Friday, June 24, 2011

Iran: 30th Anniversary of 20 June 1981

Translation of an article by Hamid Nozari about a very important historical event in Iran, a pivotal "founding moment" of the Islamic Republic of Iran's regime: the group executions of June 20 1981.

[image to the right: front cover of Ettela'at newspaper announcing the executions of demonstrators arrested on 20 June 1981.]
[Read the original article, in Persian, here.]

20 June 1981: Revisiting a historical event in Iran
by Hamid Nozari / Berlin, 20 June 2011

On the evening of June 21, 1981, Islamic Republic's television networks announced, "15 people convicted of corruption on earth and fighting against God were executed by firing squad in Evin Prison."

Iran's Islamic Republic's prosecutorial authorities issued two statements regarding the 'instigators of the June 20 [1981] riots/disturbances'. In one piece of news, the execution of seven, and in another the execution of eight more were announced. Those executed, however, had been arrested and imprisoned way before 20 June 1981, and had been arrested with charges of committing other "crimes". What happened on 20 June 1981? A look at the then-two and a half year old Islamic Republic can give us the answer.

The Islamic Republic from its inception was an untimely phenomenon in contradiction with its era. The political leaders and functionaries of this so-called republic, during the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, and particularly in the major arenas of political activity (universities, intellectual spaces, the prisons and the opposition abroad) were in the margins and the peripheries. It was with the intensification of the people's movement that slowly they were brought from the margins to the center, and subsequently, due to factors and reasons that are beyond the scope of this text, they took hold of power and in an undemocratic referendum, they named it 'Islamic Republic'. Some of the founders and leaders of this power bloc, who had the experience of doing political-organizational work and had been imprisoned, were well aware of the determining impact of the presence, or lack of presence, of opposition political figures, leaders and/or political organizations on the life and vitality, or death and demise, of social or political forces/movements. They also knew that eliminating some of the leaders and the cadres of opposition trends and forces would mean, materially, the weakening of and rendering ineffective oppositional movements, and this would drive them back for the next phase (or phases) of struggle.

It was because of this that very shortly after coming to power, they put the policy of elimination of opposition forces on their agenda, and began to implement it semi-officially. The concerns of the newly-enthroned were not limited to eliminating political figures and organizations, but expanded to preventing the formation of any independent organizations or associations and any organization opposed to the system on principle.

It was thus that organized violence against dissidents was put into practice. Executions without trials, or trials lasting merely minutes, of former leaders and cronies of the previous regime; attacks on Baha'i centers of worship and the killing of their leaders; attacks on women's demonstrations; military assault with live bullets on the assembly of Turkmen's [in north-northeast Iran] and assassination of their leaders; bloody murder of those fighting on the path for "Democracy for Iran - Autonomy for Kurdistan"; the assaults on newspapers and organizations; the shutting down of the universities under the pretext of 'Cultural Revolution', and on and on -- all these created the material conditions for the founding of various institutions of the Islamic Republic (Assembly of Experts [of Constitution-], Islamic Consultative Assembly [parliament], etc.) and the ratification of the constitution, based on which the discrimination between men and women, between Muslims and non-Muslims, and religious and non-religious, etc., became legal. Ratification and execution of laws of Islamic punishments, stoning, eye-for-an-eye justice, torture and terror and abductions became the tools by which this constitution was enforced.

On 31 January 1980, the second coordinating meeting for confronting "counterrevolutionary" parties and organizations finished its work. After distinguishing between "hostile groups" and "dissident groups", this meeting issued a statement in 15 paragraphs. List of participants in this preparatory meeting to plan terror and murder is available.

Protests against this daily, planned violence organized by the government was the everyday work of different political, social and civic groups and social forces, in the first two and a half years of the revolution. Not a day passed that we did not hear news of somebody being tortured, abducted/disappeared, secretly assassinated, etc. [...]

The January 1980 plan was ratified in [late] March. It is worth emphasizing that large numbers of those executed on 20 June 1981, were arrested shortly after this plan was ratified in March 1980, and were imprisoned, charged with various "crimes."

On 20 June 1981, in protest to a clerical coup against the then-president, Abol-Hassan Bani-Sadr, a massive demonstration was held in Tehran with five hundred thousands participants, called for by the People's Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization of Iran. Some of the forces on the left, liberals, democrats and nationalists participated in this demonstration. This peaceful demonstration, much like other oppositional demonstrations and gatherings, was drenched in blood. From June 21, 1981 until the start of 1984, an unprecedented wave of arrests, tortures, killings on the streets and executions were carried out, which were intensified after the armed operations of Mojahedin-e Khalq on 27 June, 1981. Newspapers were reporting executions of tens and [up to] hundreds of people on a regular basis. There is no precise information about the exact numbers of people killed in these two years and some months, and at times we have seen numbers above ten thousand.

20 June 1981 is an important turning point in the short history of the people's democratic battles in Iran, after the 1979 revolution. From that date on, a [type of] regime took hold in Iran, for whose newly formed intelligence ministry it became an established and official duty to kill and terrorize the opposition, both inside and outside the country.

Despite all that, this very important historical event was gradually forgotten, due to different reasons and by different political, social and civil forces.

Today's reformists in the Islamic Republic, a great part of which were the Hezbollahi's of yesteryears, were among the planners and executors of this policy of oppression; of course, in cooperation with other factions and layers comprising the Islamic Republic. The irony of history is that these same people are now called the "new seditionists" and "traitors" and "being manipulated and playing along with foreign forces and governments", and the same labels and accusations that they used to direct at others in the first decade of the revolution are now meted out to them. [...] Nonetheless, when talking about the events of 20 June 1981, they sound exactly like the conservatives and other former colleagues of theirs: extremism and armed struggle by the opposition caused the violence. These lies have gradually become the official story.

