Both Iran and “protest movements” are in the news today, so I thought it might be useful to post an Iran timeline of “the protest movement” in Isfahan, Iran, leading up to the Iranian Revolution. Selected events are listed below.
June 5, 1963
Protests erupt over the arrest of Ayatollah Khomeini and other clerics.
October 29, 1977
Bazaaris hold a mourning ceremony on the seventh day of Ayatollah Khomeini’s son’s death. They close their shops and sit on the floor of the bazaar, praying and occasionally shouting political slogans.
Bazaaris close their shops for a week to protest the massacre of clerical students in Qom. At this time, Isfahan is the most important center of handicraft industries in the country.
February 18, 1978
Forty days after the massacre in Qom, the bazaar is shut down for mourning ceremonies.
March 30, 1978
The bazaar is closed in honor of a mourning ceremony held in honor of martyrs in Tabriz.
Mourning ceremonies are held for those killed in March. The bazaar is closed.
The anniversary of the June 3, 1963, uprising is observed. The vast majority of bazaaris close down.
Protestors are killed in Isfahan. Martial law is imposed on the city. Bazaaris shut down their shops for several days to protest the killings.
Shopkeepers close down to protest the arrest of Ayatollah Sayyed Jalal Taheri. They hold a 2 week sit-in.
August 19, 1978
On this anniversary of Mossadegh’s overthrow in 1953, two engineering workshops at the Isfahan steel mill stop work and issue a list of demands. Executives and managers promise to investigate the grievances and workers resume work by noon.
(You can find more information on Mossadegh in our posts on Cold War Iran: Mossadeq, The CIA Coup, and the Constitution 1906-1079) and Oil, Mosaddegh, and CIA Intervention. You might also want to take a look at Gaming Cold War Iran: Mosaddegh, Kashani, and Iranian Oil.)
Following the Tehran massacre on September 8, the bazaar is shut down for several days.
September 10, 1978
Groups of workers and technicians at the Isfahan steel mill go on strike. The army surrounds the striking workers and sections. Workers return to work in the afternoon.
September 18, 1978
Rumors abound that another strike is called for steel workers. The army surrounds the installations and no strike occurs.
October 1, 1978
Shopkeepers go on strike to protest Ayatollah Khomeini’s expulsion to France. Bazaaris threaten to boycott French goods unless restrictions placed on Khomeini’s political activities in France are lifted.
October 4, 1978
Two sections of the steel mill go on strike. Three other sections boycott but return to work after lunch.
October 6, 1978
More steel mill workers walk out.
October 9, 1978
Ninety percent of the steel mill’s employees (about 46,000) are on strike.
October 10, 1978
The percentage of steel workers on strike reaches 98%.
October 25, 1978
Most of the steel workers are back at work.
Hooligans attack the bazaar, burning and looting shops.
The Isfahan bazaar closes and remains closed for more than 75 days.
At the end of November, people disarm three police officers and vandalize the house of an American.
November 3, 1978
The police academy is set on fire.
November 16, 1978
Three soldiers are killed with a hand grenade. A group of demonstrators also chases a sergeant, who after taking refuge in a nearby house, is killed. The group takes his gun.
November 22, 1978
Citizens mount an antigovernment rally.
Police open fire on a group of people gathered at the Mesri Mosque. The officers are attacked from behind. One policeman is killed with a shovel and four others with Molotov cocktails.
By mid-December, 30,000 workers at the Isfahan steel mill are out on strike.
By the end of December, the city is, in part, controlled by militants.
December 11, 1978
Residents of Isfahan tear down statues of the shah and his father. Afterwards, they go on a rampage, attacking a police station, and burning movie theaters, banks, supermarkets, and stores selling alcohol. They also attempt to burn down SAVAK headquarters, but are only able to remove the door before being driven off by police. Forty-eight people are killed and 130 injured in the incident.
December 25, 1978
A SAVAK employee is badly beaten and dies in the hospital.
Bazaaris continue to be a target of hooligan’s informal repression.
January 1, 1979
Thousands of Isfahan steel workers (on strike since November 1978) ask striking Trans-Iranian Railway workers to transport coal from Kerman so that some sections of the refinery can be heated and prevented from deteriorating. The request is agreed to.
January 12, 1979
A SAVAK officer is killed.
January 14, 1979
Two police officers are fatally wounded.
January 16, 1979
The shah leaves the country.
January 23-24, 1979
Mass defection of Air Force homofars. Orders are issued for their detention and they are transferred to Tehran from their home base in Isfahan.
February 1, 1979
Khomeini returns to Iran.
By the end of the first week in February, much of Isfahan is under the control of the komiteh set up by Ayatollah Khademi in the last week of January.
ADDENDUM to Iran Timeline: Cold War.
- Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have been under house arrest since February 2011. No other leadership has emerged, so the Green Movement’s ability to organize and mobilize street protests has been seriously undermined.
- Iran’s civil society has been constrained by the state so the opposition movement there is still evolving. There are no unifying objectives on key issues, such as the relationship between religion and the state, a new political structure, or the scope of reforms.
It is important not to compare the Green movement with the Arab spring for several reasons. First and foremost, most Arab countries that have experienced revolutions — aside from Libya — had some semblance of a civil society. Even Syria had a civil society movement that was not as constrained by the state as is the case in Iran.
The movement is still underway, but it does not speak with one voice and it is not highly visible.