Friday, April 25, 2014

Ali Baba & His Forty Lives:
Harry Ekizian’s Saga of Survival and Success

"If this be play-acting, then it is play-acting of the highest order and comes close to being the best entertainment in town. To cavil at it for being play-acting is to cavil at a Booth or a Barrymore for getting up off the floor and putting on his street clothes after the final curtain has been lowered on 'Hamlet.'"
- Joel Sayre, "The Pullman Theseus," The New Yorker, March 5, 1932

Over the past century, the world of professional wrestling has been defined by its cast of sinister heels (that’s grappler lingo for “bad guys”), the most notable of which have often been classic villains with a foreigner gimmick – an exotic menace from a faraway land meant to provoke the crowd and stir up both sympathy and motivation for an All-American babyface hero.

In the earliest years of the sport, as the deft wrestling analyst and aficionado David Shoemaker recently wrote in The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling, “The wrestling matches mythologized the athletes and wrote the stories themselves. The audiences need only watch the shows to see the symbolism. The promoters were putting on morality plays filtered though the lens of nationalism, with heroes constructed specifically to appeal to the ethnic origins of the fans.”

From the turn of the century’s “Russian Lion” George Hackenschmidt to the Cold War’s “Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff (born Oreal Perras in Montreal, Canada) and Nikolai Volkoff (really Josip Peruzović from Croatia), anti-American baddies have long sold the spectacle to the public.

German characters like Hans Schmidt, Karl Von Hess, and Fritz Von Erich (Guy Lerose, Frank Fakety, and Jack Adkisson, respectively) were ubiquitous in the decades following World War II, as were devious Japanese heels like Toru Tanaka, Mr. Fuji, and the Great Kabuki. Even an “Ultra Australian” tag team by the name of The Fabulous Kangeroos riled up crowds across the United States in the 1950s and '60s. There's also Colonel DeBeers, the mid-1980s pro-Apartheid Afrikaner wrestler. Yes, really.

Perhaps the most fearsome and sublimely Orientalist gimmick, however, has been that of the evil Middle Easterner donning a dastardly, oversized mustache, shaved head, and stereotypically ethnic garb from keffiyehs to pointy boots. But before there was Ed Farhat’s The Sheik, Sheik (or, alternatively, General) Adnan Al-Kaissey, Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri’s The Iron Sheik, and Solofa Fatu Jr.'s masked Sultan, there was Harry Ekizian, known in the annals of wrestling history as Ali Baba.

In a magnificent new profile of Ekizian, published by the independent, online Armenian Diaspora news, commentary, and culture outlet Ianyan Magazine, journalist Liana Aghajanian recounts the harrowing adventures – both tragic and inspiring – of a survivor of genocide and slavery turned world wrestling champion.

Aghajanian writes:
Harry was born Arteen Ekizian in the Black sea port town of Samsun in 1901 to a wealthy Armenian tobacco merchant who worked for the American Tobacco Company. His father Krikor traveled back and forth to America from Turkey, eventually earning American citizenship – a crucial precedent which later contributed to Ekizian’s safe passage to the U.S.

When the systematic attempt orchestrated by the Ottoman government to wipe out its Armenian, Assyrian and Greek populations began, Ekizian was only 14 years old.
Ekizian lost most of his immediate family in horrors that followed; his father hanged, brother starved, mother and younger sister disappeared. Then things got worse. Ekizian was caught and sold into slavery, languishing in captivity and forced to do hard labor for four years until he miraculously escaped and reunited with an older sister in Constantinople. From there, with the help of an uncle in Massachusetts, Ekizian managed to make his way to the United States in 1920.[1]

After working in his uncle's fish market, he joined the U.S. Navy, serving two terms during the Roaring Twenties. During Ekizian's active military service, Aghajanian writes, "he passionately took up the sport that forever changed the course of his life." After winning several Fleet Championship titles, Ekizian earned the title of World Champion Navy Wrestler after an international bout in Copenhagen and was "honored at a White House Reception in 1927 by President Calvin Coolidge."

Ekizian relocated to Pasadena, California, where he worked in an auto body shop, and married and started a family. In 1932, a promoter in Phoenix gave him his first professional wrestling match. His athleticism and swarthy Middle Eastern looks led inevitably to a short-lived career in nearby Hollywood, playing monstrous, uncredited roles in Erle Kenton's "Island of Lost Souls" (starring Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi) in 1932 and W.C. Fields' "Man of the Flying Trapeze" in 1935. In a little known film called "Registered Nurse," Ekizian portrayed a character known as "El Humid the Bone Crushing Turk."

At the same time, the combination of sport and performance - from the squared circle to the big screen, and back again - helped Ekizian establish himself as a undeniable force in the Trust Era of professional wrestling, when opportunistic and ambitious promoters like Jack Curley, Billy Sandow, Toots Mondt, Joe Stecher, "Strangler" Ed Lewis, Jack Pfefer, Paul Bowser, Rudy Miller, Wladek Zbyszko, and Earl Caddock formed various profit-sharing consortia, dominated the industry, and expanded wrestling's popularity from coast to coast. Ekizian wrestled under various names, including the Terrible Turk, Break 'Em Neck Harry, and the Krushing Kurd.

