Mossadegh’s Last Hours
Witness to a Coup : raining bullets and raging fire
The military coup that took place in Iran on August 19, 1953 resulted in the deaths of hundreds of individuals, and came close to killing its principal target, Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. By all accounts, Mossadegh was fully prepared for this fate.
One witness to these events was Mr. Nosratollah Khazeni, who served as Dr. Mossadegh’s office chief during 28 months of his premiership.
Previously, we presented Khazeni’s remembrances of Dr. Mossadegh and his overall character. Here, on a much sadder note, is his firsthand account of the final hours of Iran’s fledgling democracy, including the violent attack on Mossadegh’s home from which they narrowly escaped with their lives.
Khazeni on the August 19th coup:
...[Mossadegh] asked me who are still in the office? I said some, including Fatemi [Dr. Hossein Fatemi, the Foreign Minister]. In a truly humble way, he asked if I could save Fatemi’s life so he would not be killed in his house. I said I will do whatever is your command. We were lucky that his nephew [Dr. Saeid Fatemi] was with us and was sitting in the secretary’s office, down in the basement. With so much hardship, in the middle of flying bullets and with our backs against the wall to avoid them... Anyway, in the midst of raining bullets, we managed to take Fatemi through Mossadegh’s front door, at which time the attackers set fire to Fatemi’s parked car. I was not armed, but Saeid Fatemi shot a few bullets in the air.
Across the street was a house belonging to Pourreza [Habibollah Pourreza, attorney and 14th Majles representative] whose cook was watching the event through the partly opened front door. I moved quickly and forcibly prevented him from closing the door — you know I was young then, not like now. We crammed Fatemi through Pourreza’s front door and felt at ease when they were behind the closed door...believe me I saw no trees without bullet holes... I then heard the rumor that the Ghashghais [rural tribesmen] have taken him away but we then learned that the military branch of the Tudeh network had done that.
When Fatemi was arrested [seven months later] he was at the house of a Tudeh lieutenant, a pharmacist [Dr. Mohseni], who himself had fled to Soviet Russia. He lived upstairs in a room in a crumbling house. Only his sister knew where he was. We were burdened by him wanting things, he wanted medicine, do this, do that... Fatemi wanted such and such note, or such and such letter. Even though our [past] relationship was contentious, under the circumstances the issue was how to save him. His sister would come to our house at least every other day [after his arrest]. He and I shared the same prison. Mr. Haj Sayyed Reza Firoozabadi was the go between Fatemi and I. He was giving me the news. He said that when Fatemi had chills he would hear it in his room and it would wake him up. When the time came to execute him, Agha Shaikh Reza Zanjani said the prayer. According to Zanjani and Captain Janab, he was not even able to walk. They brought a gurney to transfer him from his bed and then covered him with a bed sheet. The Tir Square was nearby, there they emptied seven or eight bullets in him and killed him...
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...ultimately all stood up to leave Mossadegh’s house. I was with Mossadegh, I took him to [Harischi’s] house. He would not go, he even would not listen to Razavi [Ahmad Razavi, Majles deputy] and others. But I had a great influence and he had a special affection for me. He knew that I was truly devoted to him. He told me to come close so he can kiss my face and then asked me to leave as quickly as I can. I told him, when I first started with you, you told me that your life is in my hands, and now you want me to abandon you? What would the people say! I won’t go, I must be killed before you! The tears ran down his face, my words to him were from bottom of my heart.
Around three past midnight, with tremendous difficulty we went to Harischi’s house [through another house belonging to Naseri Amoli]. Raging fire was going through houses [including Mossadegh’s]... [Mossadegh] said he wants to present himself [to the authorities] and tell them where he is. We said if you let them know where you are, the house would be attacked and looted. He said where is Drakhti Lane? — I said right in front of this house. He said I have sold a small house there to someone related to Moazzami [deputy and speaker of Majles Abdollah Moazzami], so we went to that house. He then asked everyone to leave except Dr. Sedighi [Gholam-Hossein Sedighi, Interior Minister] and Shayegan [Majles Deputy Ali Shayegan]. He phoned the military governor and gave his address. I left but could not stomach abandoning him yet, so I hid behind a tree at the end of the lane and saw that Mr. Fooladvand [Brigadier General] arrived in the Military Governor’s vehicle and these three got in...
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Interviewer: Was there any way that we could have prevented the coup? That a coup would not have been the end result of all the struggles?
Khazeni: Every one of the four proposals such as Stokes [British mediator Richard Stokes], World Bank and others were incompatible with the Oil Nationalization Law. People assumed that he could have torn up the law and trashed it — no, that was not the case. The World Bank suggestion was the worst, it would have allowed the British to return and sell the oil and we get our share through the World Bank. Other proposals were not as nonsensical. All the proposals were filed in the Oil Dossier that they burned. I wish we could have saved that private library but the situation was that we were focused on saving his life. The library contained all of Dr. Mossadegh’s archives.
Dr. Hossein Fatemi Biography — “The Nation’s Martyr”
August 19, 1953: The Day Iran’s Democracy Died
Indecent Proposals 1951 :: Oil, Iran and the Anglo-American Art of Non-Negotiation
MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”