Shapour Bakhtiar

Shapour Bakhtiar
74th Prime Minister of Iran
In office
4 January 1979  11 February 1979[lower-alpha 1]
Monarch Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi
Preceded by Gholam Reza Azhari
Succeeded by Mehdi Bazargan
Personal details
Born 26 June 1914
Shahrekord, Iran
Died 6 August 1991(1991-08-06) (aged 77)
Suresnes, France
Nationality Iranian
Political party
Alma mater American University of Beirut
Institute of Political Studies
  1. The office has been disputed between him and Mehdi Bazargan from 4 February to 11 February 1979.

Shapour Bakhtiar (Persian: شاپور بختیار  Listen ; 26 June 1914  6 August 1991) was an Iranian politician who served as the last Prime Minister of Iran under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He and his secretary were murdered in his home in Suresnes, near Paris.

Early life

Bakhtiar was born on 26 June 1914 in southwestern Iran into a family of Iranian tribal nobility, the family of the paramount chieftains of the then powerful Bakthiari tribe. His father was Mohammad Reza Khan (Sardar-e-Fateh), his mother Naz-Baygom, both Lori and Bakhtiaris. Bakhtiar's maternal grandfather, Najaf-Gholi Khan Samsam ol-Saltaneh, had been appointed prime minister twice, in 1912 and 1918.[1]

Bakhtiar's mother died when he was seven years old.[2] His father was executed by Reza Shah in 1934 while Shapour was studying in Paris.[1][2]


He attended elementary school in Shahr-e Kord and then secondary school, first in Isfahan and later in Beirut, where he received his high school diploma from a French school.[2] He attended Beirut University for two years.[3] He and his cousin, Teymour Bakhtiar, then went to Paris for additional university education.[3] There, he attended the College of Political Science.[3]

Being a firm opponent of totalitarian rule, he was active in the Spanish Civil War for the Second Spanish Republic against General Francisco Franco's fascism. Later he volunteered for the French army and fought in the 30th Artillerie Regiment of Orleans. While living in Saint-Nicolas-du-Pélem, he fought with the French Resistance against the German occupation.[4][5] In 1945, he received his PhD in political science as well as degrees in law and philosophy from the Sorbonne.

Political career

Shapour Bakhtiar

Bakhtiar returned to Iran in 1946. In 1951 he was appointed director of the labor department in the Province of Isfahan by the ministry of labor. He later held the same position in Khuzestan, center of the oil industry. In 1951 Mohammad Mosaddeq had come to power in Iran. Under his premiership Bakhtiar was appointed deputy minister of labor in 1953. After the Shah was reinstated by a British-American sponsored coup d'état, Bakhtiar remained a critic of his rule.

Shapour Bakhtiar and Mosaddegh cartoon in Ettelaat newspaper 22 January 1978

In the mid-1950s he was involved in underground activity against the Shah's regime, calling for the 1954 Majlis elections to be free and fair and attempting to revive the nationalist movement. In 1960, the Second National Front was formed and Bakhtiar played a crucial role in the new organization's activities as the head of the student activist body of the Front. He and his colleagues differed from most other government opponents in that they were very moderate, restricting their activity to peaceful protest and calling only for the restoration of democratic rights within the framework of a constitutional monarchy. The Shah refused to co-operate and outlawed the Front and imprisoned the most prominent liberals. From 1964 to 1977, the imperial regime refused to permit any form of opposition activity, even from moderate liberals like Bakhtiar. In the following years Bakhtiar was imprisoned repeatedly, a total of six years, for his opposition to the Shah. He was also one of the prominent members of central council of the illegal Fourth National Front in late 1977, when the group was reconstituted as the Union of National Front Forces with Bakhtiar as head of the Iran Party (the largest group in the Front).

At the end of 1978 (as the Shah's power was crumbling), Bakhtiar was chosen to help in the creation of a civilian government to replace the existing military one. He was appointed to the position of Prime Minister by the Shah, as a concession to his opponents, especially the followers of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Although that caused him to be expelled from the National Front, he accepted the appointment, as he feared a revolution in which communists and mullahs would take over the country, which he thought would ruin Iran.