Following a bout in Greeley, Colorado on March 11, 1935, where he wrestled under the moniker Ali Yumed, Ekizian's opponent Tex Wright dropped dead. A report in the Colorado Springs Gazette two days later noted, however, "The Weld County coroner, who performed an autopsy, said Wright was suffering chronic myocarditis, and should have not engaged in wrestling because of his heart condition."

Ekizians' star continued to rise. In 1936, he began wrestling for Adam Weissmuller (cousin of Olympian and Hollywood Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller), adopted a menacing Arab gimmick, and changed his ring name to Ali Baba. His instant popularity around Detroit, with its large Middle Eastern immigrant community, ensured his success and it was there, on April 25, 1936, that Ali Baba defeated reigning World Heavyweight Champion Dick Shikat for the title in an infamous shoot match (that is, the outcome was not predetermined). He repeated the feat in an 53-minute long bout before 7,000 screaming fans the following month at Madison Square Garden in New York City, thus gaining official recognition as undisputed World Champion by the notorious New York State Athletic Commission.

"The Armenian Assassin makes Poor Shikat Bleed," screamed a headline in the Pittsburgh Press, while the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described Baba as weighing in at 212 pounds (compared to Shikat's 227), "190 lbs of which is said to be stored in his angry mustache."

Though Ali Baba lost by disqualification to Dave Levin in Newark, New Jersey on June 12, 1936 (in a purported double-cross by promoter Toots Mondt), he officially dropped his title to Everette Marshall later that month in Columbus, Ohio. He lost to Marshall again on November 20 of that year in Chicago, consequently losing all claim to the championship.

His story, however, does not end there, and not just because Ekizian continued to main event wrestling cards across the country and around the world for years to come. Aghajanian writes,
But while his persona helped define an era of professional character wrestling that eventually permeated pop culture, it was only part of who Ekizian was. A seasoned rancher, doting family man and steadfast Christian who always credited God with his survival from slave to "strong man," Ekizian's agile hands once used to "crush" his opponents became legendary in California's Central Valley as he reinvented himself into a masseur, healing the aches and pains of migrant workers and business men alike.
Retiring to a citrus ranch in Dinuba, California after years on the road (and a divorce and second marriage to his beloved Henrietta), Ekizian lived out his days surrounded by family and friends. He died of a stroke on November 16, 1981 in San Luis Obispo. Against all odds - from genocide to slavery to the outrageous excesses of life in pro wrestling - Ekizian had made it to 80 years old, a life full of unspeakable sorrow and improbable success, from bondage to belt-holder.

Writes Aghajanian in her touching tribute to the Armenian titan, "It wasn't just Ekizian's strength, but an unflinching tenacity for life through both tragedy and triumph that truly made him a survivor."

While many still question the authenticity of professional wrestling, there can be no disputing that Harry Ekizian, the legendary Ali Baba, was - as current wrestling tycoon Vince McMahon would say - the real deal.

Read Liana Aghajanian's profile of Ekizian here and check out Ali Baba at work in the below clip from his October 11, 1939 match against Red Brannigan in Los Angeles.

[1] An alternative history compiled by wrestling researcher Steve Yohe for his 2002 self-published "Ali Baba Record Book" claims Ekizian was a Pasadena native, having graduated from Pasadena High School in 1917 and attended Pasadena Junior College as a wrestler in 1919 before relocating across the country to Boston in 1920 to work in his uncle's fish store. After struggling to make name for himself on the wrestling circuit, mostly due to his relatively small stature, he joined the U.S. Navy in 1923 and wrestled his inaugural Navy match against "Tarzan" Knight of Delaware on July 1, 1924.

Naturally, when discussing the larger-than-life personalities and mythologized personas of professional wrestling, one general rule applies: "Print the legend."


Originally posted at Muftah.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Rittrati Carichi Persiano: The ‘Loaded Portraits’ of Mohammad Ali Ziaei

With wretched pencil to debase
Heaven’s favourite work, the human face,
To magnify and hold to shame
Each little blemish of our frame.

Not since Tom Hachtman’s “DoubleTakes,” published in 1984, has there been a motley collection of caricatures of notable public figures – world leaders, celebrity personalities, all-star athletes, renowned artists – so thoroughly captivating and compelling.

And never before, perhaps, have such exaggerated cartoon characters been as strikingly beautiful and evocative as those drawn by Tehran-born, Vienna-based artist Mohammad Ali Ziaei.

A student of Vienna’s Industrial Design University of Applied Arts between 2002 and 2007, the now 31-year-old Ziaei has deftly trained his pen on a diverse array of subjects. From Gandhi to Amy Winehouse, Russian mystic Rasputin to South Korean pop sensation Psy, Benazir Bhutto to Donald Trump, the drawings Ziaei crafts demonstrate precisely why the term “caricature” is derived from the Italian and French terms for a “loaded portrait.”

In The Economy of Character, University of Toronto professor Deidre Lynch explains that, according to eighteenth-century British commentary on this imported Roman style of what is essentially narrative or editorialized portraiture, “caricature couples the act of willfully carrying character drawing to excess – of swelling figures and being prodigal in one’s handling of the signs of humanity – with the tendering of a truth claim, the claim that the drawing improves on extant modes of imitating nature and conveys truths about the person more truly.”

