On the 4th of November 1979, a group who later called themselves the “Students Following the Line of Imam” took over the American Embassy in Tehran and took 52 diplomats hostage and kept them for 444 days.
Attacking foreign diplomats and embassies by an angry group of people was not unprecedented in the history of Iran and other countries. In 1829, following the Turkamanchi Treaty that separated some parts of Iran and annexed them to Russia under imposed conditions, a group of agitated Iranians attacked the Russian embassy and killed all of the staff, including the Russian ambassador, Alexander Griboyedov. (1)
What made the 1979 attack against the American Embassy different from the other incidents was that Ayatollah R. Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran at that time, supported this move and turned the action against American Embassy into a national and governmental issue and a matter of state responsibility.
Most of the persons that formed the so-called students following the line of Imam that took over the American Embassy in Tehran were not real students. They were active members or sympathizers of the political and especially leftist organizations. (2)
R. K. Ramazani, in his article about the Iran’s Hostage Crisis, writes: “…The Islamist students who took over the American Embassy claimed to follow the Khomeini line (Khatt-i Imam),….the dominant ideology that influenced the students’ action is difficult to identify. Massoumeh Ebtekar, the revolutionary students’ spokesperson, claims that they were influenced by Ali Shariati, who, she says, persuaded them to accept the leadership of Imam Khomeini with courage and devotion.’ I have not been able to verify this statement.” (3)
Mehdi Salimi, writing in Persian for Baztab website (4), has said: “Four hundred students and the people, who were marching towards the Tehran University since ten o’clock in the morning to protest the US policies, suddenly changed their course and entered the American Embassy. They took 72 persons out of the embassy staff as hostage and captured the embassy. This was in fact the second time since the victory of the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979 that the American Embassy in Tehran was taken over.
In February of the same year, almost 150 persons who belonged to the leftist forces and a group called Cherikhaye Fadaian Khalgh, who were convinced that the documents of SAVAK [Shah’s secret police] had been transferred to the American Embassy, and who were provoked by articles appearing in a newspaper in Baku [the Capital of Azerbaijan Republic, which was then still a part of the USSR], attacked the American Embassy. This incident was settled by good offices of figures such as Martyr Beheshti.” (5)
During the 14 months that the crisis lasted, the so-called students published numerous books about the documents that they had apparently found in the American Embassy (including what they had retrieved from the documents shredded in the shredding machines). However, not a single page of those documents contained anything about the mullahs that had gained power in Iran. On the other side, they did everything possible to demonstrate that the Americans were in touch with certain persons to change the course of the revolution and act against the interests of the people of Iran.
It was a known fact in those days (and it has been proved many times since then) that the prominent mullahs, including Khomeini, personally and directly were in touch with the American officials before and after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. However, the so-called students who published 53 volumes of books about the documents of the former American Embassy (they called it “Den of Spies”), never published a single sentence referring to any of these contacts.
The hostage-taking crisis in the American Embassy in Tehran was an act against the standards of international law, Iran’s national interests of Iran and even against the principles of Iranians themselves. The incident of hostage taking at the American Embassy cost the government and people of Iran dearly. Some of the problems created for Iran due to this incident were as follows:
a- Isolation of Iran in the international community
b- The loss of possible positive reaction of the US officials towards the new regime. (6)
c- Stopping of the Iran-US relations
d- Start of an artificial stage in the US-Iran relations. On one side, the government of the Islamic Republic insisted on the hostility towards the USA, and on the other side, the people of Iran loved the USA.
e- Gradual inclination of the USA to confront the regime of Iran
f- Creation of a wall of distrust between two states
g- Comparative support of the Iraqis in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88)
h- Discrediting Iran in international forums like the UNSC and ICJ (it condemned Iran for violation of the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations).
John Limbert, a former American hostage in Tehran and a political figure in the embassy in 1979, who had to spend nine months in solitary confinement, has said, “What they did to their country and society was much worse than what they did to us. They helped today’s ruling clique gain their grip on power. They helped to ensure that mob rule and chants of the goon squad triumphed.” (7)
It is clear from many sources, including the book published by Massomeh Ebtekar that the students were acting in a professional and pre-planned way. Talking to ISNA on the occasion of the anniversary of the Embassy Take over, Ebtekar has said, “…the students had reached the conclusion that they have to do something very big that gets tremendous attention… the group of 300 to 400 persons attacked the embassy. Some students climbed the walls. The women had hidden big pliers under their Islamic veil and used them to cut the chains of the gates. The students were very concerned to stop the ordinary people from entering the embassy….” (8)
Ebtekar, who was known as “Mary’ to the journalists that covered the incident and translated the documents for the hostage takers, has tried in her book (9) to give the impression that she was not a member of the hostage takers. In fact, she was a hostage taker. Her husband (Hashemi) was also one of the hostage takers. She was rewarded for her role in this incident later by receiving a scholarship from the Iranian government to get PhD from a Western university and became the Deputy President and Head of the Iranian Environment Protection Organization. Some of the other so-called students of the line of Imam were rewarded later by becoming prominent officials in the Iranian oil ministry.
