Interview with M.H. Ganji
Dr Taba recounts:
In November 1999, Prof. G.O.P. Obasi, Secretary-General of WMO, went to Tehran to inaugurate the WMO Symposium on Higher Education and Training. He was invited by Dr Noorian and the Governor of Kish to pay a brief visit to the island and I accompanied them. We were driven around the island and brought to a small park in which the busts of well-known physicists, mathematicians, physicians and other eminent scientists were exhibited. It was a pleasant surprise for the Secretary-General to see the bust of Dr M.H. Ganji, our interviewee in this issue.
Ganji was born in Birjand, a small town in the east of Iran near the Afghanistan border. Birth certificates were not issued in those days and people rarely knew their exact date of birth. Ganji’s grandfather wrote his date of birth inside the family Koran according to the religious calendar. Years later, when a unified calendar was adopted, Ganji found out that he had been born on 11 June 1912. He attended primary and secondary school in the same town. After secondary school, Ganji entered a new institution for higher education in Tehran and obtained the equivalent of a B.Sc. in geography. In view of his excellent academic record and good knowledge of English, Ganji then went to Victoria University in Manchester, England, to study geography, climatology and related topics for his M.Sc. He travelled around England and also visited several other European countries. In 1938, he returned to Iran and taught geography at the University of Tehran. In 1952, Ganji received a Ford Fullbright scholarship and went to Clark University (USA), where he obtained his Ph.D. in geography, climatology and related subjects.
He resumed teaching at the University of Tehran but still had to wait another five years before becoming a full professor with a chair in geography. In 1964, he became head of the faculty of literature and human sciences and maintained this position until he retired in 1975, after 37 years of service, with the title of Professor Emeritus. While at the University, Ganji had several other assignments, the most important of which was the post of Director-General of the Iranian Meteorological Department (IMD). Indeed, he was its founder.
Ganji’s reputation extends beyond his own country. At the opening session of the 29th International Geographical Union (IGU) Congress (Seoul, Republic of Korea, 14 August 2000), his name was one of a small group of geographers mentioned for their services in promoting the objectives of the IGU and he was declared the founder of the IGU National Commission in Iran some 40 years ago. He stood to receive the applause of more than 2 000 geographers from all over the world.
Readers will find out how Ganji, through his scientific experience, his knowledge of geography and climatology, his position as a university professor, his access to high government authorities and above all his strong personality, managed to persuade all concerned that meteorology deserved its own independent place in the government hierarchy. He established good contacts both with ICAO and WMO. He was always a welcome visitor to the WMO Secretariat. He had—and still has—an excellent speaking manner, calm and persuasive, always polite and never aggressive. He has written some 15 books, the first of which, published in 1941 and entitled War and Geography, gave an account of power politics in the Pacific Ocean, and some 100 scientific articles and papers.
Ganji has never ceased his contacts with the Meteorological Service of Iran and is a regular visitor to IRIMO. His services have been frequently sought by the Government and he has provided advice in many fields.
I have known Ganji for more than 40 years. He has always impressed me by his outstanding personality, his friendliness and extensive knowledge. At the age of 88 he is still bright and active. I am proud to have been able to interview this compatriot of mine, who is the father of geography and climatology of Iran. The interview took place in Tehran in August 2000.
H.T. — Tell us about the date and place of your birth, your parents, your elementary and secondary schooling.
M.H.G. — I was born on 11 June 1912 in Birjand, a small town east of Iran, not far from the Afghanistan border. My parents came from a middle-class land-owning family. My grandfather was the private tutor to the son of the local Governor. Although located in a small town, our school was in all respects comparable to similar schools in the capital. Special emphasis was placed on Iranian literature and foreign languages such as Arabic and English. During my six years of secondary schooling, I received four gold medals for best student and two silver medals for next best. I went to Tehran for my higher education and entered the Training College, which was the equivalent of a university. I received the first blow of my life soon after: my father died at the age of 38, leaving behind four sons and two daughters, all younger than me. Despite this, I continued my studies until the end of 1933.
