Hoveyda’s Tragic Fate
By Cyrus Kadivar - 23 DECEMBER 1999/LONDON/UK




In the first week of November 1978 during the crumbling days of the monarchy, the beleaguered Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi held a crisis meeting with a dozen or more military and civilian advisers at Niavaran Palace in the northern suburb of Tehran. For several hours the monarch listened to his advisers as they debated the possible arrest of Amir Abbas Hoveyda. General Hassan Pakravan, a former security chief and diplomat, argued strongly against such a move by banging his fist on the table. On the other hand men like Iran’s ambassador to Washington, Ardeshir Zahedi, and Martial Law Chief, General Oveissi, insisted that Hoveyda’s arrest was absolutely necessary to calm down the howling mobs outside the gates. This was undoubtedly a shrewd attempt by the hardline royalists to deflect criticism of the sovereign by placing all the blame on a scapegoat. The decision that lay before His Majesty was a difficult one for as the Shah was perfectly aware, Hoveyda was a cultured, honest but shrewd politician who had served his King as an immensely able administrator. During his tenure Iran had witnessed tremendous economic and social development albeit at the price of political reforms. His detractors would later say of him that Hoveyda’s greatest fault lay in lending his first-rate, liberal mind to make the Shah’s regime intellectually respectable in a manner that none of his predecessors, nor indeed the monarch himself, with his militaristic, disciplinarian approach, could ever have done. Ironically, by faithfully carrying out the wishes of the King, he had contributed to the Shah’s estrangement from his own people and brought about the climate of dissent that had exploded into revolution. It was near to midnight when the Shah reluctantly accepted to sacrifice his loyal prime minister of 13 years to save his throne. Before the knock on the door, the Shah telephoned Hoveyda and told him of the decision taken and that he would be taken to a place where his safety would be ensured. An hour later, General Mehdi Rahimi, Tehran’s Police Chief, arrived at Hoveyda’s modest flat in civilian clothes, accompanied by two other officers, all of whom appearing courteous but solemn. After reading a letter signed by General Azhari, the prime minister and head of the military government, in which Hoveyda was informed of his arrest according to Article 5 of the Martial Law Regulations, the former premier was given time to pack a few things, including his pipe and books, including a French biography of Marcel Proust. Throughout the drive to a SAVAK guest house in Jamshidiyeh, Hoveyda remained calm and composed often joking with his military escort in his usual charming manner that had once made him popular amongst the Iranian people. A few days before his arrest, Sir Anthony Parsons, the British ambassador to Tehran, had tried to warn Hoveyda to flee the country before it was too late. Hoveyda had simply laughed and said: "I am an Iranian and I have done nothing that I am ashamed of. I have absolutely no intention of running away."



Hoveyda’s arrest was announced on 8th November 1978 sending shivers down other members of the royal regime. Three months later, on 8th January 1979, the daily newspapers Keyhan and Ettela’at published photos of Hoveyda and four other ministers: Daryoush Homayoun (former minister of information under Amuzegar), Manouchehr Azmoun (former minister of state under Sharif-Emami), Mansour Rouhani (former minister of agriculture under Hoveyda), and Gholam Reza Nikpay (former mayor of Tehran). At about this time Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiyar ordered the Ministry of Justice to prepare for a public trial of Hoveyda and General Nematollah Nassiri (former head of SAVAK). In numerous interviews Hoveyda and the other arrested officials pleaded their innocence telling reporters that they had been detained last November under Article 5 of the Martial Law Regulations during the Azhari government. Eight days later, on 16th January 1979, the Shah and Empress Farah left Iran. In a telephone conversation with his brother Fereydoun Hoveyda, then UN ambassador in New York, the former premier expressed his disillusionment with the Shah’s conduct. "How can a true leader abandon his post like that?" he enquired, adding somewhat sadly that all those years of service to the sovereign had been a tragic mistake. For the next few weeks Hoveyda spent his time reading and listening to BBC and VOA news bulletins on shortwave radio.


