June 5, 1963 demonstrations in Iran

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The demonstrations of June 5 and 6, 1963, in Iran (also called the uprising, or the events of June 1963, and known in Iran by the Iranian calendar as 15 Khordad (Persian: نهضت پانزده خرداد‎‎)) were a protest against the arrest of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after an angry speech by him attacking Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Israel and the United States.[1] The Shah's regime was taken by surprise by the massive public demonstrations of support, and although these were crushed within days by the police and military, the events established the importance and power of (Shia) religious opposition to the Shah, and Khomeini as a major political and religious leader.[2] Fifteen years later, Khomeini was to lead the Iranian Revolution which overthrew the Shah and his Pahlavi dynasty and established the Islamic Republic of Iran.


American newsreel about the unrest.

In January 1963, the Shah announced the "White Revolution", a six-point program of reform calling for land reform, nationalization of the forests, the sale of state-owned enterprises to private interests, electoral changes to enfranchise women, profit sharing in industry, and an anti-illiteracy campaign in the nation's schools. All of these initiatives were regarded as dangerous, Westernizing trends by traditionalists, especially by the powerful and privileged Shiite ulama (religious scholars) who felt highly threatened.[3]

Khomeini summoned a meeting of his colleagues (other ayatollahs) in Qom and persuaded the other senior marjas of Qom to decree a boycott of the referendum on the White Revolution. On January 22, 1963, Khomeini issued a strongly worded declaration denouncing the Shah and his plans. Two days later, the Shah took an armored column to Qom, and he delivered a speech harshly attacking the ulama as a class.

Khomeini continued his denunciation of the Shah's programs, issuing a manifesto that also bore the signatures of eight other senior religious scholars. In it he listed the various ways in which the Shah had violated the constitution, condemned the spread of moral corruption in the country, and accused the Shah of submission to the U.S. and Israel. He also decreed that the Norooz celebrations for the Iranian year 1342 (which fell on March 21, 1963) be canceled as a sign of protest against government policies.


Khomeini's sermon and arrest[edit]

On the afternoon of June 3, 1963, Ashoura, Khomeini delivered a speech at the Feyziyeh School in which he drew parallels between the Umayyad Caliph Yazid I and the Shah. He denounced the Shah as a "wretched, miserable man", and warned him that if he did not change his ways the day would come when the people would offer up thanks for his departure from the country.[4] In Tehran, a Muharram march of a Khomeini supporters estimated at 100,000 marched past the Shah's palace, chanting "Death to the Dictator, death to the dictator! God save you, Khomeini! Death to the bloodthirsty enemy!"[5]

Two days later at three o'clock in the morning, security men and commandos descended on Khomeini's home in Qom and arrested him. They hastily transferred him to the Qasr Prison in Tehran.


As dawn broke on June 5, the news of his arrest spread first through Qom and then to other cities. In Qom, Tehran, Shiraz, Mashhad and Varamin, masses of angry demonstrators were confronted by tanks and paratroopers. In Tehran, demonstrators attacked police stations, SAVAK offices and government buildings, including ministries. The surprised government declared martial law and a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. The Shah then ordered a Division of the Imperial Guard under the command of Major General Gholam Ali Oveisi, to move into the city and crush the demonstrations. The following day, protest groups took to the street in smaller numbers and were confronted by tanks and "soldier in combat gear with shoot-to-kill orders".[6] The Village of Pishva near Varamin became famous during the uprising. Several hundred villagers from Pishva began marching to Tehran, shouting "Khomeini or Death". They were stopped by soldiers at a railroad bridge who opened fire with machine guns when the villager refused to disperse and attacked the soldiers "with whatever they had". Whether "tens or hundreds" were killed is "unclear".[6] It was not until six days later that order was fully restored.[4]

According to journalist Baqer Moin, police files indicate 320 people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including 30 leading clerics, were arrested on June 5. The files also list 380 people as killed or wounded in the uprising, not including those who did not go to hospital "for fear of arrest", or who were taken morgue, or who were buried by security forces.[6]

Release of Khomeini[edit]

Hardliners in the regime (Prime Minister Asadollah Alam, SAVAK head Nematollah Nassiri) favored execution of Khomeini, as one responsible for the riots, and (less-violent) strikes and protests continued in bazaars and elsewhere. As Fateme Pakravan – wife of Hassan Pakravan, chief of SAVAK – says in her memoirs that her husband saved Khomeini's life in 1963. Pakravan felt that his execution would anger the common people of Iran. He presented his argument to the Shah. Once he had convinced the Shah to allow him to find a way out, he called on Ayatollah Mohammad-Kazem Shariatmadari, one of the senior religious leaders of Iran, and asked for his help. Shariatmadari suggested that Khomeini be declared a Marja. So, other Marjas made a religious decree which was taken by Pakravan and Seyyed Jalal Tehrani to the Shah.[7] Pakravan's saving of Khomeini's life cost him his own. After the revolution when he was given a death sentence, a personal contact of Pakravan with close ties to Khomeini went to seek his pardon and reminded Khomeini that Pakravan had saved his life, to which Khomeini replied "he should not have."

After nineteen days in the Qasr Prison, Khomeini was moved first to the Eshratabad military base and then to a house in the Davoodiyeh section of Tehran where he was kept under surveillance. He was released on April 7, 1964, and returned to Qom.[4]

After the revolution[edit]

The date of 15 Khordad is widely noted throughout the Islamic Republic of Iran. Among other places, the intersection known as 15 Khordad Crossroads, a 15th of Khordad Metro Station are named after it. In addition, a major foundation – which offered a reward for the killing of Salman Rushdie, following the release of his novel The Satanic Verses (1988) and the ensuing Satanic Verses controversy – is named after it.


  1. ^ Moin, Baqer (2000). Khomeini, Life of an Ayatollah. New York City: St. Martin's Press. p. 104. OCLC 255085717.
  2. ^ Staff (undated). "Ayatollah Khomeini Biography" Bio. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
  3. ^ [1].
  4. ^ a b c "History of Iran: Ayatollah Khomeini".
  5. ^ Moin, Baqer (2000). Khomeini, Life of an Ayatollah. New York City: St. Martin's Press. p. 106. OCLC 255085717.
  6. ^ a b c Moin, Baqer (2000). Khomeini, Life of an Ayatollah. New York City: St. Martin's Press. pp. 111–113. OCLC 255085717.
  7. ^ Pakravan, Fatemeh (1998). Memoirs of Fatemeh Pakravan – Wife of Gen. Hassan Pakravan, Army Officer, Chief of State Security & Intelligence Organization, Cabinet Minister. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies. ISBN 978-0-932-88519-7.

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