Translated: by A. Keshavarzi.
Translator’s Note: This is the translation of a pamphlet written by Hamid Ashraf, the key figure of the armed struggle in Iran in 1970s and the leader of the Iranian People’s Fedayeen Guerrilla Organization until his murder in 1976. This pamphlet is the most precise account by an eye-witness of Siahkal insurrection that is viewed as a crucial point in the history of Iranian revolutionary Marxist movement. Though this uprising was severely crushed by the Pahlavi regime it was known as Siahkal epic in Iranian revolutionary literature. The insurrection, while the regime boasted about turning the country into the “island of peace,” inspired a whole generation and ignited the fire of a relatively long urban guerrilla movement that recruited a large number of university students and activists. It had also a broad and deep impact on Iranian literature, poetry, cinema etc. The event, apart from its repercussions, was important because a number of activists showed the courage to go beyond clichés and seek new forms of organization and struggle with combining the experience of the world revolutionary movement and domestic concrete conditions.
Though this is a unique account of the insurrection, the author has sometimes used names loosely. For instance, he frequently uses “jungle band” and “mountain band” while they are the same. In fact, the group that planned the assault on the Siahkal gendarmerie station had two branches: urban branch and mountain branch.
Some footnotes have also been added by the translator to the main text.
One year since the beginning of the guerrilla warfare in Iran, aspects of this movement are still unknown to many who have engaged in this struggle and for others. In this pamphlet I try to shed light on different features of one year of struggle and present an analysis of the movement’s experiences.
Under the circumstances that the police forces’ pressure had obstructed any constructive attempt of political groups and any activity of dissidents had been suppressed with extreme violence, and tremendous fear and humiliation had created a great barrier the Jungle Group started activity. We had actually come to this conclusion that forming a broad-based organization with a purpose to organize people would not be possible at the beginning of the struggle due to the harsh police state. In brief and to put in simple words, the main aim of the group was to break the atmosphere of repression in the Iranian political milieu and show the people of our country that the only possible way of struggle is armed struggle.
The Jungle Group was founded by three former cadres of a group formed in 1966. These three was remnants of a group aiming at initiating armed struggle in Iran. In winter 1967 the group received a heavy blow and its main leaders were arrested. Some cadres gave up political activity and two cadres could go abroad and join the anti-imperialist anti-Zionist movement of Palestine. These two planned to return to Iran after gaining military experiences.
Three members of the group whose identity had not been revealed to the police stayed in Iran to found a new group based on the experience of the disbanded one. Having taken preliminary steps, these three succeeded to recruit 32 sympathizers who advocated starting an armed struggle. These people were organized in a clandestine group and began to provide logistics. In this period, all the cadres lived as ordinary people without going to hideout, and for this reason they always faced the risk of being detained. This group that was later known as the Jungle Group was reorganized in fall 1968. The group had eight cadres that increased to 22 in a period from fall 1968 to winter 1969.
Logistical activities of the group until summer 1969 included providing 14 short and long guns, preparing maps of the north of Iran, carrying out regular reconnaissance expeditions in mountainous areas and preparing an information archive. Now, one of the cadres that had fled abroad secretly returned to Iran. Spending a little while in prisons of Arab countries, this comrade, Aliakbar Safaei Farahani, could join Fatah where he, now nicknamed Abu Abbas, was promoted to the rank of the commander of northern fronts due to his brilliant qualities. He returned to Iran alone without knowing about the fate of the remnants of the group. His plan was to find and gather old comrades and organize a peasant revolt. In Iran, he noticed a well-prepared group which had acquired all necessary provisions existed and could serve for the implementation of his plans.
With hopes revived due to the good preparation of the group, Safaei returned to the Palestinian camps to seek help from the Palestinian movement and collect some ammunition. In spring 1970, the ammunition were at hand, and comrade Safaei, as well as another cadre who had fled the country with him, came back to Iran. Their preparations equipped the group satisfactorily. From then on, the group focused on implementing logistical plans and further reconnaissance expeditions. To provide financial resources, the group invaded a branch of Bank Melli Iran (in Vozara Street, Tehran) and confiscated a sum amounting to 1,600,000 Rials that was totally spent for the group’s plans.