Bakhtiar’s government collapsed on Sunday, 11th February 1979 after a two-day insurrection by leftist and Islamic guerrilla groups. The defeat of the Shah’s loyal Imperial Guard and the surrender of the military High Command to the revolution marked the end of 2,500 years of monarchy. Niavaran Palace and key military, SAVAK and government buildings were seized. The streets fell to the mob as army and police resistance melted away. On that same day, the warders of the prison at Jamshidiyeh Military Base abandoned their posts leaving some of the 200 inmates mostly former arrested officials of the Shah’s regime to their own fates. In the ensuing melee many, including Houshang Nahavandi, once head of the Empress’s Bureau, Abdul Majid Majidi, the former Budget Bureau Director, and Daryoush Homayoun, succeeded in getting away. After months of hiding, they eventually made their way out of Iran. Others who were recognised were not so fortunate. General Nassiri, the former head of SAVAK, was savagely tortured by the mob and put in front of the television cameras beside General Rahimi before their executions a few days later by a firing squad. Meanwhile Hoveyda remained alone and isolated in the guest house pouring himself another glass of whisky and swallowing a couple of valium tablets. Beyond his window he could hear the sound of gunfire as armed revolutionaries roamed the streets. In the prevailing pandemonium, his regular liaison with the outside world was his doctor cousin, Fereshteh Razavi, a courageous and resourceful woman who acted as his personal physician as well. Hoveyda telephoned her in the morning to describe his new circumstances but turned down a plan to escape saying that his face was too well-known not to be instantly recognised and instead decided that he should turn himself in. Fereshteh telephoned Dariush Foruhar, one of the leaders of the National Front, who contacted Khomeini’s headquarters. Within the hour several pasdars, or revolutionary guards, and a couple of mullahs arrived at Fereshteh’s house and together they drove to pick up Hoveyda. Blindfolded and bundled in a blanket, Hoveyda was placed in a captured army vehicle and driven first to the National Front offices, and was later in the day moved to the Alavieh School in south Tehran where Khomeini had set up his headquarters since his return to Iran on the 1st February 1979. As he himself must have known, it was for him the beginning of the end. "I am not afraid of anything," Hoveyda told a makeshift news conference. Seated beside the downcast Sheikholeslamzadeh, Azmoun and Rouhani, the Shah’s former premier was defiant. "I believe in God, and believers do not fear anything...I believe in the law," he said. "I could have flown abroad months ago. Where are the other prime ministers?" It was a dramatic performance. Hoveyda was leaning on his cane and looked tired, but he attempted some of his old joviality making wisecracks from time to time. He even had his customary pipe with him. Asked by a journalist whether the former imperial regime had made mistakes, Hoveyda replied: "If there were no mistakes, I would not be here!"



On 15th March 1979, news was given of Amir Abbas Hoveyda’s trial at Tehran’s notorious Qasr prison, the charges ranging from spying for the West to waging war against God and his emissaries. Since his arrest by the revolutionaries Hoveyda had hoped to get a fair and Islamic trial. After hearing the long list of fantastic charges brought against him, Hoveyda began to lose hope. During a brief visit, his cousin, Fereshteh Razavi, was shocked by Hoveyda’s appearance. Huddled on the cold, damp floor of a tiny cell without a lavatory, the former statesman had lost his charm and luster. In his cell, Hoveyda handed Fereshteh a letter in which he had written that he now knew he would be condemned and executed, but that it was better than staying in prison. Despite an international effort to rescue him and the widespread outrage against the treatment he was receiving, Hoveyda was denied any form of legal assistance. Shortly before his trial resumed in early April, Hoveyda was visited by a French television crew and interviewed by Christine Ockrent. Hustled through the gates of Qasr prison the French visitors were marched through dark passages to Hoveyda’s cell. Ockrent scarcely recognised him. Hoveyda who in his heyday could be seen touring the country wearing an orchid in the lapel of his elegant suits now sat crumpled on a cot in the corner of his cell. With his back to the wall, wearing a cap and white socks, he was not happy and his face said it all. "So many people are anxious for news of you," Chrisiane Ockrent told him. "Do you have anything to tell them?" In the film which was shown in France two weeks later, Hoveyda looked sad and frightened, his eyes glistened with tears. "It is not worth asking me questions," he said, shaking his head in despair. "A scapegoat should be allowed to keep silent, it’s better that way." On 5th April despite assurances from Mehdi Bazargan, the head of the Revolutionary Provisional Government, and Abol Hussein Bani Sadr that the former PM would get a "fair trial", Hoveyda was hauled out of bed bewildered and blinking into the revolutionary court to be put on trial for his life. As he entered the courtroom, reporters noticed that he had lost twenty kilos. His head twitched nervously, his face was sickly and he was sweating profusely. It was only when he had sat down that he regained his composure. Facing Mahdi Hadavi, the revolutionary prosecutor, Hoveyda sat on a high wooden chair before two small tables in a crowded courtroom. The prosecutor was a pale, narrow, ill-shaven man who had presided over many similar proceedings. Hoveyda, always conscious of his public image, apologised for his awful appearance. Dressed in a black leather jacket and brown trousers he seemed upset by the huge cardboard placard bearing his name hanging round his neck. "Do I have to wear this?" he asked. "Everybody knows who I am." The judge, Sadeq Khalkhali, allowed him to remove the placard. It was the only concession he was prepared to make. Hoveyda complained that he could not answer questions properly since he was under the influence of sleeping pills. For twenty-five days he had been deprived of a radio and newspapers. "I have no clue what is happening in the world these days," he said. Only after continued complaints was he given copies of the charges, which consisted of an inquisitorial list of crimes. Hoveyda, who had pleaded "not-guilty" must have realised that no defence of his, however convincing or well-presented, would have made any difference to the outcome of his trial. Nonetheless, Hoveyda maintained his dignity. "I do not fear death. The life of an individual is nothing compared to that of a nation," he said. "A man is born one day and dies the next." He spoke emotionally about his eighty year old mother and waved the chance to see her. "Let her live with past memories," he said sadly. In the transcripts of the proceedings that appeared in the Iranian press, Hoveyda maintained that his hands were stained with "neither blood nor money." He denied that he was a Bahai and asked how could a Muslim wage war against his own god. "We were all part of a system," Hoveyda stated. "Everyone worked for the [ancien] regime. I did not create that system. We were all responsible! I could have escaped like five other prime ministers and spent my days strolling down the Champs-Elysees or the streets of New York. Instead I chose to remain in my own country." In private meetings with Khalkhali, Hoveyda pleaded to be allowed to write his memoirs. Sometimes from his cell, Hoveyda would exchange French books with other prisoners, notably his friend and supporter General Pakravan who had once spared Khomeini’s life.



