The worst sin that an MEK member can commit is to ask questions about Massoud Rajavi. Rajavi disappeared in March 2003 when the US invaded Iraq. It was assumed he was still holed up in Camp Ashraf – perhaps in the nuclear bunker – surrounded and protected by a hundred loyal followers. After 2011, when Camp Ashraf was emptied, his disappearance became the subject of intense speculation for many. But when Prince Turki bin Faisal delivered the coup de grace on Rajavi’s political life by offering condolences to Maryam Rajavi on his death, the question almost became irrelevant. Whether alive or dead, Rajavi’s public leadership of the MEK ended. Maryam became the de facto leader. But the dismay she showed at this announcement revealed that she wasn’t prepared for this change to be made public at this time.
Now, five years later, we can understand why. Maryam Rajavi has performed a coup to take over control of the MEK and completely eliminate every trace of Massoud. The nature of this coup became clear when Zahra Merikhi, who was re-appointed for two more years as Secretary General of the MEK, named three women as co-leaders with herself – Mahnaz Meimanat (62), Narges Azdanlou (40) and Rabiah Mofidi (39). Narges Azdanlou is Maryam Rajavi’s niece.
In addition, Merikhi named six deputy leaders – Sepideh Pourtaqi (40), Azar Akbarzadegan (39), Ashraf Abrishamchi (39), Shiva Mameqani (40), Maryam Rezaei (30) and Vahideh Nabavi (34). Ashraf Abrishamchi is Maryam Rajavi’s daughter, Azar Akbarzadegan is the daughter of Jamileh Abrishamchi, her former husband Mehdi Abrishamchi’s sister. The other women are from families loyal to Maryam and Mehdi. The ages of nearly all these women reveal that Maryam is handing over control of the MEK to a younger generation of women groomed specifically for this purpose. Individually none of them have any qualification to lead the MEK other than being appointed by Maryam Rajavi. Of course, Maryam will remain in control of the whole membership of the organisation.
The fact that Maryam has appointed members of her own family and trusted women to take over leadership of the MEK can only be because she is confident of controlling the finances of the MEK and because she is confident there will be no threat or challenge from any family, friend, associate or ally of Massoud. Looking at events from this perspective it is clear that Maryam, her former husband Mehdi Abrishamchi and her brother Mahmoud Qajar-Azodanlu have spent the past four decades plotting and building up to this moment. The moment when the Qajar Dynasty led by Maryam Qajar-Azodanlu replaced the Rajavi Dynasty led by Massoud Rajavi in the MEK.
What I hope to reveal in this piece is the slow – perhaps surprisingly slow – but relentless process which inevitably led the MEK to this point.
When, after a failed coup, Massoud Rajavi fled to Paris in 1981, he could not have anticipated this ultimate betrayal. At that time, he was confidently gathering together a National Council of Resistance, led and controlled by himself, in anticipation of returning to Iran and forming a government. At this time, it was clear Rajavi had support from the CIA. The MEK was still led by a polit bureau of leading members, with Massoud as the spokesman. Mousa Khiabani, member of the polit bureau, later described as Rajavi’s ‘right-hand-man’, remained in Iran to lead the internal resistance. Although there was speculation that Rajavi wanted Khiabani dead, this is countered by the fact he also left his wife Ashraf Rabbii, his soulmate, and their infant son Mohammad (aka Mustafa) in Iran. On February 8, 1982, they were killed in a shoot-out with government forces in their safe house. It was later discovered that somebody had tipped off the officials. By chance, baby Mohammad survived and was sent to live with his grandparents, and later allowed to join his father in Paris.
At that time, I was operating from our base in Iranian Kurdistan. Less than a month after Mousa Khiabani was killed, Mehdi Abrishamchi – described by the MEK as Massoud’s ‘right-hand-man’ – left Iran. I was told to pick him up on the road between the cities of Baneh to Sardasht and bring him to our base. From there I passed him through Jordan to Paris. A few months later, his wife, Maryam, was brought to Kurdistan and passed via Turkey to Paris in 1982. Once in Paris, Maryam and Mehdi had a daughter, named Ashraf after Massoud’s dead wife.