H.T. — What sort of degree did you obtain and what did you study?
M.H.G. — I obtained the equivalent of a B.Sc. in history and geography. The Government used to send some 100 top students each year to different countries in Europe for further studies. Since I was first in my class and my knowledge of English was adequate, I was sent to Manchester University in England. A year later, I registered in the Honours School of Geography, which was run by Prof. Herbert John Fleure, one of the most eminent British geographers. Whatever success I have had in my life in the field of geography, I owe to this outstanding man. He took me to the Sixteenth Congress of the International Geographic Union in Amsterdam, where I met a number of well-known geographers such as Emmanuel de Martonne, Lucien Gallois, Ralph Brown and Issac Bowman. I visited numerous places in England and other countries in Europe in connection with my studies. After five years, I received my M.Sc.
H.T. — You also studied climatology. What did this entail?
M.H.G. — Two of my courses in Manchester were of special interest to me, namely climatology and cartography. Studies in climatology started with a publication entitled A Handbook of Meteorology printed by the United Kingdom Meteorological Office and designed for those who were to become meteorological observers. Another basic textbook was Climatology, by the well-known climatologist Austin Miller of Reading University. Two other sources of study were Climate and Climates of the Continents by Kendrew. Students were also required to work one month at a weather station and I chose the weather station near the University. Another important course was human geography. This comprehensive course later developed into separate subjects such as sociology, social geography, cultural geography, anthropology, human societies, etc.
H.T. — In other words, you had already become a climatologist when you returned to Iran?
M.H.G. — Geographical determination, a continuation of 19th century Darwinism, was prevalent in most scientific centres and, within that framework, climate was considered as the most forceful environmental factor that created all differences in various cultures and civilizations. At Manchester University, I became a firm believer in the tremendous importance of climate as a factor in producing different landscapes as well as different forms of life on the Earth’s surface. When I returned home, I was an ardent adherent of geographical determinism with "climate" a passion. Later, during my military service, I had to make long trips into the country on horseback and had ample opportunity to see and reflect on the effects of weather and climate on the Earth’s surface. I became a committed geographer-climatologist.
H.T. — After Manchester began your long association with the University of Tehran?
M.H.G. — The day after my arrival in Tehran in October 1938, I entered the service of the fledgling Tehran University. I was the first Iranian to have received systematic training in geography and climatology at a European university and I was given the post of instructor (assistant professor) in geography. I held the position for 14 years (with a break of two years for my military service). In 1952, I obtained a combined Fulbright and Ford Foundation grant to study geography at Clark University in the USA under Prof. Van Valkenburg. After two years I obtained my Ph.D. and returned to the University in Iran to teach on a part-time basis for another five years. Finally, I was offered a Chair of geography and a full-time job. I was also given other responsibilities, such as Administrative Assistant to the Rector, Senior Consultant, Director and President of Geography Instructors, etc. I even founded the Iranian Geographic Society. My association with the University lasted for some 37 years. When I retired it was with the greatest distinction a professor can obtain.
H.T.— You have published numerous scientific papers and written many text books, both in Farsi and in English. Tell us about your early works.
M.H.G. — The historic drought of the early 1940s and its destructive consequences in my home town left a deep impression on my mind. In 1940, I published my first climatological paper "Drought in Ghayenat". This was the first national approach to the discussion of a climatic phenomenon that had repeatedly changed the landscape and life of the country. When I was at Clark University, I took two courses in climatology and my Ph.D. thesis, submitted in 1954, was entitled “A contribution to the climatology of Iran”. This was the first comprehensive account of the climatology of the country based on data available in and outside Iran. When I returned to Tehran and resumed my teaching at the university, I introduced a course on the climate of Iran that was based on the work I had done for my dissertation.
H.T.— When was your first contact with WMO?
