The President and official spokesman of the National Council of Resistance is Massoud Rajavi. Massoud Rajavi was born in 1948 in the town of Tabas in the northeastern province of Khorassan.The youngest of five brothers, he is a graduate of political law from Tehran University. His brothers completed their higher education in France, Switzerland, Britain and Belgium. The eldest, Professor Kazem Rajavi, was assassinated in April 1990 in Geneva. His only sister, Monireh, was executed in 1988 after enduring six years of imprisonment with her two small children. Asghar Nazemi, her husband, had been executed two years earlier.
Mr. Rajavi’s elderly parents were arrested and imprisoned by the mullahs in 1981. His first wife, Ashraf, was also a Mojahedin prisoner during the time of the shah. She married Mr. Rajavi in summer 1979, and was slain in Tehran in February 1982 when the Pasdaran attacked her residence.
- Under the Shah
In high school Mr. Rajavi was a sympathizer of Ayatollah Taleqani and Mehdi Bazargan’s Freedom Movement. He became acquainted with the Mojahedin at the university and became a member in 1967. He was in direct contact with the organization’s founder, Mohammad Hanifnejad, and later became a Central Committe member.
Mr. Rajavi was arrested in 1971 and sentenced to death. His elder brother, Professor Kazem Rajavi, organized a worldwide campaign to save his life, and his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. SAVAK, unable to execute him because of international pressure, kept Rajavi under torture throughout his incarceration. Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as distinguished European personalities such as François Mitterrand, intervened to save his life many times. He was released among the last group of political prisoners in January 1979.
Despite the difficult conditions of prison, Mr. Rajavi had to fill the vacuum of the Mojahedin’s executed leaders and revive the organization, shattered by Marxists in an internal coup. He spent thousands of hours, under extraordinarily restrictive conditions, formulating and teaching the Mojahedin’s positions. All his activities had to be kept hidden from the eyes of the SAVAK and the prison guards. Illness and systematic torture aggravated the difficulties of his task.
Every time SAVAK got wind of efforts, he was returned to the torture chambers, but he continued his discussions with his fellow cell-mates. Afterwards, the imprisoned Mojahedin passed on these positions to those members still outside. Mr. Rajavi described the Marxist current, which had shattered not only the Mojahedin organization, but also the unity and trust among opposition forces, as treacherous and deviant. He censured their misappropriation of the name “Mojahedin” stressing that the ideology of the Mojahedin was Islam, and their goal to overthrow the shah and establish an independent, popular government. These decisive positions forced the Marxists to stop using the Mojahedin’s name in 1977. He warned that the blow to the Mojahedin would give rise to backward interpretations of the religion, and advised the Mojahedin to keep their distance from the reactionaries, whose ideologue he identified as Khomeini.
- Mullahs’ Biggest Threat
From the roof of Qasr Prison on the last day of his captivity, he spoke as the representative of the last group of political prisoners to thousands of Tehran residents who had come to secure his freedom. He expressed the hope that the prisons would be closed forever, and political freedoms established in Iran.
Several days prior to Khomeini’s arrival in Tehran, his son, Ahmad, called Mr. Rajavi from Paris, telling him, “You have a lot of support in Iran and if you form a political party, millions will join you.” Several weeks later, in a meeting in Tehran, Ahmad Khomeini told Rajavi, “If you support the Imam and oppose his opponents, all doors will be open to you, and you will be given all that you need.” Rajavi rejected Khomeini’s proposal, saying that the Mojahedin sought a nationalist, democratic government.
A year later, in spring 1980, Mr. Rajavi met with Hashemi Rafsanjani, then a member of the Revolutionary Council and Minister of the Interior, to file a complaint on the multitude of cases of fraud and rigging by the regime’s operatives during the parliamentary elections.
Rafsanjani told him: “Forget about all this. You have an organization, a very good reputation and a lot of respect. If you had accepted the Imam and the velayat-e faqih, all doors would have been open to you. You have forced us to bring ministers and Majlis deputies from abroad.” Mr. Rajavi replied: “You should not expect us to accept club-wielding and monopoly of power under the banner of Islam.”
Soon after the revolution, the Mojahedin launched their own cultural, ideological campaign among intellectuals and the younger generation to counter Khomeini’s despotic and reactionary interpretation of Islam. In late 1979, Rajavi began a series of lectures in philosophy at Sharif University of Technology. Every week, 10,000 students took part in these classes, and more than 100,000 others watched the video recordings of them across Iran. The transcripts were published weekly by the hundreds of thousands, and distributed throughout Iran. After just 16 weeks, Khomeini shut down the universities, his regime’s leaders stressing that the universities had become a base for the Mojahedin.
