The fourth round of Zamaneh Debates was held on September 21, 2013 in Amsterdam. The topic was “Iran-U.S. Relations: 60 years after the August 19 Coup.” The panel consisted of activists and political analysts Hamid Aghayi, Mehran Barati and Behzad Karimi. Zamaneh editor-in-chief Mohammadreza Nikfar introduced the event with the following introduction about the narrative of the August 19 coup in Iran.
Each year on the occasion of the August 19 Coup (1953), Iranian media publish numerous articles and interviews, and the issue remains a hot topic. This year, marking the 60th anniversary of the coup makes it especially hot. In recent years, debates have focussed on which forces carried out the coup and whether the stories told for many years about the coup, the motives and the responsible players are indeed true. There is no deconstruction of the narrative but it does undergo new interpretations with altered roles. Up to now there has been general consensus that the U.S. and Britain carried out the coup, toppled the national government and returned power to their own agents with the Shah at the apex.
From this starting point, some potential revisionists have appeared, calling for major reconsideration of the figures and the events of this narrative. In this revision, the U.S. and the Pahlavi Court are given some dignity and the Shah has been given a venerable position despite his lowly role in the dominant narrative. It appears that the August 19 coup created an arena in which the battle continues. This is not problematic in and of itself; however, it becomes problematic when individuals or groups begin fighting under false flags. For instance, consider the recent act passed in the Islamic Parliament to collect damages from the perpetrators of the August 19 coup. Are these MPs not in line with members of the Iranian clergy such as Shiekh Fazlollah, Kashani and Khomeini? Clergy members such as Kashani and Boroujerdi were identified as agents of the coup. While they do not hide their grudge against Mossadegh, they mourn the coup. In fact, they should be happy because on the day after the coup, celebrations were held in the homes of the clergy.
The narrative of the August 19 coup is full of distortions and exaggerations. The national forces and even the figure of Mosaddegh himself are part of those distortions. The nation needs a hero. Just as the more religious forces insisted on exaggerating the figure of their own hero, Khomeini, so did the nationalists aggrandize Mosaddegh. They turned Mosaddegh into a champion of democracy, which is not realistic because Mosaddegh’s confrontations with the Pahlavi Court and later with Imperialist powers were not sufficient to justify such a description. Nationalists have shone a strong light on Mosaddegh, which in effect has placed them in his shadow. And whatever falls in the shadow of something else becomes an ineffective, cowardly, perverse and crooked movement filled with contradictions.
The August 19 Coup was a coup of the Cold War era. In fact, we could consider it as a symbol of the Cold War. The era was marked by two opposing or perhaps complementary ideologies: the anti-communist ideology and the anti-Western ideology. The coup was justified by the anti-communist ideology but it resulted in promoting the anti-Western ideology. The latter has a series of identifiers which include opposition to modernity, a distorted focus on imperialism as the foreign enemy and the neglect of internal factors. The Iranian Left was plagued by this ideology and, therefore, found itself at odds with modernity and democracy.
We can continue in this vein to further discuss the disadvantages of this narrative of the August 19 Coup. Note that we are criticizing the story we have been telling ourselves, the one in which we have assumed the role of victim, and the one we keep telling and retelling and feeling sorry for ourselves.
This narrative cannot be dismissed by reference to historical documents. Historians cannot break the spell of its power. It has to be deconstructed from different perspectives; it has to be critiqued as an ideology. Such a critique may let us better understand our situation, including our current relation to the United States and the kind of relations we would like to develop with it in the future.