By assistance of our comrades in the north we organized a system of food storage and communications. In September 1970 everything was ready for the start: maps, pistols, machine guns, ammunition, explosives, individual and collective equipments, communication system etc.
A six-member team of mountain vanguards started their expedition from Makaar Valley, near Chalus, toward the west on Sept. 06, 1970. Appointments were arranged to allow the team communicate with cells in towns during passing through the areas where local comrades resided in foothills.
The group arranged its movements in highland forests of Gilan and Mazandaran provinces from west to east in order to survey the region from geographical and military standpoints. The group had planned to start military operations as immediately as the preliminary reconnaissance that allowed the team to have well-organized mobility completed. The operation was to assail a military station and disarming its personnel. The team should immediately leave the area in order to escape the expected reaction of the enemy as it was well known that after the first guerrilla operation, villagers, who didn’t have a clear understanding of guerrillas, would not respond favorably. We knew only that continuing military operations could gradually impress residents of rural areas and encourage them to support the movement morally and physically.
Based on these two understandings – the military reaction of the regime and the absence of quick support from villagers – we had decided that the team should leave the area immediately after the operation and inflict the next blow in another area where the enemy did not expect another operation. The objective of the operations in this phase was to declare the beginning of armed struggle and changing the political atmosphere of the country. In brief, the first strategic objective was to change the political atmosphere and set forth the idea of armed struggle before political organizations and put an end on the long-lasted debates on this matter.
This phase should be carried out by elite guerrillas with the ability of considerable mobility, performing small but spectacular attacks, and avoiding engagement in heavy conflicts with enemy forces.
Preparations for this plan had been made, and the guerrillas, relying on their own self-sacrifice spirit and revolutionary faith, had prepared themselves to adapt to these conditions. Acquaintance and adaptation to neighborhoods and routes in the forests and mountains, providing food reserves and individual and collective requirements were the matter that would be handled little by little.
These were all technical issues of the first phase of the struggle in the mountain that could be dealt with well. But, the jungle group had to face other problems. It was thought that “armed propaganda” in the northern towns located close to the center of operations should coincide with the operation in the mountain. We even talked about the priority of operations in urban areas. However, the jungle group had limited resources and energy and therefore could not solve both problems specially because urban cadres had not yet received military training and our professional cadres were no more than one or two. Another matter was that the group had set forth the plans that required more energy. Under these circumstances, contacting other revolutionary groups was really necessary. Therefore, we began regular meetings with the group of comrade Ahmadzadeh. Owing to security considerations and counter-intelligence requirements the relationship between the two groups developed very cautiously and was focused on theoretical issues of the Iranian revolution.
Ahmadzadeh group, based on experiences of the Brazilian revolutionary movement, recommended organizing guerrilla warfare in urban areas. The group favored the idea that the movement should first flourish in cities and from then on the struggle should begin in the countryside based on the expanded movement in cities. In other words, they believed that the struggle’s focus should in the second phase be shifted from the city to the countryside. On the other hand, the Jungle Group suggested the simultaneous beginning of the warfare in urban and rural areas. Our argument was based on the propaganda character of armed struggle at its beginning. We thought the task should be carried out in both town and countryside. Albeit, we gave priority to the urban warfare but this priority was tactical because we thought operations in cities would prepare public opinion to pay attentions to the operations in the mountain and would render it greater influence. But, to comrades in Ahmadzadeh group the time preference had a strategic character. At any rate, connections between the two groups focused on theoretical issues throughout fall 1970. The mountain guerrilla band proceeded toward the west, and the two groups had not yet reached agreement.