This story by the reformists goes along with their overall political line of thinking, which is appeasement of those in power. They have never imagined a deep-rooted break with this system of ignorance and terror, nor have they ever thought of a real confrontation with them. The reformists believed in and still believe in the foundations of this criminal system. Believing in the "values of the Islamic revolution" and its "constitution" are indicative of the fact that the fight between the "reformists" and the "conservatives" is over political power. This battle is neither a historical battle, nor a battle over values, and not even a serious battle over the intellectual and philosophical foundations of Islamic governance.

If these [reformists] wanted to find the roots of the violence of the last 32 years in Iran, they should start with the intellectual and religious foundations of this system and must pause on Islamic rules of punishment. Analysis of the events of 20 June 1981, however, requires political, intellectual and ethical temerity and courage, which the reformists severely lack. Their speechifying nowadays regarding 'civil institutions', 'civil society', 'human rights' and so on, can have meaning only when based on [real] people's sovereignty, people's rule, separation of religion from state, freedom of conscience (whether we believe in different religions or none at all), political freedoms, freedom of thought and speech, freedom to form organizations and parties, equality of men and women, mechanisms to ensure the peaceful coexistence of different ethnicities and nationalities in Iran, and also social justice. Otherwise, it is essentially a fight to gain political power and over how to share power.

Silence regarding 20 June of 1981 is not solely the practice of the reformists, but many of the "nationalist-religionists" and "leftists", who at that time were fellow travelers and supporters of the reactionary criminals, also remain silent regarding that crime and walk right by it. Further, there are still people among these political forces who rationalize regime's violence and portray it as inevitable. One tendency that can be observed clearly among a large segment of these forces is that they always synchronize with one of the factions of the Islamic Republic, and they adjust their tactics and strategies in harmony with the [reformist] defenders of 'values of the Islamic revolution' and its 'constitution'.

Large parts of the opposition also have effectively forgotten this political event, or else they present a distorted version of the events. The most important of these are the Mojahedin-e Khaq organization. On the one hand, they claim ownership over the entirety of the events leading to and including 20 June 1981. On the other hand they refuse to accept the fact that their turn to armed struggle and carrying out of too sudden and shocking military actions, was an immense mistake in analyzing the balance of forces and the people's subjective preparedness [for an all-out battle]. Their tactic reduced the "people" to an audience of the political scene, and it also inadvertently led to the defeat of the movement that had shaped against the clerical coup [that ousted Bani-Sadr].

Available documents and evidence indicate that leftist trends, despite their intellectual confusion, deviations and shortcomings, and despite their superficial understanding of the complexities of a democratic battle, were more or less aware and conscious of the importance of the battle that had been foisted on them, and their supporters were present in the battle. With the defeat of the movement, and with the retreat and exile, an opportunity arose for analyzing the shortcomings and weaknesses, which unfortunately was not used very well. The monopolistic moves by the Mojahedin, in their turn, caused this part of the left to distance itself from a realistic analysis of these events and their impacts, and consequently a part of the values, traditions and the ideals of the democratic movement of the Iranian people were slowly forgotten. 20 June 1981 is one of the most important forgotten events of the contemporary history of Iran.

Today, thirty years after that historical event, and after the ebb in the movement that occurred in Iran two years ago after the tenth presidential so-called elections, again many have been killed, imprisoned, tortured. A large part of the reformists and their social and political activists have been exiled, and a great amount of the media space outside the country has also been given them as a platform for this force, which enjoys overt and covert support from many sides.

After that facing off of June 2009, the Islamic Republic has stepped into a new phase of dealing with its [internal] contradictions/conflicts. The current government finds itself confronted by some of the major factions of the Islamic Republic itself and also by the people, as well as those who oppose it on principle. It seems that in this new facing off, neither of the regime's factions, whether those in power or out, has the ability to eliminate the other faction, or, to put it more precisely, neither [ruling] political layer can eliminate the competing political layer.

Among the serious contradictions, we can point to the contradictions among the ruling factions and layers in Iran, economic problems, and the unity of voices of a part of the regime with the people.

That faction or layer of the regime that is now in "opposition", in order not to lose its social base, has had to voice some of the people's demands, at times implicitly and at times explicitly. Because of this, some among the forces that belong to the regime, or used to belong to the regime but were thrown out of power in the previous phase, have had to provide some explanations regarding the system and the logic of terror and oppressive crackdown of the first decade of the Islamic Republic. Among these forces, there are still those who consider those crimes as necessary, and some look at that period critically and find some similarities between today and those years. The fact is that the logic of the crackdown of the first ten to fifteen years of the regime, both inside and outside the country, was based on the complete elimination of the dissidents; at any price. The logic of the crackdown of the past two years has been based on intimidating and silencing the internal opposition, and to bring to a halt the spontaneous movement of those whose position is to overthrow this entire tyrannical system.
* * *

20 June 1981 was a turning point in the history of the democratic battles of Iranian people. Despite this, that historical event, which turned the path of life of the society and large numbers of people upside down, and which brought a huge catastrophe to the country, has been [mostly] forgotten. Examination of opposition media shows that this historical event does not hold its deserved place in the political life of the exiled community, and it is feared that it will sink into the hole of lost memories.

Ignoring 20 June 1981, however, does not merely mean forgetting an important historical event on purpose or by default and not paying respect to those who were murdered by a criminal regime. It also means that the fact of the presence of leftist forces, of democrats and freedom lovers, in an important contemporary historical event will be wiped out and eliminated from history.

*With gratitude for the help of my friend and scholar, Nasser Mohajer.

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