Something To Write Home About

An Ohio Man’s Personal Account of Iran Coup

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | June 14, 2024                     

The 1953 coup in Iran

The Ames Daily Tribune in Ames, Ohio ran this undated letter on page 2 of their newspaper on September 15, 1953, less than a month after the coup in Iran that deposed Mossadegh.

The writer, Frank Ferguson (1926-2021), was working for the U.S. technical assistance program Point Four and would have been about 27 at the time. Ferguson was part of the Syracuse University film program in Iran, as seen in this 1952 film “Iranian Snapshots” (he introduces himself at 15:10).

Frank Elmo Ferguson (TARO LEAF, 24th Infantry Association, Jan. 1954)

Ames Man Writes of Iranian Impressions

Following is a letter written to Mr. and Mrs. Fred E. Ferguson, Ontario Road by their son Frank, who, with his wife, Mitzi, is in Iran.

The younger Ferguson is working with the Point Four program making educational films for the Iranian government.

The letter contains impressions of the writer gained during and after the recent overthrow of Premier Mossadegh by supporters of the Shah. Frank Ferguson is a graduate of Ames high and Iowa State college.

“It is 8 p. m. now in Tehran, the evening of the second day past the political upset in Iran. All is quiet outside except for the chirping of crickets. An occasional car can be card nearby on the highway but mostly it is still. There is an 8 p.m. curfew tonight, over the city, as there was last evening and the night before that.

Mitzi and I feel that we have been very privileged to see history in the making. I am now on my third summer here in Teheran and I have seen the people dance to many pipers. I have been told, “Yankee, Go Home” by the Communists and now I am cheered and saluted. My friends and I have been hailed these past few days with “Yankee, Stay Here!”

What has happened in Iran is now old stuff to the newspapers and even the weeklies. I cannot recount to you the blow by blow history of the battle. I didn’t see it. I can’t tell you what the great underlying political upheaval was that erupted in our midst. I cannot interpret the “big picture” of what is happening here in the Middle East today.

But I can sketch for you my impressions. To begin with, it seems to me, that was is facing Iran is facing all Asia to some degree, namely the great disparity of classes. On one hand are the very, very rich and on the other, the poor, underfed and ill-housed. In all Asia, these conditions are not alarming, they are the rule.

But today something new is happening. It is happening in Iran, in India, in Indo-China, in Malaya and elsewhere. The masses are waking up. They are no longer going to accept the great gap that, for centuries, has been the status quo.

This is not to say that they all understand or are ready for democracy or even necessarily moving forward. But they are waking from a long slumber and they are waking dissatisfied.

The Communists in all these countries have encouraged discontent. They have harped the strings of communism that seemed most advantageous, they have more often fanned the flames of a chauvinistic nationalism.

In Iran the power passed from the pro-western prime minister, Razm Ara, [Ali Razmara] upon his assassination over two years ago, to crafty, aged Dr. Mossadeq, whose claim to popularity was kicking out the British and keeping the oil situation in turmoil while claiming that the court (The King, etc.) was against him.

But Dr. Mossadeq needed support for his government and took it where he could find it. One on-again-off-again source was the Iran Tudeh (Communist) party.

The Tudeh party claimed to be an ultra-nationalistic party whose aim was the removal of the imperialistic foreigners and spies and the intriguing Point-Four. They also claimed collaboration with the true friend of the workers of the world everywhere, USSR. But the Tudeh party wore the veil of communism thinly and it was openly recognized for what it was.

Many Iranians while disapproving of the tactics of the senile and crafty Mossadeq, failed to find an alternate choice. In his reach for power. Dr. Mossadeq closed the senate, claimed complete “dictatorial” powers for a period of time and tried to wrest control of the army from its traditional seat in the hands of the Shah. It was known that the high brass in the army were loyal to the Shah but the lower ranks were said to be seriously infiltrated with pro-Tudeh elements.

With the Communist influx swelling in the ranks of the government and Mossadeq either unable or unwilling to try to upset them in their slow march toward domination of the government, many Iranians were becoming alarmed. Something had to be done. From his summer palace along the shores of the Caspian Sea, the Shah decided to act. He dispatched Royal Order to an old soldier and picturesque public figure, General Zahedi. [Fazlollah Zahedi] The general was appointed new Prime Minister of Iran, to succeed and replace Dr. Mossadeq.

