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

8619. Subj: Unrest Among University Students.

Summary: Intermittent student unrest in several universities in Tehran has characterized past several days. Campus troubles at this [Page 161]time of year have become traditional but disturbances this year seem more serious than those for the last several years. End summary.

Beginning several days ago and continuing on December 3, 4, 5, and 6 student demonstrations and other manifestations of dissidence have occurred at Tehran University, Arya Mehr University and at Tehran’s Polytechnic College. Some roughing up of professors and fighting among student factions reportedly has occurred at Agricultural College at Karaj, a branch of Tehran University. Tehran’s Polytechnic College was closed for ten days (some reports say indefinitely) beginning December 4 while two colleges of Tehran University are closed. Further demonstrations are rumored for December 7 with security authorities reportedly ready to deal harshly with participants. Police have kept demonstrations well in hand and no mention of dissidence has so far appeared in Iranian media.

2. Timing of current unrest is related to 16 Azar 1341 (corresponding this year to December 7) when security forces wounded many and killed three student demonstrators in Tehran. Beginning about seven years ago, university students, especially in Tehran, have marked the anniversary of their death with demonstrations. As picked up from several sources, student grievances this year include (A) lack of intellectual and political freedoms in Iran; (B) corruption; (C) growing disparity in wealth in Iran; (D) high student fees; and (E) GOI restrictions on size of university student population. Mixed with these are more traditional student gripes over bad cafeteria food and inadequate professors.

3. Dr. Ahmad Ghoreishi, Dean of the Law School at Iranian National University, which thus far has avoided trouble, told an Embassy officer that student demonstrations this year may be worse than those in previous years. Ghoreishi, whose establishment credentials are impeccable, sees lack of freedom of expression as the most basic student complaint. The dilemma in Iran, in his view, is that the situation will gradually worsen unless the government relaxes its current strict controls, while if it does ease restrictions there is risk that the situation will get out of hand, such as occurred recently in Greece.2

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4. Comment: There seems to be no occasion for any immediate concern over the current student dissidence. However, what is happening reminds us that with all of its many successes the Iranian regime has continued to fail to win the sympathy of its university students.3 End comment.

Helms
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, [no film number]. Confidential.
  2. In a December 10 meeting at Killgore’s home, Ghoreishi agreed with the students: “there is no freedom in this country and corruption is everywhere. Some people make $50,000 a day (the Peykan automobile people) and others don’t have enough to eat.” Yet Killgore reported that when he visited Ghoreishi at the heavily-guarded university, Ghoreishi claimed that all was quiet, despite student agitation over cafeteria food. “Ghoreishi’s tone was indulgent, while deprecating the political significance of student protest. Quite surprisingly, in view of statements directly to the contrary made six days earlier, he said that the student troubles this year were less serious than those in past years.” Killgore concluded that Ghoreishi meant his initial remarks, and was dissimulating in his office. (Ibid., NEA/IRN Files: Lot 76D169, Box 9, Iran, 1973)
  3. In telegram 5111 from Tehran, June 21, 1974, the Embassy reported the largest student riots in 2 years at Pahlavi University in Shiraz, ostensibly over grades, although they took place on the anniversary of large riots in Tehran several years before at which some students were killed. The Embassy concluded, however, that “though Iranian student demonstrators often mask national political grievances in local university issues for reasons of safety, we have no evidence to indicate that anti-regime or anti-U.S. feelings played a role in Shiraz riots.” (Ibid., Central Foreign Policy Files, [no film number])