Saur Revolution

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Saur Revolution
Part of the Cold War, origins of the war in Afghanistan, and the prelude to the Soviet–Afghan War
Day after Saur revolution in Kabul (773).jpg
Outside the presidential palace gate (Arg) in Kabul, the day after the Saur revolution on 28 April 1978
Date27–28 April 1978
(1 day)

PDPA victory


Flag of Afghanistan (1974-1978).svg Republic of Afghanistan

Flag of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan.svg PDP of Afghanistan
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Afghanistan (1974-1978).svg Mohammed Daoud Khan  
Flag of Afghanistan (1974-1978).svg Abdul Qadir Nuristani
Flag of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan.svg Mohammad Aslam Watanjar [1]
Flag of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan.svg Abdul Qadir
Flag of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan.svg Nur Muhammad Taraki [1]
Flag of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan.svg Hafizullah Amin
Flag of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan.svg Babrak Karmal [1]

The Saur Revolution ( /sɔːr/ ; Persian : إنقلاب ثور or ۷ ثور (literally 7th Saur); Pashto : د ثور انقلاب), also called the April Revolution or April Coup, was a coup d'état (or self-proclaimed revolution) led by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) against the rule of Afghan President Mohammed Daoud Khan on 27–28 April 1978. Daoud Khan and most of his family were killed at the presidential palace. [2] The revolution resulted in the creation of a government with Nur Muhammad Taraki as President (General Secretary of the Revolutionary Council), and was the precursor to the 1979 intervention by the Soviets and the 1979–1989 Soviet–Afghan War against the Mujahideen.

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is one of the Western Iranian languages within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is a pluricentric language primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and some other regions which historically were Persianate societies and considered part of Greater Iran. It is written right to left in the Persian alphabet, a modified variant of the Arabic script.

Coup détat Sudden deposition of a government; illegal and overt seizure of a state by the military or other elites within the state apparatus

A coup d'état, also known as a putsch, a golpe, or simply as a coup, means the overthrow of an existing government; typically, this refers to an illegal, unconstitutional seizure of power by a dictator, the military, or a political faction.

Revolution fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time

In political science, a revolution is a fundamental and relatively sudden change in political power and political organization which occurs when the population revolts against the government, typically due to perceived oppression or political incompetence. In book V of the Politics, the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle described two types of political revolution:

  1. Complete change from one constitution to another
  2. Modification of an existing constitution.


Saur (pronounced like sour in English) is the Dari (Persian) name of the second month of the Persian calendar, the month in which the uprising took place. [3] At a press conference in New York in June 1978, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hafizullah Amin, a member of the coup, said that the event was not a coup but a revolution by the "will of the people". [4]

Ordibehesht is the second month of the Solar Hijri calendar, the official calendar of Iran and Afghanistan. Ordibehesht has 31 days, spanning the months of April and May in the Gregorian calendar.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Hafizullah Amin former Afghan head of state

Hafizullah Amin was an Afghan communist politician during the Cold War. Amin was born in Paghman and educated at Kabul University, after which he started his career as a teacher. After a few years in that occupation, he went to the United States to study. He would visit the United States a second time before moving permanently to Afghanistan, and starting his career in radical politics. He ran as a candidate in the 1965 parliamentary election but failed to secure a seat. Amin was the only Khalqist elected to parliament in the 1969 parliamentary election, thus increasing his standing within the party. He was one of the leading organizers of the Saur Revolution which overthrew the government of Mohammad Daoud Khan. In 1979 he named himself president, prime minister, and chairman of the Khalq wing. He has been described as "ruthless" and a "radical Marxist".


With the support and assistance of minority political party People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), Mohammed Daoud Khan had taken power in the 1973 Afghan coup d'état by overthrowing the monarchy of King Zahir Shah, [5] [6] and had established the first Republic of Afghanistan.

Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan communist party

The People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan was a political party established on 1 January 1965. While a minority, the party helped former prime minister of Afghanistan, Mohammed Daoud Khan, to overthrow King Mohammed Zahir Shah in 1973, and establish the Republic of Afghanistan. Daoud would eventually become a strong opponent of the party, firing PDPA politicians from high-ranking jobs in the government cabinet. This would lead to uneasy relations with the Soviet Union.

Mohammed Daoud Khan politician, first President of Afghanistan (1973-1978)

Mohammed Daoud Khan or Daud Khan was the 5th Prime Minister of Afghanistan from 1953 to 1963 and the President of Afghanistan from 1973 to 1978. Born into the royal family, he overthrew the Musahiban monarchy of his first cousin Mohammed Zahir Shah and declared himself as the first President of Afghanistan in 1973. He would hold this position until his assassination in 1978 during the Saur Revolution led by the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). Khan was known for his progressive policies, efforts to improve women's rights, Pashtun nationalism, and for initiating two five-year modernization plans which increased the labor force by about 50 percent. The 1978 coup and assassination plunged Afghanistan into an ongoing civil war.

