Research

Cemetery of Dreams is a work of fiction which has been inspired by true events from personal experience and years of research. I haven’t kept a record of all the historical or political books and articles I have read to complete this novel. As always the inspiration came first and the idea of documenting references occurred much later.

The following are some of the books I have read in order to make the story of Cemetery of Dreams as accurate as possible.

* Mazandi, Yusef. Iran, abargodrat-I qarn? Tehran, Alborz, 1373.
* Lohbeck, Kurt. Holy War, Unholy Victory: eyewitness to the CIA’s secret war in Afghanistan. Regnery Gateway, 1993.
* Kyle, Col. James H. The Guts to Try: The Untold Story of the Iran Hostage Rescue Mission by the On-Scene Desert Commander. Ballantine Books, 1995.
* Shawcross, William. The Shah’s Last Ride. Touchstone, 1989.
* Kinzer, Stephen. All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle Eastern Terror. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2003.
* Dorril, Stephen. MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service. The Free Press, 2000.
* Milani, Abbas. The Persian Sphinx: Amir Abbas Hoveyda and the Riddle of the Iranian Revolution, Mage Publishers, 2001.
* Pahlavi, Mohammad Reza. Answer to History. Stein & Day Pub, 1982.
* Pakravan, Fatameh. Memoirs of Fatameh Pakravan. The Center for Middle Eastern Studies of Harvard University, 1998.
* Zabin, Sepehr. The Mossadegh Era: the roots of the Iranian revolution. Lake View Press, 1982.
* Farmanfarma, Manuchehr. Blood & Oil: A prince’s memoir of Iran, fromt he Shah to the Ayatollah. Random House, 2005.
* Ghahramani, Zahra & Hillman, Robert. My life as a traitor. Ferrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

I am often asked what parts of Cemetery of Dreamsare based on true stories. My best answer is that you can find a certain level of truth in all the stories in the novel.

But in the next few sections I’ll try to explain to the best of my ability where some of my inspirations have come from. This is by no means a complete list but I hope it gives you an idea.
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Hostage Rescue Mission
For those of you who have read Cemetery of Dreams you probably have noticed that it provides a very different account of the reason Operation Eagle Claw failed. There is no doubt of course that the U.S. government launched Operation Eagle Claw in April 1980 to rescue the American diplomats held hostage by Iranians. So it was easy to find the necessary information to write about the mission itself. What was more difficult, was to get a more detailed picture. I found the Guts to Try by Col. James Kyle who was the onsite commander and Air force Association’s Official Account invaluable for that sort of information.

But I felt that all these references were missing something: the mission from the perspective of Iranians who actually helped CIA. Some of the books did go as far as hinting that there had been Iranians on the ground that had helped but I was curious to find more about them.

Cemetery of Dreams is the only novel in English (to my knowledge) that tells the event from the perspective of Iranians on the ground during the Eagle Claw mission. The angle I’ve taken and even some of the characters such as Arman Pakran and Kami Brujerdi were inspired by Yusef Mazandi’s excellent non-fiction read, Iran abargodrat-I qarn?

Mazandi was one of the better known journalists in Iran and perhaps even the world till the early 1980s. He worked for a variety of news organizations including United Press. Since he became so famous, he also got to know key politicians in both Iran and abroad. It’s not a surprise then that he would have had insider information about the American hostage rescue mission.

The second scenario (from the perspective of the Iranian officers who fled Iran after the failure of the hostage rescue mission and spoke with Mazandi) has been outlined in Iran abargodrat-e qarn? and loosely translated and summarized in the next few paragraphs.

Dana Farabi was a half American half Iranian man born in Florida and raised in Iran. Dana’s father was Michael Forbes, an officer in the U.S. military who in 1941 came to Iran on a Second World War assignment. There, he met an Iranian girl who would later become his wife. After the war, The Forbes’ moved to Florida and gave birth to their only child, Dana.

Dana’s father passed away in a car accident when Dana was only five years old. Eventually his mother returned to Iran to live close to her family and took Dana with her. She changed Dana’s last name to Farabi and raised him like any other Iranian boy.

In 1964, Dana returned to the U.S. to continue his studies in engineering. In Florida he reunited with his father’s family and was eventually recruited by his grandfather, himself a CIA operator, to join that establishment.

After a few years of training with the CIA, Dana went back to Iran and started a construction company called Dana Far. This company would be a front for a very sophisticated CIA operation which led to building a runway in the middle of the Iranian desert, close to the city of Tabas. This would be the runway that the Iranian officers claimed was later on used for Operation Eagle Claw.

Approximately six months after the Islamic revolution was victorious, Officer Cyrus Javadi, a close friend of Dana’s, asked him to contact the CIA and President Carter to request assistance with an internal coup. He claimed that he had knowledge of a large number of Iranian officers who wanted to fight the regime and bring the Shah back. Dana passed on the request to the White House but never heard back.

Three months later, a group of extremists, who called themselves the followers of Ayatollah Khomeini, took 52 American diplomats hostage. Suddenly President Carter had to evaluate all his options and the Iranian officers’ request was brought back to the table. This is when Carter decided to kill two birds with one stone: save the hostages and help with a coup to overthrow the Islamic regime.

The description of the mission itself in Cemetery of Dreams is pretty close to what actually happened. For a more detailed description of the rescue mission itself I again highly recommend Col. James Kyle’s book, The Guts to Try.

I do not want to give away the entire book or its ending. However, I will say that the account of what happened in Desert One, which led to the argument between President Carter and Brezhnev, came from the testimony of the same Iranian officers who claimed had been part of the coup and were present at Desert One. The explosion in Desert One killed eight American soldiers and one Iranian man. But the world only heard of the eight Americans. The Iranian man’s name was never mentioned. But now we know who he was. If all is true, his name was Cyrus Javandi and he was close friend of CIA agent, Dana Farabi.
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Child Executions
Under Iran’s interpretation of Islamic law, girls as young as 9 and boys as young as 15 are considered mature enough to be held responsible for crimes subjected to the death penalty. It’s absolutely horrific but you can find more information at Stop Child Executions.

