PEOPLE AND PLACES

PEOPLE AND PLACES

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

1979 IRAN AND TODAY

 

"The Great Satan"

The Great Satan is what certain Iranians call the United States of America. In between pairs of soldiers circling the compound, i did a quick fire off of this and a couple other shots of the now legendary murals on the walls of the long abandoned U.S embassy in Tehran, Iran. You may be aware of what happened here in 1979, it's certainly not the root of the U.S' problems with Iran, that's probably as much their own fault, but it was a turning point in the recent history of the middle east. The Iran-Iraq war which followed shortly would have been a whole different affair had the much wealthier Iran not lost international favour and the U.S hadn't bolstered Iraq's military. One million people dead, one egomaniacal Iraqi in power and one very proud but isolated nation later and you have the precursor to the shitstorm of this century. I had heard stories of people having cameras confiscated and film ripped out, but christ, how could i not take this? What a horrible, disgusting relationship expressed so brutally.

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Commercial advertising designed to take advantage of the feelings of Americans toward IranÂ’s Ayatallah Ruhollah Khomeini are springing up all over Northern California. One is on San FranciscoÂ’s ninth street, just off busy Market Street Jan. 5, 1989. The sign speaks for itself. (AP Photo/PS)

Iranian people gather before the entrance of the United States Embassy compound in Tehran, Iran Nov. 6, 1979, on the third day of the occupation of the building. Iranian students took over the Embassy on Sunday and are still holding the staff hostage against the deportation of the former Shah of Iran from the United States. (AP Photo)

 

Frozen in time: The eery U.S embassy in Iran where screaming mob held 52 citizens hostage in 1979 is now a museum that opens just a few days a year

  • Embassy was the site of the worst hostage crisis in US history in 1979 when revolutionary students stormed in and took dozens of US staff hostage
  • Of the 90 people in the building, only six managed to escape and flee to other embassies
  • The captured hostages were paraded around in front of cameras and kept in captivity for 444 days
  • Today, the building is still the stage for demonstrations and the walls are covered with anti-US and Israeli murals

It was a symbol of U.S. supremacy that became a prison cell for 52 Americans. Now the hallways of the U.S embassy in Tehran, abandoned after it was stormed by a screaming mob during the 1979 hostage crisis, echo to nothing but the sound of soldiers' training boots.

And its plight was brought to life in the recent Oscar-winning film Argo which portrayed the worst hostage crisis in US history when revolutionary students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took dozens of staff hostage.

But now, the former US embassy in Tehran is occupied by the Revolutionary Guard and houses a small museum on site that is only open for a few days a year.

Art as protest: An Iranian Journalist climbs the stairs inside the former US embassy in downtown Tehran. Painted on the walls are anti-American murals

Art as protest: An Iranian Journalist climbs the stairs inside the former US embassy in downtown Tehran. Painted on the walls are anti-American murals

Pictures and equipment of Americans are seen inside the former embassy which hit the headlines in late 1979 when revolutionary students stormed in and took dozens of US staff hostage

Pictures and equipment of Americans are seen inside the former embassy which hit the headlines in late 1979 when revolutionary students stormed in and took dozens of US staff hostage. The embassy garnered worldwide attention in November 1979 when revolutionary students stormed in and took dozens of US staff hostage. Thousands of other protesters pressed around the compound, responding to a call by the country's new leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, to attack US and Israeli interests. Of the 90 people in the compound, six Americans managed to escape the building and flee to other embassies. It was those six that inspired the film Argo directed by and starring Ben Afffleck which spins the account of a joint Hollywood-CIA mission to spring the Americans from revolutionary Iran, using a fake movie production as a decoy. The film was regarded as a slow-burning success taking comparatively little at the box office when it first came out. Three weeks after it was released, the action thriller topped the box office, however.

The ultimate accolade of success came when the film won the Oscar for best picture.

Other non-US citizens captured when the embassy was seized were released. But 66 were captured, including three seized at the Foreign Ministry.

The students paraded the blindfolded hostages for the cameras to humiliate the ‘Great Satan’ that Washington had become in the eyes of the Iranian revolutionary leaders.

They demanded that the Shah of Iran be expelled from the US, where he had been taken for cancer treatment after he was overthrown.