In his 36 days as premier of Iran, Bakhtiar ordered all political prisoners to be freed, lifted censorship of newspapers (whose staff had until then been on strike), relaxed martial law, ordered the dissolving of SAVAK (the regime's secret police) and requested for the opposition to give him three months to hold elections for a constituent assembly that would decide the fate of the monarchy and determine the future form of government for Iran. Despite the conciliatory gestures, Khomeini refused to collaborate with Bakhtiar, denouncing the premier as a traitor for siding with the Shah, labeling his government "illegitimate" and "illegal" and calling for the overthrow of the monarchy. Bakhtiar was accused by some of making mistakes during his premiership such as allowing Khomeini to re-enter Iran. In the end, he failed to rally even his own former colleagues of the National Front.

His government was overwhelmingly rejected by the masses except for a very small number of pro-Shah loyalists and a handful of moderate pro-democratic elements. The opposition was not willing to compromise. The Shah was forced to leave the country in January 1979; Bakhtiar left Iran again for France in April of the same year. Before leaving Iran, Bakhtiar abolished the Iranian monarchy and declared Iran a republic. Bakhtiar called himself the first President of the Iranian Republic.

French exile and series of assassination attempts

Shortly after the revolution, Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali, a religious judge and later chairman of the Revolutionary Court, informed the press that the death sentence was passed on the members of the Pahlavi family and former Shah officials, including Bakhtiar.[6]

In July 1979, Bakhtiar emerged in Paris.[1] He was given political asylum there.[7] From his base in Paris, he led the National Movement of Iranian Resistance, which fought the Islamic republic in his homeland. Between 9 and 10 July 1980, Bakhtiar helped organize a coup attempt known as the Nojeh coup plot. The Islamic Republic issued a death sentence for him.[8]

On 18 July 1980, he escaped an assassination attempt by a group of three attackers in his home in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris, which killed a policeman and a neighbor.[1][8] The five-man assassination team led by Anis Naccache, a Palestinian, was captured.[8] They were given life sentences, but the then French President François Mitterrand pardoned them in July 1990.[9] They were sent to Tehran.[9]


Tomb of Shapour Bakhtiar in France

On 6 August 1991, Bakhtiar was murdered along with his secretary, Soroush Katibeh, by three assassins in his home in the Parisian suburb of Suresnes.[10] Both men were killed with kitchen knives. Their bodies were not found until at least 36 hours after death, despite the facts that Bakhtiar had heavy police protection and his killers had left identity documents with a guard at his house.[11] Two of the assassins escaped to Iran. A third, Ali Vakili Rad, was apprehended in Switzerland,[12] along with an alleged accomplice, Zeynalabedine Sarhadi, a great-nephew of the president of Iran at the time, Hashemi Rafsanjani.[13][14] Both were extradited to France for trial.[15] Vakili Rad was sentenced to life in prison in December 1994, but Sarhadi was acquitted.[16] Rad was paroled from jail in France on 19 May 2010, after serving 18 years of his sentence.[10] He was received as a hero by Iranian officials.[17][18]


The release of Rad had happened only two days after Tehran freed Clotilde Reiss, a French student accused of spying by the Islamic regime. Both the French and Iranian governments deny the two affairs are linked.[19][20][21]

Hours after the assassination of Bakhtiar, a British hostage was released from Lebanon, presumably held by Hezbollah, but a French hostage was taken.[22] Although many in the Iranian exile community speculated of official French complicity in Bakhtiar's death, the second kidnapping is said to cast a shadow over such theories. The French would seem unlikely to support an operation that included the kidnapping of another French hostage in Lebanon, but there is no apparent connection between the two events.[11]

Published works

He published a memoir[23] in addition to many articles. Bakhtiar's books include Ma Fidélité (in French)[5] and 37 Days after 37 Years (in Persian),[24] his biography (highlighting his political career and his beliefs, up to the Iranian Revolution. His writings are of special interest regarding society and politics in the Pahlavi Era and the period of riots and turbulence just before the fall of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.

