An American Eyewitness to the 1953 Coup
Stella K. Margold in 'The Reporter' — Nov. 10, 1953
There have been very few firsthand accounts of the overthrow of Mossadegh’s government through American eyes, but one eyewitness recounted some details of those “riotous days” in a short piece in The Reporter magazine’s November 10th issue.
Stella Kaplan Margold, a foreign correspondent, author and analyst from Boston, was a former U.S. Department of Commerce official who wrote largely about economic matters, Russia and foreign trade. She also worked as a Middle East correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA) syndicate, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, and other publications.
Margold had been to Iran before. In the summer of 1949, Margold became (she claimed) the first foreign woman to be received by the Shah in his palace — her interview with the monarch was published in the Globe that November. Two years earlier she interviewed his younger brother, Prince Abdol-Reza Pahlavi, in America after receiving his Bachelor’s degree at Harvard University.
And so, in August 1953, Stella K. Margold found herself in Tehran in the midst of this critical moment in Iranian history...
The Streets of Teheran
I STOOD on Firdausi Street [Ferdowsi Street, named for the 10th century Persian poet] in Teheran early in August watching a group of Iranian youths painting “Yankee Go Home” on a garden wall. One of them turned to me smilingly and said, “Where you come from? America?” I nodded, and he remarked, “Ah, America, a wonderful country.”
THE SHAH’S appointment of Fazlollah Zahedi as Premier on August 15 was followed by three days of demonstrations for Mossadegh. At noon on the sixteenth the streets were quiet and almost deserted; shops were closed. Near the Foreign Office there were tanks, jeeps, and soldiers, and near other government buildings police and officers on bicycles rushed here and there. That afternoon a rally was staged at Baharistan Square by members of the pro-Mossadegh parties. Speakers were frequently interrupted by shouts of “Down with the traitors! Death to the Shah!”
The Communists appeared in tremendous numbers. Groups of them tore down bronze statues of the Shah and his father. Teen-agers broke the window of a photograph shop containing pictures of the Shah and his Queen. This sort of activity continued for two days.
On the evening of the eighteenth, I asked an Iranian couple to let me walk with them, and I was surprised to find the Iranian woman more fearful than myself. As we walked near the corner of Firdausi and Istanbul, the busiest corner in Teheran, a band of Communist-led boys came rushing toward us. They were being chased by the police after a sudden order from Mossadegh.
Mossadegh apparently knew by then that he had lost the support of the line officers in the Army and could no longer hold out against counterdemonstrations. When these began on the nineteenth, there was no opposition. Between eight and nine o’clock in the morning, about five hundred demonstrators gathered near the bazaar, each with a club in his right hand and a stone in the left, headed by supporters of the Shah. Soon the group of five hundred was augmented by police and troops until it totaled almost three thousand. It was then divided into groups of several hundred each. The buildings of the two pro-Communist journals Ghoureche and Tchalanger were completely destroyed by fire.
I was walking home from the American Embassy on the morning of the nineteenth when I found myself following several hundred demonstrators. Suddenly they about-faced and started in my direction. I flattened myself against a wall, and I now remember only the terrible frenzy in their eyes as they passed.
Several similar groups, accompanied by soldiers and tanks, headed for the home of Dr. Mossadegh, and another commenced to pillage stores. The Soviet information center was sacked. Between noon and three o’clock the demonstrators occupied successively Radio Teheran, the Department of Propaganda, the Police Department, the office of the Chief of Staff, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other departments.
It took about three hours to take Dr. Mossadegh’s home, for it was defended by three companies of soldiers and five tanks. Mossadegh had fled to a neighbor’s house before the fighting started.
For several days afterward tanks were stationed at important street intersections. Jeeps, soldiers, and police were everywhere, and all shops except those selling food were kept closed.
Then things started settling down. The eight-o’clock curfew was moved back to nine. The stores began reopening, and the “Yankee Go Home” slogans on walls were presently being whitewashed by the same boys who, I was told by those who knew, had received fifty cents a day to paint them.
Mossadegh’s Final Hours As Premier — August 19, 1953
Marquis Childs Reacts To Overthrow of Mossadegh — Washington Calling, August 26, 1953
Mossadegh Loses Long Fight — The Spokane Daily Chronicle, August 19, 1953
MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”