Earlier this week, the man known in Iran intellectual circles as the last historic figure of Iranian Communism passed away aged 102. Veteran journalist, author and political leader Anwar Khamehi was one of the almost legendary “53” Iranian intellectuals who, thrown into prison at the start of the Second World War, decided to create the Tudeh (Masses) Party in 1941.
In a life spanning more than a century, Khamehi passed through many epiphanies as hardline Stalinist, Social Democrat, liberal and, eventually, a mild Iranian nationalist. In the process he also created a highly respected body of literary work consisting of 23 books and hundreds of essays and magazine articles.
I first came to know him in the late 1960s when, after more than a decade of exile, he had shed his “Utopian illusions” and was trying to focus on a new literary and journalistic career.
Like many founders of the Tudeh Party, Khamehi had a distinguished family background. On his mother's side he was a descendant of the Qajar Fatah Ali Shah, and on his father's side he was a great grandson of prominent theologian Mullah Muhammad Naraqi. His father was a leading figure in the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-6 and Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Habl al-Matin (Firm Rope) which was dubbed as the mouthpiece of the reform movement.
After a stint in prison along with other Tudeh leaders, including his guru Dr. Taqi Arani, Anwar operated as a party cadre and assigned various missions, including a memorable one to recruit members among oil workers in Khuzestan.
However, as Stalin's cult of personality reached its peak shortly before the despot's death in March 1953, Anwar was looking for other avenues to spend his political energies.
He found it in the so-called Third Force ( Niruy-e-Sevovom) splinter group led by two Tudeh dissidents, Khalil Maleki and Ishaq Yeprem. When that party also failed to satisfy him, Anwar decided to go into exile and spent almost 16 years away from Iran, mostly in France, where, leaving his initial scientific education behind, he switched to studying politics and history obtaining a Ph.D., but ending up in Mexico.
Years later when he returned to Iran, I made his acquaintance as Editor of the mass circulation weekly Etelaat Haftegi magazine. Khamehi spoke of the "unbearable pains of exile". He claimed that, while in exile, each morning as he left home to go to university or to work, he fantasized about suddenly hearing someone speak Persian. The only way to realize that fantasy, impossible in Mexico, was to return home.
By the time he came back home, Anwar was persuaded that Communism had been little more than an illusion, if not an actual fraud concocted by power-hungry pseudointellectuals.
However, he never regretted his “Marxist years” as he believed that Marxism was an important feature of modern political life on a global scale and that it was important for Iranians to be familiar with it.
Back from exile, he was surprised when the Shah’s much dreaded secret police didn’t even bother to call him in for questioning. "They just ignored me,” he quipped. “ May be they thought that I had died long ago!”
However, thanks to his knowledge of the world and journalistic talents he was quickly reintegrated into the intellectual elite of Tehran and rose to edit some of the most influential publications in the capital. He also wrote and translated a number of books, leaving behind examples of a brilliant and highly disciplined prose.
The word I always associated with Khamehi, who, in the 1970s also wrote occasional columns for the newspaper Kayhan, was "pure heartedness." (khosh-qalbi in Persian). He was a good human being, modest but self-reliant, and, above all, respectful of everyone from the highest to the most humble.
But what most endeared him to me was his boundless love of Iran, rooted in his passion for Persian poetry. He once claimed that it was poetry that had sustained Iranian culture for over a millennium. "It is a gift to be born in our culture," he claimed. "But it is also a great responsibility."
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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