The Ideological Revolution within the Mojahedin, remains the major definitive event in the organisation's internal history after the 1979 revolution. After this point, the organisation slipped rapidly into cult culture and lost every vestige of normal revolutionary and political identity. So, in simple terms, what was the Ideological Revolution?
In February 1985, a marriage ceremony was performed by Massoud Rajavi and a Mojahedin member called Maryam Abrishamchi (nee Azodanlou) before a gathering of Mojahedin members in Paris. They described their marriage as 'ideological' and explained it thus: Maryam had chosen to divorce her husband and marry with the ideological leader of the Mojahedin, in order to allow them to work in close proximity as co-leaders. Massoud announced that Maryam had achieved a level of competence which demanded that she become co-leader of the Mojahedin, while at the same time, he would retain his primary role as ideological leader of the organisation.
Until this time, the membership had no idea that there was to be a change in their organisational structure let alone the ideology. And even as the marriage was performed, few had any understanding at all of the changes, which were being introduced.
The marriage was declared necessary, due to the growth in Maryam's competence and to allow her to hold the position of co-leader. However, the real changes, which were to take place after this marriage, revealed themselves as more to do with Rajavi's ambition to wield absolute control over the organisation and its members. The real aim of the Ideological Revolution was to publicly and irrevocably establish Massoud Rajavi's ideological leadership of the organisation. Which in effect interprets as power. Neither he, nor Maryam were chosen by the membership of the organisation and were both self-appointed. Rajavi, modelling his leadership on the uniquely unassailable leadership of Khomeini, wanted to move himself into a position from which he could not be ousted or challenged, and ideological leader (the equivalent of Khomeini's role as Supreme Leader, or Imam) fitted this bill.
By 1985, Rajavi was secure enough in his position in the Mojahedin for him to undertake this publicly. Mousa Khiabani, who could have challenged his sole leadership on ideological grounds, was dead. Rajavi had manoeuvred and manipulated all the other high ranking members within his reach, to the point where those who accepted this corruption of Mojahedin ideology were loyal to him, and those who objected were sidelined, ousted or allowed to be killed inside Iran.
In 1981, Rajavi had founded the NCRI with twelve members, with the condition that he be appointed as interim leader after the Khomeini regime was toppled. On 8th February 1982, Mousa Khiabani and Rajavi's wife, Ashraf Rabii, were among those top Mojahedin members killed in a gun battle with the regime's suppressive forces in Iran. This left the way open for Rajavi to consolidate his leadership role in Paris. Now he only had people like Mehdi Abrishamchi to deal with and he could do this more easily because they were in exile with him in Paris. After years of imprisonment alongside them, he knew their characters and how to manipulate them, or he knew they wouldn't raise a challenge against him, and if they did, how he could appease them.
Only months after Ashraf was killed, Rajavi had married Abol Hassan Bani Sadr's daughter, Firouzeh. She was a student at a university in Paris at the time. She had no political inclination as far as is known and was largely regarded as being used as a pawn by Rajavi in the manipulation of her father. Ironically, this marriage did not cause any controversy. Members saw it for what it was; a political tactic. Ordinary Iranians saw it as both a convenient and a normal marriage. Rajavi's wife was dead, so why shouldn't he marry again, albeit indecently quickly? Yet this marriage really was cynical and exploitative. The young Firouzeh was naÔve and innocent and had no real choice in the matter. Not a very good basis for marriage to a man who later promoted himself as the defender of women's rights in the Mojahedin. In fact it was the next marriage, between two highly ambitious and fully aware people, that caused the outrage and continues to do so. Why? Because Rajavi married his best friend's' wife. (The relationship started long before Abrishamchi was ordered to divorce.) Looking at the marriage from a traditional point of view from Iranian culture, it was dishonourable, a betrayal of his friend. It was wrong, if not scandalous.
In 1982, Maryam arrived in Paris as part of Rajavi's efforts to have as many people as possible leave Iran and join his court in Paris. Although Maryam was not a leading member - at this time women had not become the issue of the moment and were still taking a secondary role in spite of their equal activities - she was important enough to have been fielded as a Tehran candidate for the 1980 elections in Iran. So, particularly as Abrishamchi's wife, she would have been a familiar figure in the leading circle of the Mojahedin.
Maryam was highly ambitious and looking for a way to rise in the organisation at any cost. Rajavi didn't know Maryam very well in Iran. There were many top women members who ranked higher than she in the Mojahedin, most of whom left the organisation during the Ideological Revolution or had remained in Iran and been killed like Ashraf. Maryam was brought out with her husband and daughter when Rajavi tried to evacuate as many people as possible. In Paris, because of her hard work and devotion, Rajavi chose her as the helping hand in his office and to arrange domestic issues and to take care of Firouzeh. She was their housekeeper and Rajavi's personal assistant.
