it as the Indians felt capable of managing the independence they sought after”.
An indispensable man
By the end of 1951, Hossein Fatemi had become one of Iran’s most consequential political figures, shouldering numerous responsibilities. He prepared speeches for Dr. Mossadegh and Hossein Makki, and produced all of the National Front’s communiqués and declarations. As the head of its public information committee, he was highly effective in dispelling rumors and propaganda against the government. Fatemi also frequently mediated infighting among National Front members, bringing them together at crucial moments.
Simultaneously, Fatemi continued to run Bakhtar-e Emrouz, generally recognized as an official organ of the National Front. By this time, the paper enjoyed an average circulation of 25,000, the third largest in the country.
In January 1952, Fatemi announced his candidacy for a seat in the 17th Majles, a move that was aggressively opposed by the die-hard conservative faction. The Shah, however, tried to create a schism between Fatemi and Mossadegh. In an attempt to cozy up with Fatemi, he awarded him the imperial medal of “Homayoun”, and even went as far as telling him that the country needed a young and dedicated Prime Minister like him, instead of the old and rickety Mossadegh. Though these attempts were futile, the Shah and his supporters were, however, more successful in luring other National Front members away from Mossadegh. Defectors included Abol-Ghasem Kashani, the powerful activist cleric, Mozaffar Baghai, the founder of the anti-communist/pro-worker Toilers party, and Hossein Makki, once a mainstay of Mossadegh’s circle.
Targeted for death
On February 15th, Dr. Fatemi was speaking at a grave site vigil marking the four year anniversary of the slaying of Mohammad Masoud, when a youth standing only a few feet away pulled a gun from his jacket and fired directly into his body. The assailant, it turned out, was a 14 year-old disciple of the fanatical Feda’ian Islam cult with a 4th grade education.
Rushed to the hospital by friends, Fatemi knew he was severely wounded and might not survive. Convinced that the British were behind the attack, he asked his friends en route to continue the struggle by publishing Bakhtar-e Emrouz after he was gone.
Within an hour, Fatemi was lying in the operating room of Najmieh Hospital  preparing for emergency surgery by Professor Yahya Adl, the most prominent surgeon in Tehran. Surgical exploration revealed that the assailant’s bullets had perforated Fatemi’s large colon in three places, while narrowly missing his heart. Twelve days later, after his condition had stabilized, Adl performed a colostomy and resection of the damaged part of the colon, removing 30 centimeters. Fatemi remained in the hospital until late May when he flew to Hamburg, Germany for an evaluation and closure of his colostomy.
Although he survived the assassination attempt, Fatemi never fully recovered from his injuries, and from that point forward, carried a cane most everywhere he went.
Fatemi was still in Germany when Iranian authorities discovered a British plot to overthrow the government. Among the Iranians who participated in the scheme were Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi, Gen. Abdol Hossein Hejazi and known British spies Habibollah Rashidian and his two sons, Ghodratollah and Assadollah. All the known participants were arrested with the exception of Zahedi, who as a member of the Senate had parliamentary immunity.
Fatemi returned home in September 1952, but was still too physically weak to take his seat as Tehran representative in the 17th Majles. He seemed accepting, even philosophical, about the attempt on his life, viewing it as the price one must pay as a leader of a national liberation movement.
Fatemi never pursued legal action against his would-be killer, Mohammad Mehdi Abd-e Khodai, though the government tried and convicted the young assassin to two years in prison. In a twist of history, Abd-e Khodai entered politics following the 1979 revolution and was elected to the first Majles in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The youngest Foreign Minister
In the fall of 1952, Premier Mossadegh offered Dr. Fatemi the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs in his new cabinet. Despite ill health and his doctors’ instructions that he not work more than two hours per day, he accepted the challenge. At age 33, Hossein Fatemi was now the youngest Foreign Minister in Iranian history.
Immediately Fatemi embarked upon his long held desire to purge the ministry from rampant cronyism and corruption. He pursued his task according to a set of “revolutionary guidelines” that he and his reform-minded colleagues at the ministry had produced. Although he had considerable success in this particular instance, he was dissatisfied with the overall pace of the reforms in the country. He believed more than ever that only through a revolutionary approach would a true and lasting reformation be achieved. Meanwhile, he had lost patience with the British for their failure to reach a settlement with Premier Mossadegh concerning the oil dispute.