M.H.G. — Prof. Van Valkenburg persuaded me to visit the Secretariat of the newly established World Meteorological Organization in Geneva on my way home. He even gave me a letter of recommendation to Dr G. Swoboda, the Secretary-General. When I reached my destination—what a disappointment! I saw a number of wooden huts scattered about, looking like an abandoned military barracks. When Dr Swoboda finally saw me to discuss the possibility of a position in the Secretariat, I handed him a copy of my dissertation and said goodbye.
H.T. — I believe you had better luck in the national arena, however?
M.H.G. — In February 1951, I was commissioned by the University to participate in a special committee of the Higher Education Department to prepare a programme for training meteorological forecasters. During our first meeting, I met the Head of the newly created Department of Civil Aviation and a person of Norwegian origin called Dr Anda, who had been sent by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to advise in the training of meteorological forecasters. I thus became acquainted with an aspect of meteorology which I did not know before: meteorology in the service of aviation. The Department of Civil Aviation was an integral part of the Ministry of Roads and Communication, and meteorology was a section in that Department. In 1955, I went to Washington DC in my capacity as adviser to a government committee to negotiate with a similar committee from Afghanistan the long disputed question of a border river separating our two countries. One day, I was called by our Ambassador in Washington and told to return to Iran without delay as the Government had designated me Director-General of the newly established Department of Meteorology.
H.T. — How did this surprising new enterprise evolve?
M.H.G. — Upon arrival at the airport in Tehran, I was met by Dr Pramanik, a WMO expert assigned to Iran to advise and assist the Government in establishing a Department of Meteorology. A decree of the Council of Ministers had already been issued, designating me Director-General of the Iranian Meteorological Department (IMD) for a period of three years, while continuing with my teaching at the University. Dr Pramanik had convinced Civil Aviation that the IMD needed its own headquarters and he had already rented a small three-storey house with a dozen rooms for some 30 people.
H.T. — How did you find your new assignment?
Some of the civilians were unhappy, because they had been separated from their colleagues and friends. Everyone was trying to influence me. Thirdly, the Department of Civil Aviation, out of which IMD was born, was not at all happy about the separation and its Director, an Air Force General, had difficulties accepting his loss of authority. There were, therefore, frequent conflicts of opinion and tensions. Moreover, IMD was penniless except for some small amounts for petty expenses authorized by Civil Aviation. We also received some money from the Government Planning Organization—and that was how we had to go through the whole financial year.
H.T. — What did you do to remedy the situation?
M.H.G. — Uppermost in my mind was the setting-up of a legal, independent identity for the IMD. This required the preparation of two bills of law; one for the establishment of IMD as an independent body within the organizational framework of the Ministry of Roads and Communication and the other for the purpose of formally attaching the IMD to the World Meteorological Organization. To obtain a bill of law from the Parliament and Senate proved to be a difficult task fraught with torturous formalities. I was lucky in that the Prime Minister was a university professor to whom I had easy access. Another piece of luck was that six of the senators who had to approve the bills were also university professors, while, furthermore, some of my students were members of the lower house of Parliament. So I had a group of intellectuals and politicians behind me, all supporters of an independent IMD. Nevertheless, it took two years before the two bills were made law. I consider 2 March 1959 the happiest day in the history of Iranian meteorology.
H.T. — You obtained your independence—what happened next?
M.H.G. — It was a turning point. Most of the decision- makers in government circles started to realize the importance of IMD; its functions and duties and its role in the overall development of the country. Although the law was ratified only a few days before the end of the fiscal year, the Department was given a place in the next year’s budget. The general public also developed an awareness of the importance of the IMD, albeit combined with a certain amount of sarcasm. I tried to enhance this awareness by giving talks on radio and television. If our forecasts were not entirely accurate, the media exploited the situation by magnifying relatively small errors and making jokes. I was named "Liar of the year" and there was hardly a day when I was not the butt of a cartoon or a joke in the newspapers.
