Saturday June 20 marks the 34th anniversary of the start of the Iranian Resistance to obtain the most basic rights of Iranians and to establish human rights and democracy. On that day, Khomeini personally ordered the Guards Corps to open fire on a peaceful protest by half-a-million pro-democracy Iranians.
From that day, the reign of terror began by the mullahs. But that day in 1981 also had a very political and strategic significance since it marked the end of the era of reformism of the clerical regime. The regime remains as ruthless and incapable of reform to the day.
More than 120,000 members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) have lost their lives in the campaign to oust the mullahs. But what has the fight been all about?
In one word, the struggle is for freedom – freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of expression, and freedom to choose how society is governed.
The MEK views freedom and democracy to be indispensable to Islam. The fundamentalist mullahs, in contrast, reject the concepts of free will and individual choice, and thus democracy. In their view, it is incompatible with Islam. They believe in the concept of velayat-e faqih (absolute rule of the jurisprudent), which invests law, power, and legitimacy to a Supreme Leader. Such a clerical system is by definition totalitarian because it cannot recognize freedom and the right of political activity for anyone other than those who support an Islamic state.
Since the outset of the 1979 Islamic revolution, the PMOI (MEK) entered the political process demanding safeguards for democratic freedoms. PMOI (MEK) leader Mr. Massoud Rajavi was the group’s candidate in the first Presidential election in 1980; however, Rajavi’s candidacy was vetoed by a fatwa by Khomeini himself. Khomeini’s reasoning was that Rajavi had not voted for the mullahs’ constitution, which established a theocratic government. Rajavi described the new constitution that yielded absolute power to the supreme leader as undemocratic and contrary to the teachings and essence of Islam. Rajavi ran for a seat in Iran’s new Majlis (parliament), but Khomeini prevented any democratic candidate from entering parliament by resorting to massive election rigging
The turning point came on June 20, 1981, when a peaceful demonstration by half-a-million PMOI (MEK) supporters in Tehran was turned into a bloodbath on the orders of Khomeini and a reign of terror and public executions began. As such, the PMOI (MEK)was left with no choice but to stand up to the mullahs and to go underground and begin an all out resistance to expose and unseat the Khomeini regime.
Says Dr. Ali Safavi of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in the Huffington Post (June 22, 2010):
“Despite tolerating these incredible hardships, which had no justification whatsoever, the MEK did not retaliate for two and a half grueling years. As such, the MEK continued to gain the support of a vast majority of Iranians nationwide, which Khomeini could in no way tolerate. Former President and head of the State Exigency Council, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, acknowledged that the MEK had more than half-a-million full-time and part-time activists around the country. Many experts believed that they would have finished first if free elections were to be held.
“The MEK refrained from violent retaliation against Khomeini and his forces because it believed that to prolong the political process is in the interest of the organization and the Iranian people, while violence would serve the interests of Khomeini. It sought to use every tangible and intangible legal and peaceful option, no matter how negligible or insignificant, to reform Khomeini’s policies and guarantee the desired freedoms and human rights for the Iranian people without resorting to confrontation.
“In the context of the post-revolutionary developments, June 20, 1981 was a historic showdown. The MEK secretly organized a peaceful demonstration that caught the regime completely off guard. Throngs began to march from different parts of Tehran, and converged on Enghelab (Revolution) Street. The crowd was half-a-million strong when it reached Ferdowsi Square in the center of Tehran. They continued to march toward the Majlis (Parliament), and if allowed to continue, the crowd would have swelled to one million and Khomeini would have lost control. So, he personally ordered the Revolutionary Guards to open fire. Hundreds were killed and thousands were arrested.
“In this way, Khomeini closed the final chapter on peaceful activities, unleashing a bloody reign of terror, in which tens of thousands were slaughtered and tens of thousands more imprisoned and tortured. The MEK, and indeed every patriotic Iranian, was left with only two choices: either surrender to Khomeini’s tyrannical rule, thereby betraying commitments to fundamental freedoms and human rights, or wage a legitimate resistance against Khomeini’s tyranny. Only after exhausting all possible peaceful options, the MEK chose the latter.”
On July 29, 1981, Rajavi announced the formation of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the democratic alternative to the religious, terrorist dictatorship, in Tehran. The umbrella group which included representatives of many of the opposition groups from different parties with varying views has been the most long lasting coalition of the opposition in contemporary history of Iran.