- Khomeini’s Fatwa Against Rajavi
By 1980, Rajavi’s speeches in Tehran and provincial centers drew crowds of hundreds of thousands. The turning-point in the meteoric rise of Mojahedin’s popularity came in January 1980 presidential elections. Rajavi’s candidacy received a flurry of support from the democratic opposition to the mullahs’ regime.
American historian Ervand Abrahamian wrote in his account of those years: “Rajavi’s candidacy was not only endorsed by the Mojahedin-affiliated organizations…; but also by an impressive array of independent organizations including the Feda’iyan, the National Democratic Front, the Kurdish Democratic Party, the Kurdish Toilers Revolutionary Party (Komula), the Society of Iranian Socialists, the Society for the Cultural and Political Rights of the Turkomans, the Society of Young Assyrians, and the Joint Group of Armenian, Zoroastrian and Jewish Minorities. Rajavi also received the support of a large number of prominent figures: Taleqani’s widow; Shaykh Ezeddin Hosayni, the spiritual leader of the Sunni Kurds in Mahabad; Hojjat al-Islam Jalal Ganjehi…; fifty well-known members of the Iranian Writers’ Association, including the economist Naser Pakdaman, the essayist Manuchehr Hezarkhani and the secular historians Feraydun Adamiyyat and Homa Nateq; and, of course, many of the families of the early Mojahedin martyrs, notably the Hanif-nezhads, Rezais, Mohsens, Badizadegans, Asgarizadehs, Sadeqs, Meshkinfams, and Mihandusts. The Mojahedin had become the vanguards of the secular opposition to the Islamic Republic.”
Fearing that Rajavi’s victory would upset the emergence of the totalitarian religious state that he was shaping, Khomeini reneged on his earlier promise not to intervene in the elections and issued a fatwa (religious decree) to veto Rajavi’s nomination for presidency.
The move only increased the Mojahedin’s popularity. In the first parliamentary elections in March and April 1980, the Mojahedin received the second highest vote tally nationwide, second only to Khomeini’s own Islamic Republican Party, despite huge riggings and electoral fraud by the ruling mullahs.
A candidate from Tehran, Rajavi received 550,000 votes, but Khomeini prevented him from entering the Majlis.
In a speech in June 1980 at Tehran’s Amjadieh Stadium, Mr. Rajavi criticized the regime’s leaders about the suppression of liberties. The gathering in tribute to the victims of club-wielding was itself attacked, creating a major political scandal for the regime. Twenty deputies from the newly convened parliament issued the body’s first statement, condemning the attack.
Political observers were by then unanimously describing Massoud Rajavi as the leader of the anti-Khomeini opposition. Several days later, Khomeini made his strongest speech against the Mojahedin, candidly expressing his concern at Rajavi’s popularity, who had begun a campaign to unite the democratic opposition forces.
The daily Mojahed, with a circulation of 500,000, had the largest readership in Iran at the time. It allocated a section, entitled Showra (Council), to other opposition groups and personalities to put across their views.
In early 1981, in a series of lengthy interviews, Rajavi explained the Mojahedin’s viewpoints about Khomeini and other political trends at the time, and proposed the formation of a front against religious backwardness.
- A Democratic Alternative to Mullahs’ Tyranny
The rapid rise of the Mojahedin was not something Khomeini could tolerate. The first few months of 1981 witnessed a sharp rise in armed attacks on Mojahedin rallies, assassination of Mojahedin sympathizers while they were selling the organization’s newspapers, and fatwas by various mullahs across the country, declaring that it was “religiously permissible” to kill the Mojahedin and confiscate their properties, because they were “renegades” and would not accept the mullahs’ version of Islam.
On June 20, Khomeini issued a public order to the Revolutionary Guards to quash a huge demonstration by half-a-million residents of Tehran, who had responded to the Mojaehdin’s call to demonstrate against the mullahs’ tyranny. Dozens were shot dead and hundreds arrested. On the same day, mass executions began. Tens of thousands of Mojahedin members and supporters and other opposition activists were executed in a few months in the bloodiest political purge in Iran’s history.
Rajavi announced the formation of the National Council of Resisance of Iran in Tehran on July 21, 1981. A few days later, he left Tehran from France on board an Iranian miitary jet poilted by a team of pro-Mojahedin air force officers.
In Paris, Rajavi introduced the NCRI to the world public opinion and exposed the mullahs’ atrocities. He met many foreign leaders and political dignitaries, and was interviewed by hundreds of journalists from all over the world
- A Courageous Breakthrough for Peace
In 1983, after Iraq’s withdrawal from Iranian territories, Rajavi launched a massive campaign for peace, because there was no need to continue the fratricidal war. He presented a peace plan based on the 1975 Algiers Treaty in March 1983. The plan won the support of many governments, political parties and 5,000 parliamentarians and political dignitaries around the world.