Stark: A woman walks into the former U.S. embassy in downtown Tehran, Iran

Stark: A woman walks into the former U.S. embassy in downtown Tehran, Iran. The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Iran on April 7, 1980 after a group of Iranian students captured some 60 US diplomats

Unused: The building is occupied by the Revolutionary Guard and houses a museum that is only open a few days a year

The building is now occupied by the Revolutionary Guard and houses a museum that is only open a few days a year

An Iranian staff member stands inside the former US embassy. The walls of are filled with murals and slogans depicting the evil of America and its allies, particularly Israel

An Iranian staff member stands inside the former US embassy. The walls of are filled with murals and slogans depicting the evil of America and its allies, particularly Israel

It was a shocking and demoralising sight for the US public - the beginning of a long standoff between the US and militant Muslims that has lasted until today.

Freeing the hostages became a priority for the administration of US President Jimmy Carter - but nothing could be done apart from enforcing ineffective economic sanctions.

Mr Carter pledged to preserve the lives of the hostages and conducted intense diplomacy to secure their release.

But his failure ultimately contributed to his losing the presidency to Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Two weeks into the crisis, Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the release of 13 female and black hostages, mostly clerical staff and members of the marine guard who guard US embassies around the world.

Another hostage, vice consul Richard Queen, was released in July 1980 after falling ill with multiple sclerosis. But the remaining 52 were deprived of their freedom for 444 days.

Protest: Iranian students burn the American Flag outside the the US Embassy in Tehran

Protest: Iranian students burn the American Flag outside the the US Embassy in Tehran

Hostages: American embassy staff were blindfolded and taken hostage when militants stormed the embassy compound in Tehran in November 1979

Hostages: American embassy staff were blindfolded and taken hostage when militants stormed the embassy compound in Tehran in November 1979

In February 1980 Iran issued a new set of demands for the hostages' freedom. It called for the Shah to be handed over to face trial in Tehran, as well as other diplomatic gestures, such as a US apology for its actions.

President Carter rejected the demands, but was about to make the crisis considerably worse with an ill-conceived rescue mission.

A daring US military rescue operation codenamed Eagle Claw ended in further US humiliation in April 1980.

The plan was to land aircraft covertly in the desert allowing special forces to infiltrate Tehran and free the 52 hostages.

But the planning was flawed, and the mission had to be aborted when two helicopters were damaged in a sandstorm and failed to reach the meeting point. Worse was to come when another crashed into a transport plane as it was pulling out.

Eight US personnel lost their lives.

Some of their bodies were taken through the streets of Tehran during massive protests. Secret operational documents were also discovered in the wreckage and put on display for the international media.

And to avert any other rescue efforts, the student hostage-takers at the embassy split up their captives and spread them around Iran.

After months of negotiations, helped by Algerian intermediaries and the Shah's death, US diplomacy bore fruit.

On the day of President Ronald Reagan's inauguration, 20 January 1981, the hostages were set free. A day later they arrived at a US Air Force base in West Germany.

Starring role: Ben Affleck starred as a CIA agent in the film Argo which he also directed

Starring role: Ben Affleck starred as a CIA agent in the film Argo which he also directed

Crisis: Ben Affleck, in his role as a CIA agent, talks to the hostages that escaped from the US embassy

Crisis: Ben Affleck, in his role as a CIA agent, talks to the hostages that escaped from the US embassy

In return the US had agreed to unfreeze Iranian assets worth US$8billion and give hostage takers immunity.

Today, the embassy is still the stage for angry anniversary demonstrations in which protesters chant anti-US and Israeli slogans and burn flags and effigies.

Designed in 1948 by the architect Ides van der Gracht, it is a long, low two-storey brick building, and bears a resemblance to American high schools built in the 1930s and 1940s.

For this reason, the building was nicknamed 'Henderson High' by the embassy staff, referring to Loy W. Henderson, who became America's ambassador to Iran just after construction was completed in 1951

Now the 15-feet walls of the compound are filled with murals and slogans depicting the evil of America and its allies, particularly Israel.

One illustration has a satanic skull instead of the Statue of Liberty's face. Another shows a black hand wearing the flags of the US and Israel as wristbands and clutching a globe in its talons; the inscription, from the Islamic republic's founder, Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini, reads, ‘The United States is regarded as the most hated government in the world.’

Oscar-winning: Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, won the Oscar for best picture

Oscar-winning: Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, won the Oscar for best picture

The former Supreme Leader declares in other panels that the U.S. is ‘too weak to do anything’ and refers to the U.S. government as a ‘dictatorship.’ In case the message has not gotten through, visitors who exit the nearby subway station are immediately faced with a hard-to-miss sign: ‘Death to USA.’

