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Christopher de Bellaigue and his Ahmaghieh Supporter in the Frontline Club Audience

This is a cross post by Potkin

I went along to a Frontline Club meeting at the Royal Institute last night. The panelists were Ran Gidor, the Minister-Counsellor for Political Affairs at the Embassy of Israel in London, Azadeh Moaveni from the Time Magazin, Roberto Toscano, the Italian Ambassador to Iran for five years (2003-2008) and not previously announced Christopher de Bellaigue. The topic of discussion was Iran – Diplomatic Tensions and Power Struggles. The Israeli Minister-Counsellor was heavily outnumbered not just on the panel but also in the audience largely made up of BBC Persian and BBC Arabic staff.

It was when Christopher de Bellaigue started ranting on that my blood started to boil. Christopher de Bellaigue started reading a statement by the British Prime Minister addressed to Mossadegh in 1951 and recent statements by David Cameron and William Hague, drawing parallels between Mossadegh and the present rulers in Iran in standing up to the condescending bullies in Britain.

When my turn for questions came, I said this to de Bellaigue:
“Many people in the West think you are an Iran expert and you cater for a special niche in the market and make your money from it. I havent read your book about Mossadegh the Patriot yet but I hope you have written in the book that the British coup that you keep referring to failed and it was in fact the clerics and Ayatollahs who turned their thugs against Mossadegh and toppled him, but I think it is disgraceful that you compare Mossadegh with the likes of Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollahs ruling Iran today and use Mossadegh to justify the very people who overthrew him, but I want to refer to an earlier article you wrote about the people in a district in Tabriz where you refer repeatedly to the district as the district of Ahmaghieh, to those who understand Persian, this means district of stupid people, did you ever go to Tabriz or was some one having a laugh with you?”

See de Bellaigue’s article and book where he mentions repeatedly the district of Ahmaghieh in Tabriz and claims huge support for Ahmadinejad in the district of stupid people!

de Bellaigue answered he meant a district called Aahmaghieh but because the sound of Aa in English is often written as A, the district was written as Ahmaghieh in his accounts. He then asked if there is anyone in the audience from Tabriz and knows this district? A girl in front of me whom I could not see her face from the back raised her arm enthusiastically and said “Yes, there is!” and the audience made up of mainly BBC staff sighed with relief applauded enthusiastically for her and their hero Christopher de Bellaigue.

After the discussion was closed, I went over to see who the “girl from Tabriz” was, it was in fact none other than Golriz Kolahi, an ubiquitous supporter of regime apologists. I asked her in Azeri, “Do you come from Tabriz?” but she said she didn’t understand Azeri. “But you just told everyone you were from Tabriz?” and Golriz Kolahi just smiled as if to say well I fooled them all. “and you told this audience that there is a district in Tabriz called Ahmaghieh”. Golriz said “No I said Ahamdieh”. She was going for safety, Ahmadieh is a common name for districts but there is not a district called Ahmadieh either, Ahmad Abad in Tabriz is the nearest and in any case that is not what de Bellaigue said. He did not dispute whether there was a ‘gh’ in the district’s name or a ‘d’, he said the name started with the sound of Aa as in Aardvark and not in Apple. I felt utter contempt for Golriz Kolahi, this daughter of a wealthy factory owner in Iran who likes to live in England and enjoy the privileges this country offers.

Then I approached de Bellaigue and asked him what part of Tabriz is this Ahmaghieh or Aahmaghieh that he has been writing about? Was it North, South, East or West of Tabriz? He couldn’t answer. How can someone who has done anecdotal interviews with the people of a district not know which direction the district was in? “Who is the current MP for Ahmaghieh? This Ahmadinejad supporting district in Tabriz?” I asked de Bellaigue again and once again he couldn’t answer. How can you do research into a district and claim they staunchly support Ahmadinejad and not know whether the district have gone for a pro-Ahmadinejad MP or not?

Here is a list of districts in Tabriz according to wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabriz#Districts
None of which sound like Ahmaghieh. The only possible candidate is Akhmaqaya, pronounced like two words AkhmA qAyA from the Azeri words AkhmA meaning flowing and qAyA meaning rock.

Just to be double sure, I checked with a scholar friend of mine from Tabriz, in case the pronunciations have changed since I left Tabriz and anyone pronounced this place as Ahmaghieh. This was his response :
“There are two slightly different pronunciations, based on whether the person uttering the name is rural or urban. Urban Azeris go for Ākhmā – Gara, while rurals go for Ākhmā – Qayah. None of which are anywhere close to what De Bellaigue claims.”

As I have not read de Bellaigue’s book on Mossadegh, I cannot comment on it myself, but again I asked a couple of my Iranian historian friends. Their responses below:

First response:
“The book seems like a journalist account on the scene of what happened in Tehran those days. It doesn’t really have a broad historical perspective. He keeps being convinced that the British were behind the events of 19 August and discounts the role of domestic actors quite heavily. There is very little mention of the clerical involvement, something he probably was advised to avoid in order to spend half the year in Tehran, as he claims to be doing. This really weakens the book. He also does not delve deep enough on the intrinsic weaknesses of the Mossadegh front, particularly the lack of a solid political organisation, and the National Front’s aloofness and lack of discipline. Its all good to claim that Mossadegh’s intentions are good and valid, but the problem as always in Iran is political agency. In this Mossadegh has severe flaws. De Bellaigue picks on one (the dissolution of the Majles) validly, but does not mention many others.

On a more detailed level, he completely misreads the actions of the Tudeh party in the days leading to August 19, by failing to account for the effect of the “Black Tudeh” crowds put into motion by the CIA, which effectively – and genuinely – turned the people against the Tudeh and to some extent against Mossadegh, because they were fearful of a reign of terror should the Tudeh gain power. He also gets it wrong on the famous rumours on the attempt to set up a republic after the Shah’s flight to Rome – had he read the last issue of Bakhtar-e Emrouz, which is widely distributed, he would have seen denials all over the place of such an attempt. Mossadegh was against it and would never had supported it. This thesis is accurately described in some of the books De Bellaigue claims to have used, but he chose not to look upon it.

Another thing is that this book is billed as the cradle to grave account of Mossadegh’s life, and such is said in the Introduction. But we have little or nothing of his exile in Ahmadabad and his effectively negative actions against the NF after 1953 (he singlehandedly disbanded the Second NF in the Sixties), nor do we have a real description of the single, major commemoration event after 1979, the 14 Esfand of Ahmadabad with a million people, which also marked the breaking up of his legacy amongst many organisations. No real mention of his legacy and his tortured memory today in IRI.

Second response:
“I have never had the emotional energy to read more than half a paragraph of CdB’s writings. According to a friend of mine who is in the book business CdB contributes to the second hand book market in the UK, because a lot of people don’t even want to keep his stuff after trying to  read them”

What annoyed me most about Christopher de Bellaigue was no matter what the panelist thought about the correct diplomatic strategy, they all confirmed that the Iranian regime is an evil dictatorship, but not once did de Bellaigue criticise the Islamic Republic for its despotism and human rights abuse track record.

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