It was not difficult for Maryam to replace Firouzeh for Rajavi. She gave him total obedience and also had a malleable, ambitious mind. She was devoted to the struggle. Firouzeh, on the other hand, had a mind of her own and exercised it freely by doing whatever she wanted. This of course, was unacceptable for Rajavi - who now demands 100% obedience even from people he isn't married to!
Rajavi said at the time, 'This girl has already got an ideological leader, and that is her father'. Instead, Rajavi needed someone to declare: 'He is my leader, body and mind' and Maryam fitted this role. She would have done anything to gain promotion in the organisation. Her point of view was 'Either he will marry me or I will kill myself.' In this respect it is widely believed that she began a sexual relationship with Rajavi even before he divorced from Firouzeh in 1984. Maryam was practically living-in with Rajavi in his buildings as his personal assistant, hardly visiting her husband at all.
In 1984, less than two years after their marriage, Rajavi divorced from Firouzeh. He married Maryam immediately the divorce was legally finalised. Ostensibly, this divorce was viewed as resulting from the discord and disagreement between Rajavi and Bani-Sadr, but the role Maryam played has not been shown until now. She had been appointed head of Rajaviís office and she worked closely with him in his office, often not returning home at night for days. Before their marriage on 8th February 1995, Maryam hadnít returned home to her husband Abrishamchi for several months. In this time, she had also attended a hospital in Paris for what is believed to have been a termination of pregnancy.
Although Rajavi's divorce from Firouzeh was publicly explained by his disagreement with Bani Sadr, Maryam's ambition led her to create division between Rajavi and Firouzeh, long before this political break-up. She was in a unique position to interfere. It was Maryam's intention to oust Firouzeh, but one that Rajavi found very useful for his own goals. Maryam had two faces, one in the presence of Firouzeh and one for Rajavi. It could be assumed that Maryam had fallen in love with Rajavi with an ideological passion. This is not surprising or unusual. But what was unusual and highly significant for the future of the Mojahedin organisation, was Rajavi's use of this affair. He could possibly have done a quiet deal and got Abrishamchi to divorce his wife and he could have divorced Firouzeh and the lovers could then have been married and continued in their respective roles. But this did not happen.
It is possible that some aspects of Rajavi's relationship with Maryam had come out into the open and they couldn't carry on quietly as before. But more significant, was that this was the make or break point for Rajavi after all his years of preparation. He was forced to lay his leadership on the line. Either the supporters and members would accept this - and really they would accept anything Ė and as he said himself Ďthe taboo will breakí, or they would reject it and leave. Rajavi has always said that he is only interested in those people who accept him as their ideological leader. For these people, when they accept an ideological leader, sins mean nothing. What he does must be right and good, rather than as they might interpret it; they aren't capable of knowing what is right or good, only the ideological leader can say this.
The Ideological Revolution changed the whole nature of the organisation and what it was about. Probably at this point, the future of the organisation was sealed as being hopeless. Partly because the marriage was seen publicly as something scandalous. Partly because the members of the organisation saw it as a divergence from the original structure and because most people didn't see the relevance in the fight with Khomeini. After all, that was what the Mojahedin was supposed to be doing. This was a defining point in the organisation's history. Nobody could have seen that what was the most significant result of the event was the effect it had on internal relations, which allowed Rajavi to impose a cult culture on his membership.
Immediately after the marriage, Rajavi persuaded Abrishamchi to publish a statement professing that he 'understood the grandeur of this 'epic' with all the ideological might God had given him'. Rajavi then had the other members of the Central Committee of the organisation, under various threats including the threat of withdrawing their financial support, issue a sixteen page edict, explaining the revolutionary necessity of the marriage, eulogising Rajaviís transcendent capacity for sacrifice, and drawing parallels between Rajavi and the prophet of Islam.
It was established during this Ideological Revolution, that if Rajavi wanted any woman, it was his right and the woman's duty. The traditional Muslim story was cited in which the prophet Mohammad looked at a woman. Her husband, believing that the prophet Mohammad liked her, promptly divorced her and offered her to the prophet. With this as the guideline, it became the duty of any of Rajavi's followers to happily get out of the way and sacrifice themselves for his benefit. Abrishamchi was offered a marriage to Mousa Khiabani's younger sister Azar. Abrishamchi was 40 years old and she was barely 18. They were married straight after the Ideological Revolution.
Rajavi used various arguments to convince the Mojahedin's membership and supporters, of the necessity for the Ideological Revolution. The most prevalent was that 'to fight with Khomeini you have to detest him and to detest him you have to love his opposite which is Rajavi'. This was a great sacrifice for Rajavi to allow himself to be exposed and labelled in order to break the taboo and free everybody and give them the tools needed to fight Khomeini. He had to be prepared for opposition and for members to leave over this issue.
