The Iranian Oral History Project was launched at the Harvard Center for Middle
Eastern Studies in the autumn of 1981/1360. The project provides scholars studying
the contemporary political history of Iran with primary source material consisting
of personal accounts of individuals who either played major roles in important
political events and decisions from the 1920s to the 1970's (1299-1359) or witnessed
these events from close range.
To select the narrators, we prepared a list of major players in Iranian politics.
This included the names of four former chiefs of the State Intelligence and
Security Organization (SAVAK). By the time we began our interviews, however,
none of the former chiefs was alive. The organization’s first head, General
Teymour Bakhtiar (1957-61), had been assassinated by his own former agents in
1970. The second director, General Hassan Pakravan (1961-65), was executed in
1979 by the revolutionary court. The third and fourth chiefs, Generals Nematollah
Nassiri (1965-78) and Nasser Moghadam (1978-79), were also executed by the new
We therefore turned to the second tier of SAVAK officials, and interviewed
General Hassan Alavi-Kia who had worked closely with the first two security
chiefs. At the end of every interview we always asked the narrator for names
of others in his or her field who could offer further insight into events we
had discussed. When I put this question to General Alavi-Kia, he strongly recommended
Mrs. Fatemeh Pakravan, the widow of his former chief. The general considered
her to be extremely intelligent, perceptive, and knowledgeable woman who would
be of great value to our endeavor.
When I met Mrs. Pakravan, I learned that she and her husband had developed
a partnership unusual for Iranian couples of their generation. Even though he
did not talk of state secrets with her, he nevertheless discussed his own concerns
and solicited her advice. As a result, during their four decades of marriage,
she was aware of many important events, decisions, and discussions. Moreover,
her own career outside the home and her great interest in public affairs enabled
her to remember details of these observations, which she candidly told us. We
are grateful to her for giving us an intimate glimpse into the inner circle
of Iran’s political elite and providing us with the context in which events
Background of Fatemeh Pakravan
Fatemeh Pakravan was the daughter of Javad Farifteh and Olya Brilevski, who
was half Polish and half Russian. Her parents met in Tiflis, Georgia, in 1917,
during the Russian revolution. After her parents married, they moved to Iran,
where in Rasht, in 1918/1297, Fatemeh was born. Sometime later, the family moved
to Tehran, enabling Fatemeh to attend Jeanne D’Arc, a French school.
When Fatemeh was only ten years old, her parents divorced and she and her sister,
Narguesse, accompanied their father to France. Initially she was enrolled at
Pension Saint Honore d’Eylau, a Paris convent, and then at a public school.
Upon completing high school, she pursued paramedical studies. On her return
to Iran, she met Captain Hassan Pakravan in the summer of 1940, and married
him the following February.
Mrs. Pakravan maintained a diverse career while raising four children. This
practice was highly unusual for an Iranian woman in the 1940s. She was director
of the Najmiyeh Hospital and head of maternity at the Bank Melli Hospital, teacher
of French at the Institute for Foreign Languages of Tehran University, head
of planning and development of the National Tourist Organization, and an active
member of the Red Lion and Sun Association (Iran’s Red Cross).
Brief Biography of General Pakravan
Hassan Pakravan, son of Fathollah and Emineh, was born in Tehran on 4 August
1911 (13 Mordad 1290). His father held many high government posts, including
governor of Khorasan and ambassador to Italy. His mother, partly of European
descent, was a professor at the University of Tehran. She was awarded the prestigious
French Prix Rivarol, which the French government gives to foreign authors who
write directly in French.
As a child, Pakravan accompanied his parents to Cairo, where his father was
appointed diplomatic agent. There, he received his primary education at the
Lyceé Français. He was then sent to Liége, Belgium where
he attended high school and university. Pakravan then studied at the artillery
school in Poitiers, France, and the Ecole d’Application d’Artillerie
Pakravan began his career at the Tehran Military Academy, where he taught artillery.