The 1960s, which coincided with Unesco’s International Hydrological Decade, was, however, a prosperous period for IMD. We had a budget increase for routine activities and for developing the observation network. Our meteorological training programme was expanded and we procured more equipment. Our office space was extended and facilities multiplied. We inaugurated some research activities and published some scientific papers and periodicals. The first batch of forecasters (chosen from university graduates with a degree in mathematics and physics) had been trained by the ICAO expert, Dr Anda. All these activities went on in a well coordinated manner and altogether we had a good decade.
H.T. — Your first impressions of WMO were not encouraging. What sort of relations did you establish later on?
M.H.G. — In 1956, WMO sent Dr Pramanik to Iran to advise the Government on establishing a national Meteorological Service. Although he laid the foundations of the IMD, he did not live long enough to see its inception. Fortunately, the WMO Secretariat did not wait long before assigning another expert, D.H. Hoyle from the United Kingdom Meteorological Office, who helped us set up a solid Climatological Section. Six months later, he was replaced by another WMO expert who strengthened the new section by adding mountain and desert climatological stations. Iran was not a Member of WMO, yet we received generous and excellent support from it. In April 1959, WMO sent us a third expert, this time in the field of upper-air observations. Before the end of the month, Dr H. Sebastian, who was in charge of WMO technical cooperation activities, visited us and noted our requirements. The highlight of the year was a visit by the Secretary-General of WMO, Dr D.A. Davies. As a token of gratitude for the invaluable support of WMO, the Government donated a pair of beautiful handwoven carpets for the new Secretariat Headquarters in Geneva. Today, more than 40 years later, the carpets are still in the office of the Secretary-General.
H.T. — What were some of your activities within the framework of WMO?
M.H.G. — The Organization sent us experts on a regular basis. Some, particularly those engaged in operational activities, had to put up with many inconveniences but I never heard any complaints. We seldom lost an opportunity to participate in WMO meetings. We attended the RA II meetings in Burma (1959) and Thailand (November 1962) and, in October 1966, IMD hosted the fourth RA II meeting. This was a memorable occasion for a relatively new Service. We had delegates and participants from, I believe, all countries in Asia, plus a dozen guests from elsewhere and several representatives of international agencies and organizations. A much respected and appreciated guest was Dr A. Nyberg, President of WMO. Not only did he participate in all the sessions, he was always available for discussions and advice pertaining to WMO affairs.
H.T. — It was during that meeting that you were elected president of WMO Regional Association II (Asia)?
M.H.G. — That was a great honour for me and my country and—most importantly—enabled me to become a member of the WMO Executive Committee. During my term of office, I travelled to all countries in the Region, except China, and did my best to create a climate of collaboration among them.
H.T. — Did you succeed in expanding the observation network of IMD?
M.H.G. — When I took over IMD, there were 29 synoptic stations in the whole country. The small forecasting unit of Civil Aviation ran one radiosonde and one pilot balloon station with one ascent each day. There were no more than 70 agricultural or climatological stations scattered all over the country under the Ministry of Agriculture or the Institute of Hydrology. During my first two years in the office, I could not do much to expand the existing network. New stations of any category required money, equipment, training of personnel and mobility. All I could do was to open 50-70 new climatological and raingauge stations because they were not very costly. By 1960, however, the total number of field stations reached 400 and from then on the number of additions averaged 100 a year. In the early 1960s, there was a sudden, drastic expansion in our upper-air network. This was due entirely to the assistance provided by the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). CENTO was a military pact between Turkey, Iran and Pakistan and supported by the United Kingdom and the USA, which came into existence in the early days of the Cold War. Aviation was an important part of the pact and meteorology was much in demand. CENTO had a Meteorological Committee composed of the Directors of the Meteorological Services of the three countries plus advisers. We had frequent meetings to discuss requirements and problems and ways to alleviate them. We expanded our pilot balloon network to eight, with two to four flights a day. In addition, a radar network consisting of six units was set up, and our communication system was expanded considerably. This expansion was the main element in Tehran being recognized as a Regional Telecommunication Hub in later years. Needless to say, WMO played a major role in assisting us and the Secretariat was our most faithful adviser.
