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
Date 27–28 April 1978
Location Afghanistan

PDPA victory


Afghanistan Republic of Afghanistan

PDP of Afghanistan
Supported by:
 Soviet Union

Commanders and leaders
Afghanistan Mohammed Daoud Khan 
Afghanistan Abdul Qadir Nuristani
Mohammad Aslam Watanjar[1]
Abdul Qadir
Nur Muhammad Taraki[1]
Hafizullah Amin
Babrak Karmal[1]

The Saur Revolution (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 communist democratic republic 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.

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, coup member and now Minister of Foreign Affairs Hafizullah Amin said that the event was not a coup, but a revolution by the "will of the people".[4]


The declaration of the Afghan Republic was the precursor to the Saur Revolution. Mohammed Daoud Khan took power after overthrowing the monarchy of King Zahir Shah (see 1973 Afghan coup d'état). President Daoud was convinced that closer ties and military support from the Soviet Union would allow him to settle the 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.[5]

Under the secular government of Daoud, factionalism and rivalry developed in the ruling PDPA, with two main factions being, Parcham and Khalqi. In 1978 a prominent member of the Parcham, Mir Akbar Khyber, was murdered. 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.[6]

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, however, was put under house arrest. This gave him a chance to order an uprising, one that had been slowly coalescing for more than two years.[7] Amin, without having the authority, instructed the Khalqist army officers to overthrow the government.

The Revolution

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 and others not, 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, SU-7s, 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.[8]

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.[9]

The day after the Saur revolution in Kabul.

Communist rule

The revolution was initially welcomed by many people in Kabul, who were dissatisfied with 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 uncovered a "plot" and executed or imprisoned several cabinet members, including the military leader of the Saur Revolution, General Abdul Qadir. In September 1979, it was Taraki's turn to become a victim of the Revolution. Amin overthrew and executed him.[10]

Once in power, the PDPA implemented a socialist agenda. 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.[12][13] 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 "first instance of organized, nationwide repression in Afghanistan's modern history."[14]

Women's rights

The PDPA, an advocate of equal rights for women, declared the equality of the sexes.[15] This angered conservatives who considered the move an attack on Islam.[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.

The dependence upon and adherence to the Soviet Union by the PDPA government soon became apparent to the world. The American Embassy in Kabul cabled Washington announcing "what the British first, and later the Americans, tried to prevent for a hundred years has happened: the Russian Bear has moved south of the Hindu Kush."[18]

Human rights

The revolution also introduced severe repression. According to journalist Robert Kaplan, while Afghanistan had historically been extremely poor and underdeveloped, it "had never known very much political repression" until 1978.

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.[19]

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, according to Kaplan.[14]


The Khalqist regime pushed hard for socialist reforms and was brutal against oppression, leading to rebels to be formed and the Soviet intervention in December 1979.

PDPA member Babrak Karmal from the moderate Parcham faction denounced the revolution in 1991, 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."[20]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "The KGB in Afghanistan: Mitrokhin Documents Disclosed". Federation of American Scientists. 25 February 2002. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Barnett R. Rubin, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan (Yale University Press, 2002), p. 105
  4. ^
  5. ^ Steele, Jonathan (2012-01-01). "brezhnev+urged+daoud" Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground. Counterpoint Press. pp. 64–65. ISBN 9781582437873. 
  6. ^ Dupree, Louis (2014-07-14). Afghanistan. Princeton University Press. p. 771. ISBN 9781400858910. 
  7. ^ Barnett R. Rubin, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan (Yale University Press, 2002), p. 104
  8. ^ Thompson, Larry Clinton. "Surviving the '78 Revolution in Afghanistan"., accessed 6 Apr 2011
  9. ^ Thompson,, accessed 6 Apr 2011
  10. ^ Arnold, Anthony. Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion in Perspective. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1981, pp 74–75, 83, 86; Clements, Frank. Conflict in Afghanistan: a historical encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, Inc, 2003, p. 207
  11. ^ Arnold, p. 77
  12. ^ Worker's Liberty. "The Great Saur Revolution.", accessed 6 Apr 2011
  13. ^ Afghanistan – COMMUNISM, REBELLION, AND SOVIET INTERVENTION Library of Congress Country Studies
  14. ^ a b Kaplan, Robert D. (1990). Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 116. ISBN 978-0395521328. Retrieved 16 July 2015. 
  15. ^ David Gibbs, Critical Asian Studies, Vol. 38, No. 2, June 2006
  16. ^ The Soviet-Afghan War: Breaking the Hammer & Sickle Lester W. Grau and Ali Ahmad Jalali, VFW Magazine, January 2002 VFW Magazine
  17. ^ Prashad, Vijay (2001-09-15). "War Against the Planet". ZMag. Archived from the original on 2008-01-27. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  18. ^ Thompson,
  19. ^ Kaplan, Robert D. (1990). Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 115. ISBN 978-0395521328. Retrieved 16 July 2015. 
  20. ^ Ghosts of Afghanistan: Hard Truths and Foreign Myths by Jonathan Steele

External links

  • Surviving the 1978 Revolution in Afghanistan, a personal account of American Larry Clinton Thompson's experiences in the Saur Revolution
  • How I escaped from jail in Afghanistan by Ismail Sloan, another personal account of an American who traveled to Afghanistan to rescue assets shortly after the revolution and during Daud Khan's short-lived government
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