I wrote this part of the story because I had heard of a kid who had been with his father, an admiral, in his office when the revolutionaries stormed in. They shot the admiral on the spot and took his son in for questioning. For months, the child, who could not have been older than 13, was brought on television and questioned about his father’s “crimes.” Finally, they executed him.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember the family name and have not been able to go back and find where I got this information. If I do find it, I will add a link here.
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Interrogations in the “red room”
Since the June 2009 elections we have heard of a large number of heart-wrenching reports of beatings, torture and rape of prisoners. Of course, many of us knew of such criminal acts way before they were made public via tweets and youtube videos. But the recent protests were the first time when this information became known worldwide.

There are a number of books about political figures such as Amir Abbas Hoveyda, who was treated inhumanely by the new established revolutionary court in 1979. For Hoveyda’s trial, as with many others, the Islamic court ignored notions of due process, impartiality of the judges, and did not allow the defendant to hire a lawyer. Hoveyda had to defend himself in court. But it was clear that the verdict had already been made by the likes of Ayatollah Khomeini to execute him.

Hoveyda, born in 1920, perviously minister of the royal court and the Shah’s ex-Prime Minister, a citizen of Iran, was accused of spreading corruption on earth, fighting God, acts of sedition detrimental to national security and more ambiguous charges.

In my research for the “red room,” I also leveraged The National Union of Journalists and the Video CDs received by International Tribunal on Crimes against Humanity in Iran.

These videos show the interrogation of former agents of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence about their part in the serial political murders of writers and journalists in 1998-99.

Though the stories I heard growing up and the videos and information that have recently been tweeted from Iran, clearly show that the treatments of prisoners is more brutal than what the above video’s show, I did take some of the ideas of the setting for the interrogation office in Cemetery of Dreams from the above CDs from that site.
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Kami’s encounter with local Hezbollahies
The scene at the beginning of the book when Officer Kami Brujerdi hears the weeping of a woman and walks down the street to see if he can help and runs into a fight between the local Hezbollahies and ex-soldiers of the Shah is based on a true story.

I was eleven years old when we visited one of my parents’ properties outside of Tehran. The property caretaker invited us to his house. He told my father in a hushed voice that a few weeks before a group of local Hezbollahies who had continuously harassed a group of young ex-soldiers finally called the Revolutionary Guards on them. As the Revolutionary Guards arrived, one of the soldiers bumped into a high-ranking military officer, who like Kami, had been walking by. The soldier recognized the officer and had eyed him sarcastically. “It’s a pleasant night to walk, isn’t it, sir?”

The officer had been too shocked by the fight in front of him to respond. The soldier then had added, “Why didn’t you kill these crooks when you had a chance? We had been trained by the best to fight for our nation until we died. Why did you and the Shah abandon us?”

That night the Revolutionary Guards killed several of the soldiers and took the rest as prisoners.

That story remained with me since and I decided to add it to Cemetery of Dreams.
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Melody’s Karaj villa
The villa Melody and her friends escape to before fleeing the country is in Karaj. It is situated 20 km west of Tehran and at the foothills of the Alborz mountains.

It was a beautiful place with a living room extending over the river. I’ve tried to capture it to the best of my ability. She lived there with her two German shepherds. Her husband had also been executed after the 1979 revolution. His crime? Nothing. He had the misfortune of having the same name as someone they were looking for. They executed the wrong man.
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Women’s Rights
The women’s social movement for women’s right began in the early 1900s and lasted until 1933 and then once again rose after the 1979 revolution.

The constitutional revolution in Iran took place in 1906 and right after that societies for women’s rights were formed. When Reza Shah came to power, one of his main initiatives was to help women gain more rights. He believed that it was impossible to modernize a country, without educating and modernizing it’s primary asset: women.

Reza Shah helped kick off the Women’s Awakening movement (1936-1941). He banned the Islamic veil because he and his supporters believed that the veil impeded physical exercise and the ability of women to enter society and contribute to the progress of the nation. This move met severe opposition from the religious establishment.

Reza Shah also established the Marriage Law of 1931 which though not perfect (husbands still controlled their wives’ right to work and travel), by inserting state regulation into the marriage process, it provided women with an automatic and powerful third party they could appeal to. Women were admitted to the University of Tehran in 1935 and civil service jobs were opened to them.

After the 1979 revolution, the status of women quickly deteriorated. Most of the rights that women had gained under the Pahlavi dynasty were abolished and the veil was re-enforced. This resulted in massive protests across the country. The demonstrations did not aim to expand women’s rights but simply keep what they had earned. Unfortunately, they were not successful. Today women in Iran are denied their equal rights in education, child custody, divorce and travel among other things.
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Escape across Iranian-Turkish border
Almost every Iranian outside of Iran knows of a person related to them who has escaped Iran since 1979 in various ways including on the back of a truck, with tribes or on horseback.

The scene of the escape at the end of the book is based on these types of stories and the fact that while I was in Iran, I traveled with my mother and siblings via bus to Istanbul in the hope of getting a visa for my older sister to come to the U.S. and further her studies. The trip was exasperating and adventurous to say the least. We were stopped several times by Revolutionary Guards and body searched by the Sisters of Zeynab (the female version of the Islamic militants). We were taken to a police station and interrogated by a Revolutionary Guard. And finally we sat on our suitcases for hours at the Turkish border with flies covering us, while they searched our bus. All and all it was an interesting experience and one which helped me write the escape scene from Tehran to Turkey.