The general’s first act was to send a messenger to Dr. Mossadeq informing him of his removal from office. The sly Dr. held the messenger incommunicado and immediately started rumors that the King was trying a coup D’etat against him. The King, seeing things were out of hand and fearing for his own life, fled by his personal plane flown by an American in his employ, to Bagdad, Iraq. [He piloted his own plane to Baghdad]

In Teheran, mobs (said to be hirelings of Mossadeq) shouted “Death to the Shah!” and tore down great bronze statues erected in memory of his father, the late Reza Shah, in the city square. They renamed grand Reza Shah Boulevard, “Presidential Boulevard.” At this time only the Shah, Mossadeq and a handful of Zahedi supporters knew of the change in Prime Ministers.

The next morning, Wednesday, Zahedi acted. From the narrow passageways of the southern part of the city, pro-Shah mobs were formed, the army foraged out and the battle for control was on. I, innocently enough, headed out with my crew some 30 kilometers from the city to film a hot dusty sequence on “How a Child Grows” in the fields near the village of Moradabad. At noon when we returned, angry mobs were shouting in the streets. We ducked our truck up side alleys and got into our homes. As the afternoon wore on, the sound of rifle fire became louder and more intense. The sound of 50 mm tank cannon and automatic weapon fire could be heard to the south of us in the city.

On the highway, trucks and cars were surging north to the Shimron section near the mountains and apparently joyous mobs along the road waved banners, pictures of the Shah and shouted “Long Live the Shah!” Meanwhile, a great battle raged some mile or more from our home over possession of the home of Dr. Mossadeq and, presumably for the old man himself.

Today I have not heard the final reports, but it appears that up to 100 or more may have been killed and four or five times that many wounded in the battle for Mossadeq’s house. Of course, he was not there when the smoke cleared.

As the afternoon ended the dust of the city produced one of our usual brilliant sunsets which the New York Times correspondent referred to as “the bloody sun shining through the dust of battle.”

The day ended jubilantly for the greater part of Teheran. From the populace of nowhere, thousands upon thousands of pictures of the Shah appeared plastered on the front windshields of every truck, bus or taxi and often as not, pinned on the coat lapel of pedestrians. Some cars showed their pro-Shah sympathy by driving with their headlights blazing in the afternoon.

Now as the last of the takeover is complete, the population still acts more as if they had won a homecoming football game than having saved their country from Communism.

It is pretty well conceded that the Communists are finished here now. At least for the time being. The army is in control of everything with complete military governors being appointed to the provinces; official decrees to respect the foreigners and many salutes of friendliness from the people. For the moment it augers well and seems to be a victory for the West and more so for the Americans. Time will tell. The new government has many difficult problems to face, one of which is the oil situation.

So far as I know, not one American received so much as a scratch from the fray. There may be a few strained necks for those who looked from their roofs toward the southern part of town where the ruckus took place.

I cannot possibly tell you how very interested we are to see this dramatic unfolding of political activity in our midst. I cannot help but wish I were more keen at political analysis that I might better understand what I am seeing.

Certainly it is true that the Middle East will know no long period of peace until the standard of living rises and the scope of opportunity widens for all, and the gap between the rich and the poor is leveled with a firmer cushion of middle class.

As for Mitzi and me, we are doing fine. During the most of the cannonading, Mitzi visited with neighbors and I worked at putting together a camera shutter I had taken apart and managed to fritz up by splotching a couple of springs out of place. I got it fixed.

Frank and Mitzi”

Mossadegh & Arbenz & Lumumba & Sukarno & Allende... shirts

Mossadegh & Arbenz & Lumumba & Sukarno & Allende... t-shirts


Related links:

Iranian-American: Mossadegh “Backed By the People” (July 1953)

The Streets of Teheran by Stella K. Margold: November 10, 1953

Robert Gulick, Jr.: In Defense of Iran | Washington Star, July 1951 Letter

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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