1973 Afghan coup détat

The 1973 Afghan coup d'etat took place on July 17, 1973 in Kabul, Afghanistan when forces led by then-army commander Lieutenant General Mohammed Daoud Khan and then-Chief of Staff General Abdul Karim Mustaghni overthrew the monarchy in a somewhat bloodless coup. At the time King Mohammed Zahir Shah was abroad receiving eye surgery and treatment for low back pain in Ischia, Italy. Daoud Khan was assisted by leftist Afghan Army officers and civil servants from the Parcham faction of the PDPA, including Afghan Air Force colonel Abdul Qadir. Eight officers were killed. King Zahir Shah decided not to retaliate and he formally abdicated on August 24, remaining in Italy in exile. More than two centuries of royal rule ended.

President Daoud was convinced that closer ties and military support from the Soviet Union would allow him to settle border issues with Pakistan. However, Daoud, who was ostensibly committed to a policy of non-alignment, became uneasy over Soviet attempts to dictate Afghanistan's foreign policy, and relations between the two countries deteriorated. [7]

Non-Aligned Movement group of states which are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is a forum of 120 developing world states that are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc. After the United Nations, it is the largest grouping of states world-wide.

Under the secular government of Daoud, factionalism and rivalry developed in the PDPA, with two main factions being the Parcham and Khalq factions. On 17 April 1978, a prominent member of the Parcham, Mir Akbar Khyber, was murdered. [8] :771 Although the government issued a statement deploring the assassination, Nur Mohammad Taraki of the PDPA charged that the government itself was responsible, a belief that was shared by much of the Kabul intelligentsia. PDPA leaders apparently feared that Daoud was planning to eliminate them. [8]

Parcham was the name of one of the factions of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, formed in 1967 following its split. The Parcham faction seized power in the country after the toppling of Hafizullah Amin in December 1979.

Khalq political party in Afghanistan

Khalq was a faction of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). Its historical leaders were Presidents Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin. It was also the name of the leftist newspaper produced by the same movement. It was supported by the USSR and was formed in 1965 when the PDPA was born. The Khalqist wing of the party was made up primarily of Pashtuns from non-elite classes. However, their Marxism was often a vehicle for tribal resentments. Bitter resentment between the Khalq and Parcham factions eventually led to the failure of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan government that was formed as a result of the Saur Revolution in 1978. It was also responsible for the radical reforms and brutal dissident crackdowns that encouraged the rebellion of the religious segments present in the Afghan society, which led to the creation of the Mujahideen and, eventually, to the Soviet military intervention in December 1979.

Mir Akbar Khyber was an Afghan left-wing intellectual and a leader of the Parcham faction of People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). His assassination led to the overthrow of Mohammed Daoud Khan's republic, and to the advent of a socialist regime in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.

During the funeral ceremonies for Khyber a protest against the government occurred, and shortly thereafter most of the leaders of PDPA, including Babrak Karmal, were arrested by the government. Hafizullah Amin, was put under house arrest, which gave him a chance to order an uprising, one that had been slowly coalescing for more than two years. [3] Amin, without having the authority, instructed the Khalqist army officers to overthrow the government.

Babrak Karmal politician, former President of Afghanistan (1979-1986)

Babrak Karmal was an Afghan politician who was installed as President of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union when they invaded in 1979. Karmal was born in Kamari and educated at Kabul University. When the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was formed, Karmal became one of its leading members, having been introduced to Marxism by Mir Akbar Khyber during his imprisonment for activities deemed too radical by the government. He eventually became the leader of the Parcham faction when the PDPA split in 1967, with their ideological nemesis being the Khalq faction. Under Karmal's leadership, the Parchamite PDPA participated in Mohammad Daoud Khan's rise to power in 1973, and his subsequent regime. While relations were good at the beginning, Daoud began a major purge of leftist influence in the mid-1970s. This in turn led to the reformation of the PDPA in 1977, and Karmal played a major role in the 1978 Saur Revolution when the PDPA took power, though in later years he denounced it.

The Revolution

The day after the Saur revolution in Kabul Day after Saur revolution.JPG
The day after the Saur revolution in Kabul

Preliminary steps for the coup came in April, when a tank commander under Daoud warned of intelligence suggesting an attack on Kabul in the near future, specifically April 27th. On the commander's recommendation, tanks were positioned around the Arg. On the 27th, the tanks turned their guns on the palace. The tank commander who made the request had, in secret, defected to Khalq beforehand. [9]

According to an eyewitness, the first signs of the impending coup in Kabul, about noon on 27 April, were reports of a tank column headed toward the city, smoke of unknown origin near the Ministry of Defense, and armed men, some in military uniform, guarding Ariana Circle, a major intersection. The first shots heard were near the Ministry of Interior in the New City (Shari Nau) section of Kabul, where a company of policemen apparently confronted an advancing tank column. From there the fighting spread to other areas of the city. Later that afternoon, the first fighter planes, Sukhoi Su-7 s, came in low and fired rockets at the national palace in the center of the city. In early evening, an announcement was broadcast on government-owned Radio Afghanistan that the Khalq were overthrowing the Daoud government. The use of the word Khalq, and its traditional association with the communists in Afghanistan, made clear that the PDPA was leading the coup, and also that the rebels had captured the radio station. [10]