Under pressure from the French government in 1986 after the latter’s secret deals with the mullahs over the release of French hostages in Lebanon, Rajavi moved his headquarters from Paris to the Iran-Iraq border region in June 1986. A year later, he announced the formation of the National Liberation Army of Iran, as the military arm of the Iranian Resistance.
Under Rajavi’s overall command, the NLA scored significant victories in more than 100 military operations against the Revolutionary Guards and elite units of the mullahs’ military forces. Shortly after NLA forces liberated the city of Mehran in June 1988, Khomeini was forces to accept the cease-fire despite his earlier vows to continue the war “until the last erect building in Iran.”
A year after the cease-fire, Khomeini’s death deprived the mullahs’ regime of its principal mainstay. Since then, during eight years of Khamenei-Rafsanjani duo at the top of the regime and particularty after the triumvirate leadership that emerged when Khatami became president in 1997, the mullahs’ regime has been plagued with factional infighting, chronic instability, and numerous polticial, economic and social crises. In the face of this regime, Rajavi has capably led the resistance movement toward its strategic goal of toppling clerical rule in Iran.
- A Historical Leader
Despite Mr. Rajavi’s decisive role in the history of the Resistance movement, all important decisions within the movement have been taken collectively after long discussions and democratic debate. Through this process, new members assumed greater responsibilities. Most members of the Mojahedin’s Leadership Council and more than 90 percent of the organization’s current Central Council joined the Mojahedin after 1979.
Since 1989, Mr. Rajavi has had no executive responsibilities in the Mojahedin organization. His role in safeguarding the principles of the Mojahedin as a Muslim, democratic, nationalist and progressive organization in the 1970s, and more importantly against Khomeini’s all-out assault to destroy the Mojahedin, has made him a historical and ideological leader for the Mojahedin.
Since the formation of the NCRI, most of Mr. Rajavi’s efforts have been devoted to the Council. His patient, democratic manner of managing the NCRI’s affairs has been instrumental in the Council’s expansion and resilience, and has earned him the trust of the NCRI’s members. Mohammad Hossein Naqdi, an Iranian diplomat, joined the Council in 1982. He was assassinated by the regime’s terrorists in 1993 in Rome. Mr. Naqdi said of Massoud Rajavi in a December 1992 interview, following the Council’s expansion: “We in the Council are hesitant to highlight the role of individuals, but complements aside, I really think that in the world of politics, (Mr. Rajavi’s) presence has, more than anything else, been the cause of the advances of the NCRI and Iranian Resistance. If we theorize about what would have happened if he had not been the NCRI’s President, I believe if the Iranian Resistance existed at all, it would certainly be far less than it is today.”
In the same series of interviews, Dr. Manouchehr Hezarkhani, a distinguished Iranian writer and Chairman of the Council’s Culture and Art Committee, commented on the procedures of NCRI meetings:
” When we arrive at the meetings, we do not share the same views… When we meet in session, sometimes we have serious arguments about certain matters, about political solutions. It is generally well understood that the point is to hold such meetings, where differences can be talked about and a consensus reached, but the individual capable of chairing such meetings and keeping the delicate balance of cooperation between different groups, none of whom are professional politicians, is gifted with the art of leadership… We have this leadership, and I think that to a large extent, it smoothes out the bumps.”
Whenever the interests of the Iranian people and democracy have been at stake, political considerations or concerns about protecting his personal prestige have never prevented Mr. Rajavi from making sensitive decisions. Launching the campaign for peace in the Iran- Iraq war in 1983, when Khomeini’s belligerent nature had not been fully exposed, generated venomous propaganda by the regime and its internal and external allies. It was one of many examples of risks that few are willing to take. The formation of the National Liberation Army of Iran, as the most precious achievement of Iran’s history and best guarantee and lever to overthrow the mullahs’ regime, was another.
Rajavi has always stressed that there is no insistence upon the NCRI or Mojahedin. “If at any time, any group or alternative is found to be better equipped to overthrow the regime and guarantee Iran’s independence, democracy and popular sovereignty, we will definitely and wholeheartedly support it, even if it is opposed to our way of thinking,” he says.
At one of the most sensitive junctures of Iran’s history, Khomeini sought to revive an Ottoman-like empire by taking advantage of special circumstances and usurping both temporal and spiritual power. Massoud Rajavi launched an all-out resistance against him and prevented him from achieving his evil goal. This is the essence of the historical role that has turned Rajavi into the national leader of the Iranian people in their quest to end mullahs’ tyranny and establish lasting freedom and popular sovereignty in Iran.