Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Communist Princess


These are the interesting excerpts of an obituary written by Mariam Firouz's sister in law. (I chop out the large self-congratulatory segments about the Qajar's Farmafarma's; as my objective of this post is to keep in mind how far back the "feminism" in Iran goes.)

A month ago this day, on March 12th, a Persian Pasionaria, referred to also as 'Red Princess', died in Tehran at age 94, testifying to the tenacity of the foremost female Communist and feminist activist of Iran. Born a princess, Mariam Firuz never wavered in the pursuit of her aim to bring modernity and the emancipation of women to Iran. Yet, apart from a sympathetic obituary with some factual flaws, by Baroness Afshar in the Guardian (March 31st) and a few articles on Persian websites, the saga and the death of this remarkable woman has gone largely unreported.

Mariam had been educated at the Jeanne d'Arc missionary school in Tehran, where the nuns were more concerned with substituting Christian keys for Moslem ones to the gates of Heaven – hardly an answer to the urgency of the political and social problems to which this precociously aware student was to devote most of her life. [...]

Her first bold step was to establish a literary salon, attended by some of the most talented Iranian minds of the time – poets, litterateurs, erudite scholars -, at least two of whom were infatuated with her combination of beauty, personality and high intellect. (One of these was Rahi Mo'ayyeri, [...] whose inimitable poetry charmed generations. [the other one was] a dashing young architect, Nureddin Kianuri, who had studied at the Beaux-Arts in Paris [... who] was the grandson of the most reactionary cleric in the early 20th century, Sheikh Fazlollah Nuri, the only high cleric who was executed publicly in 1909 for having fomented agitation against the newly established constitutional regime. [...] Kianuri [was] a Communist, as were quite a few intellectuals of his generation, he was a Stalinist and a founding member of the Tudeh, the Communist Party of Iran.

To a passionate and compassionate woman such as Mariam, the Tudeh's radical ideas, with its feminist content, had an irresistible appeal that would lead her inexorably towards activism. [...] Soon after she met Kianuri she founded the Women's chapter of the Tudeh Party in the 1940s and launched a publication to educate women on their rights and on the benefits of embracing a radical ideology that took these seriously enough. At the time, no other political or social movement would have provided such an outlet for her irrepressible energy nor such scope for her urge to emancipate women and relieve the misery of the dispossessed. [...]

There followed a few years of freedom to promote the Tudeh's ideals and militancy that attracted more and more devotees, but in 1951, political history took a new turn when Mariam's first cousin, Dr. Mossadegh, became Prime Minister in a truly democratically functioning Iran. Mossadegh's decision to launch the nationalization of oil won over the enthusiasm of a nation which had been moving in that direction for some time. The Tudeh, for its part, was hoping to turn the situation to its own advantage, but was losing ground as the nation rallied behind Mossadegh. Ultimately, though, the Tudeh must take a share of the blame for the failure of Iranian democracy, if only by giving the British the excuse of a much exaggerated Communist threat. A Godsend intended to scare away an initially sympathetic USA from backing Mossadegh. The much-told tale of how the Shah was brought back by a CIA-engineered coup to abrogate the democratic society he left behind, requires a post-scriptum in the present context.

Right after the Shah was reinstated with the blessings of a consortium of global oil giants, there was a wave of arrests, focusing particularly on the Tudeh, [...] but Mariam managed to slip through the grip of her pursuers and roamed for three years under the cover of night and a black chador. [...]

The Tudeh was well organized and had infiltrated a number of institutions, including the military at every level. Before Mariam could exhaust the range of hideouts, Kianuri and his fellow prison inmates broke loose and escaped to Iraq (where the Communist Party was on the rise), thanks to the complicity of sympathetic officers within the army. In 1956, Mariam was able to join her husband en route to Moscow. Thus began almost a quarter of a century of life in exile, away from home and the family she loved, - first in Moscow, then Leipzig and finally East Berlin where the couple enjoyed the relative luxury of a three-room apartment, a car and even a tiny garden out of town (which Mariam named "Punak" in memory of their family estate outside Tehran). They were allowed to receive visits from abroad as well as parcels. [...]

In 1979, when the monarchy was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution, [...] the ideological rift between the Communists and the Islamists was too deep to be bridged [...] When the inevitable break-up occurred, the members of the Tudeh found themselves once again in jail. Kianuri, broken by torture, eventually admitted on public television to having spied for the Soviet Union, but Mariam consistently refused to recant or admit to any treasonable acts. Her physical suffering was publicized at the time by such organizations as Amnesty International, the Human Rights Commission of the UN and PEN International, but the pain of witnessing the regression of women must have been her toughest ordeal. Nonetheless, she retained a strong morale, even after her husband, liberated from jail with visible signs of physical torture, died under house arrest.

[...] her heroic courage and steadfastness are sure to light the way for women struggling to acquire their legitimate rights. Her career as a role model may well lie ahead, beyond death and the grave.


Zeinobia said...

Was she a Palhavi Princess ??
You know we got our share in Egypt even more from the Elite class pre-1952 who became hardcore communists , in fact there were some family royal members with red thoughts , some said that wild princess Faiza had her shares along with her husband

RickB said...

That was fascinating, I had never heard of her, or that strand of history.

Naj said...

Hi Zeinobia,

Actually, the concept of Pahlavi Princess is a strange and virtually non-existent one.

Pahlavi father, Reza shah, actually stood against Qajar's in the hopes of setting up a Republic. It was the brits who convinced him to set up a "monarchy" and his son, the Shah that was toppled after revolution, was quite a piece of theater in his monarchess!

Anyways, Firuz was from Quajar's. And interestingly, these quajars were prolific in reproduction: MULTIPLE wives and concubines and whores and what not ... so the seeds of royalty are everywhere.

(My mum will smack me now ;) )

David said...

Mariam Firuz' story is quite interesting! It is a shame that the last part of her life saw the rights of women in Iran fall to new lows. There was a character in the movie Persepolis who escaped Iran and lived in the Soviet Union for a while. I wonder if Marjan Satrapi's relative personally knew Ms. Firuz? Maybe, as you wished, her life will inspire young women, and hopefully some men too, in Iran to make a better future.

Wasn't Reza shah just an army officer and not a member of the royal family?

Naj said...


Maryam Firuz is not a "role model" because grand mothers like MArya Firuz are plenty in Iran.

As for women's rights "falling to new low". You have to realize that BEFORE revolution, it was teh traditional and religious women who had no rights.After revolution, it was the areligious and modern ones who were sidetracked.

If Iranian women had "new lower" rights, then why are they dominating the universities, why are they members of parliament, why are they the Nobel laureates, why are they the best selling filmmakers? why are they the best selling authors? Why are they the best innovators? Why are they the best car-racers?

The Iranian government is petty, but Iranian women are not mash potato either :))

Zeinobia said...

@Naj, thanks for correcting information ,you are totally right I remember now when Palhavi proposed to Princess Fawzia , some members in the Mohamed Royal Family did not like the fact he was not a truely monarch
thanks for Shading the light on that lady

Naj said...


my pleasure.

Although I don't know what a "true" monarch is supposed to be. In my opinion these concepts are just too pasee to belong to the current century :))

Anonymous said...

She was a hero, not only in the arena for fighting for human rights in all periods, but also in the period when she was jailed. In prison she faced a long & brutal tortures. Nobody can imagine how fiercly are those tortures.....
Even under these conditions she never left her ideas about Iran & women rights.
that is why how the governemt was scaring of her , so they buried her very secretly & in the night time,nobody can understand her garve....
She was a great hero none of inteligent women in Iran forget her.. never