elahe boghrat portrait
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Elahe Boghrat
Elahe Boghrat is an author, journalist and Editor In Chief of Kayhan London¹

What do you associate with your earliest memories of your Iranian childhood?

E.B.: The nature of northern Iran, many children and a happy and quiet life.

What made you very happy in your childhood in Iran?

E.: I had a very happy childhood and like almost all children I was happy about sweets, toys and dolls.

You went to school in a period marked by the Shahs and especially his wife Empress Farah Pahlavi great efforts to modernize the Iranian school and education system. How did you experience this time as a student?

E.B.: I enjoyed going to school. My mother was a teacher, my father worked as a school principal, and learning in school made me happy. I attended a girls' school then, and I also remember a private school in my hometown of Sari where my mother taught mixed classes.

How did you experience the protests against the Shah in Iran when you were a young Iranian woman, what was your position regarding these protests then, and what did you learn from the Islamic Revolution?

E.B.: As a young woman, I was politically left-wing and opposed to the Shah. However, I did not participate in protests. I was then studying law at the »Iran National University« in Tehran and there were regular annual student protests against the Shah on the so-called »Students' Day« (December 7).
I did not participate during the Islamic revolution for family reasons, my father was ill with cancer and he was in a hospital in Tehran. When my father died at the age of 49, we went back to Sari and I only followed events on the radio and television. I moved back to Tehran just a few months after the Islamic Revolution and I of course supported a positive revolution, but never an Islamic revolution. I did also not participate in the referendum for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Compared to those days, today, my attitudes have changed a lot because of many experiences.
My parents were not against Islam, but they were very secular and liberal-minded and not religious. We didn't pray or fast at home. I was always against the mullahs, and as a 20-year-old Iranian, I might have then wished for a communist government. That was of course stupid, because later one saw all over the world what was happening in communist countries.
I learned from the Islamic Revolution that a revolution does not always end well.
A revolution can be modern and progressive like the Constitutional Revolution of 1905, but it can also be reactionary and fundamentalist like the Islamic Revolution in February 1979. I also learned that you should always be aware of what you say and what you do especially as a public figure.

When and where did you first work as a journalist?

E.B.: I didn't already work as a journalist in Iran, but only started this work in Germany. In Iran, I lived in hiding with two small children and I had small jobs.
Coming to Germany, alone with my two small children, I first lived in different refugee shelters for three years. Afterwards I learnt German in college and at the Free University.
I studied political science at the university, but my main task was to raise my two children. It was only later that I came into contact with the newspaper Kayhan London.
There was an article in Kayhan featuring interviews with different people and the question was what would they do if history repeats itself again. And I thought, why don't they ask what these people would or should do now! And why should one always think about the past only, that is, what someone would have done then and not presently and today. That's why I wrote something about it, it was published, and that's how my collaboration with Kayhan London started.

When and why did you leave Iran?

E.B.: In 1989 for political reasons. The massacres of political prisoners took place in Gohar-Dasht and Evin prisons at that time. The Iraq-Iran war had just ended and the regime killed many political prisoners. We were then living in hiding and we were also persecuted and at times arrested. After these events we left Iran by car one night, at the border they could not control all the people.

What hopes, wishes and ideas did you have about the West when you left your homeland Iran and how did experience the reality in the West once encountered?

E.B.: To be honest, I thought that the Islamic Republic of Iran would not remain in power for so long and that we would be able to go back. That was our wish, our idea. And it was also our expectation that the Western countries would not support such a brutal regime - something we, however, experienced after the Islamic Revolution. Unfortunately, none of that became true and so we stayed here.
If I compare my life in Iran before 1979 with my life in Germany afterwards, there weren't so many differences. In my student days, I had as a woman in Iran so many freedoms, securities and an abundance of opportunities. I travelled around Iran alone as a young woman, even to small towns and villages, and I never felt unsafe. Especially as a young woman, I was even supported by bus drivers or police officers. And this is something that is really a pity, that this beautiful country was so much destroyed through the Islamic Republic of Iran. Some things in the West were of course more progressive than in Iran, but it will never be anywhere else like in ones own country.

