A tale of two Iranians and two Irans
An Iranian woman holds a poster of Iran's late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Khomeini's return from exile from Paris, at his mausoleum in southern Tehran, Iran, Feb. 1, 2019. EPA-EFE FILE/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH
A protester holds a poster reading 'Free Iran' as he attend a demonstration against the Iranian government and system organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in Paris, France, Feb. 8, 2019. EPA-EFE FILE/ETIENNE LAURENT
Tehran, Feb 8 (efe-epa).- Two men, both in their sixties and both Iranians who participated 40-years-ago in the historic revolution that toppled an unpopular monarchy and led to the world's first Islamic republic told EFE that their similarities ended there.
In 1979, when "Reza" and Parviz Ramezaní were both 23, one of the seminal events of the second half of the 20th century shook the Middle East as Iranian protesters toppled the Western-allied Shah Mohamad Reza Pahlavi (1919-80) and ushered in the return from exile of revered revolutionary Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-89), who seized the religious aspect of the revolt and founded the Islamic Republic of Iran.
"The first reason people started to protest against the Shah was economic inequality," said Reza, who spoke on the condition of concealing his identity because, although he lived abroad and was therefore relatively safe from backlash Iranian officials could dole out for his comments, many of his family remained in Iran.
He believed that, for the vast majority of the revolutionaries in 1979, the core principles behind the ousting of Pahlavi were political rather than religious.
Ramezani's experience during the revolution was strikingly different. Unlike Reza, he joined the religious-based rallies where Shia Islam, the predominant branch of Islam practiced in Iran, was openly harnessed as a galvanizing force for change, moving away from the more secular society promoted by the Shah.
The majority of Iranians follow the Shia branch of Islam and Shias across the Middle East region often look to Tehran for religious and political guidance. Sunni Islam has a larger number of adherents globally and is the dominant branch in Iran's regional foe, Saudi Arabia.
Both countries jostle for influence in the region.
"At night we climbed the roofs of the buildings and shouted 'Allahu Akbar' (God is the greatest)," said Ramezani, adding that he was among the throngs of jubilant crowds to greet the returning Khomeini at Tehran's Mehrabad airport on Feb. 1, 1979, after 14 years of life in exile in Turkey, Iraq and latterly France.
Khomeini would go on to take over Iran 10 days later.
With the cementing of the Islamic republic came a purge of political opposition, especially left-wing groups who had initially fought for change alongside religious groups against the Shah.
Reza was sentenced to death by an Iranian court due to his alleged ties to Marxist groups such as Fedayeen, one of the left-wing outfits that in the early 1980s opposed the theocratic regime that Khomeini, by now the country's supreme leader, was assembling.
Many of those who found themselves in the gaze of the authorities fled Iran.
"In the first year, everything changed," Reza said. "No one could believe that in the parliamentary elections they (the Islamists/Khomeini supporters) would eliminate all the candidates from the other parties or that they would suddenly arrest the leaders in their homes and execute them, yet that is what happened," he continued.
Ramezani, on the other hand, got a job in the government and continues, forty years on, to support of the theocratic regime, which is now presided over by Khomeini's successor, Ali Khamenei.
He said his life benefited from the revolution
"We were four brothers living together in one house with our wives and children," he said. "Now, each (of our families) has its own house and several cars," the retired government official added.
In response to present-day criticisms against Iranian religious leaders, Ramezani said: "If we are fair, we must recognize that we have become really better, but young people now have too many demands and are ungrateful."
Iran on Feb. 1 celebrated the 40th anniversary of Khomeini's return to the country from exile.