Charles Kurzman “The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran”

I just finished reading Charles Kurzman’s The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran. It is much like Stephen Kinzer’s All the Shah’s Men in that the entire book focuses on the unfolding of a major historical event. Kurzman’s book is devoted to the play-by-play unfolding of the Iranian Revolution, which as far as I know, is the first book to look at the revolution with such an approach. It’s definitely worth your while. Here’s an excerpt I thought was noteworthy: “It is almost unheard of for a revolution to involve as much as 1 percent of a country’s population. The French Revolution of 1789, the Russian Revolution of 1917, perhaps the Romanian Revolution of 1989 – these may have passed the 1 percent mark. Yet in Iran, more than 10 percent of the country marched in anti-shah demonstrations on December 10 and 11, 1978. Photographs of these events showed massive avenues filled for miles, not just in Tehran but throughout Iran. So many people marched, according to the French reporters Paul Balta and Claudine Rulleau in Tehran, that ‘there is no one at the windows to watch the processions pass.” The British ambassador Anthony Parsons, looking out his office window – apparently unseen by Balta and Rulleau – said that the processions took all morning to pass by: ‘The street is wide but it was filled from pavement to pavement and from top to bottom as far as the eye could see for a period of three or four hours. And it was only one of the many feeder roads to the main procession route.’

Foreign journalists estimated the crowd in Tehran at 500,000 to 1 million strong on December 10, and 500,000 to more than 1 million the next day. Opposition publications estimated 2 to 4 million in Tehran on the 11th, plush 700,000 to 1 million each in Isfahan and Mashhad, 500,000 to 700,000 in Tabriz, 400,000 in Rasht, 300,000 in Ahwaz, 250,000 to 300,000 in Shiraz, 200,000-300,000 in Abadan, 200,000 in Qom, 150,000 in Khorramshahr, more than 100,000 in Arak and Kermanshah, and tens of thousands in each of a dozen more cities – a total of 6 to 9 million. Even discounting for exaggeration, these figures may represent the largest protest event in history.” (Kurzman, 122)

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