There are few Iranians like Parviz Nikkhah, first being a prominent leader of the student protests against the Shah and then, after his arrest and realizing the insanity of his own attitude and ideology in prison, worked for Iran's national radio and television until 1979. Just three months after the Islamic Revolution, Parviz Nikkhah was executed by Chomeini's henchmen.
To this day, there are former supporters of the Islamic Revolution, especially in Western countries, who gloss over their earlier support for the Islamic Revolution and deny any complicity in the Islamists' seizure of power in Iran. How do you explain this ignorance and lack of self-criticism?

E.B.: I my opinion these are people who are basically against the Pahlavis and the monarchy. At the same time, these people have no concept of democracy.
All opponents of the Pahlavi monarchy, including me as a 20-year-old Iranian, had no idea of democracy and human rights in those days; in that respect, we were blind. And those who still support the Islamic Revolution today do not want to admit that it was an unnecessary revolution. The Shah's regime could really have been changed with reforms, because the Shah himself and his father gave many rights to women.
The Shah and his father never claimed to be democrats and that is why I do not understand why some people still have the expectation today that the Shah would or should establish a democracy in Iran!
Those who are still in favor of the Islamic Revolution today are, in my eyes, people who will not be satisfied until the monarchy is forgotten and who do not care that an Islamic Republic is now in power. These people put their hope in time, that is, that the monarchy and its importance for Iran will be forgotten and come to an end.
But at the same time, they don't know that the monarchy in Iran has a historical and cultural significance that is indispensable for Iranians, even if Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi does not come to power.

Why did the Western governments of USA, France, England and Germany withdraw their support from the Shah?

E.B.: For me, Brzezinski's² »green belt« theory is the explanation for the behavior of Western governments. If the Soviet Union had collapsed ten years earlier, then perhaps the Islamic Revolution in Iran would not have taken place. The Islamic Revolution in Iran was a strategic position for Western countries against the »red danger« of the Soviet Union. And a year before the Islamic Revolution, there was a coup by leftists in Afghanistan. There were interactions between these events.
I have also read in German documents that the German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was against regime change in Iran at the time. Not because Schmidt liked the Shah or the monarchy, but it was his principle not to interfere in other countries' internal policies.

Why is the former Iranian prime minister Mossadegh to these days still elevated into a myth, and to what extent does this elevation directly benefit the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran? And in this context, why does hardly anyone talk about Mossadegh's party colleague Shapour Bakhtiar, the last prime minister of Iran nominated by the Shah before the Islamists took power, whose modern and enlightened views posed such a »threat« to Chomeini that he was brutally murdered by Chomeini's henchmen in exile in France on August 6, 1991?

E.B.: Well, about this Mossadegh story, I have repeatedly, then and now, read the claim in the German media that Mossadegh was »democratically elected.« That was not the case. Mossadegh was proposed by the parliament and the Shah agreed. Mossadegh was also not a republican, but a supporter of the monarchy.
I think all the political literature on Iran has been very much driven by political leftists and is extremely biased against the Shah regime and the Pahlavis.
Shapour Bakhtiar was actually an outsider in the »National Front« and he had a different and own position than the other members of the »National Front«.
And one has to know one thing: Chomeini was such a negative, charismatic figure and nobody in Iran, even in small villages in the countryside, was allowed to say a word against him. The propaganda for Chomeini, especially from Western media e.g. BBC Farsi, was so strong months before the Islamic Revolution and that is why Bakhtiar, who was later assassinated in Paris, appeared as a traitor in the eyes of many people. When you look back today, you see who the real traitor was; not Bakhtiar or Pahlavi, but all the people, groups and parties that supported the Islamic Republic - along with the help of Western countries. The Shah and Mossadegh are both important, national and patriotic figures for Iran, but especially the leftists, the Tudeh Party, the Fedayeen and the Islamists have interpreted and exploited history for themselves.

From the beginning, the rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran have stood for lies, terror, hostage-taking and corruption. Parviz Dastmalchi, a survivor of the Mykonos bombing and later a witness at the trial, has dealt with the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran in numerous writings and describes it simply as the image of the Islamic State (IS) in Shiite form. Why have so many Western journalists refused for years to conduct a thorough analysis of the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran, describing this regime as capable of reform and as a negotiating partner?