To Ahmadzadeh group, organizing the mountain struggle was impractical and hold that only based on the energy accumulated in urban warfare we can continue the struggle in mountains. And really, resources of their group were not to the extent to let organized attempts in urban areas. In fact, they did not have much experience in the urban guerrilla warfare, and on the other hand – and as the more important matter – they were not in the picture on our resources and our practical steps. We decided to reveal our measures after reaching theoretical agreement with them. However, counter-intelligence precautions led to prolongation of debates and failure to conclusive final agreement.
The commander of the mountain guerrilla band, comrade Safaei was ready to initiate the planned operations. He specially counted on the possibility of recruiting men from Ahmadzadeh group. Furthermore, Ahmadzadeh group had at its disposal means in some towns of Mazandaran Province that could settle major problems facing the mountain guerrilla band. Therefore, comrade Safaei continuously urged us to reach an agreement with Ahmadzadeh group, and this happened in early January 1971. However, Ahmadzadeh group still based the possibility of operations in the mountain on starting operations in towns and believed that the mountain band should wait for the organization and preparation of urban cadres. On the other hand, we favored simultaneity because the mountain band was in a fit condition to carry out operation and surely problems cropped up if we failed to trigger off operations as scheduled. These possible problems were such as:
For these reasons, the commander of the mountain guerrilla band found it wise to set about the combat, especially because the commander’s mistrust of the successful settlement of theoretical debates between the two groups and a reaching a possible rapid agreement was growing. Ultimately, urban cadres of the mountain guerrilla band asked for a two-month respite to organize men and prepare them to join the band. However, the plan did not proceed as expected regarding the unprofessional career of Ahmadzadeh group’s cadre and the fact that they resided in various cities and towns and not all of them were convinced of an agreement that caused further persistence of debates. The two-month respite ended and we had not yet taken practical measures though we expected a change to happen soon. The mountain guerrilla band, in the meanwhile, carried out further reconnaissance expedition in eastern areas of Mazandaran Province that was beyond the plan. This extra expedition finished in February. The band could no longer continue its activities in the same mode. It should either retreat to the city or start the operations (up to this date, the number of members of the band, which still relied on its own limited resources, increased to nine but one of the men was missed in the forest and the search for him for several days came to nothing).
The mountain guerrilla band carried out two reconnaissance expeditions ( one lasted two mouths and another one and a half month) that covered from Chalus valley to Khalkhal, east of Mazandaran and from Chalus valley to Ramian in east of Mazandaran, and were ready to engage in the action. They had high morale and had grown strong, vigorous and were now full-blown experienced guerrillas.
At any rate, the commander of the mountain guerrilla band informed that he would trigger off operations in February despite the hesitation of urban cadres. Our urban segment had not yet fully prepared plans for operations in cities but we were prepared to perform attacks with propaganda purposes. In January, one of the cadres of the jungle guerrilla band, who was a conscript officer in the army, and for this reason had assigned his political responsibilities to another comrade, was arrested for reasons impertinent to the guerrilla band. He was comrade Ghaffur Hassanpour who had broad information about our small group. He was tortured for twenty days that led to his murder. Under torture, he finally made some confessions. These confessions provided clues for finding other members of the jungle group. Other members of the group who did not expect the exposure of information on activities of the group (we thought because the comrade had been arrested for matters impertinent to our group he would not have revealed information on the group but this was a serious miscalculation, and the members whose identity had been discovered by the enemy should go underground as promptly as possible) were surprised and arrested.
Waiting for a long time and the lack of a strong underground urban organization at that time led to disastrous consequences on February 2. On this day, the planned assault of the security forces of the regime began against us. Within 24 hours three comrades in Gilan and five in Tehran were arrested and so only five out of the whole urban members of the group survived. In fact, our urban network was disbanded. Now, a worthy member from Ahmadzadeh group named comrade Farhoodi joined the countryside band and the number of the band increased to nine. They moved from east of Mazandaran to Siahkal area by cars and deployed in southern hills of Siahkal, Deylaman mountains, and prepared to start operations. On February 5, we contacted comrades of the countryside band and informed them of the received blows. Neither we nor any member of the countryside band knew another member, comrade Nayyeri, who was a schoolteacher in Siahkal hills and knew the location of hidden food storages, had been arrested too. Of course, this comrade was not aware that the countryside band had taken position near Siahkal. We, still uninformed of the arrest, came to the conclusion that he would be arrested soon. Therefore, the countryside band decided to inform him that he should hide himself from the police.