This, indeed, is what Ziaei often achieves in his work. As caricatures are all effectively political cartoons (usually revealing the political persuasion of the artist far more than the subject), it is unsurprising that Ziaei’s drawings have been featured on the International Political Forum website. One glimpse at Ziaei’s drawings of Bashar al-Assad, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes clear where he stands.

Most impressive though are his caricatures of iconic Iranian political players old and new (from the Qajar dynasty to President Hassan Rouhani), along with his renderings of some of Iran’s most heralded poets, artists, writers, and musicians (including Sadegh Hedayat, Mohsen Namjoo, Ahmad Shamloo, and – my namesake – Nima Youshij).

Below are some of Ziaei’s portraits, but be sure to visit his full collection here.

All credit – besides that given to Ziaei himself for his immense talent – goes to ReOrient Magazine and S&F Joon for getting there first and putting this on my radar.

Sadegh Hedayat, writer (1903-1951)

Ahmad Shamloo, poet, writer, and journalist (1925-2000)

Hayedeh, Persian classical singer and pop vocalist (1942-1990)

Mohsen Namjoo, singer-songwriter (b. 1976)

Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, Persian classical singer and composer (b. 1940)

Qajar Dynasty (1794-1925): Mohammad Shah Qajar, Fat′h-Ali Shah Qajar, Mohammad Khan Qajar, Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, Mozaffar al-Din Shah Qajar, Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar, Ahmad Shah Qajar (l-r).

Mohammad Mossadegh (1882-1967)

Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919-1980)

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (b. 1934)

Mir-Hossein Mousavi (b. 1942)

Hassan Rouhani (b. 1948)

And this one, just because I can’t resist:

And, from the grotesque to the sublime, my personal favorite:

Nima Youshij, the father of modern Persian poetry (1896-1960)


Originally posted at Muftah.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Rabid Rabin: Remember, Netanyahu's Nuclear Propaganda is Nothing New

Rabin at the White House with President Bill Clinton, 1995.
(Robert Giroux/AFP/Getty Images)

Lest anyone think that Benjamin Netanyahu invented the talking points so often repeated in hysterical Israeli warnings about Iran, here's a glimpse at what Yitzhak Rabin told AIPAC back in 1995:
Oh yeah, and just in case you thought presidential pandering to Israeli alarmism has increased in the last two decades, here's a reminder of what Bill Clinton told the same assembly:
All of you know that Iran, a country with more than enough oil to meet its energy needs, wants to buy reactors and other nuclear technology from Russia. This fact, together with other evidence about Iran's nuclear program, supports only one conclusion: Iran is bent on building nuclear weapons. 
I believe Russia has a powerful interest in preventing a neighbor, especially one with Iran's track record, from possessing these weapons. Therefore, if this sale does go forward, Russian national security can only be weakened in the long term. The specter of an Iran armed with weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them haunts not only Israel but the entire Middle East and, ultimately, all the rest of us as well. 
The United States, and I believe all the Western nations, have an overriding interest in containing the threat posed by Iran. Today Iran is the principal sponsor of global terrorism, as the Prime Minister has said. It seeks to undermine the West and its values by supporting the murderous attacks of the Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups. It aims to destroy the Middle East peace process. 
You know the need for firm action here as well as I do. And I thank you for your long history of calling attention to Iran's campaign of terror. I thank you for urging a decisive response, and I thank you for supporting the action we have taken. We have worked to counter Iran's sponsorship of terrorism, its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. We led our G-7 allies to ban weapons sales, tightening trade restrictions on dual-use technology, and in preventing Iran from obtaining credit from international financial institutions. But more has to be done. That's why I ordered an end to all U.S. trade and investment with Iran.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

New Federal Indictment Over Iran Sanctions Breach Demonstrates Reach of Nuclear Disinformation

United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz

A brief news story posted by Reuters at 3pm on Friday afternoon reported that Sihai Cheng, a Chinese national, is facing criminal charges brought by the U.S. government for allegedly having conspired to export "pressure transducers," sensors that translate the application of pressure into electrical signals, to Iran. This is in violation of sanctions that restrict trade of scientific equipment and technology to that country.

Cheng was arrested at Heathrow airport two months ago and the indictment was brought by Boston field offices of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, and the Department of Justice's Massachusetts District Attorney.

Following the publication of the Reuters report, the news traveled fast via such outlets like Bloomberg News, AFP, Telegraph, and BBC, inevitably tying the news to the ongoing international nuclear negotiations taking place between six world powers and Iran.

Pressure transducers have myriad industrial and scientific uses; their use in the transforming pressurized gas in centrifuges to an analog electrical signal is but one of these applications. A statement released by the U.S. Attorney's office declares, "Pressure transducers can be used in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium and produce weapons-grade uranium."

The fact is that transducers can be used for thousands of other reasons. Still, it is important to understand that Iran's enrichment of uranium is legal, its enrichment facilities are under strict IAEA monitoring and inspection, and Iran has never been accused of enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels.

The prosecution of people accused of breaching the aggressive U.S.-led sanctions regime is nothing new. Just last month, Mohammad Reza Nazemzadeh, a prolific and respected medical research scientist in Michigan was inexplicably indicted for trying to send a refurbished coil for an MRI machine to a hospital in Iran. However, the particular language used in press reports to describe the indictment of Cheng - in bold below - is relevant.

