Black Friday

September 8, 1978, was the beginning of the end of the Shah's regime and the Pahlavi Dynasty. It was a day that irrevocably changed the course of history in Iran and the Middle East.

On that day, known as "Black Friday," many cities in Iran were under martial law by decree of Mohammad Reza Shah. Many citizens defied the Shah's orders and took to the streets in protest, a common occurrence throughout 1978 Iran.

Source: Iran Chamber Society: Pictures of 1979 Revolution of Iran

One of these large protests occurred in Tehran, and the Shah declared martial law in the Iranian capital. Jafar Sharif-Emami, the Shah's newly-appointed Prime Minister, responded to the civilian protests by moving the army, including tanks, to confront the people and enforce the peace. Finding this strategy unsuccessful, the troops fired on the anti-Shah demonstrators gathered in Tehran's Zhaleh Square. Prior to Black Friday, as it was known as soon as the following day, Sharif-Emami had advocated compromise with moderate anti-Shah groups. This became impossible after the massacre, and the Shah subsequently replaced Sharif-Emami with a military man (General Azhari). These events destroyed any remaining legitimacy the Shah's regime had, both domestically and internationally, and set the stage for the Islamic Revolution.

Source: Iran Chamber Society: Pictures of 1979 Revolution of Iran

Accounts of the number of protesters killed on Black Friday vary greatly. Estimates from the anti-Shah opposition groups and Western journalists numbered the dead between 95 and 3,000, and Dr. Mohammad Mehdi Khorrami settles on "more than 600 people" in his account of the Islamic Revolution.

There is no question that Ayatollah Khomeini and the other leaders of the opposition groups maximized the ideological utility of Black Friday. Zhaleh Square, where the majority of the victims were killed, was renamed the "Square of Martyrs," and the name "Black Friday" itself, it can be argued, is very ideologically charged. After the success of the Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini created the Martyrs Foundation in order to record the names of those who had been "martyred" by the Shah's regime. Emad al-Dib Baghi, a researcher who had been hired to examine the data the Martyrs Foundation collected, found that the Islamic revolutionaries' numbers of those killed under the Shah had been exaggerated. Because the government refused to release the true numbers, for fear of contradicting Khomeini's earlier statements, Baghi left Iran to write about his experiences and criticize the Islamic government's adherence to their fictional numbers.

The Black Friday numbers Baghi reports are strikingly similar to those the Shah's government released at the time. Baghi writes that 88 were killed on Black Friday, 64 of them in Zhaleh Square, including a woman and a girl. Despite the correlation of the reports, the Shah's regime had lost so much legitimacy that nobody was willing to believe the number of deaths it claimed. Because of this reaction, and the popular mythology of Black Friday, it is clear that this event signaled the beginning of the end of the Shah, and simply the beginning of the Islamic Revolution.

Source: - click for larger version
This contemporary map shows important places in modern Tehran. On Black Friday, these streets were filled with protestors, the deaths of whom sounded the death knell of the Shah's regime and sparked the Islamic Revolution.

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