On February 8, the date that was planned for a raid on the gendarmerie station, comrade Hadi Bandehkhoda descended from the mountain to meet comrade Nayyeri, the young teacher in Shaghuzlat village, and tell him about the imminent threat of arrest and help him escape. However, he was unaware of the damage which inflicted upon the urban organization had been extended to the rural organization and the gendarmerie personnel had kept a watch on Nayyeri’s abode. At any rate, comrade Hadi Bandehkhoda got caught by the enemy after an armed clash. The comrades in the heights heard the shooting and decided to start the attack according to the plan in order to release the captured comrade.
On the dawn of February 8, they left the camp and after taking the control of a minibus in Siahkal-Lunak road waged attacks on Siahkal gendarmerie station. The main target was the gendarmerie station and forestry station. The whole inventory of the gendarmerie station, including nine rifles and machineguns were confiscated. The deputy commander of the gendarmerie station and another person were killed in the operations. The comrades retreated to southern heights without suffering any casualties. (Furthermore, the arrested comrade was not found in the gendarmerie station because the commander of the station had already transferred him to Rasht.)
From February 8 to Feb. 27, 1971 the mountain band was the subject of concentrated attacks of the enemy. They fought bravely and destroyed more than 60 officers and privates of the enemy army.
This has been a question for everybody: “why did the mountain band lapse so quickly into debacle?”
There have been various analyses to explain this failure but various aspects of this attempt have not been clear to many who have discussed this failure. Here we try to discuss main and secondary causes of the failure but some points should be noted in advance.
Our group started operations with this assumption that we might be destroyed in every moment of the action. We had endeavored extremely to conceal our activities. But were we actually successful in this attempt? Our comrades carried out reconnaissance in the mountain and the forest for months without leaving a trace, and our urban and communicational cadres supplied their logistic needs. We knew the pre-operational activities should last too long. We knew this well and had experienced it (here, the contradiction between preparation time and preparation quality appears). A group has to make preparations without which it cannot act, and naturally better preparation would increase the chance of success. On the other hand, preparation should be completed in a limited span of time because this time by itself is a negative factor for inexperienced groups at the beginning of activity because it allows the police to trace and strike the group or team that is not yet well-experienced. We comprehended this contradiction but we could not estimate the correct time of beginning. Therefore, the desire to begin operations with greater means discouraged us from acting on the date we had planned and so time worked against us and in favor of the enemy. We received blows in the city without making an action. It should be pointed out that timing is a negative factor for a group or team only before beginning operations because the group still does not enjoy a practical experience of confrontation with the enemy, but certainly as operation begins and the group starts to get experienced in action and develops into a guerilla organization timing would no longer play a negative role. From then on, the future belongs to revolutionaries, and time would serve as a positive factor.
In my opinion, the reasons that came together to lead to destruction of the mountain band were mainly tactical errors. But, the mountain band committed a big strategic fault in terms of political, military and commandership that are described here. The tactical reasons for the failure of the mountain band were:
The guerrilla’s firmness and vigor, instead of tenderness and moderation, guarantees the survival of the guerilla. In early steps, moderation is a weakness. The guerrilla must prove his existence with full power and violence. Afterwards he will be able to carry out operations in the interest of peasantry and against enemies. Only in this way peasants become aware of the guerrilla’s power and purpose and would back him.
But, the main cause of the failure of the mountain band was something else. The mountain band should have been self-dependent and continue its movement and struggle only based on its own preparations and logistics without relying on the urban organization. The main cause should be sought in the change of the strategic plan of the mountain band. In last weeks of the reconnaissance, the band came to this conclusion that operations should be planned in such a way that could have an impact on the area of operations.
