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Directed by Taghi Amirani
“THE WEST has an extremely ugly history” in the Middle East, US dissident Noam Chomsky told the BBC in 2011 and though we may not pay attention to it, the people in the region negatively impacted by Western military and economic interference do not forget.
A good example of Chomsky’s truism is the 1953 coup in Iran, the subject of Taghi Amirani’s brilliant new documentary Coup 53.
After the Iran’s parliament voted to nationalise the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951, the CIA and MI6 played a leading covert role in toppling the country’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq and conferring autocratic powers on Shah (King) Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Much like the best political thrillers, the film has real momentum. It's anchored around newly discovered testimony from MI6 officer Norman Darbyshire, unearthed after some serious detective work by Amirani.
Interviewed for Granada Television’s epic 1985 documentary series End of Empire, Darbyshire’s first-hand recollections were mysteriously missing when the programme was broadcast on television.
But the transcript of his interview survived and in it Darbyshire, suavely played by actor Ralph Fiennes, admits to being involved in the kidnapping and killing of the Iranian police chief and, more broadly, confirms this country's central role in the coup, a historical fact which has never been officially recognised by the British state.
As well as interviews with US and British experts such as intelligence specialist Stephen Dorril and Stephen Kinzer, author of the 2003 book All the Shah’s Men, the film includes fascinating testimony from key members of Mossadeq’s inner circle and other Iranians involved at the time. And there is some innovative and effective animation illustrating key parts of the story.
With events involving US president Dwight D Eisenhower, British prime minister Winston Churchill, oil and corporate interests, a nefarious BBC and the British secret services, Kinzer is surely right to argue that the coup was “a decisive historic episode” of the 20th century that deserves to be much better known.
The coup strengthened the voices of those in the Washington government pushing for more US covert action, as happened in Guatemala in 1954.
More importantly, it wrecked attempts to build a more democratic Iran. “As a result of that, the Shah of Iran came in, a terrible dictator,” US Senator Bernie Sanders told viewers during a 2016 Democratic Party presidential debate.
“And, as a result of that, you had the  Iranian revolution.”
Coup 53 is being screened online on August 19, the 67th anniversary of the coup. Visit coup53.com/screenings to buy a ticket.
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