E.B.: Perhaps because of their own interests. I also studied German journalism in my university studies and wrote a paper on this subject. Everywhere there are certain »frames« for journalists and they work within these frames.
By this I also mean the so-called »mainstream« media, which try to influence public opinion in a certain political and economic direction. For years I looked through the outputs of this media for the suffering and misery of the people in Iran, by now over 87 million!
Where do I find the truth about the daily life in Iran?! In a reporting, which is only talked about the »reformists« and »hardliners« of the regime? Was there/is there nothing else in all these years than these two wings of the system, which together robbed the country and oppressed the people?! This is a journalistic frame! A frame that comes from the regime and its lobbyists. A frame that has not seen the new generations in Iran and their passion and devotion for historical, cultural and patriotic identity. Their mottos have not been heard; not yet!
Another frame is providing a wrong image of Iran where the exotic nature, beautiful food and also »Hijab« are waiting for tourists not as oppression but as fun. A normal country where tourists can take pictures and post their photos on Instagram! But nothing in Iran is normal! Not the Mullah regime, not the life of the people, nothing is normal there! How then can a medieval state in 21st century create a normal life for a society that does not accept it and is drastically progressive?
Apparently, the West is not interested in this reality. Even the protests, which are brutally put down, are presented here as a kind of »entertainment«: Oh, look at the women and the youth there!
If it were not so, the Western media and politicians should take the necessary care that it does not happen again! And not wait until the people come back to the streets and are brutally beaten down again and again and again...
When in 2009 for example the Green movement started in Iran or last year in regard of the slogan »Woman, Life, Freedom«, many wrote something about it. But apart from that, Iran no longer plays a role in German foreign policy among politicians and the media. The country only becomes interesting for German media and politicians when something happens that cannot be ignored.
At the same time, German companies and German politicians are the biggest trading partner for the Islamic regime within the Western countries. And this has an impact on journalistic reporting, too; there will be hardly anyone in the media who writes about the background in Iran and seeks the truth if he does not get paid for it. But that is precisely our task as German-Iranians, although it is difficult to be heard in the German media.
A few times I wrote to ZEIT, Spiegel and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, I received polite answers, but they are not interested in my point of view.

On the one hand, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi underestimated the power of the political Islam, on the other hand, he quickly recognized the dangerous alliance of Reds (political leftists) and Blacks (clerics) in Iran³. The Islamists around Chomeini could count on the support of the political left, and leftist intellectuals such as Michel Foucault, Jean Paul Sartre, and Ernesto Cardinal made no secret of their sympathy for Chomeini. Until 1979, the political left played the useful idiot for Chomeini; who plays that role for Iran's Islamists today?

E.B.: Today is not like then. Back then, the Islamic Revolution was like a kind of frenzy and no one was aware of what would follow.
But today, after all this brutality, especially in terms of women's rights and human rights, I can't think of anyone who defends after 2009 the Islamic Republic of Iran the way they did in the past. There is only one exception: Iranian parties or political activists who are more against the Pahlavis and the monarchy than against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Sadegh Tabatabai was a close confidant of Chomeini. He studied and worked in Germany, where he supplied the later RAF terrorist Ulrike Meinhof with propaganda material, which she used for her defamations against the Shah. Tabatabai's son Adnan rose to the position of »advisor« to the German Foreign Ministry. Were the connections between the political left and representatives of the mullahs in the past a reason why so many lobbyists of the Islamic Republic of Iran could and can work in different places in the West?

E.B.: I think so.

What are the goals of the mullahs' lobbyists in the West and what strategy do they use to achieve them?

E.B.: Money plays the main role in lobbying and trade with the Islamic Republic of Iran. I say this because, for example, a few months ago, when the situation in Iran came to such a head, even lobby groups like NIAC in the U.S. suddenly signaled approval for the slogan »Woman, Life, Liberty.« Of course, no-one believes them because they are themselves not trustworthy at all. But due to the situation in Iran, the political attitude of the lobbyists is changing, too.
The lobbyists have opportunities that we do not have. They have great financial resources and the state support from the Islamic Republic of Iran, while the dissidents who are against the Islamic Republic do not have such financial resources and opportunities.
The personal and political interest of the lobbyists is to claim that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a »republic« and they want to keep this »republic«, with or without Islam. In no case, however, do they want a monarchy or Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi to return.