He then served in a number of military, political, and diplomatic posts including
adjutant in the Intelligence Department of the Second Division, military attaché
in Pakistan (1949-50), chief of army intelligence (1951-53), military attaché
in India (1954-57), deputy chief of the State Intelligence and Security Organization
in charge of external affairs (1957-61), deputy prime minister and chief of
the State Intelligence and Security Organization (1961-65), minister of information
(1965-66), ambassador to Pakistan (1966-69), ambassador to France (1969-73),
and senior counselor to the Ministry of Court (1974-79).
Mrs. Pakravan’s Memoirs
Mrs. Pakravan’s informative and often fascinating memoirs describe many
aspects of life in Iran. She gives first-hand accounts of important events and
colorful descriptions of major personalities of the period 1940-79. In one section,
she sketches the behavior of visitors to the Najmiyeh Hospital, Tehran’s
most prominent hospital in the 1940s, and describes her attempts at introducing
modern modes of behavior similar to those practiced in Europe: People used to
come in the hospital with their carpets, their charcoal stove or kerosene stove
I mean the entire family: children and grandchildren. They would spread their
carpets and really [have a] picnic there, smoke cigarettes, speak aloud, come
and go any time of day or night.
Mohammad Mossadegh was the trustee of the Najmiyeh Hospital and thus her first
employer. While she admired him as an individual, she disapproved of his statesmanship:
In his physical aspects, he reminded me of a French writer. He was really grand
seigneur very courteous, very, very nice, [and] spoke French beautifully. She
asserts that during his term as prime minister (1951-53), Dr. Mossadegh . .
. Governed practically all the time under martial law. This is something again
that people have forgotten. Also it was actually Dr. Mossadegh who [planted]
the seed of what came to be known as SAVAK.
With regard to Queen Soraya, the Shah’s second wife, she says, I didn’t
like Soraya, because I found her very, very cold, very distant. She confirms
that the shah was very much in love with Soraya. She also reveals that Soraya
did not like to live in Iran. Several times she tried . . . To persuade the
king to abdicate and go live abroad.
Princess Ashraf is someone of whom Mrs. Pakravan speaks with some sympathy.
She recounts a story, told her by a friend, which sheds some light on the princess’s
desire in later years to amass wealth. In 1953, when Prime Minister Mossadegh
expelled Princess Ashraf from Iran, the princess lived in a small hotel in Paris.
According to the friend, the princess had put a few pieces of very cheap jewelry
on her bed and said, You know, I was kicked [out] like a servant from [my] house.
I wasn’t even allowed to take any of my things. This is all I was able
to bring with me. But, I swear in front of you that if ever the situation turns
back, I shall become a very, very, very rich person.
One of the more fascinating segments of her memoirs is the description of her
husband’s weekly luncheons with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1963, when the ayatollah
was under house arrest. According to the general, The ayatollah used to say
in this very flowery Eastern way, 'Timsar [General], I count the days until
we reach the day of our luncheon. He described the ayatollah as, very handsome.
He had extraordinary presence, a power of seduction. He had a great charisma.
They talked about religion, philosophy, and history. The general found his ignorance
in history and philosophy [to be] unbelievable. He also found him to be very
ambitious and secretive. So much so that it made my hair stand on end. It was
frightening, he told his wife.
She confirms the well-known story that her husband saved Ayatollah Khomeini’s
life in 1963. He was condemned to death and my husband was very, very upset
by that. Pakravan felt that his execution would anger the common people of Iran.
He knew that the population of the country is not its elite. He presented his
argument to the shah. Once he had convinced the shah to allow him to find a
way out, he called on Ayatollah Mohammad-Kazem Shariatmadari, one of the senior
religious leaders of Iran, and asked for his help. Ayatollah Shariatmadari suggested
that Khomeini be made an ayatollah. So, they made a religious decree which .
. . Was taken by my husband and Seyyed Jalal Tehrani to the Shah.
During the last year of the monarchy many events contributed to its eventual
fall in February 1979. Mrs. Pakravan describes an incident in which the bodyguard
of the wife of a SAVAK official killed a bystander at the Charles Jourdan shoe
shop in Tehran. She calls the incident one of the causes of the revolution.
During the autumn of 1978, a number of attempts were made to save the monarchy.
