Op-Ed: The Iranian general I never knew

  • CNBC producer Yasmin Khorram writes about her grandfather Parviz Aminiafshar, who was executed during the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

There is another story about the killing of an Iranian general. And unlike Qasem Soleimani, he wasn't an enemy of the U.S.

In fact, as one of the top ranking military officials in Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's regime, he was an important ally.

He was my grandfather.

Major Gen. Parviz Aminiafshar was commander of the Imperial Guards and head of G2 Military Intelligence. He was among the most senior officials in a military force which was a close ally of the U.S., protecting the country and the Shah.

That all changed on Feb. 21, 1979.

Iran's 2,500-year-old monarchy was overthrown by an Islamic Revolution led by Shi'a cleric Ayatollah Khomeini, who forever changed the face of the Middle East and world politics. Prior to '79, Khomeini had failed at overthrowing Iran's monarchy; he was exiled to Najaf, Iraq.

Once the first anti-Shah demonstrations began, Khomeini's supporters quickly grew to millions across the country. The Shah safely left the country, but my grandfather and most military commanders chose to stay behind.

On the second day of the revolution, while still very much in charge of his units and having been given public assurance of protection by the Ayatollah, he called my grandmother from his post.

"He said, 'Don't worry, I'll would be home soon'" my grandmother recalls. "He didn't know something bad was going to happen."

That night, the Ayatollah's revolutionary guards stormed my grandfather's office and detained him. "He went with them and never returned," my grandmother said.

Four days later, my grandmother learned about his execution watching television. I wasn't even born when he was executed, but my memory is vivid thanks to my grandmother. This wasn't the end of her nightmare. They broke into her house, took her possessions and terrorized the family.

They were forced to flee Iran, leaving everything behind – to start a new life in the U.S. As a child, I saw pictures of my grandfather and grew up with his legacy.

He devoted his life to the military, quickly rising in the ranks with a career that took him all over the world. He met with world leaders including three U.S. presidents and was invited on Air Force One to visit President Gerald Ford with the Shah.

Since then, Iranians have experienced 40 years of fanaticism, repression and foreign wars.

Of course I understand the Shah's regime was accused of being harshly repressive and corrupt too. But few could have foreseen then how the new rulers would only magnify Iran's ills while becoming a constant thorn in the side of the West.

Some see the killing of Soleimani as a step towards democracy for Iran. Others are afraid it could start another 40 years of the regime oppressing its people.

Some may think his death represents the height of tensions between Iran and the U.S. after the hostage crisis. They'd be mistaken in that belief. Tensions were even higher in 1983 when Hezbollah – Iran's proxy – blew up the U.S. Marine base in Beirut, killing over 200 marines.

The general consensus then was that the attack would provoke a huge response from the U.S. and potentially start a war between the two countries, just as many assumed that the killing of Soleimani would result in direct confrontation.

But history showed us that within a year or so of that attack the Reagan administration was making secret gestures to the Iranian regime in what was ultimately exposed as Iran-Contra.

Following Iran-Contra, there was a period of no contact between the two countries. This continued until President Obama put harsh sanctions on Iran. Negotiations then began, ending in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed by several nations, or what we know as the Iran Nuclear Deal, despite Republican opposition.

In Iran, the deal bolstered the moderate factions but angered the hardliners.

When the foreign minister of Iran, Javad Zarif, traveled back after signing the deal he was greeted by young Iranians who were hopeful about potentially joining the international community. He also faced harsh criticism and allegations of treason by hardliners and fundamentalists.

President Trump, by pulling out of the Iran deal essentially pulled the rug from under Zarif and the moderate faction of Iran. It had one result – the hardliners were energized.

Iranian people have again taken to the streets, angry at the government, taking direct aim at its supreme leader, Ali Khamenei – which until now had been very rare in Iran.

No one anticipated the killing of Soleimani, no one anticipated the attack on the U.S. Marine base nor the shooting down of a passenger jet that took off from Iran's own airport last week – just after Iran conducted missile strikes against U.S. targets in Iraq.

Many are now saying the government's admission that its missiles accidentally shot down the plane is more horrific than the Trump administration's killing of the general.

In his memoir, Col. Nasrollah Tavakoli, who had been appointed chief of staff for the Ayatollah's new regime in 1979 describes meeting my grandfather after he'd been taken into custody.

Tavakoli says my grandfather, while waiting to meet his destiny, looked stoic and confident. That same day an Iranian newspaper published an interview with my grandfather in which he didn't plead for mercy, he didn't ask for anything but he advised the young guards who had taken him into custody to maintain the great army which had been built to protect Iran.

I'm certain that 40 years ago sitting in that room my grandfather would not have dreamed the military he left behind would be in such a weak position militarily, strategically and politically.

No one knows what tomorrow holds for relations between Iran and the U.S. There's plenty of pundits speculating about the next move, but the history of Iran tells us nothing is certain.

My grandfather's death didn't change anything.

Which brings to mind the famous 19th century philosopher George Santayana, who wrote: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Yasmin Khorram is a San Francisco-based field producer for CNBC, prior to CNBC she was a producer at CNN.

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