Months after his wife’s death, Massoud Rajavi had married Firouzeh Bani Sadr – daughter of former president Abolhassan Bani Sadr who fled with Rajavi to Paris in 1981 – in what was assumed to be a political alliance. Firouzeh was very young and studying medicine at university in Paris. A year later, I was re-called to Paris. When I arrived, I found that Maryam Abrishamchi had rapidly installed herself as head of Massoud Rajavi’s office and had brought two other people in with her. One of these was Sharzad Sadr Haj Seyed Javadi who was the wife of her brother Mahmoud Azadonlou; they had a child Narges Azadonlou. And Hussain Rahimi, brother of Bijan, friend of the Abrishamchi family who died of cancer. I joined this team. It was also immediately obvious to me that Maryam was not going home at all and was staying with Massoud in the same room, pretending to be the housekeeper for Massoud and Firouzeh.
Maryam asked me to be responsible for Firouzeh’s security and to report all her actions. I was brought back to Paris for this task on the advice of Ebrahim Zakeri. (In Iran Zakeri had been responsible for the MEK’s intelligence work. He recruited Mohammad-Reza Kolahi and Masoud Keshmiri.) Eventually, Maryam manipulated and interfered in Firouzeh’s life to the point that she was forced to run away and in 1984 get divorced.
Meanwhile, while I was in Rajavi’s inner circle, Maryam got pregnant and with the help of Massoud’s brother, Saleh Rajavi a GP, we took her for an abortion. Soon after this, in 1985, Massoud announced the first Ideological Revolution. Maryam divorced Mehdi and married Massoud and adopted the name Rajavi to become the joint leader of the MEK. The same day, Massoud arranged for Mehdi to marry Mina (aka Azar) Khiabani, sister of Mousa, who was under his protection. She was under 18 and Abrishamchi was 38 years old.
Thus began promotion of the Rajavi brand. The chant ‘Iran Rajavi, Rajavi Iran’ was used in all gatherings, public or behind closed doors. The name Rajavi became etched into every member’s consciousness. The polit bureau was no more. To establish his leadership, Massoud began to eliminate anyone who he judged to be a threat or rival. He instigated internal court cases in which he was both prosecutor and judge. Members who did not accept his Ideological Revolution and Maryam’s position as his ideological equal were put on trial. Those who still refused to submit were denounced as traitors and condemned to execution. However, because they were in France, this could not be done. Instead, such ‘traitors’ were excommunicated and shunned, sent out of the organisation with nothing, to survive as best they could. One famous example was Parviz Yaghoubi who was one of the original members of the MEK. He was married to Ashraf Rabbii’s sister. Both were thrown out of the organisation and became destitute in Paris, even living in a park for a while. Others who resisted Massoud and Maryam’s leadership were demoted to basic tasks. For example, Mohammad Tohidi and Mohammad Ali Jaberzadeh Ansari, who were top theoreticians in MEK ideology, were demoted to write articles and papers. The only people who were trusted to stay in the leadership cadre were those chosen by Maryam not Massoud. Her former husband Abrishamchi of course, and Mohammad Mohaddessin because he proved himself loyal by spying on other members, particularly Tohidi who was head of the political section before Mohaddessin took over. Also, Ebrahim Zakeri as a trusted person. For Maryam this was not an issue of men or women, she surrounded herself with people she could trust and rely on.
In the meantime, Massoud was intent on eliminating male rivals. Ali Zarkesh, second in command of the MEK at this time, was brought from Tehran to Paris and asked to accept the marriage and leadership of Maryam. He refused and was placed under house arrest until he was sent – demoted to the rank of ordinary soldier – to the Forough Javidan operation in which he was killed. Later, the driver of Ebrahim Zakeri in that operation confessed that Zakeri had ordered him to shoot Zarkesh whenever possible. And he did. Zarkesh was not killed by Iranians but by the MEK. During the Forough Javidan operation, I was in the war room as the communications officer, passing messages between Massoud, the Iraqi command and the field. Maryam was also there and constantly talking privately to Massoud. Eventually, I passed the order to have Ebrahim Zakeri, Mehdi Abrishamchi and two other higher ranking MEK members brought back to the camp. All the others were left to be killed.
