An Interview with Kourosh Zaim
June 14, 2008
New Media Journal's Amil Imani had an opportunity to facilitate an
interview with Kourosh Zaim, an Iranian political activist and a member
of Iran National Front-Central Council:
How long have you been
advocating democratic reform in Iran?
Well, I like to think I have been active since 1953, when I was close to
the Iran National Front major personalities due to my grand uncleís and
my fatherís close association with them and the democratic movement.
During my college years in the United States and many years after that,
I was among the most active and outspoken critics of the former regime
in Iran. Upon my return to Iran in 1975, I was considered a dissident
until 1979 when I rejoined the post revolution Iran National Front.
Since then, I have continued to speak out as a dissident activist.
NMJ: What do you see as the main obstacles to democracy, back in
the 1970s and now?
Back in the 70ís, the American support of the Shahís regime out of fear
of communism, emboldened the Shah in his autocratic reign to put
pressure on the democratic forces in Iran. He banned their activities
and often jailed its leaders. As the result, religious forces,
well-known for their opposition to communism, found open fields for
propaganda, recruitment and organizing. Young energetic members of the
democratic political organizations, who disliked inactivity, broke away
and formed rebellious and armed socialist-Islamist militant groups
behind the opportunist clergy. Thus, the Shah created his own enemies
and so his own downfall; whereas, if he had allowed peaceful activity of
democratic opposition, the impatient youth would have been guided by
intelligent and farsighted leaders and would have never been attracted
to the traditionally timid and opportunist clergy.
Now, the clerical
regime of the Islamic Republic, after 30 years of theocratic rule, has
proven its inability to reach but a very small and backward segment of
the population. This regime, too, suppressed the democratic forces in
the country and with much more brutality than its predecessor. However,
the information explosion of the 90ís and the current communication
revolution has made it helpless in keeping the democratic opposition
voices from being heard. Furthermore, the ever-strengthening of the
international organizations and pro-activeness of the international
community in support of democracy and accountability has put the current
regime on the defensive.
NMJ: Do you see the United States as a model for democracy?
Zaim: No country is a utopian model for democracy except maybe
for its own people. Democracy is always on the path of change toward
improvement. A democratic system must be democratic for the people it
governs. Thatís why we see somewhat different interpretations of how
democracy should be institutionalized in different cultures. I call
freedom of choice with respect to the rights of others democracy.
NMJ: You have two sons in the U.S., is that correct?
Zaim: Yes. My two elder sons Turaj and Bijan are now in the
United States. They were born in Iran, but were sent out of the country
when they were 6 and 4, respectively.
NMJ: They escaped with their mother during the war with
Iraq. Why did you not go with them?
Did you know of their escape?
the revolution, I was very active in opposition politics in the
framework of the Iran National Front. I was appointed to a five-member
committee for writing of the INF platform and another committee for
writing of by-laws, a position I have been repeatedly elected to since
then. In addition, my articles criticizing the current policies were
published widely. I had also formed a think tank in the name of "Iran
Center for Thought and Speech: for shaping the future of IranĒ in
which we planned to research and map out Iranís future.
In addition, I had
researched and written a book in 1980 called "Where Is the Soviet
Empire Going?Ē in which I had analyzed facts about the Soviet system
and predicted that it would disintegrate in about 10-12 years. I had
also predicted independence of eastern European, Caucasian and Central
Asian countries within two years hence. The book was first published in
Mizan daily newspaper as a serial. Those years the Iran Communist Tudeh
Party was very influential and had infiltrated all aspects of the
Islamic Republic organizations. The paper Mizan was banned and
revolutionary guards attacked its offices and set it on fire. Later the
book was published by a brave publisher who believed in me. Bookstores
were attacked or threatened not to display or sell the book. The
publisher had to turn 7,000 copies out of 10,000 it had printed into
pulp. The Communist Party paper attacked me in a center spread. During
all this time, Radio Moscow was continuously blasting against me,
calling me a self professed theoretician who talked about the future of
the Soviet Union without knowing anything about it and preventing
friendly relationship between the two brother countries.
In response, I sent a message to Radio Moscow, which was
published in one of the papers. In this message I told them that I am
not afraid of their threats and will do whatever I can to protect the
interests of my country. I told them that they didnít have any talents
but threatening and terrorizing, so they should go ahead and do what
theyíre good at and I will do what I am good at.
