interview with Kourosh Zaim, an Iranian political activist
member of Iran National Front central council
June 6, 2008
"How long have you been advocating democratic reform
A: Well, I like to think I have been active since 1953, when
I was close to the Iran National Front major personalities due to my grand
uncle and my father’s close association with them and the democratic movement.
During my college years in the United Sates and many years after that, I was
among the active and outspoken critiques of the former regime in Iran. Upon my
return to Iran in 1975, I was considered a dissident until 1979, when I
rejoined the post revolution Iran National Front. Ever since, I have been one
of the most outspoken and most active member of Iran National Front and as an Islamic Republic dissident and
"What do you see as the main obstacles to democracy, back in the 1970s
A: Back in the 70’s the American support of Shah’s regime
out of fear of communism, emboldened Shah in his autocratic reign to put
pressure on democratic forces in Iran. He banned their activities and often
jailed its leaders. As the result, religious forces well-known for their opposition
to communism, found open field for propaganda, recruitment and organizing.
Young energetic members of the democratic political organizations, who disliked
inactivity, broke away and formed rebellious and armed socialist-Islamist
militant groups behind the opportunist clergy. Thus, Shah created his own
enemies and so his own downfall; whereas, if he had allowed peaceful activity
of democratic opposition, the impatient youth would have been guided by wise
and farsighted leaders and would have never been attracted to the traditionally
timid and opportunist clergy.
Now, the clerical regime of Islamic Republic, after 30 years
of theocratic rule, has proven its inability to reach but a very small and
backward segment of the population. This regime also suppressed the democratic voices
in the country but with much more brutality than its predecessor. However, the
information explosion of the 90’s and the current communications revolution has
made it helpless in keeping the democratic opposition voices from being heard.
Furthermore, the ever-strengthening of the international organizations and
pro-activeness of the international community in support of democracy and
accountability has put the current regime on the defensive.
"Do you see the United States as a model for democracy?"
A: No country is a utopian model for democracy except maybe for
its own people. Democracy is always on the path of change toward improvement. A
democratic system must be democratic for the people it governs. That’s why we
see somewhat different interpretations of how democracy should be
institutionalized in different cultures. I consider freedom of choice and
respect to the rights of others democracy.
"You have two sons in the U.S., is that correct?"
A: Yes. My two elder sons Turaj and Bijan are now in the
United States. They were born in Iran, but were sent out of the country when
they were 6 and 4, respectively.
"They escaped with their mother during the war with
Iraq. Why did you not go with them? Did you
know of their escape?"
A: After the revolution, I was very active in opposition
politics within the framework of Iran National Front. I was appointed to a
five-member committee for writing of the INF platform and another committee for
writing the by-laws. A position I have been repeatedly elected to since then.
In addition, my articles criticizing the current policies were published
widely. I had also formed a think tank in the name of “
Iran Center for
Thought and Speech: for shaping the future of Iran” in which we planned to
research and map out Iran’s future.
In addition, I had researched and written a book in 1980 called
Where Is the Soviet Empire Going?” in which I had analyzed facts about
the Soviet system and predicted that it would disintegrate in about 10-12
years. I had also predicted independence of eastern European, Caucasian and
Central Asian countries within two years hence. The book was first published in
Mizan daily newspaper as a serial. In those years, Iran Communist Tudeh Party
was very influential and had infiltrated all aspects of the Islamic Republic governmental
organizations. The paper Mizan was banned and revolutionary guards attacked its
offices and put it to fire. Later the
book was published by a brave publisher who believed in me. Bookstores were
attacked or threatened not to display or sell the book. The publisher had to
turn 7,000 copies out of 10,000 it had printed into pulp. Communist Party paper
attacked me in a center spread. During all this time the Persian service of Radio
Moscow was continuously blasting against me, calling me a self professed
theoretician who talks about the future of Soviet Union without knowing
anything about it and who is preventing friendly relationship develop between
the two brother countries.
In response, I sent a message to Radio Moscow,
which was published in at least one newspaper. In this message I told them that
I am not afraid of their threats and that I will do whatever I can to protect
the interests of my country. I told them that they didn’t any talents but to
threaten and terrorize, so they should go ahead and do what they’re good at and
I will do what I am good at.
I had also written a long two-issue article in another newspaper
warning the uninformed, politically illiterate and outdated clerical hierarchy
of the communist infiltrators acting as their advisors and making decisions for
them. The paper, “Edalat”, was later closed and its chief editor jailed.
