January 9 Uprising, a prelude to the Islamic Revolution
This article is intended to make you familiar with one of the fateful developments in overthrowing the despotic Shah regime and victory of the Islamic Revolution under the leadership of Imam Khomeini.
The uprising which took place in Qom one year before the collapse of Shah regime was a reaction to the publication of an article titled “Iran and the Red and Black Colonialism” on daily Ettela'at which had brazenly desecrated Imam Khomeini. The uprising of the people of Qom on January 9, 1978 was very important since it acted as a precursor for the next uprisings of people of different cities across Iran and shook the foundations of the despotic regime of Shah. Many analysts have referred to January 9 uprising as the beginning of the Islamic Revolution. Stay tuned as we are going to shed light on the uprising and its consequences.
The article “Iran and the Red and Black Colonialism” was published on daily Ettela'at at the behest of SAVAK and aimed at destroying the religious and political personality of Imam Khomeini who was the main opponent of the Shah regime though he was in exile in holy Najaf. The sacrilegious article had used very insulting remarks against the beloved and matchless leader of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomeini. It is believed that the real writer of the article was the minister of information and tourism Dariush Homayoon which was published after SAVAK’s approval. In order to understand the purpose of the regime of publishing this article, we should focus on the politico-social developments of Iran at that time. The Shah, under the pressure of global public opinion since the beginning of 1977, slightly reduced political suffocation and repression in the country. In these circumstances, many opponents of the regime became more active, and mosques and partisan centers became the main venues for political activities of the opponents of the regime. Throughout the year 1977, several incidents contributed to the expansion of the struggle and its deepening. The suspicious death of Dr. Ali Shariati, as an anti-regime intellectual, publication of the statements of Sources of Emulation and ulema, especially Imam Khomeini in opposition to the regime's actions, and most importantly, the suspicious martyrdom of Imam Khomeini's son Ayatollah Seyyed Mostafa Khomeini culminated in nationwide demonstrations against the regime. However, the main of awakening for the people was Imam Khomeini who delivered speeches and issued statements without a scintilla of fear of the Shah and his puppet regime.
The suspicious martyrdom of Imam Khomeini's son, Haj Aqa Mostafa, made Imam Khomeini more popular among people, although he lived in exile. The memorial ceremonies in the Iranian cities, especially Tehran and Qom, for the Imam's martyred son, turned into the circles of praising and further familiarity with Imam Khomeini and the center of blatant opposition to the regime. It is noteworthy that the ceremonies were held not only by theologians but also by other groups which were opposed to the regime. In fact, these congregations were the unifying factor across the country. However, the regime resorted to violent methods and military ways to quell peaceful rallies as the entire nation wanted the ouster of the Shah and collapse of the unpopular kingship through logic and reasoning.
In one of these congregations, for the first time the title “Imam” with a certain sense of the word was applied for the leader of the Islamic Revolution. Hence, the unmatched personality of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ruhollah Mussavi Khomeini was called Imam Khomeini ever since. It is interesting to note that the term, "Imam" is used mainly for the 12 infallible successors of the Prophet of Islam as they are the sources of guidance and divine authority over people. This title was used for very few personalities throughout the Islamic history. A SAVAK official was later quoted as saying that the reason for writing the sacrilegious article on Ettela'at daily was the horror of the regime from the ever-increasing popularity and influence of Imam Khomeini among people.
The insulting article was published by a mercenary of the US and Israel, who wrote with the pseudonym Rashidi Motlaq. The blasphemous article was published on the occasion of anniversary of the Day of Hijab Banning by Shah's father Reza Khan. With the distribution of this newspaper in Qom city, the news of insulting Imam Khomeini and Islamic sanctities quickly spread across seminaries and religious groups and then among the whole people of Qom. The next morning, the classrooms were unanimously closed down and about 200 protesters marched to the houses of Grand Ayatollahs. The protests and marches continued till late January 9th, and in the evening of this day, the security forces clashed with the demonstrators resulting in the martyrdom of seven protesters and injury of 15 others.