H.T. — At what stage did you initiate systematic training of personnel?
M.H.G. — The first course for training meteorological observers to work at synoptic stations was organized by you, Dr Taba, in 1949. The participants were selected from students who had completed their secondary education. In WMO terminology, this was Class III training. Meteorological forecasters had been trained in Iran by the ICAO expert, Dr Anda. So, before the creation of IMD, a nucleus of Class III and Class I meteorological personnel was already available to serve civil aviation. My task was to create new courses for all categories of personnel. The first two courses I organized were for 40 Class III observers for a period of six months. The newly formed personnel were given various responsibilities, such as manning meteorological stations, upper-air observations and inspection of meteorological stations. In November 1957, another expert from ICAO, with assistance from the University of Tehran, organized a two-year training course for Class I personnel (diploma course),which included climatology taught by me. Two more such courses were organized, each with some 20 participants. Here I must put on record the excellent assistance we received from ICAO and the devoted services of its experts. ICAO assistance was gradually replaced by WMO. I met Directors of Meteorological Services from all over the world who, through bilateral arrangements, initiated a valuable exchange of information. WMO meetings played a major role in paving the way to progress. Today I am proud to claim that, in the years I was heading IMD, we trained no fewer than 300 meteorological personnel of all categories. Your presence in the WMO Secretariat, Dr Taba, as the person responsible for education and training, was perhaps our greatest asset.
H.T. — What about research?
M.H.G. — During my first two years at the IMD, I could hardly think of anything other than essential daily activities but I never forgot my main objective: the recognition of meteorology in all aspects of Iranian society. Fortunately, I had a capable deputy, Mrs Shahrokhshahy, and the advice of my excellent international colleagues and experts from ICAO and WMO. Mr Hoyle embarked on the publication of our first statistical bulletin which was circulated in 1959. It contained all the available meteorological data from 58 stations covering 1957. Some 1 000 copies were reproduced and distributed to high officials, university staff and interested students. We also sent copies to Meteorological Services around the world, as well as universities and libraries. Our next year’s bulletin incorporated information from 107 stations and the following year’s from 300 stations. The publication grew in size and improved in content. We also published a small bulletin containing information from synoptic stations. As from 1959, we took the opportunity of the celebration of World Meteorological Day to produce an illustrated booklet on the theme of the Day and articles and news about IMD and its activities. It was in these articles that we took the first steps to introducing some sort of research ideas in meteorology and climatology. This publication also encouraged IMD staff to design and create figures, graphs and maps. So you could say that this was the beginning of research. I was pleased when our bulletin soon contained articles not only by our staff but also by university professors and other scholars.
H.T. — One of your main achievements as Head of IMD was the preparation of a climate atlas of Iran. Could you please expand on this?
M.H.G. — My engagement in the university as a geographer and climatologist and my assignment as Head of IMD meant that I had easy access to all the information I needed. The Geographical Institute of Tehran University was headed by the well-known geographer, Dr Ahmed Mostowfi. We decided that the two institutions should jointly prepare a project and eventually publish a climate atlas of Iran. A team of cartography students was formed in the university and I created a similar team in IMD to prepare the figures and diagrams. It was a monumental task and took two years of hard work to finish. The atlas was published in 1960 and has remained a major source of reference, both within and outside the country. We were proud of our achievement and the fact that the project had fostered excellent relations between the university and a government organ. After the Islamic Revolution, the cooperation between IMD and the university community was strengthened further. The present Director of IRIMO, Dr A.M. Noorian, is a fervent supporter of the strong link with the universities. He has made every effort to bring the two communities as close together as possible. Today, meteorology in Iran occupies an important place in society and meteorological research is covering wider areas.
H.T. — With the expansion of your activities and increased number of personnel, how did you cope?