I had also written a
long two-issue article in another paper warning the ignorant,
politically illiterate and outdated clerical hierarchy of the communist
infiltrators acting as their advisors and making decisions for them. The
paper, "EdalatĒ, was later closed and its chief editor jailed. Another
article that caused trouble was one for a very popular magazine Black
and White. In that article I had explained my research about
Ayatollah Khomeiniís thoughts and beliefs. I had claimed that, unlike
what his current promises of democracy and non-involvement of the clergy
government are, he is planning a theocracy based on total religious
control of the society. The magazine was attacked and set on fire.
When Soviets attacked
Afghanistan, not one dared to voice and sign a declaration of opposition
except an Afghan resistance commander, one of the INF leaders, a
representative of a high ayatollah and myself. Three months into the
Afghanistan invasion, I wrote an article expressing the opinion that the
Russians will be bogged down in Afghanistan for 12-13 years and be
forced to leave in defeat just like the Americans did in Viet Nam. I
also wrote another article criticizing Iranís revolutionary policies and
predicted that soon we will be bogged down in a protracted border war
with Iraq. Nine months later, Iraq attacked Iran.
All this had made me
very unpopular with the regime and its allies. I was threatened several
times. Our bi-lingual school, best in Middle East, was raided by machine
gun wielding RGs, confiscated and ransacked. Our home was often the site
of RGs midnight shooting spree in the air. One night the shooting was so
violent and prolonged that I took my wife and children to the boiler
room, spread blankets and hid them behind the boiler until morning,
although I myself returned to the bedroom and opened the curtains so
they could see me lying down unconcerned. They also repeatedly
threatened my family, arrested and detained my wife for a few hours and
tried every which way to scare me even through threatening the children.
One day the incumbent
head of Iran Central Bank called me and advised that I should hide for a
while for there was plot to assassinate me. I told him that I donít
hide. He then asked me, at least, not to go to my office for a few
months and offered his own home office in the basement of his sisterís
house. I accepted and spent my office hours in his basement, but went
home every night. After 2 or 3 months I got tired of seclusion and went
back to my office. It took no more than two weeks before I was arrested
in my office and taken to the infamous Evin prison. My experience in
Evin prison is a story all by itself. Soon after, they also arrested
both my younger brothers, one a Maoist group theoretician- leader and
one a student activist. This was 1983 when some two dozen other INF
activists were also in prison or being arrested. Evidently, I was
supposed to be executed in prison; however, after the communist party
fell out of favor with Ayatollah Khomeini and their leaders arrested, I
survived and was released after some 4 or 5 months.
imprisonment, when threats against me were becoming more frequent and
obvious, some armed political groups offered assistance to protect me
and/or to take my family to safety. One was the Armenian nationalists
who promised protection of family and the transporting of them outside
the country in case of my arrest or death. Soon after my arrest, my wife
and two sons of 6 and 4 were zipped out of the country with the help our
Kurdish fellow countrymen on horseback through and over the snowy
mountains into Turkey. This must have been one the most dangerous trips
and the most frightening experience my family had to endure. In Turkey,
they were received by the Turkish Ambassador who arranged for their
flight to the United States.
NMJ: They have not visited you since then--do you believe it will
be safe for them to visit soon, or is it a bad idea because of who their
but I had the opportunity to visit them a few times in between periods
when I was forbidden to leave the country. The last time I saw them,
they were 12 and 10 years of age. Yes, I believe it will be safe now for
them to visit Iran except that they might be under scrutiny. But, now,
any inconvenience caused them will be so widely publicized that it would
be counterproductive for the regime.
NMJ: Your eldest son is a poet or musician, and an activist of
sorts. Do you feel you imparted some of your ideals to him before he
left? What did you try to teach your children at that young age?
Yes. My eldest is a highly talented poet and musician. He used to write
poems when in grammar school that would boggle the mind. He has
perfected a talent I tried when young, but didnít go far with it. My
second son is also a talented in theatre, writing plays and directing.
NMJ: What is your hope for Iran-U.S. relations and what do you
think is the best path for the lion and the eagle?
Zaim: Normalization of relations between Iran and America is
inevitable. We have suffered much for our mismanagement of foreign
policy and must correct our course very soon. Over the past 30 years we
have fallen behind the equivalent of a century or more. We cannot make
up the loss, even running at top speed using all resources, sooner than
a quarter century. And, for that we have to make friends with every
country in the world.
NMJ: Do you have hope for new dialogue if
Senator Obama is elected president of
Zaim: It doesnít matter who the American president is as long as
the Islamic Republic is running the country. If dialogue means support
for the current system and for their longevity, I donít believe it will
happen. I hope things will begin to change course before the U.S. has a