Reuters reported that Cheng had "supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications to Eyvaz, a company involved in Iran's nuclear weapons program, in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran, federal prosecutors said."

Bloomberg News used the same formulation:
From November 2005 to 2012, Cheng allegedly supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications to Eyvaz, an Iranian company involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
"Iran's nuclear weapons program." Read that again. "Iran's nuclear weapons program." The ubiquity of this phrase in the press and political speechifying belies the fact that Iran does not actually have a nuclear weapons program and is thus, not only deliberately deceiving, but patently false.

It should now go without saying that, for years now, the United States intelligence community and its allies have long assessed that Iran is not and never has been in possession of nuclear weapons, is not building nuclear weapons, and its leadership has not made any decision to build nuclear weapons. Iran's uranium enrichment program is fully safeguarded by the IAEA and no nuclear material has ever been diverted to a military program. Iranian officials have consistently maintained they will never pursue such weapons citing religious, strategic, political, moral and legal grounds.

This assessment has been reaffirmed year after year by the U.S. Director of Intelligence James Clapper, most recently in mid-February before the Senate Armed Services Committee. U.S. intelligence has maintained for nearly seven years a high level of confidence that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.

Nevertheless, this phraseology goes frequently unchallenged in the mainstream media - despite repeated appeals by ombudsmen and public editors for more careful and measured writing by their reporters.

Reporting on the Cheng case, however, is a bit more revealing. The specific claim referencing an Iranian "nuclear weapons program" did not originate with the Reuters wire service or Bloomberg's own cribbed report. That phrase in its entirety came from the U.S. Attorney's own press release about the indictment, which was posted Friday by the "Boston Press Release Service," and has still (as of this writing) not appeared on the website for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.

That the offending phrase - "Iran's nuclear weapons program" - was literally copied-and-pasted directly from a government statement by professional reporters for major news outlets, without a shred of skepticism, scrutiny or fact-checking, is sadly par for the course in a media landscape wherein the press simply parrots the government line as a matter of policy.

"The indictment alleges that between in or about November 2005 and 2012, Cheng supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S. origin goods, to Eyvaz, an Iranian company involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran's nuclear weapons program," the release reads.

The government prosecutor responsible for the indictment is Massachusetts' U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose sordid history of overly-aggressive prosecution includes one case leading to the suicide of computer programmer and online activist Aaron Swartz in January 2013.

In the Cheng indictment, Ortiz has thus made an assumption about Iranian actions and intentions that directly contradicts the consensus of 16 American intelligence agencies.  Furthermore, the prosecution itself is part of the Obama administration's own economic war on Iran.

Just two weeks after Iran and the P5+1 signed a Joint Plan of Action in late November 2013, the U.S. State and Treasury Departments specifically named Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Company among companies targeted "for evading international sanctions against Iran and for providing support for Iran's nuclear program."

The recent indictment and accompanying press release present a clear indication that the decades-long disinformation campaign about Iran's nuclear program is far more powerful and sustaining than facts and evidence. And that's bad news when the propaganda comes straight from the Department of Justice.



April 12, 2014 - As usual, the great investigative journalist Gareth Porter has sunk his teeth into this indictment story and has - also, as usual - emerged with some striking revelations.

In his story for the DC-based wire service IPS, Porter addresses the constant conflation between Iran's legal, safeguarded and monitored gas centrifuge enrichment program and an imaginary "nuclear weapons program."

The indictment doesn’t actually refer to an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, as the Ortiz press release suggested. But it does say that the Iranian company in question, Eyvaz Tehnic Manufacturing, “has supplied parts for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”
The indictment claims that Eyvaz provided “vacuum equipment” to Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and “pressure transducers” to Kalaye Electric Company, which has worked on centrifuge research and development.
But even those claims are not supported by anything except a reference to a Dec. 2, 2011 decision by the Council of the European Union that did not offer any information supporting that claim.
The credibility of the EU claim was weakened, moreover, by the fact that the document describes Eyvaz as a “producer of vacuum equipment.” The company’s website shows that it produces equipment for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, including level controls and switches, control valves and steam traps.
Moreover, the connection between the companies designated off-limits by the U.S. government and Iran's nuclear program are shown to be quite tenuous and exaggerated for political purposes.


Friday, April 4, 2014

The "Petty Game" of Denying a U.S. Visa to Iran's New UN Ambassador

Hamid Abutalebi

It has become increasingly clear that the United States government has deliberately delayed issuing a visa to Hamid Abutalebi, Iran's new Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York City. Abutalebi, a career diplomat who has previously served as Iran's ambassador to the European Union, Australia, Belgium, and Italy, was appointed to succeed outgoing ambassador Mohammad Khazaee by Iranian President Hasssan Rouhani late last year, following the landmark nuclear agreement signed between six world powers and Iran in Geneva on November 24.

Abutalebi has been unable to assume his diplomatic post for months due to the U.S. State Department's decision to hold up approval of his visa application. This past week, Bloomberg News finally provided the reason behind the American power play: Abutalebi was allegedly a member of the Muslim Students Following the Imam's Line, the organization of revolutionary students that took control of the U.S. embassy on November 4, 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

"The Americans are very strict about this and they conduct thorough investigations to make sure those who get visas did not participate in the U.S. embassy takeover," explained Mohsen Sazegara, one of the founders of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and currently a U.S.-based political analyst who has previously served as a visiting fellow at the AIPAC-affiliated Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Sazegara spoke with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, which also noted that, in 1980 "Aboutalebi, along with Abbas Abdi, a student instrumental in the US Embassy takeover, traveled to Algeria to invite representatives from several 'liberation movements' to attend a meeting in Tehran. The invited groups included the Palestine Liberation Organization (Fatah), the Polisario Front, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe, members of Shi'a communities from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and Lebanon's Amal Movement."

Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, one of the leaders of the 1979 embassy takeover and subsequent occupation, told Iranian journalist Omid Memarian this week that Abutalebi had no direct or organizational role in the seizure or hostage-taking. Abutalebi, who had studied at the Sorbonne, was asked to act as a translator for the students "because of his fluency in English," Asgharzadeh said. "He wasn't one of the main students involved in the event, with an ongoing responsibility. After the siege, we defined new responsibilities such as 'document translation' or 'communicating with foreign reporters,' and this is why we used some people on a temporary basis."

In an interview with Iran's Khabar Online News website in mid-March, Abutalebi addressed rumors of his role in the hostage crisis. "For the past 15 years, I have been an ambassador to many Western countries that are very close to the U.S., from Europe to Australia, and have always been dealing with the West," Abutalebi said. "Even in 1994, when I traveled to the US as a member of our country's delegation at the UN General Assembly for a while, no questions [about my involvement] ever came up."

He continued: "On November 4 [1979] and at the time of the occupation, I was not in Tehran... When I heard of the incident, I was in [the southwestern Iranian city of] Ahvaz." Abutalebi was later told that the students occupying the embassy "needed somebody to do French translation for them. I accepted... On few other occasions, when they needed to translate something in relation with their contacts with other countries, I translated their material into English or French. For example, I did the translation during a press conference when the female and black staffers of the embassy were released and it was purely based on humanitarian motivations."

Abutalebi made clear his belief that the hostage crisis has severely damaged U.S.-Iran relations. The takeover, "challenged American power in international arenas," he said," and "caused subsequent fears of each other and each country's developments to run deep between the American and Iranian people and officials. The phobia, by and by, became so profound that any measure taken by one side – either positive or negative – stirred intense fears both inside and outside of the United States and in Iran."

Wholly supportive of the initiatives of the Iranian president, Abutalebi stated that Rouhani had already "managed to put an end to three major problems facing Iran's foreign policy," which he defined as Iranophobia, Islamophobia, and the "alleged and imposed political and economic isolation of Iran." This, he said, "has been his greatest victory."

Noting that, after so many years of animosity and suspicion, "relations between Iran and the United States are not a current focus of attention for the executive authorities in Iran, or even in the United States," Abutalebi still maintained that "we must do our best to solve the multitude of problems that have been created so far" between the two nations. "After solving these problems and through ever-increasing mutual understanding and trust, we would be able to come back and focus on the issue of relations," he said.

Reuters reporter Louis Charbonneau has noted that Abutalebi is "widely seen as a moderate and reformist," who has close ties to Rouhani and former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. "Hamid has never been a hardliner," an unnamed Iranian Foreign Ministry official and friend of Abutalebi told Reuters.

Another acquaintance, the well-known reformist journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, called Abutalebi both "progressive" and "pragmatic."

The reaction from American officials - former and current - over his appointment and visa application has been nothing short of hysterical. The consensus view seems to be that the Iranian ambassador to the UN serves no other function than agitating against the United States, even though Iran is a sovereign nation, UN Member State, current chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, and enjoys robust relations with nearly every single nation on the planet.

"We think this nomination would be extremely troubling,"said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf at a press briefing Wednesday. "We're taking a close look at the case now, and we've raised our serious concerns about this possible nomination with the government of Iran."

"There'll not be any rapprochement with Iran until hostages are compensated for their torture," declared Tom Lankford, a lawyer representing the former American hostages since 2000. "It's important that no state sponsor of terror can avoid paying for acts of terror." Lankford called the appointment "yet another slap in the face" of those held hostage and insisted that the U.S. government "should not permit this to happen."

Former hostage Barry Rosen said the same thing, calling it "a disgrace" for the government to consider granting Abutalebi entry to the United States. "He can never set foot on American soil," Rosen said. Despite not knowing Abutalebi's precise role in the embassy seizure, Rosen opined to the New York Post, "He's just as guilty as anyone of torture," adding, "It would be a travesty of justice. It would be like spitting on us."

Meanwhile, former Bush appointee to the UN, John Bolton, who championed the invasion of Iraq and has urged the American or Israel bombing of Iran for years now, told Fox News, "This is a thumb in the eye of the United States... Personally I think Iran should either be expelled or suspended under the UN charter because it is not a peace loving state. I have no hesitation at all in saying we should deny a visa to this individual."

Texas Senator Ted Cruz introduced legislation this week that his office said was meant "to prevent known terrorists from obtaining visas to enter the United States as ambassadors to the United Nations," according to the New York Times. The appointment of Abutalebi was "deliberately insulting and contemptuous," he said.

"Hamid Aboutalebi was a major conspirator in the Iranian hostage crisis and has no business serving as Iran's ambassador to the UN," New York Senator Chuck Schumer told the New York Post, without providing evidence to back up his charge. "This man has no place in the diplomatic process, and the State Department should flat-out deny his visa application," he added, seemingly unaware that Abutalebi has for years held senior diplomatic posts around the world.