On October 22, the Anglo-Iranian crisis hit a new low when Fatemi announced that Iran was breaking off all diplomatic relations with the British government. Still, in a message to the Chargé d’Affaires, he expressed hope that Britain would realize “the truth and the nature of the Iranian nation’s movement” and eventually “revise their attitude.”
Broken body and spirit
On May 31, 1953, still suffering from his injuries, Fatemi delivered a radio message informing the nation of his imminent trip to Germany for medical evaluation and treatment. While in Europe, he also presided over a two-day meeting of Iranian foreign diplomats at The Hague. It was there that on July 25 he took part in a somber interview with political commentator Sepehr Zabih regarding the important issues facing the country.
On the subject of the defection from Mossadegh’s camp by individuals such as Ayatollah Kashani, Mozaffar Baghai and Hossein Makki, Fatemi expressed no surprise, saying that he had always known them to be chiefly motivated by personal and political ambitions. As for the presence of any serious threat to the country from the Tudeh party, he did not think that they constituted a clear and present danger, but that the West was deliberately exaggerating its strength to set up “a pretext for intervening in the country’s internal politics.” In regard to receiving help from the Soviets, he said, “...Such support was not forthcoming, and, even if it were, most assuredly it would be so laden with strings that its outright rejection was a foregone conclusion.” Furthermore, he said, Dr. Mossadegh would prefer to risk the collapse of his nationalist government rather than being forced to accept their support on undesirable terms.
Fatemi offered his assessment concerning the oil dispute with Britain, saying that no settlement was expected soon. “This country has lived for centuries without oil. If this is the price to be paid for our honor and dignity, so be it,” he said. He saw Iran’s transition from an oil-dependent economy to one without oil as proceeding through government policies, such as the expansion of barter agreements and promotion of light industries.
When it came to the Shah, he did not foresee the young monarch posing a serious threat to the survival of the nationalist government, unless he was forced by foreign powers to accept the risk of making a major challenge to Mossadegh. Very shortly, Fatemi’s comment would prove eerily prophetic.
They called it “Ajax”
Fatemi ended his 10 week stay in Europe on August 11, 1953, returning to Iran only four days before an Anglo-American plot to unseat Mossadegh was put into action. “Operation Ajax”, as it was known by its CIA codename, had been authorized by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and included the key participation of the Shah and several high-ranking military officers. Its first victim: Hossein Fatemi.
The action began shortly before midnight on August 15, 1953. Fatemi was in his bathroom getting ready to retire for the night when soldiers burst into his home, guns drawn, and abducted him. He was still in his bathrobe and shoeless when they dragged him to jail, wife and baby screaming in terror.
Simultaneous with the raid on Dr. Fatemi’s house, other armed men also arrested a cabinet member and a Majles deputy, though their attempt to locate and arrest the Army Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Taghi Riahi, was unsuccessful.
Mossadegh was next on the list, as shortly after midnight, Colonel Nematollah Nassiri, the commander of the Imperial Guard, arrived at his residence with a decree (farman) from the Shah dismissing him as Prime Minister. Mossadegh turned the tables and had Nassiri arrested on the spot. As for the Shah, he had gone to his favorite location on the shore of the Caspian Sea awaiting the outcome of the coup. The instant he learned of its failure, he along with Queen Soraya fled the country in a small plane, stopping over in Baghdad and finally to Rome.
The nation awakened to the news of the aborted coup as broadcast by Tehran Radio at 7:00 A.M. An atmosphere of tension and uncertainty prevailed.
Three momentous days in August
Early the next morning, Fatemi was released from detention by his captors, and went to the home of Dr. Mossadegh, where many of the Premier’s close associates had assembled. Karim Sanjabi, a prominent National Front member, witnessed Fatemi coming down the stairs in a state of rage, cursing the Shah for the mistreatment his wife suffered at the hands of the security personnel after his arrest.
