Iran's revolutionaries have mixed feelings, 40 years later

In this Jan. 23, 2019 photo, bookseller Mohsen Fat'hi, a former revolutionary, speaks with The Associated Press about Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution at his shop, in downtown Tehran, Iran. During the uprising, Fat’hi made gasoline bombs, sold banned books and reprinted pamphlets with statements from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenini, the exiled cleric who eventually became the country’s supreme leader. For all the risks Fat’hi took in supporting the revolution, he described himself today as disappointed. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

By MOHAMMAD NASIRI, Associated Press
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Forty years after he defected from the shah’s Imperial Guard to join the Islamic Revolution, Mohammad Reza Tajik, like many Iranians from that time, looks back wistfully at the youthful excitement they felt and the losses they suffered since then.
Working in his woodshop in Tehran, he recounted the deaths of his brother in Iran’s 1980s war with Iraq and of a friend last year in Syria’s long civil war in which Iran is involved.
“No, we did not achieve what we wanted,” the 60-year-old former soldier said, his shop warmed in the fierce Tehran winter by a simple wood-fired stove. “Things have changed and revolutionary values have worn out. Today, unfortunately, we still suffer from discrimination, favoritism, corruption and lying, even more than that time.”
As the 40th anniversary of the revolution approached, a reporter from The Associated Press walked through the streets of Tehran to speak to those who were alive then about the world-changing moment that saw Iran exchange 2,500 years of monarchy for an Islamic Republic.
They offered a mixed view that is now common in the country as long-standing economic problems worsen amid the U.S. decision last spring to withdraw from the nuclear deal that Iran struck with world powers in 2013. Iran’s currency, the rial, has depreciated rapidly since then, making prices for groceries and clothes skyrocket. Its crucial oil sales remain threatened, and trust in its leadership has eroded.
“Problems do exist, but I relate them to the mismanagement of the officials not the revolution itself,” Tajik said. “The revolution was a correct thing and should have happened, but it has been diverted from its path by the people in power.”
Only a few steps down the alley from Tajik’s shop, another former revolutionary felt differently.
Now a barber, 67-year-old Bashir Nahavandi was a taxi driver when the revolution took hold. He gave protesters free rides and took part in demonstrations against what he called the irreligious and immoral rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
“I am not dissatisfied with my current situation or my job and income,” he said, sweeping up his shop. “It is true that some people are complaining about high prices, but they should put things in perspective and be more tolerant.”
He praised leaders for protecting Islam and enforcing the law that makes it mandatory for Iranian women to wear the hijab.
“We are Muslims, after all, and religion is our priority,” Nahavandi said. “Even piles of money would be worthless if the religion is ignored and not respected.”
Walking along bustling Enghelab, or Revolution Street that once was named after the shah’s father, Reza Shah, 79-year-old retired university professor Ali Soltani recalled the day that protesters pulled down a statue of Reza Shah at Enghelab Square.
Soltani, who has written books on Persian literature and Islamic teachings, called poverty the biggest challenge the country faces today. While life under the shah had at least three social classes — the rich, the middle class and the poor — Iran today is simply separated between the haves and the have-nots, he said.
“We were really hoping that problems would be solved, but they were not. … Newspapers and authorities themselves are now admitting to large-scale embezzlements that are taking place in the country,” he said. “Today, you see that a part of the people do not even have some bread to eat. What can they do?”
Another former revolutionary, 70-year-old Mohsen Fat’hi, has been a bookseller on Enghelab Street since 1977. During the uprising, he made gasoline bombs, sold banned books and reprinted pamphlets with statements from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenini, the exiled cleric who eventually became the country’s supreme leader.
For all the risks Fat’hi took in supporting the revolution, he described himself today as disappointed.
“We were seeking a better life, but unfortunately we could not get it,” Fat’hi said. “Today we are looking for meat and chicken and are unable to afford.”
Surrounded by his books, Fat’hi said he has given up on supporting the revolution he once fought for.
“We were after ideals that were never fulfilled. Why should I continue to back it?” he asked. “Our passport was valuable. We had credibility and reputation in the world. We have lost everything.”
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Follow Mohammad Nasiri on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mohammadaptn .