Ervand Abrahamian on Mossadegh

1953 Coup About Control, Not Communism, Says Professor

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | November 5, 2013                          
[Updated April 7, 2024]

Professor Ervand Abrahamian

Prof. Ervand Abrahamian, an Iranian-born Armenian raised and educated in England and New York, taught Middle East history at Baruch College, CUNY. His books include Iran Between Two Revolutions (1982), Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic (1993), and A History of Modern Iran (2008). After years of research, Abrahamian completed The Coup: 1953, The CIA, and The Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations, published in February 2013.

Abrahamian’s overall purpose in writing The Coup was to address two points that, he contends, are widely misunderstood even among scholars sympathetic to Mossadegh:

1) No reasonable offer was ever made by the British over oil nationalization, and thus it was not Mossadegh who was “stubborn” and “intransigent”.

2) The 28 Mordad coup could not have succeeded without foreign intervention, and was motivated primarily by hegemonic factors, not fears over Communist encroachment.

Here are over 24 hours of lectures and interviews with Professor Ervand Abrahamian on the significance of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, oil nationalization, and the 1953 coup.

True Spies Podcast: December 18, 2023

A review of the 1953 coup featuring Abrahamian and narrated by British actress Sophia Di Martino. Produced for SPYSCAPE, a museum and immersive experience in New York city. (46 minutes)

Jebhe Melli: December 11, 2023

Abrahamian discusses the Anglo-American effort to depose Mossadegh through the Majles (Parliament). Interviewed by Dr. Aidin Tamhidi of the Iran National Front. (30 minutes total)

BCTV Interview: January 10, 2023

Abrahamian interviewed by Faramarz Farbod of Moravian University on Iranian history 1951-1979 and the current revolution in Iran. (1 hour)

Book Talk: "Petroleum and Progress in Iran: Oil, Development, and the Cold War", December 8, 2022

Book talk hosted by the Iranian Studies Initiative and NYU’s Kevorkian Center with author Gregory Brew of Yale University, Ervand Abrahamian and moderator Arang Keshavarzian of New York University. (2 hours)

Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies: November 10, 2022

Post screening discussion of the documentary Coup 53 by the Iranian Studies Initiative. Featuring Ervand Abrahamian and Prof. Maziar Behrooz of San Francisco State University. Moderated by Persis Karim. (43 minute discussion followed by a 40 minute Q&A)

The Contemporary History of Iran - Part 25: “The Impact of Mossadegh”: April 7, 2022

Interview with Prof. Abrahamian by Jian Ghomeshi for the Roqe Media podcast. (1 hour)

Spotlighting an Author: July 23, 2021

A live streamed talk on Abrahamian’s latest book Oil Crisis in Iran: From Nationalism to Coup d’Etat, presented by the Iran 1400 Project. (40 minute talk followed by 84 minutes Q&A)

Amanpour and Company (PBS) Interview: January 10, 2020

“A recent study suggests most Americans could not locate Iran on a map. But U.S. has a long and complicated history with that country, dating back to before the Ayatollahs came to power in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ervand Abrahamian is an Iranian-Armenian author, historian, and university professor whose book The Coup is the latest development in his ongoing work unpacking U.S./Iranian relations. Walter Isaacson sits down with him to discuss the events that contributed to the distrust and hostility between these two nations.” (18 minutes)

The 1953 Coup in Iran: About Oil or Communism?: May 29, 2019

Lecture at the London School of Economics’ Middle East Centre. (One hour talk/intro, followed by 49 minute Q&A)

University of St Andrews Lecture: May 27, 2019

"The 1953 Roots of 1979": Presentation at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, presented by the Institute of Iranian Studies. (Over 2 hours, including Q&A)

University of Denver Lecture: April 24, 2019

Lecture on the 1953 coup as background for the anniversary of the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution. (83 minutes)

BBC World Service | The Forum | The Iranian Coup of 1953: Overthrow of a Prime Minister | December 6, 2018

BBC program featuring Azadeh Moaveni, Ali Ansari and Prof. Abrahamian. (44 minutes)

Talk Iran Interview: September 26, 2018

A discussion on the resilience of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s Shia identity, the rise of Khomeini, Mossadegh’s “negative equilibrium” doctrine, Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign and the likelihood of war. (37 minutes)

WBEX 91.5 Chicago Interview: August 18, 2017

Prior to the 64th anniversary of the 1953 coup, WBEX radio interviewed Abrahamian, Prof. John Limbert of the U.S. Naval Academy and Prof. Mateo Farzaneh of NEIU. (21 minutes)

Democracy Now! Interview: July 24, 2017

Prof. Abrahamian was asked to comment on the State Department’s long-awaited Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) documents on Iran from 1951-1954. (5 minutes)

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, oil has always been at the center of Western policy toward Iran. And you’ve written about some recently released documents that date back to the 1953 coup of the —organized by the CIA against the democratically elected leader of Iran. Could you talk about that and also why it’s taken so long for these latest documents to be released?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Well, as you say, it’s so long ago. And actually, according to rules—there’s a 30-year rule, so documents that are—could be released are. It’s taken three decades of beyond that before the State Department released these. It’s like pulling teeth out of someone. And the reason, when you look at it, is that—well, there are two reasons. One is that what the documents show is actually the importance of oil in the coup. The conventional wisdom is, oh, it was all the Cold War scare, communism. But here you see, actually, very occasionally, when Eisenhower intervenes in a discussion, it’s about question of oil contracts and so on and how nationalization would disrupt the whole international framework and would be a threat to U.S. interests, oil interests, elsewhere.

