Marking the US embassy takeover: the end of the 26-year-long hostage crisis

Marking the US embassy takeover: the end of the 26-year-long hostage crisis

On the 4th of November or the 13th of Aban, Iranians have taken to the streets across the country to commemorate the 38th anniversary of the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran, also known as the "Den of Espionage." This day is also known as the Student Day, and the National Day of the Fight against Global Arrogance. In November 1979, around 400 university students, later named the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line, climbed over the walls of the US embassy and seized the building, diplomatic staff and their sensitive intelligence documents. Despite the success of the Iranian Islamic Revolution a half year before, the American government showed no sign of abandoning its hostile policies against Iran, and on 22 October they allowed deposed dictator Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to enter the United States for medical treatment. The streets of Iran, especially Tehran, once again became the scene of massive anti-American protests, and finally resulted in a complete takeover. The event was hailed as the Second Islamic Revolution.

The protesters, supported by most of the political groups in Iran, demanded the return of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi back to Iran so he can stand trial for his many crimes, an apology from the US government for its interference in the internal affairs of Iran, including the overthrow of Prime Minister Mosaddegh in 1953, and the return of the Iran's frozen assets in the United States. Still, American leaders were opposed to negotiations with Tehran for nearly a year, maintaining an arrogant approach towards Iran, allegedly an "inferior outlaw nation." They also wanted to look for more traditional solutions through economic and military threats, and searching for plumbers to effect the embassy staff release. In April 1980, the US President Jimmy Carter ordered the execution of Operation Eagle Claw to release the diplomats, but the operation encountered many obstacles and failed miserably, damaging US prestige worldwide. Americans lost six helicopters, one transport aircraft, and eight servicemen killed in fire by their own mistake. In September 1980, only a few hours after an unsuccessful round of Iranian-American negotiations in Bonn, the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein started an aggression against Iran, with the US intelligence and political support.

Finally, the crisis resolved through diplomatic means in January 1981 when Iran and the United States signed the Algeria Declaration, a set of agreements by which the US would not intervene politically or militarily in Iranian internal affairs, it would remove a freeze on Iranian assets and trade sanctions on Iran, and both countries would end litigation between their respective governments and citizens. The embassy staff were formally released into United States custody the day after, just minutes after the new US president Ronald Reagan was sworn into office. This had a strong symbolic meaning because Carter lost the election due to his repeated mistakes during the crisis. In 1953, the British and American spy agencies helped Iranian royalists in deposing Mosaddegh in a military coup, making Iran a hostage of US-backed Pahlavi's dictatorship for the next 26 years. This time Iran helped the American political opposition and 'deposed' Carter, settling both financial and historical debt.

In dealing with the British and Americans, the traditional foes of Tehran, Iran scored victory after victory. These historical events include British incursions into Iran in the mid-1850s, the notorious monopoly concession of 1872 to British-Jewish banker Reuter, a British attempt to impose protectorate over Iran in 1919, a puppet dictatorship of Pahlavi in the mid-20th century, attempts to undermine the revolution of 1979, the imposed war in the 1980s, a joint threats of aggression, sabotage attempts against science programs, and various efforts to impose economic sanctions and political isolation.

Lessons learned: messages of Ayatollah Khamenei

Two days before the 38th anniversary, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei meet thousands of students and dubbed the younger generations "pioneers of society" who could push it forward. He stressed: "This talented and wise generation will, undoubtedly, lead our beloved Iran towards a more desirable level by overcoming obstacles and hardships; of course, the realization of this brilliant goal requires recognition of the primary and evil enemy of the Iranian nation: the United States. This requires education, hard work, and strengthening bonds with God."

Khamenei praised the energetic youth, and the generation's ability to analyze, adding: "It is in the nature of the young to act and move forward, but in this country even our teens are forward moving." Speaking on examples of this fascinating reality, before and after the Islamic Revolution, he held: "During the revolution, teenagers, accompanying the youth, stepped onto the battlefield against tyranny; and, they were so sturdy against the tyrannical regime: that day, of November 4th, 1977, was named after them." Khamenei reminded his young audience of the courageous presence in the Holy Defense, as another example, adding: "Adolescents fought in the imposed war like brave, efficient men."

Comparing today's generation of youth to those of the Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense era, Khamenei said: "We have precise information that our teenagers and youth, today, are analyzing and acting even better than those of previous generations." Emphasizing that the hostilities projected by world tyrants have had no impact, so far, and that enemies weren't able to do a single thing, he announced: "My dear children, you are a generation that will be able to overcome the enemy's ploys, obstacles, and hardships: you will take this country to its climax, towards Islamic ideals and the great aspirations of the nation; however, a number of conditions are important to achieve this goal."

Explaining the necessity of studying the enemy, as a prerequisite towards pursuing the path of revolutionary goals and the nation, Khamenei insisted: "The United States is truly the major malignant enemy," and further stated, "I say this not based on prejudice or pessimism, but based on experience, correct analysis of situations, and observation of the realities within the field." Giving attention to recent comments made by the President of the United States, in which Trump called Iranians 'a nation of terrorists', Khamenei articulated: "These immature remarks prove that the Americans are not only the enemies of the Iranian government and its leadership, but they also reveal their hatred and hostility towards the Iranian nation, a nation that has bravely stood up to them!"

Reflecting on the words of an American politician, some years ago, who indicated that Iran must be uprooted, he added: "The US is unable to understand that it is impossible to uproot a nation with a rich historical and cultural background." Contemplating on the American grudge against the Iranian nation, which has led to false calculations and repeated mistakes on their part, Khamenei stated: "From the very first day, when victory of the Islamic Revolution was still in its infancy, the Americans started conspiring against the victorious revolution, and they have continued to do so, to no avail, till this today, while the Islamic Republic has become a great and powerful entity. Because, hatred and hostility have made the USA unable to observe and understand the reality."

Turning his focus towards those who believe that 'Iran needs to give into the US, just a bit so the US reduces animosity towards it,' Khamenei asserted: "Historical experience, including what happened to Dr. Mosadegh, proves that, beyond doubt, the US does not even treat those who place their trust in them mercifully." He added more detail, stating: "Mosadegh negotiated with the Americans and trusted them to resist the British, but it was the Americans who orchestrated the coup d'etat against him." Concluding his remarks on this matter the Leader of the Revolution insisted: "The US would not even be satisfied with the likes of Dr. Mosadegh. They want a loyal servant, a submissive henchman, so they can effectively control an important and productive country like Iran, as they were doing so during the reign of the Shah."

Pointing out the continuous animosity of the US government, Khamenei added: "Today, they are are unraveling nuclear negotiations--JCPOA--and its outcome with extreme malignancy." Relying on these facts, he then said: "Giving into the US, would make them even bolder and more insolent. Resistance and persistence is the only way." Advising the students to not forget the major enemy, the United States, he upheld, "This is the main condition to pursue a conducive path towards a bright future." Khamenei included studying, learning, and hard work, of the students, as further conditions towards achieving a bright future for the country. "Education must be highly valued," he said, and continued: "Advancements in science will make the country more powerful in withstanding animosities and overcoming hardships: this will make the country stronger on a domestic level and make the aspirations of the people a reality."

Marko Knežević

Marko Knežević is a historian and freelance journalist from Bar, Montenegro. He is a frequent traveller to the Middle East and East Asia.