Bazargan and the Provisional Government
Mehdi Bazargan became the first prime minister of the revolutionary
regime in February 1979. Bazargan, however, headed a government
that controlled neither the country nor even its own bureaucratic
apparatus. Central authority had broken down. Hundreds of semi-independent
revolutionary committees, not answerable to central authority,
were performing a variety of functions in major cities and towns
across the country. Factory workers, civil servants, white-collar
employees, and students were often in control, demanding a say
in running their organizations and choosing their chiefs. Governors,
military commanders, and other officials appointed by the prime
minister were frequently rejected by the lower ranks or local
inhabitants. A range of political groups, from the far left to
the far right, from secular to ultra-Islamic, were vying for political
power, pushing rival agendas, and demanding immediate action from
the prime minister. Clerics led by Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti
established the Islamic Republican Party (IRP). The party emerged
as the organ of the clerics around Khomeini and the major political
organization in the country. Not to be outdone, followers of more
moderate senior cleric Shariatmadari established the Islamic People's
Republican Party (IPRP) in 1979, which had a base in Azarbaijan,
Shariatmadari's home province.
Moreover, multiple centers of authority emerged within the government.
As the supreme leader, Khomeini did not consider himself bound
by the government. He made policy pronouncements, named personal
representatives to key government organizations, established new
institutions, and announced decisions without consulting his prime
minister. The prime minister found he had to share power with
the Revolutionary Council, which Khomeini had established in January
1979 and which initially was composed of clerics close to Khomeini,
secular political leaders identified with Bazargan, and two representatives
of the armed forces. With the establishment of the provisional
government, Bazargan and his colleagues left the council to form
the cabinet. They were replaced by Khomeini aides from the Paris
period, such as Abolhassan Bani Sadr and Sadeq Qotbzadeh, and
by protégés of Khomeini's clerical associates. The cabinet was
to serve as the executive authority. But the Revolutionary Council
was to wield supreme decision- making and legislative authority.
Differences quickly emerged between the cabinet and the council
over appointments, the role of the revolutionary courts and other
revolutionary organizations, foreign policy, and the general direction
of the Revolution. Bazargan and his cabinet colleagues were eager
for a return to normalcy and rapid reassertion of central authority.
Clerics of the Revolutionary Council, more responsive to the Islamic
and popular temper of the mass of their followers, generally favored
more radical economic and social measures. They also proved more
willing and able to mobilize and to use the street crowd and the
revolutionary organizations to achieve their ends.
In July 1979, Bazargan obtained Khomeini's approval for an arrangement
he hoped would permit closer cooperation between the Revolutionary
Council and the cabinet. Four clerical members of the council
joined the government, one as minister of interior and three others
as undersecretaries of interior, education, and defense, while
Bazargan and three cabinet colleagues joined the council. (All
eight continued in their original positions as well.) Nevertheless,
Even while attempting to put in place the institutions of the
new order, the revolutionaries turned their attention to bringing
to trial and punishing members of the former regime whom they
considered responsible for carrying out political repression,
plundering the country's wealth, implementing damaging economic
policies, and allowing foreign exploitation of Iran. A revolutionary
court set to work almost immediately in the school building in
Tehran where Khomeini had set up his headquarters. Revolutionary
courts were established in provincial centers shortly thereafter.
The Tehran court passed death sentences on four of the shah's
generals on February 16, 1979; all four were executed by firing
squad on the roof of the building housing Khomeini's headquarters.
More executions, of military and police officers, SAVAK agents,
cabinet ministers, Majlis deputies, and officials of the shah's
regime, followed on an almost daily basis.
The activities of the revolutionary courts became a focus of
intense controversy. On the one hand, left-wing political groups
and populist clerics pressed hard for "revolutionary justice"
for miscreants of the former regime. On the other hand, lawyers'
and human rights' groups protested the arbitrary nature of the
revolutionary courts, the vagueness of charges, and the absence
of defense lawyers. Bazargan, too, was critical of the courts'
activities. At the prime minister's insistence, the revolutionary
courts suspended their activities on March 14, 1979. On April
5, new regulations governing the courts were promulgated. The
courts were to be established at the discretion of the Revolutionary
Council and with Khomeini's permission. They were authorized to
try a variety of broadly defined crimes, such as "sowing corruption
on earth," "crimes against the people," and "crimes against the
Revolution." The courts resumed their work on April 6. On the
following day, despite international pleas for clemency, Hoveyda,
the shah's prime minister for twelve years, was put to death.
Attempts by Bazargan to have the revolutionary courts placed under
the judiciary and to secure protection for potential victims through
amnesties issued by Khomeini also failed. Beginning in August
1979, the courts tried and passed death sentences on members of
ethnic minorities involved in antigovernment movements. Some 550
persons had been executed by the time Bazargan resigned in November
1979. Bazargan had also attempted, but failed, to bring the revolutionary
committees under his control. The committees, whose members were
armed, performed a variety of duties. They policed neighborhoods
in urban areas, guarded prisons and government buildings, made
arrests, and served as the execution squads of the revolutionary
tribunals. The committees often served the interests of powerful
individual clerics, revolutionary personalities, and political
groups, however. They made unauthorized arrests, intervened in
labor-management disputes, and seized property. Despite these
abuses, members of the Revolutionary Council wanted to bring the
committees under their own control, rather than eliminate them.