The news of suppression of the protest rallies in Qom reached holy Najaf and Imam Khomeini, issued a very hot statement harshly warning the regime and challenging its very legitimacy. This event was the beginning of chain demonstrations each of which was held on the occasion of 40th day of the previous one in different cities of Iran. These chain demonstrations were very effective in spreading protests to different cities and public mobilization of people against the regime. Hence, the countdown began for the ultimate collapse of the regime and victory of the Islamic Revolution.
On the 40th day of martyrdom of the people of Qom, corresponding with February 18, 1978, the brave people of Tabriz held ceremonies to commemorate the innocent blood of the martyrs of Qom. Later on markets and universities were shut down and ceremonies were held in different cities of the country for commemorating martyrs. In Tabriz, after shooting at a teenager and killing him by a police officer, demonstrations turned reacted harshly and consequently thousands of people poured into streets and by chanting slogans against the regime declared their strong support for their beloved Leader, Imam Khomeini. A large number of people were martyred or injured. On March 30, 1978, the 40th day of the martyrs of Tabriz was commemorated in 15 cities and in some cities such as Yazd the police attack led to martyrdom of a number of demonstrators. The 40th ceremony of Yazd martyrs was held in May, 1978 in 24 cities in many of which innocent people were gunned down by the forces of the regime. The protests caused the Shah to call off his visit to Eastern Europe. The common slogans of all these protests were "Death to Shah", "Peace on Khomeini" and "Long live the martyrs of Qom and Tabriz".
The grassroots protests took shape and expanded while no domestic and foreign analysts could speculate that they would lead to the collapse of the regime by the end of the year in view of Carter’s visit to Iran and his decisive support for Shah and announcement of Iran as an island of stability in the turbulent West Asia. Even reports sent by US diplomats to the State Department were not alarming. The American Ambassador to Iran, William H. Sullivan, later wrote in a book: "The demonstrations that were held every forty days were completely religious in the beginning, and political opposition groups, including liberals, socialists and democrats or communists had no role in it. Some of these groups were so under the control and care of SAVAK that their public activity was not possible."
Therefore, due to the religious fabric of the anti-regime protests, many political observers did not consider it a serious risk to the regime, and in general few exposed the Shah regime to a serious danger from inside or abroad. But unlike what the observers analyzed, popular demonstrations spread into 1979 and gradually a unique unity was shaped among ulema, intellectuals, employees and people from every stratum against the regime. Hence, a nationwide revolution took place against the despotic and puppet regime.
With the beginning of the blessed month of Ramadan in midsummer of 1978, a large number of students of seminaries traveled to cities and villages of the country and played an effective role in mobilizing different strata of people and making them familiar with the oppressions of the regime. These endeavours further deepened the love of Imam Khomeini in the hearts of the people as they witnessed how selflessly their Leader has entered the arena of struggle just like his ancestors, the Prophet and his infallible successors.
The Eid Fitr prayers in Tehran turned into the huge gathering against the regime as political slogans were chanted and the name of Imam Khomeini was repeatedly mentioned by people and ulema. With the reopening of schools and universities, a huge masses of students joined the revolution and organized great demonstrations against the regime. In some junctures like November 4, the protests led to the martyrdom of a number of students. The developments of early autumn 1978 to late February 1979 forced the Shah to flee the country on January 16 under the pretext of treatment. These events culminated in the triumph of the Islamic Revolution on February 11, 1979. The Shah left no stone unturned to quench the revolution including enforcement of martial law and appointment of a violent and ruthless figure as general Azhari to the post of premiership. But none of these measures could stop the nationwide revolution and with Imam Khomeini's arrival in the country on February 1, 1979, the despotic regime was put into the dustbin of history and the Islamic Revolution attained victory on February 11, 1979, almost one year after Qom's uprising.