Also a number of them became high ranking officials and ambassadors of the Iranian foreign ministry. Shiekholislam, who was a long time Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran in Political affairs, during the tenure of Dr. Velayati, was one of the leaders of the so-called students. Another leader of the so-called students was Mohsen Mirdamadi, who later became a prominent member of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry. Also Saeed Hajjarian, Ibrahim Asgharzadeh and Abbas Abdi gained many positions in the government due to their criminal acts against the national interest of Iran.
The takeover of the embassy was not an instantaneous act at all. The criminals who did this had planned everything before. They had communication devices that belonged to the law enforcement officials and they were armed. The attackers were well aware (probably by listening to the telephone calls of the American Embassy) that the charge d’affaires and two other officials of the American Embassy were out of the embassy and they were waiting for them to return. Eventually, when it was clear that the three diplomats were not returning soon, they went ahead and attacked the embassy.
Khomeini had provoked the people to act against the USA, but he did not know about the plan to attack the American Embassy. First, he asked his foreign minister, Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi (according to the interviews of Yazdi with the Iranian media on the occasion of the anniversary of the embassy takeover), to go and throw out the students, but later the students (and the leftist agents) convinced Khomeini that he could use the existing documents (or documents that did not exist, but he could claim that they have it) to discredit his opponents. Khomeini, who was a master manipulator (the clerics stole the Iranian revolution which belonged to all Iranians and was not supposed to be a religious movement), rode the wave and accepted to support the move, without considering Iran’s national interests.
Some of the documents that were used by the so-called students to discredit the target persons were ridiculous. In one case (the case of Engineer Abbas Amir Entezam, the Spokesperson of the Interim Government of Iran, who was later arrested and put in prison for espionage and he is still there), the students showed a letter to Khomeini from the American Embassy addressed to Amir Entezam that has started with “Dear Sir” and they argued that Amir Entezam was so close to the Americans that they called him “Dear Sir”.
It is interesting that years later, when some of the so-called Students of the Line of Imam started to act a little different from the official line (some of them supported the relations with the USA, some said that they regretted that they were part of this action and others appeared as supporters of reforms), they were tried and imprisoned by the same ridiculous methods and absurd criteria. Abbas Abdi, one of the leading hostage takers, had formed a kind of Think Tank and he performed a public opinion poll in Iran a couple of years ago. He reached the conclusion that a great majority of Iranians wanted good relations with the USA. He and his close associates were immediately arrested and charged with espionage. After interrogation, it took no time for a few of Abdi’s colleagues to “remember” that they had been US spies in Iran and they confessed and apologized.
The people of Iran, along with the people of the USA, have never forgotten the criminal actions of those who committed and supported this heinous act and they look forward to the day that these elements are put to criminal trial.
(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandr_Griboyedov. “…Several months after his wedding to the 16-year-old daughter of his friend Prince Chavchavadze, Griboedov was suddenly sent to Persia as Minister Plenipotentiary. Soon after his arrival at Tehran, a crowd of Islamic religious fanatics stormed the Russian embassy. Griboyedov (along with almost everyone else inside) was slaughtered….”
(2) Some of these groups had practiced the takeover of the embassy in another occasion. The MKO’s links to the leftist groups was very much exposed in the issue of “Sa’adati”. He was a person who had been arrested red handed while delivering some classified documents of SAVAK (the secret police of Shah) to the Russian agents. The MKOs of that time, which were very different from the present ones, tried vigorously to prove that “there was not a case of espionage”. eventually Assadolah Lajevardi, the Bucher of Evin, killed Sa’adati. The MKOs of that juncture were always insisting that the American hostages should be put to trial.
(3) R. K. Ramazani, Iran’s Hostage Crisis: International Legitimacy Matters, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Duke University Press, Vol. 25, N0.2, 2005, pp. 273-278.
(4) A website close to the Expediency Council in Iran.
(5) http://www.baztab.ir/news/52218.php, dated 11/4/2006, this is an article by Mehdi Salimi, in the Baztab website that belongs to influential circles in Islamic regime of Iran, the article, in Farsi, is under the title of “ Who was the winner: Iran or the USA?” And it is a review of the incident.
(6) On the 24th of March, Carter wrote a confidential letter to Imam Khomeini and mentioned: “we are ready to accept the new realities that have emerged out of the Iranian revolution. This is a constant aim for us. I believe that both of us are following the same aim, which is the universal peace and justice for all nations.” (Refer to: http://www.baztab.ir/news/52218.php, dated 11/4/2006, Mehdi Salimi, in the Baztab website.)
(8) تحليل تاريخی ۱۳ آبان درگفتوگوی تفصيلی ايسنا با معصومه ابتکا, dated 11/06/2006
(9) Massoumeh Ebtekar, Takeover in Tehran: the inside story of the 1979 US Embassy Capture, Canada, Talonbooks, 2000.
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