FLIGHT INTO DARKNESS: A POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY OF SHAPOUR BAKHTIAR

The political life of Shapour Bakhtiar, the last prime minister of the monarchical regime in Iran, is tied to our historical destiny.  From his childhood in the midst of a nomadic tribe, his teenage years and young adulthood in Beirut and Paris, and his political struggles in the Iran Party (Hezb-e Iran) and the National Front of Iran (Jebheh-ye Melli-ye Iran) to his confrontation with Mohammad Reza Shah and Ayatollah Khomeyni, each is emblematic of a past that has left a lasting impact on our time. This is a time during which, in a sense, the battle between freedom and despotism formed the personality of such a politician as Bakhtiar and made him for some the distinct symbol of resistance against the autocracy of religion and state.  In a different sense, however, the tragic end of Bakhtiar also is a mirror of a time that, like a vicious circle, has left an indelible mark on our historical memory of little more than murder and exile, or incarceration and migration.  In this sense, Bakhtiar is the offspring of his own time and was nurtured in his own time.

In a discussion of Bakhtiar’s political life, his acceptance of the position of the prime minister on the threshold of the revolution has a special place. Many have considered the reason for this decision, to the extent that it relates to his character and individual characteristics, to be related to his ambition.  Bakhtiar, however, without any false humility, considered ambition “the engine of a political man.”  Hence, he saw no need to refute such a characteristic, nor to consider it incorrect. Nevertheless, he regarded the main reason for his decision to accept a position of responsibility under those critical conditions to be his increasing concern over the future that threatened Iran. Years before rising in opposition to Ayatollah Khomeyni, he considered courage and frankness to be an important factor in political life and said:  “The problem is that some people in all stages of their lives pursue a comfortable and peaceful social situation and at the same time prefer residence in Paradise to all alternatives of life…  In any case, every country needs pious and patriotic individuals; but such pious and patriotic individuals will not bring this ship to shore.  A number of strong and willful individuals are necessary.”

From the time he stepped into the arena of politics, because of his individual and family strengths, Bakhtiar enjoyed the possibility of making what he called political ambition a reality by setting aside his own beliefs.  His kinship with Sorayya Esfandiyari, the Shah’s second wife, and Teymur Bakhtiar, the head of the Organization of National Intelligence and Security (SAVAK), was an advantage, in each case, one that could pave his way to the peak of fame and power.  Because of the values he believed in, however, he turned away from all this. In the early days after the fall of Mosaddeq’s cabinet in August 1953, he refused the offer of membership in Zahedi’s cabinet; and on the threshold of the revolution, when he saw that gaining power by the National Front was within reach, despite all his disagreements with Allahyar Saleh, he regarded him as the right nominee for the position of prime minister.  At another opportunity, Bakhtiar made every effort to ensure the premiership of Karim Sanjabi; and when the name of Gholamhoseyn Sadiqi for that position was being mentioned, he spoke well of him with the Shah.  Finally, when he saw that the existence of his homeland was being threatened, like a fearless leader, he stepped into the arena, and with courage that stemmed from his self-confidence and tribal lineage, like a “storm petrel,” he hurried in the direction of an ill-fated battle, a storm petrel flying into darkness.