Overblown outrage aside, the United States has no legal standing to deny Abutalebi a visa. The United States hosts the United Nations and is obligated to allow diplomats to do their jobs. It is not up to the State Department to pick and choose which diplomats are admitted, unless they pose an immediate national security threat, which obviously Abutalebi does not.

Bluster, pandering, and hurt feelings surely do not permit the United States to withhold a visa.

"Good heavens," Michael Doyle, a former UN official and now an expert in international and public affairs at Columbia University told the Christian Science Monitor. "It's like discovering someone was in the SDS in the 1960's."

Yet, the United States has a long history of playing pouty politics when it comes to issuing diplomatic visas - a "petty game," in the words of UN expert Jeffrey Laurenti, that underscores the petulance of the world's only superpower.

In 2007, Barbara Masekela, South Africa's ambassador to the United States from 2002 to 2006, was denied a visa to visit her dying cousin and did not receive a waiver until after her cousin had passed away. Indeed, until July 2008, South African leader Nelson Mandela and other members of the African National Congress (ANC) were included on the U.S. State Department's terrorism watch list and thereby officially denied entry to the country. Earlier that year, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a Senate committee that it was "a rather embarrassing matter" for her to have to issue specific waivers to South African diplomats traveling to the United States.

Iran's UN delegation has also previously been at the receiving end of this charade.

"For years, the way the United States issues diplomatic visas has irked U.N. lawyers and annoyed foreign governments, including Cuba, Iran, Russia and Venezuela, who complain that the U.S. routinely scuttles the plans of their leaders or allies to visit the U.N. for important meetings," Colum Lynch wrote in Foreign Policy in 2011. "The accusations have embarrassed diplomats at the U.S. mission in New York: In one cable from July 2009, they protested that U.S. 'credibility is damaged when a visa is denied so long after the fact.'"

The United Nations host-country agreement signed by the United States is not a suggestion that can be ignored on a case-by-case basis, depending on how the winds of D.C. lobbying and alliances blow. It's not up to ignorant blowhards in Congress, hungry for campaign funding and phony tough-guy credentials, to determine who foreign nations can appoint as their international representatives.

The law of UN treaty obligations - three of them, in fact - is clear, as Dapo Akande, a professor of public international law at Oxford University and founding editor of EJIL: Talk!, the blog of the European Journal of International Law, has previously pointed out.

Article 105 (2) of the United Nations Charter, signed in 1945, states, "Representatives of the Members of the United Nations and officials of the Organization shall similarly enjoy such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the independent exercise of their functions in connexion with the Organization." Being present at the United Nations headquarters in New York is obviously required for representatives to fulfill their diplomatic duties.

The 1946 General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN [Art. IV, Section 11(d)] maintains that "Representatives of Members to the principal and subsidiary organs of the United Nations," along with their spouses, are exempt from "immigration restrictions, aliens registration or national service obligations" in foreign states in which they work, travel, or visit. Refusing a visa to a UN representative is therefore a violation of this General Convention.

Moreover, and more directly to the point, as Akande has written, "the 1947 US/UN Headquarters Agreement regulates the matter in more detail." Article IV, Section 11 of the agreement states:
The federal, state or local authorities of the United States shall not impose any impediments to transit to or from the headquarters district of (1) representatives of Members... or families of such representatives...; (5) other persons invited to the headquarters district by the United Nations... on official business.
The following section is even more specific:
The provisions of Section 11 shall be applicable irrespective of the relations existing between the Governments of the persons referred to in that section and the Government of the United States.
Finally, Section 13 (a) states that "[w]hen visas are required for persons" fulfilling diplomatic duties for Member States, "they shall be granted without charge and as promptly as possible."

In reporting on this issue, Reuters noted that, while the United States "is required to allow U.N. diplomats to come to New York under its host country agreement with the United Nations," it still "reserve[s] the right to refuse visas to those seeking to work as diplomats in New York."

While seemingly a contradictory notion, the pertinent distinction may lie in Abutalebi's role as a permanent - and therefore, resident - member of Iran's diplomatic corps in the United States. Article V of the Headquarters Agreement may provide this loophole: "...resident members of [UN Member State] staffs... may be agreed upon between the Secretary-General, the Government of the United States and the Government of the Member concerned."

However, the staff of Iran's Permanent Mission to the UN is different from the "person designated by a Member as the principal resident representative to the United Nations of such Member or as a resident representative with the rank of ambassador or minister plenipotentiary," as noted in the Agreement. This individual (or individuals) is not subject to joint approval or agreement by the UN or the United States for entry and residence in New York.

As Hamid Abutalebi has been appointed as Iran's ambassador, and not merely a staff member, he is exempt from this protocol or scrutiny.

"It may not have been the wisest choice for Iran to make given Rouhani's efforts to make nice," Columbia University's Michael Doyle says, "but it's their choice."

For the United States to deny Abutalebi his visa would not only be shameful, it would be illegal.



April 5, 2014 - Robert Mackey of the New York Times' The Lede blog has posted an excellent and comprehensive run-down of the Abutalebi firestorm. In addition to a number of fascinating and frustrating tidbits, he also points out that the MEK is at the forefront of opposing Abutalebi's ambassadorship - which is effectively proof that this is all one big propaganda campaign promoted by factions intent on sabotaging any Iranian rapprochement with the West.

