Is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a graduate of the Patrice Lumumba People’s Friendship University in Moscow? Did the KGB recruit Khamenei as a spy in the 1960’s? Is Soviet indoctrination and ideological training to blame for Khamenei’s hatred of the United States?
The Persian blogosphere is boiling over with speculations about Khamenei’s alleged Soviet connections.
The affair started Wednesday, as Iranian bloggers discovered Russia Today’s February 5, 2010 report on the 50th anniversary of the People’s Friendship University in Moscow, in which Khamenei is mentioned among the university’s “most notable graduates.” A claim also appears on Russia Today’s website, although the reference is made to “Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khomeini,” an obvious mistake. Subsequently, Iranian bloggers identified other Russian sources making the very same claim: The November 25, 2003 issue of Kommersant presents Khamenei as a People’s Friendship University graduate.
Khamenei’s official biography does not make any reference to the People’s Friendship University. This may reflect the truth and Khamenei may not have received any education in the Soviet Union. However, should Khamenei be a People’s Friendship University graduate, he has very strong motives to keep it a secret: Admitting university studies in the “Godless” Soviet Union would not only deal a serious blow to Khamenei’s shaky religious credentials, it would also expose Khamenei to allegations of being recruited by the KGB in the 1960’s, as so many Lumumba grads were.
It is not easy to assess the claims about Khamenei’s past, particularly because the Russian sources do not mention the year of his graduation, which leaves us at the mercy of less reliable sources.
According to Khamenei’s official biography, he travelled to Iraq in 1957 to study at the Theological Seminary in Najaf. Since the People’s Friendship University was first established in 1960, the young Khamenei could not have used his journey to Iraq as a cover for his studies in the Soviet Union. But according to his official biography, Khamenei spent a “clandestine life” in Tehran in the year 1345 [March 21, 1966 – March 21, 1967] after which he was arrested by the police and imprisoned. Did the 28-year-old Khamenei spend a year living a clandestine life in Moscow rather than in Tehran? Was Khamenei arrested because Iran’s pre-revolution secret service, the SAVAK, had found out about Khamenei’s visit to Moscow?
SAVAK documents published by Iran’s Liberation Army (founded in Paris after the 1979 revolution by General Bahram Aryana) may provide other interesting insights into Khamenei’s alleged Soviet connection, but this author has not yet had the opportunity to study those files.
Khamenei may or may not have been a graduate of the People’s Friendship University in Moscow; and he may or may not have been recruited by the KGB in the 1960’s. What no one can deny is that fact that the Islamic Republic, which prides itself in pursuing an independent foreign policy based on the principle of “Neither East, Nor West – Islamic Republic,” has in reality always tilted more towards East. It can also not be denied that under Khamenei’s leadership, the diplomatically isolated Iran has become more and more dependent on Russia and China. Historians will judge if degeneration of Iran into a Russian/Chinese protectorate is by Khamenei’s design … or due to the general incompetence of the Islamic Republic’s leaders.