According to Mohammad Mohaddesssin, chairman of the NCRI’s foreign affairs committee and a veteran PMOI (MEK) official:
“From the start of the revolution we tried to have the regime reform. While Khomeini and other groups claimed that Iran’s main enemy after revolution was the US, we said the main threat and enemy to freedom is not the West; rather it is from religious fundamentalist forces in Iran who are gradually curbing all liberties. We tried to back liberal elements in the regime to weaken the hard-liners. Many of our sympathizers were arrested or killed during this period.
“June 20, 1981 marked the end of the regime’s toleration and any possible potential for reforms, and it has not changed since. The last reformist elements were eliminated from within the regime were purged at that stage. Since that day any Iranian or foreigner who has sought to find reformist elements in this regime has been searching for a mirage. We said this from the onset. The velayat-e-faqih regime is incapable of reform. If it were to halt the persecutions, tortures and executions for even one day and announce to the Iranian people that they would face no repercussions for their actions on that day, undoubtedly the people would topple the regime on that very day.”
This passage from the book ‘Democracy Betrayed’, published by the NCRI’s Foreign Affairs Committee offers a more in-depth understanding of the events leading to the beginning of the Resistance:
“Immediately after Khomeini seized power, a fundamental dispute surfaced between the Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] and the clerical regime. Massoud Rajavi publicly named freedom as the Iranian people’s principal demand in the revolution which had toppled the shah. His remarks launched a nationwide campaign by the Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] to defend democracy. From the outset, the regime organized hoodlums – the forerunners of the hezbollah – to heckle and harass Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] supporters, and disrupt peaceful political activities. Not a day went by without attacks somewhere in the country on their gatherings and those of other current Council members, such as the National Democratic Front.
In January 1980, Khomeini issued a fatwa, vetoing Massoud Rajavi’s candidacy for the presidency. The French daily, Le Monde, [on March 29, 1980] wrote:
… According to diverse estimates, had Imam Khomeini not vetoed his candidacy in the presidential election last January, Mr. Rajavi, would have gotten several million votes. He was, moreover, assured of the support of the religious and ethnic minorities – whose rights to equality and autonomy he defended – and a good part of the female vote, who seek emancipation, and the young, who totally reject the “reactionary clergy”… The Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] have not ceased denouncing, documenting and issuing calls about “the irregularities, pressures, fraud and violence” surrounding the first round of elections. 2,500 of their supporters were wounded, 50 of them gravely, by armed bands of “Hezbollah” in the course of the election campaign… Observers appointed by the Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] who protested the election fraud were expelled from the premises, beaten, and sometimes arrested…
Another round of attacks on Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] offices and gatherings followed, in which many of their supporters were killed or injured. In June 1980, Le Monde wrote:
… The objective of the popular gathering on Thursday afternoon, called by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of iran [PMOI/MEK], was to protest against attacks on their supporters and activists in the past few days…
Tens of thousands of the party’s sympathizers had lined up at the entrance gates an hour before the gathering [at Amjadieh Stadium] when groups of Hezbollah began loudly protesting against the PMOI (MEK)… chanting, “There is only one party, the Party of God, and only one Leader, Imam Khomeini.”
The Hezbollah claims no precise political organization. They are notorious among the public as the shock troops… and serve as the tool of the extreme right faction of the Islamic Republic Party, directed by [Mohammad] Beheshti… The Hezbollah tried to prevent the gathering from taking place… They attacked the entrances to the stadium… The police and Revolutionary Guards for once observed strict neutrality. They did not turn their forces on the attackers, but they did protect them from the PMOI (MEK) 10 to 20 times more numerous… Things as they stand, the choice, according to observers, is between conciliation and civil war. [June 14, 1980]
Lines Are Drawn
“Our enemy is neither in the United States, nor the Soviet Union, nor Kurdistan, but right here, right under our nose, in Tehran.”
