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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Because The Past is the Present, and the Future too...

This Columbus Day weekend, California will celebrate the centennial of women gaining the right to vote.  On October 10, 1911, California passed a state constitutional referendum giving women the right to vote, nine years before passage of the U.S. constitution's 19th amendment. The California state referendum passed by only 2 percentage points. I have read about the amount of effort that women put to pass the measure.  I was trying to find that story, about women getting up early on October 10, 1911 to go to neighboring small towns to encourage everyone to vote, but I couldn't find it on Internet. Below is my reflections on women's right to vote. The brutal treatment of suffragettes in the Occoquan prison in November of 1917 moved me to write the following essay:

Because the past is the present, and the future too…
            "They hurled D-L into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, A-C, thought D-L was dead and suffered a heart attack.  Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.  And by the end of the night, they were barely alive.  Forty prison guards wielding clubs... went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.' They beat L-B, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.”

Reading this chilling passage, one would think it describes an episode from a violent movie, taking place in a remote part of the world. But this is not a scene from a Third World country under paramilitary rule, or the treatment of terrorist suspects.  This is Washington, D.C., and the women being beaten so savagely are Dora Lewis and her colleagues who were arrested for picketing in front of the White House on November 15, 1917.  These brutal beatings and mistreatment, recorded in the annals of history, took place at the Occoquan Workhouse (prison) in Virginia, where it was reported that the warden ordered his guards to teach the women a lesson for demonstrating their right to vote during president Woodrow Wilson's term in office.  

Do a quick Internet search for "November 15, l917," and you will find many reports about this "Night of Terror,” which resulted in the deaths of several influential suffragettes".  It boggles the mind that such inhumane treatment towards women occurred in the history of the world's greatest democracy: the United States. After the "Night of Terror," Alice Paul, the architect of the Suffragists movement, embarked on a hunger strike to protest the grotesque conditions of the Occoquan prison. She was moved to the psychiatric ward and raw eggs were force-fed down her throat through a plastic tube. How painful! How disgusting!  She was tortured like this for weeks until word got out to the press. (The movie "Iron Jawed Angels" is a remarkable tale chronicling the struggles of the Suffragists. It Portraits Hillary Swank as Alice Paul, who put her life on the line to fight for American Women's Right to vote. Do a favor to yourself and watch the movie.  It's impeccable)
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Whereas in America women’s right to vote had to be fought for – in Iran it was given to the people, by the Shah, as one of the measures aimed at modernizing the country. It was in 1963 when the Shah of Iran extended the Right to Vote to Iranian women through a series of reforms known as "The White Revolution." Why was this important mandate – bestowing on women the right to vote – not publicized enough and why was the Shah, instead, widely criticized throughout the Western world for being a despotic ruler?

I remember when I was in the 8th grade, our Armenian teacher asked us to write a letter to an imaginary friend and tell her about the way we lived in Iran.  My best friend, Shakeh who has no memory of it, wrote about the newly passed White Revolution.  When she was reading the letter out loud to the class, I thought to myself, "how smart and intelligent she is to think of writing on that subject!"  Everybody else, including myself, had written about our day-to-day lives.  

But when she finished reading her letter in class, to my amazement, the teacher scolded her for writing about an irrelevant subject.  To this day, it puzzles me.  Why did she scold her?  Was it because she had anti-Shah sentiments or maybe she really thought it was irrelevant to the assignment?  In Iran most Armenians were pro-Shah.  A small number belonged to the Tudeh party, which was an underground group of activists, leaning toward Communistic ideals.  Now, thinking back, maybe she belonged to the Tudeh party. Who knows at this late date?  

But why touch on events that happened so long ago and why reminisce on how America brought the Shah down by criticizing his regime?  Because history repeats itself… America prides itself in being the world’s “moral compass,” forgetting its own “dirty laundry.” Perhaps if Alice Paul didn't have her mouth full she could have told us a little bit about the ethics she learned at Occoquan prison.

Somebody told me, "Americans don't warm up when they hear an immigrant, like me, talking about the mistakes of the government." But Now that I have the plume (pen) in my hand, I would like to write about America's mistakes and how the CIA - America's Central Intelligence Agency - brought about the Shah's so-called "Crime Machine" Yes, CIA created the Shah's "crime machine" by using the same techniques used in disciplining Alice Paul.
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Here is the story: Kermit Roosevelt Jr., the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, a CIA agent, in 1953, masterminded Operation Ajax, which was a covert operation to create a coup d'état in Iran against Prime Minister Mossadegh, who had taken the power in his hand and had forced the young Shah to flee the country.  Operation Ajax, aimed at re-installing of the Shah back on the throne, was funded by CIA and British intelligence, because they feared that Iran being neighbors with USSR, could very well be in the verge of becoming Communist if Prime minister Mossadegh, known to be a left-of-center liberal, was at the helm.