M.H.G. — For three years the situation was awful. The lack of adequate space bothered me enormously. In June 1960, we moved to our new headquarters, close to Tehran University. We now had a building of four floors with 50 rooms. I turned the ground floor into a permanent exhibition hall where meteorological instruments were on display to visitors, as well as daily meteorological charts of current weather and forecasts for different periods. We remained there for six years, but, as the IMD continued to grow, we felt the lack of adequate space again. In November 1966, we moved once more, this time to a six-storey house with 120 rooms and plenty of space for storage, parking, etc. As early as 1962, I had discussed the question of building an independent headquarters for IMD with both the Ministry of Roads and Communication and the Plan Organization. Finally, in June 1965, a patch of land of 12 acres was earmarked for the future site of IMD and a decree of the Council of Ministers was passed. My first action was to put a fence around the land to mark our sovereignty. In November 1967, I concluded an agreement with the builder contractors and, on 3 July 1968, we celebrated the foundation of the permanent premises for the IMD. This was a historical day for IMD and myself.
H.T. — What about your relations with your superiors and staff in IMD?
As to my own staff, I had three assistants. My deputy was Mrs Shahrokhshahy, a lady of German origin. She was both an excellent meteorologist and a good manager (she had headed the previous Meteorological Section for many years). I benefited greatly from her knowledge and collaboration during the 12 years we worked together. Thanks to her, I was able to devote some time to areas such as the presidency of RA II, our relations with WMO and contacts with national authorities. My second deputy was an Air Force colonel, who was later promoted to the rank of Military Attaché in London. We have remained good friends and I see him and his family every time I visit London. My third deputy was an energetic and hardworking young man, a university graduate and a Class I meteorologist. My plan was to remain as the head of IMD until the end of my term as president of RA II and then hand over to him. At the end of the 1960s and in the 1970s, our country went through dramatic changes: we had land, educational, cultural and administrative revolutions, one after the other. In 1967, my deputy was indeed appointed as my successor.
H.T. — What turn did your career then take? Did you maintain contact with the Meteorological Department?
M.H.G. — I was designated Vice-Chancellor of Tehran University. I also became a full-time professor and maintained this position until my retirement in March 1976, when I was honoured with the status of Professor Emeritus. I was immediately contacted by the Ministry of Higher Education wanting me to create a new University in my own home town of Birjand. I completed this task and the university became functional just before the Islamic Revolution. During the three years between my retirement from the university and the Islamic Revolution, I never ceased my contact with IMD nor with WMO. Losing contacts with these two organizations would have meant my separation from meteorology and climatology—something unimaginable for me. I was often called to IMD to advise or to preside the World Meteorological Day celebration. In July 1970, I attended the RA II session in Tokyo, where my successor was elected president and I accompanied the new Director to the sixteenth session of the WMO Congress in 1971. In 1972, I was invited to take part in the Working Group of the Commission of Special Applications of Meteorology and Hydrology in Geneva. The next year, I attended a session of the Working Group on the Measurement of Atmospheric Pollution held in Finland. In 1975, I became involved with the WMO Symposium on the Use of Land as Natural Resource, in Asheville, USA. For two or three years after the Islamic Revolution, I tayed at home and spent most of my time preparing a work entitled Geography in Iran from Darol-Fonoun to Islamic Revolution. In the 1980s, I was invited by the Director of IRIMO to participate in the work of a special committee that was set up to formulate a programme for postgraduate courses in climatology. I was also asked to preside over a new committee to revise and reproduce the climatic atlas of Iran for which we have had bi-weekly meetings at IRIMO. In recent years, I have also been a member of the High Research Council on Climatic Changes. The huge amount of data available these days, together with computer facilities and the interest of IRIMO, have provided all the necessary ingredients for a great deal of research work and theses. I am happy and proud to say that I am associated with these activities as adviser, examiner, tutor, etc.
H.T. — How would you compare the Iranian Meteorological Department of your day with the IRIMO today?