With these words, in late June 1980 Khomeini drew the lines. “Death to the Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK]” became the regime’s motto and Hezbollah stepped up its attacks on the organization’s centers, all legal. Two weeks prior, on June 12, 1980, in the famous speech, “What’s to be done?” at Tehran’s Amjadieh stadium, Massoud Rajavi had exhorted the crowd of 200,000 gathered in and out of the stadium, to “defend freedoms… freedom of speech, associations and gatherings.” The nonviolent resistance of thousands of Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] supporters effectively frustrated the Pasdaran effort to disrupt the meeting with tear gas and live ammunition. Their assault left one dead, hundreds wounded and thousands beaten up, arousing the public’s sympathy for the Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] and disdain for the regime’s crime. Even Khomeini’s son, Ahmad, condemned the Revolutionary Guards’ action as “treachery to Islam.” The Police Chief, Deputy Interior Minister and a number of Majlis deputies condemned the attack. A flood of letters and telegrams of condemnation from different political organizations, various sectors of society, and members of the business community were reprinted in the media, greatly alarming Khomeini. He had to make a choice: Either back down, or step up the political onslaught on the Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK]. A week later, the Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] revealed a tape recording of a speech by Hassan Ayat, one of the leaders of the ruling party, in which he revealed the details of the plots. Khomeini hedged no longer, and on June 25, 1980, pointed his finger at enemy number one. The Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK], he said, “are worse than infidels.”
Even the organization’s health clinics soon came under attack. There were more deaths and injuries, and thousands of arrests. Responding to a letter of complaint by Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] supporters in August 1980, when the organization still engaged in public activities, Mullah Allameh, head of the revolutionary court of Bam, in southern Iran, wrote: “According to the decree of Imam Khomeini, the Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] of Iran are infidels and worse than blasphemers… They have no right to life.”
Mohammad Yazdi, head of the regime’s Judiciary, referred to Khomeini’s order to massacre the Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] and their supporters, issued months before it became public, as follows:
The Imam’s hand-written judicial order condemned the Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] – the totality of the organization and its infrastructure, and not individuals – so that there would be no hesitation in terming the activities by these individuals as waging war on God and corruption on Earth [and carrying out their execution orders].
Referring to the events of 1979-81, the [US] State Department acknowledges these facts in its December 1984 report:
The Mujahedin [PMOI/MEK] have never accepted the Khomeini regime as an adequate Islamic government. When Khomeini took power, the Mujahedin [PMOI/MEK] called for continued revolution, but said they would work for change within the legal framework of the new regime. The Mujahedin publications emphasized their unique role as an urban guerrilla force that promised to enter candidates for the highest offices under the new political system. The Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] also entered avidly into the national debate on the structure of the new Islamic regime. The Mujahedin [PMOI/MEK] unsuccessfully sought a freely elected constituent assembly to draft a constitution.
The Mujahedin [PMOI/MEK] similarly made an attempt at political participation when Mujahedin [PMOI/MEK] leader Masud Rajavi ran for the presidency in January 1980. Rajavi was forced to withdraw when Ayatollah Khomeini ruled that only candidates who had supported the constitution in the December referendum – which the Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] had boycotted- were eligible. Rajavi’s withdrawal statement emphasized the group’s efforts to conform to election regulations and reiterated the Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK]’s intention to advance its political aims within the new legal system.
In March and May 1980, Rajavi and several other Mujahedin [PMOI/MEK] ran in Tehran for the Islamic Assembly (Majlis). Moussa Khiabani, Rajavi’s deputy, ran in Tabriz, and others ran in the north, where the group was strong. The Mujahedin [PMOI/MEK] attempted to demonstrate their broadened appeal by running on their ticket several moderate political figures…
Between the two election rounds, the Mujahedin [PMOI/MEK] announced that its members would disarm to prove that they were not initiating the clashes with the fundamentalists that had become endemic during the campaign. The fundamentalists responded by once again banning Mujahedin representatives from the university campuses. The group’s allegations that vote tallies had been altered to deny Rajavi and Khiabani victories, were ignored.
Rajavi then began to hint that the Mujahedin [PMOI/MEK] were considering active opposition to the Khomeini regime. In the early summer of 1980 the Mujahedin [PMOI/MEK] staged several rallies in Tehran drawing up to 150,000 people to hear Rajavi promise to carry on the opposition to fundamentalist domination.
On June 25 Khomeini responded by a major statement against the Mujahedin [PMOI/MEK], claiming their activities would derail the revolution and bring back “US dominance.”
For a year after Khomeini’s remarks, the Mojahedin [PMOI/MEK] continued to work for democracy through peaceful political means. This era ended on June 20, 1981, when heavily armed Guards turned a peaceful demonstration called in Tehran by the Mojahedin into a blood bath.