With this in mind, in February 1979 they appointed Ayatollah Mohammad
Reza Mahdavi-Kani head of the Tehran revolutionary committee and
charged him with supervising the committees countrywide. Mahdavi-Kani
dissolved many committees, consolidated others, and sent thousands
of committeemen home. But the committees, like the revolutionary
courts, endured, serving as one of the coercive arms of the revolutionary
In May 1979 Khomeini authorized the establishment of the Pasdaran
(Pasdaran-e Enghelab-e Islami, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
or Revolutionary Guards--see Special and Irregular Armed Forces
, ch. 5). The Pasdaran was conceived by the men around Khomeini
as a military force loyal to the Revolution and the clerical leaders,
as a counterbalance for the regular army, and as a force to use
against the guerrilla organizations of the left, which were also
arming. Disturbances among the ethnic minorities accelerated the
expansion of the Pasdaran.
Two other important organizations were established in this formative
period. In March Khomeini established the Foundation for the Disinherited
(Bonyad-e Mostazafin--see Treatment of Veterans and Widows , ch.
5). The organization was to take charge of the assets of the Pahlavi
Foundation and to use the proceeds to assist low-income groups.
The new foundation in time came to be one of the largest conglomerates
in the country, controlling hundreds of expropriated and nationalized
factories, trading firms, farms, and apartment and office buildings,
as well as two large newspaper chains. The Crusade for Reconstruction
(Jihad-e Sazandegi or Jihad), established in June, recruited young
people for construction of clinics, local roads, schools, and
similar facilities in villages and rural areas. The organization
also grew rapidly, assuming functions in rural areas that had
previously been handled by the Planning and Budget Organization
(which replaced the Plan Organization in 1973) and the Ministry
Trouble broke out among the Turkomans, the Kurds, and the Arabic-speaking
population of Khuzestan in March 1979 (see Peoples and Languages
, ch. 2). The disputes in the Turkoman region of Gorgan were over
land rather than claims for Turkoman cultural identity or autonomy.
Representatives of left-wing movements, active in the region,
were encouraging agricultural workers to seize land from the large
landlords. These disturbances were put down, but not without violence.
Meanwhile, in Khuzestan, the center of Iran's oil industry, members
of the Arabic-speaking population organized and demanded a larger
share of oil revenues for the region, more jobs for local inhabitants,
the use of Arabic as a semi-official language, and a larger degree
of local autonomy. Because Arab states, including Iraq, had in
the past laid claim to Khuzestan as part of the "Arab homeland,"
the government was bound to regard an indigenous movement among
the Arabic-speaking population with suspicion. The government
also suspected that scattered instances of sabotage in the oil
fields were occurring with Iraqi connivance. In May 1979, government
forces responded to these disturbances by firing on Arab demonstrators
in Khorramshahr. Several demonstrators were killed; others were
shot on orders of the local revolutionary court. The government
subsequently quietly transferred the religious leader of the Khuzestan
Arabs, Ayatollah Mohammad Taher Shubayr al Khaqani, to Qom, where
he was kept under house arrest. These measures ended further protests.
The Kurdish uprising proved more deep-rooted, serious, and durable.
The Kurdish leaders were disappointed that the Revolution had
not brought them the local autonomy they had long desired. Scattered
fighting began in March 1979 between government and Kurdish forces
and continued after a brief cease-fire; attempts at negotiation
proved abortive. One faction, led by Ahmad Muftizadeh, the Friday
prayer leader in Sanandaj, was ready to accept the limited concessions
offered by the government, but the Kurdish Democratic Party, led
by Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu, and a more radical group led by Shaykh
Ezz ad Din Husaini issued demands that the authorities in Tehran
did not feel they could accept. These included the enlargement
of the Kordestan region to include all Kurdish-speaking areas
in Iran, a specified share of the national revenue for expenditure
in the province, and complete autonomy in provincial administration.
Kurdish was to be recognized as an official language for local
use and for correspondence with the central government. Kurds
were to fill all local government posts and to be in charge of
local security forces. The central government would remain responsible
for national defense, foreign affairs, and central banking functions.
Similar autonomy would be granted other ethnic minorities in the
country. With the rejection of these demands, serious fighting
broke out in August 1979. Khomeini, invoking his powers as commander
in chief, used the army against other Iranians for the first time
since the Revolution. No settlement was reached with the Kurds
during Bazargan's prime ministership.
Because the Bazargan government lacked the necessary security
forces to control the streets, such control passed gradually into
the hands of clerics in the Revolutionary Council and the IRP,
who ran the revolutionary courts and had influence with the Pasdaran,
the revolutionary committees, and the club-wielding hezbollahis
(see Glossary), or "partisans of the party of God." The clerics
deployed these forces to curb rival political organizations. In
June the Revolutionary Council promulgated a new press law and
began a crackdown against the proliferating political press. On
August 8, 1979, the revolutionary prosecutor banned the leading
left-wing newspaper, Ayandegan. Five days later hezbollahis
broke up a Tehran rally called by the National Democratic Front,
a newly organized left-of-center political movement, to protest
the Ayandegan closing. The Revolutionary Council then
proscribed the front itself and issued a warrant for the arrest
of its leader. Hezbollahis also attacked the headquarters
of the Fadayan organization and forced the Mojahedin to evacuate
their headquarters. On August 20, forty-one opposition papers
were proscribed. On September 8, the two largest newspaper chains
in the country, Kayhan and Ettelaat, were expropriated and transferred
to the Foundation for the Disinherited.
In June and July 1979, the Revolutionary Council also passed
a number of major economic measures, whose effect was to transfer
considerable private sector assets to the state. It nationalized
banks, insurance companies, major industries, and certain categories
of urban land; expropriated the wealth of leading business and
industrial families; and appointed state managers to many private
industries and companies.
Data as of December 1987