After the failed Forough Javidan operation, Massoud instigated the second Ideological Revolution. This involved married members divorcing from their spouse and every member swearing to celibacy in order to devote themselves fully to ‘the struggle’. It also involved Maryam explaining the fiction that Massoud was so far advanced in his ideology that no one in the organisation could understand him but had to go through her to reach him. What this meant in reality was to totally obey all Maryam’s orders. This also began the isolation of Massoud from the organisation. He was untouchable and unreachable. Maryam was the one the members should admire and emulate. This was compounded when Massoud and Maryam appointed Fahimeh Arvani as Secretary General of the MEK. This elevated Maryam even further.
A further phase of Maryam’s creeping control was the introduction of an all-female Leadership Council of six women and six deputies, effectively eliminating all Massoud’s friends and top MEK members by default. Members were told they must ideologically connect to one of these to reach Maryam. Again, this was about submission and obedience. There was no ‘ideology’ as such. Maryam established a regime of rewards and shunning. She gathered women members around her who were totally obedient. It didn’t matter if they were illiterate or had no skills, as long as they were willing to kill or die for her. If they didn’t obey, she would change them immediately. Although there were strong, capable and educated women such as Ozra Taleghani, Soraya Shahri, Fatemeh Tahouri, Fatemeh Ramezani and more in the MEK, Maryam ignored them and chose uneducated rough necks. Among Beheshteh Shadrou, Sedighe Hosseini, Mahvash Sepheri, Fahimeh Arvani, Mojgan Parsaii and Zahra Merikhi, only Parsaii could read or write properly.
Maryam dispensed rewards to these obedient devotees; physical, emotional and material advantages such as having a driver or cleaner; some were awarded with a male member of Maryam’s cortege like toyboys. Maryam began to groom obedient, good-looking women for Massoud to sleep with, instigating the forced hysterectomies to prevent pregnancies. The women Maryam manipulated were so deranged by her treatment that some ended up as actual torturers against dissenting members.
It is significant that although structurally the MEK was led by these women, Maryam kept several male members very close. Primarily her former husband Mehdi who has not left her side since their divorce. It is also interesting that none of Massoud Rajavi’s family were able to stay close to him and the organisation.
In addition to his son, Massoud Rajavi had several siblings who were all sympathetic to the cause. His sister in Iran was executed. His brother Kazem Rajavi, a diplomat for the Shah, had saved Massoud from execution after his arrest in 1971. Two decades later he was assassinated at his home in Switzerland in spite of tight security around him. Nobody claimed responsibility, but indications are that inside information about Kazem was used. Another brother, Ahmad was a doctor in the UK. The MEK annoyed him so much that he left without selling his house in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, escaping with his wife and kids to America. He couldn’t understand why he was subjected to such pressure and harassment. Mahmoud Rajavi, a mechanical engineer in Isfahan, came to live in Belgium. He tried to stay with the MEK but again they did enough to make him vanish and go quiet, never to be seen again. The last time I saw him, he said, ‘I wish my brother luck. Nobody in their right mind would want to be leader of the Mojahedin’.
The brother who stayed closest was Saleh, a doctor in France. Because Saleh was established in Paris with friends and colleagues, he could not be manipulated in the same way as the other brothers. At first, he gave his house and land in Auvers-sur-Oise to make the MEK compound. Then he bought the house beside that. This wooden building burned down, and the insurance paid for a concrete house with anti-bullet windows and glass etc specifically for Massoud and Maryam. Saleh then bought the next neighbour’s house. Later they forced him to give half of this to the MEK as well. By this time his French wife refused to continue to stay with them and left. His son, uncharacteristically, became an addict. After this Saleh became deflated and more obedient. In the early years in France, I remember while building this concrete house we bought a jacuzzi to install for Maryam. But when she came to inspect it she got angry saying, ‘The house is in the name of Saleh Rajavi and after the revolution, when we go back to Iran, this will be his. He has milked us enough all these years. So, I don’t want him to have a jacuzzi.’ So, we had to rip it out and sell it half price. Her jealousy was so obvious she couldn’t hide it from me. At this point Saleh was eliminated, not in person, but was certainly side-lined as a close confidant. If that failed, she would certainly have had incriminating information to use against him as well.