Another insider reported that Fatemi allegedly told Mossadegh that he wished to resign as Foreign Minister and be appointed as Minister of Defense. When Mossadegh inquired about his intention, Fatemi replied that he intended to execute 50 coup participants by noon. Mossadegh asked ‘On what legal grounds’? Fatemi responded, ‘By the laws of the revolution’, to which Mossadegh replied that he only abides by the laws of the constitution. Gholam-Hossein later recalled that as the irate Fatemi was leaving the Premier’s office, he predicted, “Your father’s lofty attitude will get us all killed”.
That day Fatemi instructed the staff at Bakhtar-e Emrouz to prepare for a front page article under a large headline saying: “The coup collaborators would be summarily tried and punished”. However, he later called the office and asked his colleague Mohammad Ali Safari, asking him to move the headline to the second page and use smaller lettering. According to Safari, Fatemi called twice more, each time asking him to give less prominence to the headline. When Safari queried Fatemi about it, he answered “…I fear that this old man’s incessant talk of the law would get all of us killed”. Ultimately, when the paper went to press a small headline read “The accusers would be summarily tried”, but no related article appeared anywhere in the paper.
That day, Dr. Fatemi gave the most fiery speech of his life. He first profusely thanked the people of Tehran and praised them for always being at the forefront of the national movement and in support of the heroic son of the nation, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh.
In his remarks, Dr. Fatemi directly attacked the Shah and his deceased father, Reza Shah, for their treachery against the nation and called for the monarch’s abdication. He called the shah a traitor and a coward who abandoned the country at this crucial moment and fled to the nearest British embassy he could find.
The same day, throwing all caution to the wind, Dr. Fatemi wrote a strongly worded editorial in Bakhtar-e-Emrouz titled "Give me death or give me Freedom." He explained how the midnight invasion of his house by 50 or 60 Imperial Guard soldiers had frightened his wife and their screaming infant son, who was less than one year old at the time. On the matter of what he thought of the Shah, he recalled a long meeting he had with him at the palace only a few months earlier. In a frank discussion, he accused the monarch of collaboration with the British against the elected government of the country. He likened him to King Farouk of Egypt who chose to become a British lackey and lost his throne for turning his back on his people. He told the crowd that he had never bowed to the deceitful Shah who, like a beautifully marked snake, coiled in apparent fear, would strike at an opportune moment and deliver his lethal poison. He wondered what else was left for the Shah and his family to extract from the nation’s hungry and barefoot people, whose money had paid for the guns of the Imperial Guard soldiers, now being used against them. He even called on Mossadegh and rhetorically asked how much more patience the nation must endure and how long they must witness the atrocities committed by the royal court? He called upon the nation to awaken from their long sleep and regain their lost historical glory.
In the following two days, Dr. Fatemi’s editorials had the same tone and expression of rage toward the monarch. In the last issue, published on August 18th, he blasted the destructive history of 150 years of imperial Britain in the east and sharply criticized the Shah, as well as his sister and mother for their "crimes against the people of Iran and freedom". He charged the Shah’s court with acting as a British embassy and declared the Shah’s willingness to push a dagger in the heart of his countrymen whenever he could.
On August 19, 1953, the coup operators tried again, this time succeeding in ending the 28 month old government of Dr. Mossadegh, a fatal blow to the movement for freedom, independence and democracy in Iran. Dr. Fatemi, who was in Mossadegh’s home at the time, escaped and went into hiding for 204 days. During this period he began writing his memoir, which was left unfinished due to his discovery and arrest on March 13, 1954 (22 Esfand, 1332).
The heavily bearded Fatemi was arrested around 9:00 AM and taken to police headquarters. While being transferred to prison that afternoon, in a pre-arranged set up, a large group of pro-Shah mobs welcomed him with shouts of insults and threats of violence. As the handcuffed Fatemi was being led down the stairs by the policemen, about a dozen hoodlums, including their leader, Sha’ban Jafari, rushed toward him. Sha’ban, also known as "the Brainless" and his followers began beating and stabbing Fatemi, who was left unprotected by the policemen responsible for his transfer. His sister, Saltanat, who was witnessing the event later said that she ran toward her brother and used her body to shield him from repeated blows and in the process was herself injured. Years later, in an interview conducted in California, Sha’ban admitted that he personally beat up Fatemi that day but denied using a knife against him or his sister.