These included changes of cabinet, the liberalization of the political atmosphere,
and the arrest of former government officials. In this regard, Mrs. Pakravan
relates how the shah and the queen decided to arrest Prime Minister Hoveida.
Mrs. Pakravan gives us a sense of the atmosphere at the court and around the
shah during the last months of the monarchy. According to her, people would
telephone her husband, or come to their house and say, Please, you must go to
the shah. You are the only person to whom he will listen. And General Pakravan,
somewhat dejected at not being engaged by the shah, would say, No. No. No. No.
The shah doesn’t see me. He never receives me. I am quite put aside. As
a result of his wife’s insistence, however, General Pakravan requested
an audience and was granted one immediately. There have been many reports regarding
the psychological condition of the shah during his last days in Iran. Mrs. Pakravan’s
account confirms these reports. As she says, After that [audience], the shah
saw my husband very often. [My husband] said, 'Whenever, I see the shah, I have
the impression that he is like a drowning man who sees me as some safety to
which to cling.’
In the final section of her memoirs, Mrs. Pakravan provides details of the
arrest, imprisonment, and execution of her husband by the revolutionary court.
General Pakravan was taken from his house to an unknown destination. When his
son tried to contact him, he was told that the general was not arrested at all.
He is the guest of the ayatollah. But in fact he was imprisoned shortly after
According to a fellow inmate, a few days before his execution, General Pakravan
had smiled and said, It’s funny. I’ve never lived in such conditions
even in the army in such complete denuement [destitution]. I know what’s
going to happen to me. It will be the machine gun, but I’ve never felt
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Background of Fatemeh Pakravan
- Brief Biography of General Pakravan
- Mrs. Pakravan's Memoirs
- Note on the Interview
- About the Project
- Spelling of Proper Names
- Memoirs of Fatemeh Pakravan
- First Session: 3 March 1983 (12 Esfand 1361)
- General Pakravan's Early Education
- Coup of 19 August 1953 (28 Mordad 1332)
- Formation of the State Security Organization
- General Teymour Bakhtiar
- Pakravan as Chief of Security Organization
- Uprising of 5 June 1963 (15 Khordad 1342)
- Ayatollah Khomeini Under Detention
- Saving the Life of Ayatollah Khomeini
- Assassination of Prime Minister Hassan-Ali Mansour
- Pakravan Becomes Minister of Information
- Shah’s Reaction to Pakravan’s Execution
- Second Session: 7 March 1983 (16 Esfand 1361)
- Her Own Background
- Working at the Najmiyeh Hospital
- Fathollah Pakravan
- Years at Iranian Airways
- Doing Social Work
- National Tourist Organization
- Ambassador to Pakistan (1966-68/1345-47)
- Second Term at the Najmiyeh Hospital
- Ghavam al-Saltaneh
- General Haj-Ali Razmara
- Former Queen Soraya
- Atmosphere at the Court
- Queen Farah, the Early Years
- Princess Ashraf
- Queen Farah, the Later Years
- Hossein Ala
- Dr. Manouchehr Eghbal
- Dispute over Doubling the Price of Fuel
- Rise of the Technocrats
- Doubling the Price of Domestic Oil Products
- Assassinations of the 1970s (1350’s)
- General Nematollah Nassiri
- Public Life of the Security Chief's Wife
- The Charles Jourdan Incident
- Appointment to the Ministry of Court
- Pakravan’s Audiences with the Shah
- The Last Days of the Monarchy
- Arrest of Amir-Abbas Hoveida
- Arrest of General Pakravan
Habib Ladjevardi has been the director of the Iranian Oral History Project
at Harvard University since 1981. Born in Tehran, he grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y.,
and was educated at the Yale Engineering School and the Harvard Business School.
Dr. Ladjevardi returned to Iran in 1963 and began work as personnel manager
in his family's business. Subsequently he was responsible for founding the Iran
Center for Management Studies in Tehran, where he taught until 1976. He also
served on a number of boards and councils in the private and public sectors.
Dr. Ladjevardi received his Ph.D. from the University of Oxford in 1981.