Mackey writes:
While it is not clear where the accusations against Mr. Aboutalebi began, one group fiercely opposed to any diplomatic resolution to the standoff between Iran and the West, the Paris-based exiles who call themselves the National Council of Resistance of Iran, have actively promoted the idea that Mr. Aboutalebi was a leader of the hostage-takers.

The same exile group — whose militant wing, the Mujahedeen e-Khalq, or People’s Mujahedeen, was removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations only in 2012 after a well-financed Washington lobbying campaign — upped the ante further on Thursday, claiming that Mr. Aboutalebi had “coordinated” the assassination of one of its members in Rome in 1993.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

U.S. President Admits American Role in Iran Coup
...Way Back in 1991

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and Vice President Richard M. Nixon greet the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Washington, D.C.

It remains bizarre that, for years, certain agenda-driven scholars attempted to suggest that the United States had, at best, a middling or minor role in orchestrating the 1953 coup that overthrew popular nationalist Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.

For instance, in a 2010 column in the Washington Post, Council on Foreign Relations fellow Ray Takeyh - a veritable font of nonsense - described the 1953 coup as "one of the most mythologized events in history," arguing that "[t]he CIA's role in Mossadeq's demise was largely inconsequential" and that the real power of the overthrow lay in the hands of Iran's "clerical estate" or, as he likes to call them, "the mullahs."

Despite the fact that American culpability has been clear for decades, and pushback to his claims was swift, Takeyh wrote effectively the same piece for the Weekly Standard three years later in the hopes that a more concentrated reactionary and Islamophobic audience would be receptive to his revisionist history. This time around, Takeyh claimed that "Operation Ajax—the notorious CIA plot that is supposed to have ousted Iranian prime minister Muhammad Mossadeq" was merely "mythologized history" and that - this might sound familar - "the CIA’s role in Mossadeq’s demise was largely inconsequential."

Rather than what he dismissively describes as the narrative of a "nefarious U.S. conspiracy," Takeyh declares that "the 1953 coup was very much an Iranian affair."

Takeyh published that on June 17, 2013. Almost exactly two months later, on August 18, an internal CIA report was released to the public openly acknowledging the U.S. (and British) governments' responsibility for the coup, thus rendering Takeyh's disinformation even more absurd.

"[T]he military coup that overthrew Mosadeq and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government," the document, written in the mid-1970s, states. The supposed threat of "Soviet aggression," it continues, "compelled the United States... in planning and executing TPAJAX," the intelligence agency's codename for the overthrow operation, "as a last resort."

The plot was authorized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the behest of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, whose brother, Allen Dulles, was then the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and carried out by CIA operatives Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. and Donald Wilber.

It is often noted that no U.S. government official had admitted American responsibility for the coup until March 2000, when then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, "The coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political development, and it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs."

Years later, on June 4, 2009, before an audience at the American University in Cairo, President Barack Obama acknowledged, "In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government." In September 2013, Obama noted Iranian anger over "America's role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War."

More than two decades earlier, however, in May 1991, a figure much closer to the fateful events of August 1953 spoke openly of the Eisenhower administration's direct involvement and praised the decision unequivocally.

Former President Richard Nixon, in a conversation with C-SPAN about the legacy of President Dwight Eisenhower under whom he served as Vice President for two terms, discussed the American role in the 1953 coup.

"The United States, together with Britain, participated in supporting a coup in Iran that got rid of Mossadegh," said Nixon, who then described the former Iranian Prime Minister as "a left-leaning, Soviet - frankly - controlled leader." Nixon defended the coup because, in his words, "By restoring the Shah to power, it meant that the United States had a friend in Iran, a very strong friend, and for 25 years Iran played a role as a peace-keeper in the Persian Gulf area."

He then cited, as an example of the benefits of the coup, the Shah's continued willingness to ship oil to Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. "That would not have happened if Mossadegh, the one that the CIA got thrown out, had been in power," Nixon said. "It happened because Eisenhower, in his wisdom, did support those forces that restored the Shah."

Watch the entire clip here:

Nixon was a staunch believer in the Shah's suitability as a regional policeman and facilitator for U.S. interests in the Middle East and visited Iran as Vice President shortly after the coup. As president, Nixon began providing weapons systems and military assistance to the Iran on a grand scale, effectively bankrolling the Shah's $20 billion military build-up in the late 1960s and through the next decade.

"[W]e adopted a policy which provides, in effect, that we will accede to any of the Shah’s requests for arms purchases from us (other than some sophisticated advanced technology armaments and with the very important exception, of course, of any nuclear weapons capability)," recalled Nixon's National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger.

The role of the United States in overthrowing Mossadegh is undeniable. What remains in doubt is the credibility of commentators like Ray Takeyh, who have long produced faulty analysis, presented false history as fact, and yet retain their inexplicable reputation in the establishment media and halls of government as someone worth listening to.

When a criminal and a liar like Nixon is more trustworthy than an "expert" like Takeyh, it's no wonder both the public and our politicians remain so outrageously misinformed when it comes to Iran.