The second session of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran began on 7th April 1979 at 2:30pm with the reading of the Koran. Before his trial, Hoveyda was blindfolded and brought out of his cell in Qasr prison and taken to a room where he rested for a few minutes. After lighting his pipe Hoveyda was escorted into the courtroom. On that spring afternoon Hoveyda was wearing a pale trouser and a suede coat and had a downcast expression when he faced the tribunal. Hoveyda tried to be as calm as possible exchanging pleasantries with members of the Court. "Seeing you smile gives me great courage," he told one of his judges. The courtroom was overheated and a revolutionary guard helped Hoveyda out of his coat before seating him in the designated chair. A photograph taken at his trial shows him uncomfortable in a white sweater. Ayatollah Khalkhali, the presiding judge, repeated the charges against the Shah’s faithful prime minister. Because the proceedings were kept secret it is not clear how Hoveyda defended himself. Finally, Hoveyda was asked if he had a final statement. "I have nothing to add to what I have already told the Court," he said. "You tell me not to go into details...But I ask the youth who have been tortured by SAVAK to pardon me. Even I was arrested and imprisoned by SAVAK. If life permits me I shall write my memoirs." Khalkhali then asked if there was anything else he wanted to add to which Hoveyda said that he did not. At 5:35pm the prisoner was taken out of the room. As Hoveyda awaited the verdict an Iranian reporter met with him and interviewed him for eight minutes. "What are your feelings about the sentence which will be passed and what do you expect it will be?" asked the reporter. "I don’t care what sentence I will receive," Hoveyda said. "Fortunately, I am imprisoned by Muslims and I am confident that Islamic Justice will prevail." The reporter asked if he considered himself innocent. "No, I don’t consider myself innocent," Hoveyda replied. "I accept full responsibility for my government." Before leaving his cell, the reporter asked Hoveyda if he had any final wish. "Yes," Hoveyda replied. "I am interested in studying different things. During my lifetime I have never gone to sleep at night without first reading a book. Of course, here in prison, I have access to all types of books. I have read all of them. Perhaps you could ask them to bring me another collection!" It was 6:05pm when a panel of seven judges found Hoveyda "guilty" and voted that he be executed. Immediately after the death sentence was pronounced, Khalkhali rushed around the prison ordering all the doors to be locked and the phones disconnected. Within minutes, Hoveyda was dragged out of his cell and driven to the prison yard. In his numerous interviews, Ayatollah Khalkhali boasted that the Shah’s prime minister had offered him a million dollars to extend his life for six more months. Hoveyda was tied to a metal ladder and shot. The first bullets hit him in the neck but did not kill him. He was ordered by his executioner, a mullah by the name of Hadi Ghaffari, to hold up his head. The next bullet hit him in the head. At the time of his murder Amir Abbas Hoveyda was 53. His corpse was then trucked to the city morgue where it was photographed with a few grinning militants standing over him with their automatic weapons. Hoveyda’s body was buried in a secret location.


"Because of the tireless efforts of their Imperial Majesties and
the devotion of the Iranian people to their sovereigns, we have
today, a proud and rich country respected in the world and
envied by its neighbours. May your rule last forever!"

-Hoveyda’s speech in 1976 at the 50th Anniversary
of the Pahlavi dynasty held at the tomb of its
founder Reza Shah I.