Another article that caused trouble was one for a very popular magazine “Black
and White”. In that article I had explained my research about Ayatollah Khomeini’s
thoughts and beliefs. I had claimed that unlike what his current promises of
democracy and non-involvement of the clergy in government, he is planning a
theocracy based on total religious control of the society. The magazine was
attacked and put to fire.
When Soviets attacked Afghanistan, not one activist dared to
protest and sign a declaration of opposition except an Afghan resistance
commander who brough the request from Shah Masoud, Dr. Gholamhossein Seddiqi, one
of INF leaders, a leader of a political group associated with late ayatollah Shariatmadari
and myself. Three months into Afghanistan invasion, I wrote an article
expressing the opinion that the Russians will be bogged down in Afghanistan for
12-13 years and be forced to leave in defeat just like Americans did in Viet
Nam. I also wrote another article criticizing Iran’s revolutionary policies and
predicted that soon we will be bogged down in a protracted border war with
Iraq. Nine months later, Iraq attacked Iran.
All this had made me very unpopular with the regime and its
allies. I was threatened several times. My wife’s bi-lingual school in Tehran,
best in Middle East was raided by machine gun wielding RGs, confiscated and
ransacked. Our street was once site of RGs midnight shooting spree in the air.
One night the shooting behind our house walls was so violent and prolonged that
I took my wife and children to the boiler room, spread blankets and hid them
behind the boiler until morning. I myself returned to the bedroom and opened
the curtains so they could see me lying down unconcerned. I was hiding my fear,
of course.They also repeatedly threatened my family, arrested and detained my
wife for a few hours and tried every which way to scare me even though
threatening the children.
One day the incumbent head of Iran Central Bank called me
and advised that I should hide for a while for there is plan to arrest or assassinate
me. I told him that I don’t hide. He then asked me at least not to go to my
office for a few months and offered his own home office in the basement of his
sister’s house. I accepted and spent my office hours in his basement, but went
home every night. After 2 or 3 months I got tired of seclusion and went back to
my office. It took no more than two weeks before I was arrested in my office and
taken to the infamous Evin prison. My experience in Evin prison is a story all
by itself. Soon after, they also arrested both my younger brothers, one a communist
group theoretician- leader and one a student activist. This was 1983 when some
two dozen other INF activists were also in prison or being arrested. Evidently,
I was supposed to be executed in prison; however, after the communist Tudeh party
fell out of favor with Ayatollah Khomeini and their leaders arrested, I
survived and released after some 4 or 5 months.
Before my imprisonment, when threats against me were
becoming more frequent and obvious, some armed political groups offered
assistance to protect me and/or to take my family to safety. One was the
Armenian nationalists who promised protection of my family and transporting of
them outside the country in case of my arrest or death. Soon after my arrest,
my wife and two sons of 6 and 4 were zipped out of the country with the
assistance of Turkish ambassador in Iran, with whom we were friends, and help of
our Kurdish fellow countrymen on horseback though and over the snowy mountains
into Turkey. This must have been one the most dangerous trips and the most
frightening experiences my family had to endure. In Turkey, they were received by the Turkish
Ambassador who arranged for their flight to the United States.
"They have not visited you since then--do you
believe it will be safe for them to visit soon, or is it a bad idea because of
who their father is?"
A: No, but I had the opportunity to visit them a few time in
between periods when I was banned from leaving the country. Last time I saw
them, they were 12 and 10. Yes, I believe it will be safe now for them to visit
Iran except that they might be under scrutiny. But, now, any inconvenience
caused them will be so widely publicized that it would not counterproductive
for the regime.
"Your eldest son is a poet or musician, and an
activist of sorts. Do you feel you imparted some of your ideals to him
before he left? What did you try to teach your children at that young
A: Yes. My eldest is a highly talented poet and. He used to
write poems when in grammar school so advanced for his age that would boggle
the mind. He has perfected a talent I tried to achieve when young, but didn’t go
far with it. My second son is also a educated and very much talented in
theatre, writing plays and directing.
"What is your hope for Iran-U.S. relations and what
do you think is the best path for the lion and the eagle?"
A: Normalization of relations between Iran and America is inevitable. We have
suffered much for our mismanagement of foreign policy and must correct our
course very soon. Over the past 30 years we have fallen behind times equivalent
of a century or more. We cannot make up the loss, even running at top speed
using all resources, sooner than a quarter century. And, for that we have to
make friends with every country in the world.
"Do you have hope for new dialogue if
Senator Obama is elected president of the U.S.?"
A: It doesn’t matter who
the American president is as long as Islamic Republic is running the country.
If dialogue means support for the current system and for their longevity, I
don’t believe it will happen. I hope things will begin to change course before
Obama becomes president, which seems unlikely.
June 6, 2008