The aerial attacks on the palace intensified about midnight as six Su-7s made repeated rocket attacks, lighting up the city. The next morning, 28 April, Kabul was mostly quiet, although the sound of gunfire could still be heard on the southern side of the city. As the people of Kabul ventured out of their homes they realized that the rebels were in complete control of the city and learned that President Daoud and his brother Naim had been killed early that morning. A group of soldiers had surrounded the heavily-damaged palace and demanded their surrender. Instead, Daoud and Naim, pistols in hand, charged out of the palace at the soldiers, and were shot and killed. [10]

Government after the revolution

The revolution was initially welcomed by many people in Kabul, who were dissatisfied with the Daoud government. The PDPA, divided between the Khalq and Parcham, succeeded the Daoud government with a new regime under the leadership of Nur Muhammad Taraki of the Khalq faction. In Kabul, the initial cabinet appeared to be carefully constructed to alternate ranking positions between Khalqis and Parchamis. Taraki (Khalqi) was Prime Minister, Karmal (Parchami) was senior Deputy Prime Minister, and Hafizullah Amin (Khalqi) was foreign minister. The unity, however, between Khalq and Parcham lasted only briefly. Taraki and Amin in early July relieved most of the Parchamis from their government positions. Karmal was sent abroad as Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. In August 1978, Taraki and Amin claimed to have uncovered a plot and executed or imprisoned several cabinet members, even imprisoning General Abdul Qadir, the military leader of the Saur revolution until the Soviet invasion and subsequent change in leadership in late 1979. In September 1979, it was Taraki's turn to become a victim of the Revolution, as Amin overthrew and executed him. [11] [12]

Once in power, the PDPA implemented a socialist agenda.[ clarification needed ] It changed the national flag from traditional Islamic green color to a near-copy of the red flag of the Soviet Union, a provocative affront to the people of this conservative Islamic country. [11] It prohibited usury, without having in place any alternative for peasants who relied on the traditional, if exploitative, credit system in the countryside. That led to an agricultural crisis and a fall in agricultural production. [13] [14] Land reform was criticized by one journalist as "confiscating land in a haphazard manner that enraged everyone, benefited no one, and reduced food production," and the "first instance of organized, nationwide repression in Afghanistan's modern history." [15]

Women's rights

The PDPA, an advocate of equal rights for women, declared the equality of the sexes. [16] The PDPA made a number of statements on women's rights, declaring equality of the sexes and introduced women to political life. A prominent example was Anahita Ratebzad, who was a major Marxist leader and a member of the Revolutionary Council. Ratebzad wrote the famous May 28, 1978 New Kabul Times editorial, which declared: "Privileges which women, by right, must have are equal education, job security, health services, and free time to rear a healthy generation for building the future of the country ... Educating and enlightening women is now the subject of close government attention." [17] Women were already guaranteed freedoms under the 1964 Constitution, but the PDPA went further by declaring full equality.

Human rights

The revolution also introduced severe repression of a kind previously unknown in Afghanistan. According to journalist Robert D. Kaplan, while Afghanistan had historically been extremely poor and underdeveloped, it "had never known very much political repression" until 1978. [15]

The soldiers' knock on the door in the middle of the night, so common in many Arab and African countries, was little known in Afghanistan, where a central government simply lacked the power to enforce its will outside of Kabul. Taraki's coup changed all that. Between April 1978 and the Soviet invasion of December 1979, Afghan communists executed 27,000 political prisoners at the sprawling Pul-i-Charki prison six miles east of Kabul. Many of the victims were village mullahs and headmen who were obstructing the modernization and secularization of the intensely religious Afghan countryside. By Western standards, this was a salutary idea in the abstract. But it was carried out in such a violent way that it alarmed even the Soviets.

Robert D. Kaplan, Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan, [15]

Kaplan states that it was the Saur Revolution and its harsh land reform program, rather than the December 1979 Soviet invasion "as most people in the West suppose", that "ignited" the mujahidin revolt against the Kabul authorities and prompted the refugee exodus to Pakistan. [15]


The Khalqist regime pushed hard for socialist reforms and was brutal in its repression of opposition. Discontent fomented amongst the people of Afghanistan, and after several uprisings the following year—March in the town of Herat, June in the Chindawol district of Kabul, August at the fortress of Bala Hissartroops from the USSR entered Afghanistan in December 1979, citing the Brezhnev Doctrine as basis for their intervention. Insurgent groups fought Soviet troops and the PDPA government for more than nine years until the final withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in February 1989. Instability remained in Afghanistan, with war still continuing to plague the country for more than four decades after the revolution.

In 1991, PDPA member Babrak Karmal from the moderate Parcham faction denounced the revolution, saying:

It was the greatest crime against the people of Afghanistan. Parcham's leaders were against armed actions because the country was not ready for a revolution... I knew that people would not support us if we decided to keep power without such support." [18]

See also

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