11. Telegram From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State1

1726. Subj: Continuing Widespread Student Unrest. Ref: Tehran 1353.2

Summary: During last three week period student unrest and demonstrations, sometimes accompanied by violence on part of students [Page 36] and police, has spread across Iran and virtually every major college, university or technical training school in the country is affected. Student motives are difficult to define but throughout their protests runs an anti-regime theme which often focuses on high tuition costs and is sometimes expressed in terms of attacks on GOI expenditures, particularly for US weapons. End summary.

1. Beginnings of current period of student unrest3 can be found as long ago as January 21 celebrations of tenth anniversary of White Revolution.4 Campus demonstrations at various universities continued from that time in off again–on again fashion until about three weeks ago when student dissident activities became more widespread and have finally resulted in the closure, to one degree or another, of nearly all of Iran’s major centers of higher education.

2. Most recent series of demonstrations seem to have begun at Jondi Shapour University in Ahwaz but riots have also taken place at Karaj Training College, Pahlavi University in Shiraz, Aryamehr University in Isfahan and its related campus in Tehran, National University in Tehran (where college cafeteria was reportedly wrecked), Tehran University (twice) and Tabriz University among others.

3. Upon learning that riot was in progress on Tehran University campus, EmbOff drove to scene to observe but found that three truckloads of riot police wearing plastic face shields and carrying hardwood truncheons had put an end to incident. Campus was practically deserted with most gates locked and campus police bolstered by riot police were carefully controlling entry and exit. It later developed that students registering for new term at science faculty were protesting reported arrest on previous day of 30 students at Aryamehr Tehran campus who had been demonstrating reputedly to mark anniversary of Siakal incident. (1971 attack by guerilla group on isolated Gendar [Page 37] mérie post in Gilan Province).5 Dr. (FNU) Zirakhzadeh, Director of Research at the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, later confirmed that additional arrests were made at Tehran University although he could not supply figures.

4. Largest and bloodiest encounter to date took place in Tabriz where students began demonstration over tuition costs and other local issues. Police intervened and confrontation escalated into three-day melee with reports of over 200 students injured, some seriously. Figures for students killed range from three to eleven but precise number of casualties is impossible to confirm. Police and SAVAK eventually raided all campus dormitories, including those of girls, drove all students from campus and closed the university down for remainder of term. Tabriz Consulate will report on this incident in detail.

5. Motivations for present spate of unrest are not entirely clear. This is due in part to the efficiency of the security forces who tend to break up demonstrations before motives and goals are made known; in part to the tendency of students to disguise dissatisfaction over political issues with a local grievance of one kind or another in order to avoid more severe punishment if caught; and to lack of publicity—no word of the various disturbances has appeared in the local papers.

Some riots have evidently been sparked by heavy-handed police action against other demonstrators as in the instance noted in para 3 above and in the case of a riot which, according to Isfahan IAS Director Lonnie Del Rae, took place at Aryamehr University over a rumor (apparently false) that seven students were arrested at Tehran University by SAVAK, taken to Kermanshah and shot. However, a definite anti-Shah theme is discernible throughout the student protests. Occasionally the monarch himself has been criticized, sometimes in vitriolic terms, and at other times his programs and policies are castigated. Such discontents are often channeled into criticism of high tuitions at Iranian colleges and universities, a strategem which, according to Dr. Parviz Asadi of National University, is a cover for dissatisfaction with expenditures on US arms and other GOI fiscal policies as unveiled by Prime Minister Hoveyda in his new ten billion dollar budget.

Comment: Security authorities have maintained control of the student situation but only by closing down Iran’s system of higher education. However, the widespread and continuing nature of these demonstrations is yet another indication of the depth of anti-regime feeling [Page 38] among the students, particularly considering that protesting students not only run the risk of physical injury in confrontations with police but they could also be expelled, jailed or drafted into the armed forces.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, [no film number]. Confidential.
  2. In telegram 1353 from Tehran, March 3, the Embassy reported that several students were arrested during demonstrations at local universities, reportedly for protesting Iranian purchases of U.S. arms. (Ibid., Central Files 1970–73, POL 13–2 IRAN)
  3. In a February 28 letter to Escudero, Crocker wrote from Khorramshahr that the violence at Jondi Shahpur University started when special police killed several student demonstrators, either for protesting SAVAK surveillance of a Vice Chancellor who refused to give an anniversary speech, or for opposing the use of university resources for White Revolution propaganda. Protests at other universities were either ongoing or followed quickly. (Ibid., NEA/IRN Files: Lot 76D169, Box 9, 1973, POL 1)
  4. In a February 3 letter to Escudero, Charles Mast, Consul in Tabriz, wrote that the anniversary festivities were purely for the elite, marked by “an almost total lack of socio-political ideology.” Mast concluded that the “Imperial Roman Circus” was ignored by most Iranians, particularly the bazaari and religious, who were focused on the New Year’s and Moharram celebrations. (Ibid.) Carl Clement, Consul in Khorramshahr, disagreed in a February 7 letter to Escudero: the festivities were not entirely government-organized, and the people “are not fools, and they realized that the important thing was not the show, not the celebration, but rather the real changes that they symbolized.” In a surprising number of cases, Clement argued, people sincerely paid homage to the Shah’s leadership. (Ibid.)
  5. On February 8, 1971, a large band of student dissidents known as the Iranian Liberation Organization, operating in the mountains, attacked a police station in the village of Siahkal in the northern province of Gilan. Government forces subsequently broke up the group, and several members were executed. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–4, Documents on Iran and Iraq, 1969–1972, Document 126.