Iran 1953: The Birthplace of Western Backed Coups

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Taghi Amirani. Photo courtesy of Taghi Amirani

The story of a U.S. backed coup destabilizing a country for the benefit of Western capitalist interests is one so often repeated that each instance is a sort of classic novel in the dystopian series from the 20th century on. The tale of the Iranian coup in 1953 is indeed a classic, as it was the first of its kind. With its share of infamous characters—mainly the CIA and British MI6—as well as its lasting impact on the region, its citizenry and the world, the coup in ‘53 proved to be a monumental shift in world politics, one of great promise and prosperity for the West by means of exploitation and rapacity. For its victims, decades of occupation, terror and confusion flooded countries and created the hegemonic world we live in today.

In a brilliant attempt to make sense of it all, documentary filmmaker Taghi Amirani spent 14 years researching and producing Coup 53 and he joins host Robert Scheer in this week’s Scheer Intelligence to lay down the intricate process of making such a film. The documentary made its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival four years ago and international premiere at the BFI London Film Festival. Released in 2019, Amirani’s film, despite the predictable distribution obstacles, has been raved about in the media and rightly so. With over four years of help from legendary film editor Walter Murch, the film has drawn praise from fellow filmmakers and figures like Errol Morris, Werner Herzog and Oliver Stone.

“The coup is such a decisive and pivotal moment in Iranian history, the way it turned everything inside out and has had ripples not just through Iran and Iranians' relationship with themselves and their place in the world, but also way into the region and beyond. It is a national scar. It hasn't gone away. It really shapes everything to this date,” Amirani said.

Indeed it does shape everything to date, with the CIA and Western power structures using Iran’s 1953 coup as a template for more trouble in Vietnam, Chile and a host of other countries. It also serves as an example of what happens when an individual—in this case Mohammad Mosaddegh—tries to challenge the capitalist, colonialist power structure. According to Amirani, “The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company…wasn't just an oil company in the city of Abadan. It really had its fingers in every pie right across Iranian society. It was almost like a state within a state. It had obviously the whole colonial mindset. Iranian workers were like second, third class citizens living in mud huts, whilst the expat British lived in glorious homes [and] manicured gardens.”



Joshua Scheer