But another, I think, reason they have been so reluctant to publish these documents is that it shows how involved the U.S. Embassy was, the ambassador, in internal Iranian affairs. [Loy Henderson] It’s like looking at an imperial power in a semi-colonial situation. The ambassador acts basically like a viceroy, involved in many different internal policy. He often says, "Oh, of course, it’s not my business to be involved in internal policy," but then he goes ahead and, in fact, does get involved.

And the astounding discovery, I was surprised, is how CIA was involved in the elections that were held in 1952 during the Mossadegh period. And what their strategy was to undermine Mossadegh through Parliament. And a lot of money went into basically getting what the CIA thought would be their favorable candidates elected. And this we didn’t know before. But then you would see also that when they talk about, well, we need to get rid of Mossadegh, they have 18 candidates the U.S. discusses who is suitable to have the next—

AMY GOODMAN: But when you talk about what wasn’t known and what was, you’re a professor, but most people don’t even know what was known, was the deep U.S.-CIA involvement—with Allen Dulles, the brother of John Foster Dulles—Allen Dulles, head of the CIA—John Foster Dulles, secretary of state—who, together—and then, of course, there’s Eisenhower—and others who engineer this coup, using Teddy Roosevelt’s grandson, Kermit Roosevelt—as the bag guy, the guy who comes with bags of money and actually overthrows Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected leader.

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Yeah. But, actually, even there, what we—the conventional wisdom was you had the Truman administration, and then, when Eisenhower came in, the machinery is put for the coup, and it was the Eisenhower administration, with Kermit Roosevelt and Dulles, doing it. What these documents show, which is astounding, before Eisenhower, under the Truman administration, there was actually a deep state. And the deep state in the CIA were exactly Dulles and Kermit Roosevelt. They were in charge of the Iran desk in the CIA, long—from 1951, long before the Eisenhower [administration]. So they were pushing for real action in Iran before Eisenhower came in. And they were working very closely with the British before the Eisenhower administration.

AMY GOODMAN: And they tried to get Kermit Roosevelt to do the same thing the next year, in 1954, in Guatemala. He refused, but they did it anyway and overthrew the democratically elected leader in Guatemala, Árbenz. So when we hear discussions today about Russia interfering with our elections, I think it’s very important for people to understand U.S. history.

The Real News Interview: June 30, 2017

Prof. Abrahamian reacts to the State Department’s newly released Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) documents on Iran from 1951-1954. (15 minutes)

Archival Interview: September 16, 2016

Prof. Abrahamian discusses Premier Mossadegh’s confrontation with the Shah leading up to the 30 Tir uprising of 1952. In the second video, he describes the 1953 military coup in Iran, including U.S. Ambassador Loy Henderson’s scheme to have Mossadegh pull his supporters off the streets. (About 2 minutes each)

USC Lecture on the 1953 Coup: April 22, 2016

A portion of the Q&A from Abrahamian’s presentation on the 1953 coup at the University of Southern California. (37 minutes)

Mossadegh in the Year of Zarif: August 21, 2015

An examination of the recent comparisons made by some Iranians between Mossadegh and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Prof. Abrahamian, Mark Gasiorowski and Darioush Bayandor are interviewed by Roland Elliot Brown for this IranWire podcast. (15 minutes)

IFTtv Interview: March 8, 2015

An interview on the 1953 coup with Prof. Muhammad Sahimi, including a discussion of the revisionist coup-denial trend. (36 minutes)

University of Manchester: September 6, 2013

Abrahamian’s I.B. Tauris Keynote Lecture at the two-day symposium "The 19 August 1953 Sixty Years On", held in Manchester, England. One hour speech, then a 15 minute Q&A.

KPFK Interview: August 28, 2013

67 minute interview on the KPFK radio program Voices of the Middle East and North Africa, conducted by Shahram Aghamir:

BBC Persian Interview: August 20, 2013

TV appearance discussing the 1953 coup on its 60th anniversary — 28 minutes, in English with Persian subtitles.

Tablet Interview: August 19, 2013

Five minute video clip with Prof. Abrahamian discussing Mossadegh’s significance internationally and the 1953 coup.

University of New England: October 24, 2012

Lecture on the 1953 coup at UNE in Biddeford, Maine. The talk is about 53 minutes long, followed by a question and answer session lasting 18 minutes.


Related links:

Author Christopher de Bellaigue (Patriot of Persia) on Mossadegh and the 1953 Coup

“The Things We Did Were Covert” — Eisenhower’s Diary Admission of CIA Coup in Iran

Operation Ajax Was Always An Open Secret — A Timeline

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

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