Convincing the membership, as always, followed the same routine of lengthy talking sessions for some and then employing these people in sessions to convince others. Then lastly, to bring in NCRI members to listen to the specially prepared sessions, first saying that this is an internal matter of the organisation and then talking to them one by one according to their individual characters, i.e. using blackmail or bribes as required. Remember these NCRI members had already been convinced about other things. One Iranian analyst even claimed that some of them had accepted Islam even though they were communist because the name of the new government the NCRI proposed to bring to Iran after the overthrow of the Khomeini regime was the Democratic Islamic Republic of Iran.
These few individuals had different interests. Some hoped for power, some were simply too involved and compromised to say anything and some were hoping that once this deed had been done, time would pass since the important thing was that they were fighting Khomeini. Some were thinking that in time, they could correct the Mojahedin and make them more liberal. The Mojahedin's principal accusation against people has always been that if you are not with us, then you are with Khomeini. Liberals were under fire and many of these people were afraid of that accusation.
Other peopleís reactions to the marriage
Public reaction was that this was shameful and simply based on lust. At best, it was irrelevant to the political struggle that was taking place. What meaning did a marriage have in armed struggle? In fact, the marriage had its worst impact in the prisons inside Iran where thousands of Mojahedin members and supporters had been incarcerated and tortured since 30th Khordad. Following news of the marriage, hundreds of prisoners just broke down and gave in because of that. At first they thought it was a fabrication of the regime, just like when they had heard the news of Massoud's departure to Paris. But when Maryam was declared Ďjoint leaderí, they wondered what had happened to the other leaders, the Central Committee.
The move was introduced as a significant step forward in the organisationís ideology, but was criticised by ordinary people as being dishonourable. It was criticised by political analysts as being irrelevant and criticised by members as being deviant from the PMOIís aims. So what was the word from the other leaders?
When he announced the Ideological Revolution, those members still in Iran objected to it and didnít accept it. They were still running the organisation as it had been originally conceived. The most prominent of these objectors was Ali Zarkesh, who was the commander of the organisation inside Iran after Khiabani was killed. After Rajavi realised that Zarkesh could not be convinced and that this could pose a real threat to his plans, he tricked Zarkesh and brought him to Paris under false pretences, where he was immediately demoted. Zarkesh was never accepted back into the organisation in any meaningful way and was kept isolated. Later on, during the Forouq operation, it is alleged that Rajavi had Ali Zarkesh killed.
One of the Mojahedin who was captured during Forouq and imprisoned in Iran, was Ebrahim Zakeri's personal bodyguard. Zakeri is head of Rajavi's Intelligence Services. The captured bodyguard confessed on Iranian TV that he had personal orders from Zakeri to kill Zarkesh during the operation.
Another benefit that Rajavi enjoyed by demoting Zarkesh, was that he could then appoint Maryam his deputy instead of him and push his own agenda forward. Maryam replaced Zarkesh in title, that is commander of the armed struggle inside Iran. But of course, she never went to Iran and so in effect, the Iran section was left without anybody inside the country. Later Rajavi announced the idea that individual teams should be contacted by telephone and therefore there would be no need for a leader inside Iran.
Parviz Yaqoubi, a member of the former Central Committee, was in Paris and married to Ashraf Rajaviís (nee Rabii) sister. He refused to accept the marriage and Ideological Revolution and refused also to keep quiet about his objections. He was put on trial in a court, which Rajavi concocted and headed, and was condemned. He was 'convicted' for not taking the side of the revolution, but rather taking the side of Khomeini. Massoud in this court on one occasion, refused to accept that Yaqoubi has the normal rights of a court and said this is not a court rather it is a learning session for others to listen and take note. Of course, only selected people were present. Yaqoubi was placed under severe hardship. He was isolated, his financial support from the organisation was cut and he was evicted from his home as an example to others.
Hassan Mehrabi, the tactical mind behind much of the Mojahedin's ideological and political literature, also turned against Rajavi in Baghdad and refused to accept the second phase of the Ideological Revolution, the Internal revolution in 1990. He was abandoned under great personal hardship and pressure in Iraq. Years later, he was able to return to Paris and get on with an ordinary life, finding work there. He kept quiet and has never spoken about what he knew.
As for the ordinary members, there was a mixture of bewilderment and enthusiasm. For most, Massoud Rajavi could do no wrong, and so the announcement of the marriage and the Ideological Revolution was accepted per se and looked upon as a positive measure. For some, however, this was regarded as a betrayal of the organisation's original ideals. One member was so indignant at the marriage that he set fire to himself in protest at the marriage ceremony and had to be rushed to hospital where he subsequently died. Others displayed their protest by leaving the Mojahedin. Whatever their reaction, it soon became clear that the Mojahedin had undergone a radical transformation and would never be the same again. Just how this would affect the organisation was yet to be seen.