Which voice of the Iranian diaspora receives the most support in Iran and why?

E.B.: A few years ago, I would not have said that patriotism, love for the country of Iran and national interest are so strong and in the forefront - something that is not observed and followed by the Islamic Republic - that if there was a referendum in Iran today, Reza Pahlavi's monarchists would have the best chance.

Both the Iranian Empress Farah Pahlavi and her son, Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, want democracy and a free referendum for a new constitution for the future of Iran. At the same time, however, there are radical and fanatical monarchists, and anyone who does not share their unconditional admiration for the monarchy is considered a traitor. How do you classify these people, what is their significance?

E.B.: Of course, they must be taken seriously and they can be dangerous, but as long as the monarchists agree with Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi's position and the supporters are liberals themselves, I see more of a chance for a liberal, democratic Iran - even under a monarchy.

What is the role of the People's Mujahideen (MEK) during the protests following the death of Mahsa Amini, which on the one hand was temporarily listed as a terrorist organization in the West and on the other has good relations with Western politicians?

E.B.: I believe that one should not ignore any party or group and pretend that they do not exist. The People's Mujahideen do exist, but at the same time, they are not popular in the eyes of the people of Iran because of their policies.
However, the People's Mujahideen have money and lobbyists and can pay Western politicians to give speeches at their meetings. But I don't think the MEK will have a chance in the future of Iran because they want all the power while claiming to be democratic. And if the MEK saw Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi and the monarchy as a threat, they would also be more likely to back the Islamic Republic of Iran, along with a few leftist parties that have always been against the Pahlavis and the monarchy, and along with some reformers in Iran.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, there was great support for the protests against the Shah in the left-wing, academic milieu, and German-language reports on the period of the Pahlavi monarchy are often one-sided or tendentious, since the authors usually come from the left-wing milieu and almost without exception until today refuse to engage in self-criticism. In 2016, the American historian Andrew Scott Cooper's book »A Fall of Heaven«⁴ paints a much more differentiated and unbiased picture of the Pahlavi monarchy.
As an exiled Iranian and a journalist, how do you judge the description of the Pahlavi monarchy in the West?

E.B.: Yes, the description of the Pahlavi monarchy in the West is far from the truth and reality and very one-sided.
The new, young generation in Iran is much more advanced in this respect. They compare their situation with the past, even if they didn't experienced it. They see pictures, films, videos from the past and get the memories and family photos shared through their own families - the Islamic Republic could not destroy everything. And that's why young Iranians in Iran are shouting »Pahlavi, come back.«
I am surprised that German journalists do not bother at all to investigate and research this reality in Iran.

In 1942, hundreds of Polish Jewish orphans fleeing from the Shoah found a safe haven in Iran⁵; later, many moved on to Palestine. Under the Shah, there was a strategic partnership with Israel, while Chomeini linked his ideology with anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel. In April 2023, Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi set an example by visiting Israel: »I am traveling to Israel to deliver a message of friendship from the Iranian people, engage Israeli water experts on ways to address the regime's abuse of Iran's natural resources and pay respects to the victims of the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah.« Reza Pahlavi.
As an Iranian, how do you feel when the Shah or his son Crown Prince Reza are referred to as »fascists« on social media today and who could be behind such defamation?

E.B.: Of course this is wrong, neither Reza Pahlavi nor his father are fascists. Such defamations come from the Islamic Republic of Iran and from leftist-oriented people and parties who are still against the Shah regime and the Pahlavis. They are still fighting the old regime and not the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi's trip to Israel was a smart, political gesture and the people of Iran also received this visit very positively.

As a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, it is particularly important for Iran to maintain national unity so that Iran does not follow the example of Iraq, where power was distributed to ethnic and religious identities after the fall of Saddam Hussein, causing massive conflict and problems to this day. What would be the best way to ensure Iran's national unity?

E.B.: Through national solidarity, which in my eyes still exists in Iran today. What we see in the Iranian diaspora abroad is not the true picture of the reality in Iran. There is national solidarity in Iran, including in the Kurdish areas, for example.
The Kurdish parties in Iran all together represent only a minority among the Kurds in Iran and are not representative of the Kurdish population of Iran who live in different provinces in the west but also in the north of the country; for example, you see ordinary people demonstrating with the slogan: »From Kurdistan to Baluchistan, I give my life for Iran.« The danger is that the Kurdish parties will fight each other, and they are capable of doing so because they are armed.
Even after the Islamic Republic of Iran, a new government has to be careful that such armed groups do not cause trouble, and Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi has that ability, so to keep Iran together.