It should also be noted that, in his own diary, President Eisenhower wrote of the American role in the 1953 coup. In an October 8, 1953 entry - roughly six weeks after Mossadegh's overthrow - Eisenhower wrote:
Another recent development that we helped bring about was the restoration of the Shah to power in Iran and the elimination of Mossadegh. The things we did were "covert." If knowledge of them became public, we would not only be embarrassed in that region, but our chances to do anything of like nature in the future would almost totally disappear.
Eisenhower also praised an unnamed CIA agent - Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. - for his vital role in the coup's success. "Nevertheless our agent there, a member of the CIA, worked intelligently, courageously, and tirelessly," wrote Eisenhower, adding that, considering how the coup attempt initially appeared in jeopardy, "we can understand exactly how courageous our agent was in staying right on the job and continuing to work until he reversed the entire situation."



June 22, 2014 - Ray Takeyh is back at it, writing in Foreign Affairs - the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, where Takeyh is a senior fellow - that "[t]he history of the U.S. role in Iran’s 1953" is "not well founded" and again insists that "the clergy itself played a major role in toppling Mosaddeq."

"In reality," Takeyh maintains, "the CIA's impact on the events of 1953 was ultimately insignificant."

Takeyh, in his never-ending attempt to promote revisionist history absolving the United States for its culpability in the coup, also happens to conveniently omit from his tome the fact that then-CIA head Allen Dulles, was also a longtime director of the Council on Foreign Relations, was its secretary from 1933 to 1944, and its president from 1946–50.

Later this summer, as Steve Aftergood has revealed, the U.S. State Department will be "publishing a supplemental volume of declassified documents in its Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series that is expected to fill in the missing pieces of the documentary record of the 1953 coup against the Mossadeq government of Iran."



June 29, 2014 - A new release of declassified CIA documents, obtained by George Washington University's invaluable National Security Archive, sheds some more light on the 1953 coup, notably internal agency dissent over the operation, as well as the clearest official admission to date of British involvement in the coup.



July 2, 2014 - And there's some more. From the National Security Archive at George Washington University:
On August 16, 1953, the same day the Shah of Iran fled to Baghdad after a failed attempt to oust Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, the agitated monarch spoke candidly about his unsettling experience to the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. In a highly classified cable to Washington, the ambassador reported: "I found Shah worn from three sleepless nights, puzzled by turn of events, but with no (repeat no) bitterness toward Americans who had urged and planned action. I suggested for his prestige in Iran he never indicate that any foreigner had had a part in recent events. He agreed."


September 3, 2014 - In Foreign Affairs, Christopher de Bellaigue, a Tehran-based journalist and author of the book, Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup, challenges Takeyh's promotion of what he calls "discredited myths" and "selective history."

"Takeyh," de Bellaigue writes, "adduces no evidence to support his claim that without the CIA's involvement, the events of 1953 would have ended in the same result."

In response, Takeyh repeats the same claims he's made endlessly, adding nothing new to what he's previously written. Instead of rehashing his argument here, I suggest you just read this instead.



December 18, 2014 - The U.S. State Department has once again delayed the release of declassified documents covering clandestine American actions in Iran during the 1950s - ostensibly for fear they would undermine progress already made during nuclear negotiations and poison the well of good faith.

Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists reports:
The U.S. Department of State has blocked the publication of a long-awaited documentary history of U.S. covert action in Iran in the 1950s out of concern that its release could adversely affect ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. 
The controversial Iran history volume, part of the official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, had been slated for release last summer. (“History of 1953 CIA Covert Action in Iran to be Published,” Secrecy News, April 16, 2014). 
But senior State Department officials “decided to delay publication because of ongoing negotiations with Iran,” according to the minutes of a September 8, 2014 meeting of the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation that were posted on the Department of State website this week.
While the State Department is understandably wary of releasing information about its involvement in orchestrating the 1953 coup as talks continue, at this point keeping these documents secret might actually be more detrimental than publishing them.  More from Aftergood's report:
“The logic, as I understand it, is that the release of the volume could aggravate anti-U.S. sentiment in Iran and thereby diminish the prospects of the nuclear negotiations reaching a settlement,” said Prof. Richard H. Immerman, a historian at Temple University and the chair of the State Department Historical Advisory Committee
“I understand the State Department’s caution, but I don’t agree with the position,” he said. “Not only is the 1953 covert action in Iran an open secret, but it was also a motive for taking hostages in 1979. The longer the U.S. withholds the volume, the longer the issue will fester.” 
Besides, if the documents do have an occult power to shape events, maybe that power could be harnessed to constructive ends. 
“I would argue that our government’s commitment to transparency as signaled by the release of this volume could have a transformative effect on the negotiations, and that effect would increase the likelihood of a settlement,” Prof. Immerman suggested. 
“At least some in the Iranian government would applaud this openness and seek to reciprocate. Further, the State Department of 2014 would distinguish this administration from the ‘Great Satan’ image of 1953 and after,” he said. 
Continued secrecy has become an unnecessary obstacle to the development of US-Iran relations, argued historian Roham Alvandi in a similar vein in a New York Times op-ed (“Open the Files on the Iran Coup,” July 9, 2014). 
“Moving forward with a new chapter in American-Iranian relations is difficult so long as the files on 1953 remain secret,” he wrote. “A stubborn refusal to release them keeps the trauma of 1953 alive in the Iranian public consciousness.”