Maryam’s family is from the Qajar dynasty which ruled Iran before the Pahlavi family. While she was in Paris, Maryam was visited from time to time by her extended family. One of these which I remember was Ali Mirza Khan, a Qajar price married to Mihandokht Ghotbi. The family lived in Germany, but he was regarded as the Qajar prince. He visited Maryam and chatted about the return of the Qajar dynasty. He said, ‘We were robbed of our rights twice. Once by Pahlavi and once by Khomeini’. After he died his son Babak, with the backing of Turkic and Azari groups and the support of the west, claimed he was the rightful king and would be taking over Iran. Babak went straight to the source of the money. He is now living in luxury in Germany, trying to annoy Iran. This is the background of Maryam and her tribe.
Perhaps the most significant indication as to Maryam and perhaps Mehdi’s intentions and ambitions can be found in the way the children were brought up. Mohammad Rajavi and Ashraf Abrishamchi were brought up by Maryam’s brother Mahmoud and his wife Shahrzad alongside their daughter Narges Azodanlou. They lived in a big mansion a ten-minute drive from Auvers. They had servants, a cook and two drivers. Whatever was needed, Mahmoud would contact me to provide it as head of security.
After Massoud and Maryam went to Iraq the children stayed in Paris and went to school there. As they were growing up they were regularly taken to Baghdad to visit their parents and then back to Paris. Once they reached their teens, the girls wouldn’t stay, but they insisted on keeping Massoud’s son in the barracks in Camp Ashraf with the ordinary rank and file. Among the rank and file were a lot of low life characters, criminals and perverts who had joined the MEK to escape justice in Iran and elsewhere. Among these Mohammad witnessed a lot of things that shocked and traumatised him. For example, the rape of underaged kids, violent fights and abuses, etc. Clearly it was planned to expose him to these horrors which the girls were spared. They said they were toughening him up but in fact they broke him.
With Mohammad living in Iraq in these conditions, Maryam brought Massoud Rajavi to accept that he’s gone mad, and something must be done with him. They isolated him in such a way he couldn’t contact his father until 2003 when they had to leave Iraq. When they brought him back with them to Paris, now a young man, he refused to stay with them and ran away. He went to Norway with the ‘help’ of supporters who are known to be in contact with Maryam. They effectively contained and suppressed him so that even though he began to write against the MEK, they managed to brand him as a ‘useless person’.
The different treatment of these children reflects the different agendas and ambitions of the adults around them. Maryam Rajavi gave responsibility for their upbringing to her brother and his wife, her close associate and sister-in-law, Shahrzad. (The luxury in which they were living reflects Maryam’s own propensity for luxury. Very few people in the MEK knew that Maryam insisted on going on holiday in Europe every year for a few weeks. Each summer I took her to the south of France and Spain with a small entourage of trusted people to look after her, such as Alireza Babakhani, Shahrzad and Mohammad Ali Tashayod. Tashayod was famous in Iran as head of the MEK’s militia after the revolution. He left Iran with Massoud. He had no particular skills but was totally trustworthy, so he was used for cleaning and cooking, etc.)
Now, four decades after the revolution, the older generation of MEK members is dying, ill and ailing. It was only a matter of time before a new generation of MEK members would need to be assigned leadership roles. In retrospect we can now see how, over time, Maryam and her inner circle have not only eliminated Massoud’s family, but they have also purged the younger generation of anyone else who might present a challenge. The sons and daughters of MEK members who were brought back into the organisation after being evacuated during the 1991 Gulf War, have been manipulated and selected for their suitability to serve Maryam’s agenda. She made sure second-generation members lose sympathy or loyalty to Massoud and his family. His picture no longer appears next to Maryam’s but has been put on a billboard along with a series of Iranian martyrs like Mohammad Mossadegh in the new camp in Albania.
Looking back over MEK history after this recent leadership announcement, it is clear that there was a deliberate attempt by Maryam Rajavi to protect and promote her family and friends in the organisation. Whether motivated by jealousy or ambition, she pushed the Rajavi family out. Her control over the MEK became almost inevitable after Massoud disappeared in 2003. The Massoud-Saddam combination became the Maryam-Faisal combination. But when Faisal announced five years ago that Massoud Rajavi was dead, it was clear she was not ready to show her hand. Whether she had not fully groomed her daughter and the other women for this role, or she had not assumed full control over the money, the time has now arrived. In effect, Maryam Rajavi has instigated a third Ideological Revolution – the Qajar Dynasty’s leadership of the MEK.
Massoud Khodabandeh, Iran Interlink,