44 years after the Islamic Revolution, many Iranians speak of an »occupied country«. Even if foreign countries were partly responsible for the end of the monarchy and Chomeini's seizure of power, there was a large majority of the Iranian population in favor of Chomeini in 1979. Is this approval of the older generation for the Islamic Republic of Iran a topic that is openly discussed in Iranian families today? How honest are Iranians about their own history?

E.B.: Yes, this is a serious issue in Iranian families. The first slogan in this context, that a mistake was made with the Islamic Revolution, was in Isfahan in the fall of 2017. There, pensioners protested because of their economic situation, and they shouted the slogan that they had made a mistake in the past. And this has been repeated since then.
When ordinary people shout »Pahlavi, come back« today, it means that they call the Islamic Revolution a mistake and this is something what people are talking about. Young people in Iran today reproach their parents in Iran: Why did you do such a thing back then, what were you missing?

Where do you see the biggest blind spots in the Western media when it comes to Iran?

E.B.: That they don't know enough about the Middle East in general and Iran in particular.
In my school days in Iran, I learned a lot about European countries, but with my children I saw that they don't learn anything about Iran in German schools. For example, why did I learn in my school that Düsseldorf is a city in Germany, but no German student knew that there are Tehran, Isfahan or Mashhad in Iran, for example.
And with this ignorance, they dare to talk about us and give advice on how we should live. I see this not only in Germany, but in Western countries as a whole; you have to deal with history. And you don't get this knowledge by just vacationing there.

Are you threatened by the Iranian regime in the West as an Iranian journalist?

E.B.: Not directly, but via mail or messages. When my mother was still living in Iran, the regime told her that I shouldn't write anything against Khamenei and they asked why I didn't come back to Iran, I could write there too! Of course I know what happens and how quickly one is taken hostage and then the release is combined with the highest possible ransom demand.

Can you bring your view of Iran to Western media, do they show interest? Do you still feel in the context of the flood of social media images and texts that your words as a journalist are being heard?

E.B.: Since I write in Persian, I can't judge very well how much interest the German media has in my articles. I have written a few times to ZEIT, Spiegel and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, but something of mine was only published twice as a letter to the editor. For example, once a German journalist wrote complete nonsense about Iran and I wrote to ZEIT that the people in Iran want a regime change and that was mentioned briefly.
Personally, I have not seen the interest of German media in my work. I have also no longer tried.

What do you miss from your Iranian past, especially in the West?

E.B.: My language. I would like to walk on the street and talk in Persian and not in German.
In this context, I would like to say something about the name Iran. In our language there are no articles and Iran is actually a woman's name and I have always wondered why people say in German »der Iran«. Also the new motto »Woman, Life, Freedom« is interesting, funny and contradictory because Iran is a woman, Iran is feminine in itself.

As an Iranian, what brings you joy in exile?

E.B.: Freedom.

08 / 2023


¹ Kayhan London is an Iranian online newspaper in Farsi based in London and was launched by Mostafa Mesbahzadeh in 1983. Mostafa Mesbahzadeh was one of the best-known Iranian newspaper publishers and founded the newspaper Kayhan in Tehran in 1942, which over the years became one of the most important and largest-circulation newspapers in Iran. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the publishing house was taken over by Islamists, who published the newspaper under the same name as ultraconservative, regime propaganda. Kayhan London sees itself as a continuation of Mostafa Mesbahzadeh's original Kayhan newspaper and reports on political, cultural and social issues concerning Iran.
² Zbigniew Brzezinski was National Security Advisor under U.S. President Jimmy Carter and tried to build a protective wall against a possible expansion of the Soviet Union, the so-called green belt, by supporting Islamist militias in the Middle East, e.g. the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan.
³ Mohammad Reza Pahlavi: Answer to History, 1980
⁴ Andrew Scott Cooper: The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran, 2016
⁵ Mikhal Dekel: Tehran Children: A Holocaust Refugee Odyssey. 2019
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