In Memory of Dr. Hossein Fatemi

Sunday, November 8, 2015

At dawn of November 11, 1954 the last Foreign Minister of democratic Iran was shot in Tehran.

It was a year since the dramatic events of 1953, when a CIA-backed coup d’etat overthrew Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh for contemplating oil nationalization.

Hossein Fatemi (10 February 1917 - 10 November 1954) was a scholar, journalist, and famous politician of Iran. A close associate of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, he proposed nationalization of Iranian oil and gas assets.

Initially a journalist, he served as Foreign Affairs Minister of Iran from 1951 to 1953. After the 1953 CIA-orchestrated coup d'état toppled the democratically elected government of Mosaddegh, Fatemi was arrested, tortured, and convicted by a military court of "treason against the Shah", and executed by a firing squad.

Fatemi was born in Nain, Iran, the youngest of five. In his teens he moved to Isfahan for higher education, where he became involved in the publication of the newspaper Bākhtar, owned by his older brother. This same paper was later moved to Tehran in 1942.

He was a caustic critic of the Iranian monarch Rezā Shāh, and his views were candidly reflected in his newspaper editorials. From 1944 to 1948 he studied in France, where he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism and a doctorate degree in law.

From its founding in 1949, he was an active member of the Iranian National Front, the democratic and nationalist movement of Mosaddegh, and served as an assistant to the prime minister and as deputy of Tehran in the Iranian parliament. At the age of 33 he served in Mosaddegh's cabinet as the minister of foreign affairs—the youngest minister of foreign affairs in Iranian history.

According to Mosaddegh's memoir, published after Fatemi's death, Fatemi was the initiator of the policy of oil nationalization in Iran. On 15 February 1952, he was the target of an unsuccessful assassination by the Islamist group of Fadayan-e Islam, who also had planned to assassinate Mosaddegh.

In the shooting attack, Fatemi suffered serious injuries which sidelined him for the next seven or eight months, and left permanent wounds.

In August 1953, Mosaddegh's government was overthrown by a CIA-orchestrated coup d'état. On 14 August, Fatemi was to be arrested along with Mosaddegh and other close associates, but the first U.S.-led coup attempt failed. Fatemi was arrested by a Royalist group of officers and soldiers who were in such a hurry that he was not allowed to put shoes on, but he was released on the morning of the 15th and went directly to Mosaddegh's residence.

Fearful of the apparent failure of the coup, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi immediately fled to Baghdad. In the aftermath of the first coup attempt, while Mosaddegh still remained a strong proponent of constitutional monarchy, Fatemi advised Mosaddegh to declare a republic in light of the failed coup attempt. Subsequently, Fatemi, in a fiery editorial in his newspaper Bākhtar and a public speech, denounced the Shah as "a traitor to his country", a "venomous serpent", and a "coward".

A traitor is afraid. The day when you, O traitor, heard by the voice of Teheran that your foreign plot had been defeated you made your way to the nearest country where Britain has an embassy. (Quoted in the New York Times.)

On 19 August, the offices of Fatemi's newspaper were attacked and burnt down by mobs incited by an Iranian CIA agent. Later that day the second coup attempt succeeded. With Mosaddegh arrested, Fatemi went underground, taking shelter in a Tudeh safe house.

He began to write his memoir, but after 204 days of concealment, he was discovered and arrested. He was then tortured and convicted by a military court on 10 October for "treason against the Shah" and sentenced to death.

Fatemi was executed by firing squad on 10 November 1954 (19 Aban 1333 AP) in Tehran, when he was still suffering from fever and the injuries of the unsuccessful attempt of assassination on him by Fadayan-e Islam.

In his will, he made Mossadegh the guardian of his only son, Cyrus. Fatemi is buried in Ebn-e Babooyeh cemetery in Shahr-e Ray, near Tehran.

There is an avenue in Tehran named after Fatemi. Mossadegh often quoted Fatemi as the force behind the nationalization of oil from inception to implementation.

After the 1953 CIA-MI6 coup, the Shah gave back half of Iran's oil and gas rights, mainly to US-UK oil companies, with a few percent for French and Italian ones, under a new agreement known as the Oil Consortium.

Other countries in the Persian Gulf and North Africa followed the example and took national ownership of their oil and gas fields. President Nasser of Egypt was influenced by the earlier example of Fatemi's thesis carried out by Mossadegh when he nationalized the Suez canal.