In my day, we had only four basic networks of stations; today the number is 13 and comprises all kinds of data. IRIMO has its own communication network, linked with many important places. Most of IRIMO’s functions are computerized; its meteorological products are of the highest standard; it has a sophisticated network of research centres and enjoys the collaboration of hundreds of university professors. IRIMO has one of the best WMO-supported regional training centres in Asia and students from many developing countries are trained there. Because of its excellent relations with the Ministries of Agriculture and Energy, substantial progress has been achieved in the fields of agrometeorology and hydrology and water resources. In brief, IRIMO’s contribution to overall national development is recognized by policy-makers, in particular in the field of forecasting weather- and climate-related hazards. In my opinion, the progress and achievements of IRIMO are all due to the hard work and devotion of one person— the President of IRIMO, Dr A.M. Noorian, who is also Deputy Minister of Roads and Transportation.
H.T. — Could you mention a few highlights of your career?
M.H.G. — In September 1962, the region of Tehran experienced one of the most destructive earthquakes ever. The epicentre was a little town some 60 kilometres to the south of the capital. On the first anniversary of this terrible tragedy, the Government arranged an exhibition in which every Department had a display. We exhibited a number of charts and maps depicting the water cycle, with particular reference to Iran. I had worked out the total amount of rainwater that fell in the country and the amount of water lost through evaporation, evapotranspiration, flow beyond national boundaries, etc. I showed that, from all the precipitation which fell in the country, only 5 per cent was used to maintain life. When the Shah visited our exhibition, he was greatly impressed by this information.He asked numerous questions and demanded many explanations. Immediately after his visit, he ordered the establishment of a special committee to look into the question of water use and management and ordered the creation of a new Ministry, the predecessor of the present Ministry of Energy. That was thanks to meteorological information.
Another event worth mentioning concerns CENTO and IMD involvement in air war planning. I was asked to prepare a list of IMD’s requirements and, with the help of WMO advisers, I prepared a 20-page report identifying our needs for instruments, telecommunications, radar systems, etc., which I handed to the CENTO Office in Tehran. Some months later, I was instructed to go to that Office to receive a highly confidential document. I soon realized that it was my own report, but stamped “highly classified” all over. I called my office and asked my staff to collect immediately the copies of the report which were perhaps scattered all over the place. It was quite interesting for me to see how the same paper can change identity in different places.
H.T. — You were also Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Roads and Communication?
M.H.G. — In April 1964, at the height of the Cold War, the Iranian and American Air Forces had arranged a joint manoeuvre in Khouzestan in the south-west of Iran. For months before, we worked to make sure we would produce a good weather forecast. The Americans had even set up their own forecasting unit on the spot. Everybody was excited and nervous. Suddenly, the day before the manoeuvre, a terrible sandstorm arrived from Arabia. High winds loaded with heavy sands darkened the skies. All the installations were destroyed. The high-ranking Iranians and Americans on their way to the site had to interrupt their journey; they could not cross the mountains. I spent the whole night in the forecasting office, trembling and anxious, and no improvement in sight. My staff were questioned by army intelligence. Finally, the manoeuvre had to be cancelled. Soon after, I received a call asking me to meet the Minister. Thinking that he wanted some meteorological information, I took weather maps and reports to brief him. What a surprise I had when he asked me if I would accept the position of Deputy Minister of Roads and Communication for Parliamentary Affairs. I accepted the offer and remained in that position as long as I was the Director-General of IMD. That sandstorm gave a major boost to IMD.
H.T. — I was told that a special celebration was held in your honour recently. What was the occasion?
M.H.G. — The Society for Appreciation of Cultural Works and Dignitaries organized a celebration for my 88th birthday. Many scientists, university professors and IRIMO officials attended and some of my former students and colleagues made speeches. I was given more than a dozen plaques from universities and scientific institutes. The chancellor of Shahid Beheshti University (formerly National University) gave me and my wife a pilgrimage to Mecca, which is a great privilege. My wife also received a plaque and a cash prize from the Governor-General of Tehran Province, for the part she has played in my achievements.
H.T. — I appreciate the opportunity to conduct this interview. I enjoyed seeing you and talking to you. Thank you.