(NOTE: – comments by Ken Fermoyle –I don't recall that he was accused of being a Communist. And I always thought that his move to nationalize the oil industry was the prime cause of his being deposed, just as oil played a part in the later revolution – and was the key hidden factor in the invasion of Iraq. [It is significant that Rumsfeld played a big role in both cases] Am I wrong in this? – K.Fermoyle)

It is said that the Shah after regaining his throne, had told Roosevelt, "I owe my throne to God, my people, my army - and to you (meaning Kermit Roosevelt)." Growing up, I always heard the expression that the Shah was a "Puppet" of the United States, which at a young age I couldn't understand the meaning of it.  Now, I know what it means. 

CIA, by operation Ajax, re-installed the young Shah as a ruler of Iran and prevented the country slipping into communist regime and in turn the Shah promised his allegiance to America by cooperating with CIA to eliminate any remaining groups that were towards the left.  Thus CIA started an intelligence service in Iran called SAVAK Sazeman-e Ettela'at va Amniyat-e Keshvar , meaning National Intelligence and Security Organization.  So, SAVAK, the notorious “crime-machine” of the Shah, was funded by CIA.   Soon, Iranians were trained as secret agents and were taught on how to capture dissidents of the government and how to interrogate and penalize them.  Operation Ajax remains as one of the greatest successes of United States’ foreign policy.  CIA had allocated One million dollar for the operation from which only $100,000 was spent. I clearly remember hearing this statement by my own ears in 1979 when we were in the United States and watching on TV the re-runs of archival documentaries about the 1953 coup d'état of Dr. Mossadeq in Iran.

(NOTE: – comments, by Ken Fermoyle – I have to say that I'm not sure Iran would have “slipped into communism” under Mossadegh. Yes, he socialized the oil industry but I believe it was because Iran for years had received too little income for its own oil. I think that British oil interests (later backed up by the U.S. When Eisenhower became president) were more concerned about losing their grip on Iran's oil & the huge profits it brought them than Iran going communist. But then, that was during the Cold War when some Americans saw a communist under every bed. I read one account that talked about “Mosaddegh's open disgust with socialism...” I agree that the Shah did many good things. But I don't think Mosaddegh was a communist villain “moving toward communism,” as Winston Churchill claimed. K.F.)

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Ironically, America who had installed the Shah back to the throne in 1953, 25 years later in 1978, helped the opposition to bring him down. The excuse, under then President Carter was the despotic rule of the Shah and the inhumane treatment of his people.

That was the excuse, but the real issue was the “oil.”  I read an article in LA Times (10/17/08), about America’s role in the 1979 Iranian Revolution.  The report, based on Andrew Scott Cooper’s research of declassified documents, reveals that contrary to historians and analysts who attributed the fall of the Shah to President Carter, the plan to destabilize Iran was hatched by Donald Rumsfeld, an aid to President Gerald Ford in early 1970’s.

Today I see an eerie resemblance of the war in Iraq and the Islamic revolution of Iran.  The insurgence of Iraq by Americans is like a rerun of Iranian Islamic Revolution by different cast of characters.  

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With a little research on Internet I came upon a picture taken in 1983 which showed Mr. Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein.  The caption says “Is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld an evildoer? If not, then what is he doing shaking hands with Saddam Hussein.” Ms. Joyce Battle, an analyst for Middle Eastern affairs and the director of publications at the National Security Archive reveals the secret.

According to Ms. Battle, in 1982 United States and Iraq renewed their relations and the State Department removed Iraq from the list of countries that supported terrorism.  The reason was that in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988).  Iraq invaded Iran on September 1980 and by June of 1982 it was clear that Iran was on the offensive. The United States, which had broken off relations with Iran due to the hostage crisis, disliked the idea of Iran winning the war. It began supporting Iraq by furnishing weapons. Twenty years later, President Bush invades Iraq saying that Iraq is a threat to the security of America. One can only be awe-stricken at seeing the exact same scenario as played out earlier in American politics.
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My kids often ask me, “Mom, why do you get so emotional when remembering the Shah, and his family?”  I hope this can serve as an answer.  Recently, I received an email with old pictures of the Shah and his family, I forward it to a friend and I got this line back. “I think Farrah is so elegant, so beautiful and so calm and poised – a real queen. I thought the Shah was very handsome too.  He died homeless - very sad.”  Yes it is sad to see how a great chapter came to a close

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