Disgruntled children of the Islamic Revolution
By Kristiina Markkanen
The apartment has a magnificent sea view. The living room is decorated like any upper middle-class apartment in Teheran, but now we are in Helsinki. The sofas are covered with the kinds of cotton cloths that can be seen everywhere in Iran. An Iranian football match is on television.
Hossein Alizadeh, 45, appears to be happy, although the future remains wide open for him. He is not even worried that he and his family may soon not be able to afford his diplomatic apartment, with its rent of more than EUR 2000 a month.
A week earlier Alizadeh resigned from the number-two post at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Helsinki. This soon became international news, because he was the third Iranian diplomat to have resigned publicly after the Presidential elections of 2009. There are many more who have resigned in private.
Alizadeh did not act alone, or on a whim. Reza Haydari, who had resigned from his post as Iranian Consul in Norway, flew to Helsinki go offer his support. Haydari had been given asylum in Norway. He is also considered a leader of the “green diplomats” who support their country’s opposition.
“I did not know Haydari before. However, Farzad Farhangian, who resigned on Monday as a press official in Brussels is a good friend of mine, as is Abolfazl Esmali, the consul in Tokyo, who had resigned before”, Alizadeh says.
The men have been part of a secret network of pro-opposition foreign ministry employees which was set up after the Presidential elections of 2009.
Alizadeh recounts a few mistakes from the early years of the revolution.
He will not say who might be next to resign, but he reveals that the action was well planned. He speaks in metaphors, according to the best Persian tradition:
“My relationship with the administration has been that of a jet fighter and a pilot. The pilot needs to be at one with his plane, but if the plane no longer functions, and cannot fly, an ejector seat is needed.”
The somewhat pathetic analogy makes Alizadeh himself laugh, but he becomes more serious when speaking about the shocking news that has been coming from Iran in recent weeks. The very idea of stoning a woman convicted of adultery is so repugnant that he decided to resort to the ejector seat.
He has not been at work in more than a month. One morning he could simply no longer went. “I have been called several times from the Embassy, but I haven’t answered the phone.”
“Submitting his resignation was not difficult. “The most difficult part was telling my mother. She always asks me on the phone when I will be coming home, and how long she will still have to wait. That is what makes me the saddest.
But let’s go back in time a bit. What is the Iranian Green opposition that the recently-resigned politicians are supporting?
The roots of the movement extend way back to the term of the reformist president Muhammad Khatami, the predecessor of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, in its present form, the movement did not emerge until the summer of last year, when Ahmadinejad, who was elected for a second term, is believed to have falsified the election result.
Opposition representative, architect Mir Mousavi, who has served as minister several times, officially finished second, but he was the psychological winner. The opposition formed itself around Mousavi after the elections, and especially around his wife, Zahra Rahnavadi, the director of the University of Teheran.
The Green diplomats believe - and here comes another metaphor - that now is the time to thoroughly refurbish the house to keep it from collapsing completely, as took place in 1979. At that time the dictatorship of Shah Reza Pahlavi was toppled by a violent Islamic revolution.
“The Iranians do not want a new revolution, nor do they want bloody clashes or foreign interference in Iranian affairs. The change has to come with the help of an opposition led from inside Iran”, Alizadeh says.
However, the opposition is dispersed, and there are attempts to lead it from outside the country as well.
In recent news London-based expatriate Iranian businessman Amir Jahanchahi has been speaking as the self-appointed leader the Green movement. The 49-year-old Jahanchahi is the son of the Shah’s minister of finance, and the grandson of the founder of Iran’s oil industry, who fled the country in 1979. He has said that he is financing the activities of the green diplomats.
Alizadeh says that he does not know Jahanchahi. “If someone wants to finance our campaign, it’s OK, but the movement itself can only be led from inside Iran.”
The general opinion is that the most credible part of the Iranian reform movement is comprised of groups gathered around Mousavi. Evidence of this includes the constant arrests and house arrests of people in Mousavi’s inner circle. They are the ones that the country’s administration is most afraid of.
It is understandable for angry people to take to the streets when an election result is falsified. But how is it possible that the children of 1979 themselves, the core of the Islamic revolution, are turning their backs on their home country? They represent the best of the whole present regime. The revolution has offered them all opportunities, even a luxurious life abroad.
Alizadeh is one of them, the son of a wealthy Teheran businessman who took part in anti-Shah demonstrations even though his father was against it.
Alizadeh defied his family. He even enlisted as a volunteer for the war between Iran and Iraq, even though as the only son in his family, he would not have had to.
Alizadeh is was not the only volunteer, nor was he the only one of these groups who ended up working for the Foreign Ministry. Young students in Teheran were some of the main supporters of the revolution.
“I did not sign up for the war because of the revolution, but rather because my country needed me. I didn’t understand anything about politics and the revolution at that time.”
Alizadeh says that he was always a good pupil at school. After the war he studied Western philosophy at the University of Teheran. Later he naturally also took up Islamic philosophy. “But Western philosophy emphasised societal matters, and I became interested. I moved on to political science and international politics.”
He passed the entrance exam for the foreign ministry already before he had completed his studies. He spoke English and Arabic fluently.
his first foreign assignment was in Bulgaria 16 years ago. At the time he was already married, and the father of a six-month old son.
“As the revolution progressed, I also started to believe in it. It gave us meaning.” Alizadeh says that he supported the system until Ahmadinejad was elected President in 2005. There were suspicions of election fraud already then. “I understood immediately that it is completely the wrong direction, and I started to network with people who felt the same way.”
In 2007 he was sent to Finland. At the time he was already active in the ranks of the opposition, and now he is seeking asylum in Finland. “I am in the same situation that I was when I volunteered to go to war. I went even though I would not have had to, because I wanted to serve my country. Now I have made the same decision again.”
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 19.9.2010
Previously in HS International Edition:
Iran silent over defection of diplomat (14.9.2010)
High-ranking Iranian diplomat in Helsinki quits to protest current government (13.9.2010)
KRISTIINA MARKKANEN / Helsingin Sanomat