So, the theory of “locally-impacting operations” was replaced by the “nationwide-impacting operations.” The tactical result of this strategic change was that comrades in the mountain band should not leave the area after the first attack and they should remain in the proximity and continue tactical reconnaissance to strike the enemy in the same area so that persistent blows affect the area and encourage the people to involve in the struggle. This change in the strategic plan led to the neglecting of the indispensable principle of “permanent mobility” and remained in the area and planned to continue tactical reconnaissance of the area for 30 days and then quit the area for the east without leaving behind a trace, stay away based on existing logistics and return to the first spot to begin some operations in order to complete the impact of their action in Lahijan area. Growing disputes between tea raising peasants and the Tea Organization, on the one hand, and between local livestock raisers and Natural Resources Organization, on the other hand, as well as the people’s opposition to the bureaucracy and influential local officials heralded favorable conditions.
Furthermore, the commander of the mountain band did not expect that the enemy would send such a great army to destroy an eight-member band. The commander of the band expected the Lahijan company, at maximum, would be sent to suppress the band and never thought the Gilan gendarmerie battalion, as well as the whole police force and army in the region, would be mobilized to find guerrillas with tens of helicopters. Actually, this did happen. General Oveisi, the general commander of Gendarmerie, personally came to Siahkal and formed a headquarters and led counter-insurrection operations. Even Gholamreza, the Shah’s brother, was sent to region for inspection and visit. The Gilan gendarmerie battalion brought all routes and communications under its precise control and besieged the area. An extra military unit moved from Manjil garrison to Siahkal.
So, the mountain band, after attacking the Siahkal gendarmerie station, retreated to southern heights and engaged in reconnaissance and patrolling according to its plan. Normally, for logistics, they depended on the food storages in Kakuh peak that had been built with the assistance of Nayyeri, the captured teacher.
As we knew later, Nayyeri was put under torture and disclosed the location of the food storage. Therefore, the enemy concentrated its forces around the Kakuh and by using all means, especially helicopters, surrounded four comrades of the mountain band who had descended the mountain to take some food. Nature was also unfavorable because trees had shed their leaves in the winter and so being visible was a negative factor for the guerrilla and allowed the enemy to take advantage of helicopters.
Fedayeen of the mountain band fought for 48 hours, and when their ammunition was depleted two of them committed self-sacrifice [suicidal explosion] and killed themselves, as well as enemy stooges. The two of them, extremely weary and almost lifeless, were captured. One of the guerrillas could escape the siege but was found half-dead few days later on February 27. In this way, out of the nine-member mountain band seven were captured and two were killed in the combat. In total, out of the 22 members of the urban and mountain organization 17 were arrested out of which 13 were executed by stooges of imperialism on March 1971. Only five members the group survived the massacre and could escape the arrest. Remnants of the group condemned General Farsiu, the chief military prosecutor, in a revolutionary trial and assassinated him in the dawn of April 7, 1971 in revenge for the execution of their comrades.
1. This group was founded by Bijan Jazani and Hassan Zia Zarifi. The group was preparing to form an armed struggle against the former regime but police could infiltrate the group and arrested its members before any action in 1967. The key members were sentenced to long-term prison. In a criminal extrajudicial killing, the Shah’s regime killed these political prisoners in 1955.
2. North means here Iranian northern provinces stretched along the shores of the Caspian Sea. Heavy rainfalls in this area have created dense forests suitable for guerrilla warfare.
3. Masoud Ahmadzadeh, a cofounder of OIPGF, arrested, tortured and executed in 1971.
4. To be corrected to read west of Gilan.
5. To be corrected to read north of Gorgan.
6. The same mountain band.
7. Under savage tortures, comrade Iraj Nayyeri revealed the location of the food storage in Kakuh Peak, Siahkal. He was sentenced to life in prison by the military court.
8. The capital of Gilan Province.
9. Means self-sacrificing militant, originally the name Ismaili assassinates chosen to call themselves.