Leading Iranian Writer Dies in Exile
A thought for Ali-Asghar Haj-Sayyed Javadi, veteran journalist and former Kayhan colleague who has passed away in exile in Paris aged 94.
A native of Qazvin and hailing from a distinguished family of Shiite clergy and merchants, Ali-Asghar was the middle one of three brothers.
The eldest Ahmad became a lawyer and ended up as Interior Minister and then Justice Minister in the government of Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan formed under Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.
Years later Ahmad broke with the Khomeinist establishment and published a mea-culpa in which he begged the Iranian people to forgive him for his support of the Islamic Revolution.
Throughout his long life Ahmad defended many people arrested under the Shah on charges of anti-state activity and terrorism. I used to see him every now and then when he called to lobby for his clients. I was always impressed by his personal integrity while worrying about his unbridled idealism.
The youngest brother Hassan became Editor-in-Chief of daily Ettelaat and an outspoken opponent of Khomeini. In the 1970s, I used to meet Hassan every now and then. I liked his sense of humor but often wondered about his cynicism. He, in exchange, believed that I was a starry-eyed young fool in thinking that Iran was going to be great again!
During the revolutionary turmoil, Hassan broke with his two brothers who supported Khomeini against the Shah. His argument was that while the Shah was not good enough, Khomeini’s badness was more than enough even for the most seasoned cynic in the neighborhood.
Coincidentally, Hassan passed away in Tehran just 10 days before Ali-Asghar died.
Ali-Asghar, the middle brother, was an in-between case. He was no idealist like Ahmad but neither was he a cynic like Hassan. In the late 1940s he had been attracted to Communism and taken to growing a Lenin-like goatee. However, more studies of the Soviet system especially under Josef Stalin persuaded him in the 1950s to ditch Communism and convert to the “Third Way”, a version of Light Left developed inspired by Marshall Josef Broz Tito’s experiment in Yugoslavia with discreet support from the United States.
A law graduate from Tehran University, Ali-Asghar never wished to practice law. His dream was to become a writer and journalist. He published a number of short stories in the leading magazines of the 1950s, notably “Saba” and “Kavian”, often under a pseudonym.
After a stint as editor of the Third Way (Niruy-e-Sevvom) magazine under its leader Khalil Maleki, Ali-Asghar distanced himself from the party and sought a full-time career in professional journalism. After years of working as stringer for a variety of journals, among them “Jahan” (The World) edited by Sadeq Behdad, and “Kushesh” (Effort) published by Shokr-Allah Safavi, Al-Asghar ended up as feature writer and reviewer of books in the daily Ettelaat (Information) which was the nation’s largest circulation daily at the time.
His big break came in 1970 when the daily Kayhan invited him to join its team of editorial writers. Ali-Asghar Haj-Sayed Javadi formed a duo with another prominent journalist of his generation Ali Hashemi Haeri writing the paper’s two daily editorial. The page 2 editorial was always devoted to an issue of the day and written carefully not to anger the authorities. The page 6 editorial was designed for the “dissatisfied masses” and written in a populist tone critical of the authorities without promoting rebellion.
When I became Editor-in-Chief in 1972 I decided to scrap the system by closing the page 2 editorial and transforming the page 6 one into a column expressing the paper’s position clearly and without trying to hoodwink the authorities while pleasing its critics.