Personal life

Bakhtiar was first married a French woman with whom he had three children, a son Guy and two daughters, Viviane and France.[25] Viviane died of a heart attack at the age of 49 in Cannes in August 1991.[26] His second wife was Shahintaj, an Iranian, and they had a son, Goudard.[27]

Bakhtiar is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.[2]


  1. 1 2 3 4 Dan Geist (6 August 2011). "'A Darker Horizon': The Assassination of Shapour Bakhtiar". PBS. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Kadivar, Cyrus (4 March 2003). "37 days. A cautionary tale that must not be forgotten". The Iranian. Retrieved 30 July 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 "Bakhtiari, Teymour". Bakhtiari Family. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
  4. Wolfgang Saxon (9 August 1991) "Shahpur Bakhtiar: Foe of Shah Hunted by Khomeini's Followers" New York Times, retrieved 6 July 2015
  5. 1 2 Chapour Bachtiar, Ma Fidélité, Edition Albin Michel, Paris 1985 ISBN 2-226-01561-2, ISBN 978-2-226-01561-7
  6. "No Safe Haven: Iran's Global Assassination Campaign". Iran Human Rights. 2008. Retrieved 4 August 2013.
  7. Kaveh Basmenji (25 January 2013). Tehran Blues: Youth Culture in Iran. Saqi. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-86356-515-1. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  8. 1 2 3 "Police thwart attempt to assassinate Bakhtiar". The Pittsburgh Press. Vol. 97, №. 25. UPI. 18 July 1980. p. A8. Retrieved 4 November 2012 via
  9. 1 2 Hooman Bakhtiar (9 August 2015). "Obama's Sanctions Gift to an Assassin for Iran". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  10. 1 2 "Ali Vakili Rad: The Perfect Murder and An Imperfect Getaway". France 24. 19 May 2010. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  11. 1 2 Riding, Alan. "France Vows to Press for Release of Newly Taken Hostage", New York Times, 10 August 1991. Retrieved 5 November 2007.
  12. Rempel, William C. "Tale of Deadly Iranian Network Woven in Paris", Los Angeles Times, 3 November 1994. Retrieved 5 November 2007.
  13. Kenneth Pollack (2 November 2004). The Persian Puzzle: Deciphering the Twenty-five-Year Conflict Between the United States and Iran. Random House Publishing Group. p. 264. ISBN 978-1-58836-434-0. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  14. Greenhouse, Stephen. "French Ask Swiss on Jailed Iranian", New York Times, 28 December 1991. Retrieved 5 November 2007.
  15. Riding, Alan; 3 Iranians Go on Trial in France in Slaying of Exiled Ex-Premier, New York Times; 3 November 1994; retrieved 5 November 2007.
  16. U.S. State Department, 1994 Human Rights Report: Iran. Retrieved 5 November 2007
  17. "Iran Gives Hero's Welcome to Killer of Former Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar Print Comment Share:". Voice of America. 18 May 2010. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  18. "Bakhtiar's Murderer Turned into a Hero and Role Model". Rooz Online. 20 May 2010. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  19. Lisa Bryant (17 May 2010). "France Sends Iranian Assassin Home". Voice of America. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  20. "No Operation". Press TV. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  21. "Iran Agent Freed by France Arrives in Iran", Aurelien Girard, The Epoch Times (English edition), 19 May 2010, Retrieved 6 July 2015
  22. Schmidt, William E. "Pressure Mounts on Israel to Free Its Arab Hostages", New York Times, 10 August 1991. Retrieved 5 November 2007.
  23. Habib Lajevardi, editor, Memoirs of Shapour Bakhtiar, in Persian (Harvard University Press, 1996). ISBN 0-932885-14-4
  24. 37 Days after 37 Years, in Persian, Radio Iran Publications, Paris, 1982
  25. "An interview of Shapour Bakhtiar's Only Living Daughter". Iranian. 7 August 2010. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  26. "Bakhtiar's daughter dies of heart attack". UPI. Cannes. 24 August 1991. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  27. David Rosenzweig (8 August 2001). "Family of Slain Prime Minister Files Suit Against Iranian Government". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 May 2016.

See also

Political offices
Preceded by
Gholam Reza Azhari
Prime Minister of Iran
Succeeded by
Mehdi Bazargan
Party political offices
Preceded by
New Title
Leader of National Resistance Movement
Succeeded by
Goudarz Bakhtiar
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