State Policy and Dissent in 20th Century Iran

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals


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Shahrokh Meskoob (1924-2005) occupies a special, and in many ways unique, place among the Iranian intellectuals of his generation. While the principal focus of his work was the study of Persian literary traditions, language, and cultural identity, he was also preoccupied for most of his life with fundamental questions about the relationship between culture and politics, Iran’s encounter with the West and modernity, and the place of ethics in politics. He explored these questions with candor, a keen awareness of Iran’s cultural traditions, and free from the ideological scaffolds that often dominated the discourse of Iranian intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s. This paper presents an analysis of Meskoob’s political views on the role of intellectuals—including himself—in relation to politics, from his early years as a Marxist and member of the Tudeh Party, on to his later rejection of Marxism as well as of the popular discourses of authenticity and gharbzadegi in prerevolutionary Iran, and finally his reflections on the Islamic Revolution.

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Reform, Delusion and Dissent: The Life and Times of Ayandegan, 1967-1979

This talk will present an overview of the activities of Ayandegan, a prominent Tehran daily which was published between 1967 and 1979. During its 12-year existence, Ayandegan was witness to a momentous and turbulent era in contemporary Iranian history, which coincided with both the apex and zenith of the rule of the last Iranian monarch, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Revolution of 1979 and its immediate aftermath, which resulted in Ayandegan becoming the first publication to be banned by the judicial authorities of the new Islamic Republic.
An experiment in both political reform and modernization of journalistic standards, Ayandegan sought to fulfill various roles. Its founder, Daryoush Homayun, was a prominent member of the upper political elite who sought to make use of the printed media as a vehicle for introducing political reforms and new ideas into a political system which was then the throes of stagnation and autocracy. By giving refuge to a sizeable number of dissent writers and journalists, most of whom had been formally banned from producing written output by the state security services, Homayoun also enabled dissent to survive and to eventually manifest itself in the lively civil society which emerged by 1977 and laid the ground for the Revolution of 1978-79.
After the collapse of the monarchical regime in February 1979, Ayandegan, by then under the effective ownership of dissidents previously sheltered by Homayoun, became a beacon for the secular and non-clerical forces who were being increasingly pressured by the gradual encroachment upon the public space of the allies and disciples of Ayatollah Khomeini. The approximately 170 issues of Ayandegan printed in 1979 have long been considered to be a seminal source for the study of the “other revolutionaries”, which by 1981 were mostly pushed out of the political scene.
This talk will provide both an appraisal of Ayandegan’s rise and fall and its influential mentoring role in modern Iranian journalism and assess its importance as a political initiative shaped in the form of a national media publication. It will be grounded on documents referring to its foundation and administration, references to articles published in the newspaper itself, particularly at times of heightened political importance, as well as some of its supplements, such as the ground breaking literary one, Ayandegan-e Adabi, and the memoirs and reminiscences of its founder and of other key members of the Ayandegan editorial team.