Badly wounded, Dr. Fatemi was taken to an army hospital, but was moved to the prison before receiving adequate medical attention. His sister’s relentless effort to get medical care for her brother paid off when two partly independent physicians visited Dr. Fatemi at the prison and recommended that he should be sent back to the hospital. Dr. Fatemi was taken back to the hospital, where he was unexpectedly visited by Dr. Ayadi, the Shah’s personal physician. Dr. Ayadi accomplished his mission and cleared him for military interrogation. The Shah wasted no time and personally ordered the start of the interrogation in preparation for a secret military trial. Behind closed doors, the short trial of Dr. Fatemi and two other defendants started on September 29, 1954 (7 Mehr 1333). Clearly in pain and unable to walk, he was brought to the court on a gurney carried by several soldiers.
Most of the charges against Dr. Fatemi were related to his activities following the failed first coup attempt on August 16. The overarching charge was his activity against the foundation of the government and inciting the population to an armed uprising against the power of the monarchy. Dr. Fatemi was convicted and sentenced to death. The other two defendants, both of whom had participated along with Dr. Fatemi in front of the Majles by giving speeches, each received a 10-year prison term. Dr. Fatemi’s legal appeal was rejected, and he refused to apply for clemency from the Shah. He said that he had not committed a crime and would not beg for pardon. The British government recommended death for Dr. Fatemi, reasoning that as long as people like him are around, there exists a possibility of a counter coup.
Loy Henderson, the American ambassador to Iran, who thought of Dr. Fatemi as the brightest member of Mossadegh’s team, worried that if Fatemi remained alive he could be a catalyst for the creation of a coalition of communist and nationalist forces. The Shah himself reserved his harshest revenge for Fatemi and had told Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA leader of the coup, that Fatemi would be executed. The prominent progressive Ayatollah Zanjani, the person most in touch with Dr. Fatemi during his incarceration, struggled to save Dr. Fatemi from facing the firing squad. He even asked the highest ranking pro-Shah Ayatollah, Boroujerdi, for help. Boroujerdi wrote to Zanjani that the British are filled with revenge, the Shah is too weak, and nothing can be done about it.
On November 10, 1954 (19 Aban 1333), at the age of 35, still suffering from his injuries and with a fever, Dr. Fatemi faced the firing squad. While tied to a post and moments before eight bullets pierced his body, he reportedly shouted: Fatemi’s body was buried at a cemetery among the hundreds of graves belonging to those who had lost their lives in support of the ideals that he and Mossadegh championed in the interest of the Iranian nation.
Dr. Hossein Fatemi was a brilliant, highly ethical, and courageous nationalist who favored a more robust and revolutionary approach to solve Iran’s problems. Years before in a Bakhtar article, he wrote that the country needs a revolution and the blood of sacrifice to water the nation’s tree of freedom. He was the imaginative brain behind the many initiatives of Mossadegh’s government, among them the formation of the National Front, the idea of oil nationalization, election reform, expulsion of the British from Iran, and reliance on an “economy without oil.” Dr. Fatemi was born into a low income family, and lived modestly throughout his lifetime. Like Dr. Mossadegh, he refused to receive any salary while working in the government. In his memoirs, Mossadegh wrote of Dr. Fatemi,
Hossen Fatemi biography edited by Arash Norouzi. © The Mossadegh Project
1 Hossein Fatemi (1919-1954, Persian Calendar 1296-1333). Fatemi’s precise birth date, or even birth year, is difficult to confirm. On his ID card, his year of birth was given as 1296 (1917), but according to nephew Saeed Fatemi, it was recorded as 1298 (1919) in the family Koran. (Source: Hossein Fatemi, Writings In Captivity: August 17, 1953-November 8, 1954, Hedayat Matin-Daftari, editor). Either way, he would still have been the youngest Iranian Foreign Minister.
2 Najmieh Hospital, largely a charity facility, was named after Mossadegh’s mother, who founded it in 1929.
More on Hossein Fatemi:
Inexplicable? — The Morning Herald, October 11, 1951
Iran Charges Russian Plot — Associated Press, November 4, 1951
Reaping the Whirlwind. — The Times Record, February 16, 1952
Inseparable: Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar Remembered
Iran’s Decade of Assassinations: 1946-1955
Secret 1962 U.S. Memo Plots Ways To Sustain the Shah’s Rule (Or Not)
MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”