Outside the door, meanwhile, stands a bronze model based on New York's Statue of Liberty on the left-hand side.

While tourists do stop and stare inside, the place is not open for sightseeing and the Iranian government uses the compound to train members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Soldiers with AK-47s patrol the brick wall from guard posts poised above the metal fences or elevated walkways, and closed-circuit television cameras monitor the perimeter.

The old embassy, maintained by the Revolutionary Guards, is still very indicative of the official anti-American stance of the government.

But today that policy is increasingly in conflict with popular attitudes.

Evidence of an appetite for western consumer goods can be seen along the capitals shopping boulevard where among the shops are Banana Republic, Tommy Hilfiger and Polo Ralph Lauren.

And, many Iranians see immigration to the US and Europe as a way to escape the repressive regime.

Oil tanker drivers join pro-Khomeini demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 28, 1979 where armed Iranian students continue to hold about 50 Americans hostage, demanding the former Shah be returned to Iran from the U.S. for trial.

 

President Jimmy Carter and Wife Rosalynn Carter,visiting Mohamad Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran and Empress Farah in Teheran, January 1978.

More than a million supporters of an Islamic republic assembled around Shayad (Shah Memorial) monument in Tehran in a powerful show of strength against the civilian government left behind by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Jan. 19, 1979. Similar demonstrations were held all over the country, most of them peaceful. (AP Photo/Aristotle Saris)

The ex-shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, with his wife, the Empress Farah Diba Pahlavi, vacation on the Panamanian Resort Conta Dora Island in Panama Saturday, Dec. 15, 1979. (AP Photo/Jassy)

 

Iranian women, some wearing the chador (traditional veil), pictured during their first demonstration for a general election in Tehran, Iran on August 13, 1963. The women carry portraits of the Shah and Empress Farah, and banners supporting the Shah’s reform which includes giving the vote to women for the first time in the country’s history. (AP Photo)

 

Iran Today

Amos Chapple is a travel photographer who made the following pictures over the course of three visits to the Islamic Republic of Iran between December 2011 and January 2013. The New Zealand freelancer said he "was amazed by the difference in western perceptions of the country, and what I saw on the ground... I think because access for journalists is so difficult, people have a skewed image of what Iran is -- the regime actually want to portray the country as a cauldron of anti-western sentiment so they syndicate news footage of chanting nutcases which is happily picked up by overseas networks. For ordinary Iranians though, the government is a constant embarrassment. In the time I spent there I never received anything but goodwill and decency, which stands in clear contrast to my experience in other middle eastern countries. I met an American special forces soldier in Kyrgyzstan last year who said when it comes to the Middle East, America has the wrong friends and the wrong enemies." Below is a selection of Chapple's recent photographs of Iran, captions provided by the photographer.

Palangan Village, in the mountains near the Iraq border. Palangan, illustrative of many of the country's rural settlements, has benefited handsomely from government support. Many villagers are employed in a nearby fish farm, or are paid members of the Basij, whose remit includes prevention of "westoxification", and the preservation of everything the 1979 Islamic revolution and its leader the Ayatollah Khomeini stood for, including strict rules on female clothing and male/female interaction. (© Amos Chapple)

2

A worker inside Vakil Mosque, Shiraz. The mosque now serves as a tourist attraction but sees only a trickle of visitors. Although tourism is on the increase, western tourists still make up only 10% of the total. One tourist guide said westerners are scared away by the bloodcurdling rhetoric of a government which is completely out of touch with ordinary Iranians. (© Amos Chapple) #

3

At the Sa'adabad Palace complex in northern Tehran, Islamic revolutionaries sawed a statue of the deposed Shah in half. Today schoolchildren are taken on group visits past the boots and into the palace to see the decadence of the former Shah's living quarters. (© Amos Chapple) #

4

Women in the hills above Tehran at dusk. Concealing clothing in the Islamic Republic, including head coverings, is mandatory for women, but the exact definition of "modest" is flexible, leading to a tug of war between young females and the authorities each spring. Outside metro stations female police can be seen regularly checking the passers by. If a woman's dress is considered "immodest" she is arrested and taken into custody. In 2010 a senior cleric in Tehran blamed the frequency of earthquakes in Iran on women who "lead young men astray" with their revealing clothing. (© Amos Chapple) #

5

A shepherd leads his flock out to pasture in the mountains on the Iran/Iraq border. (© Amos Chapple) #

6

View of central Tehran from inside a minaret in Sepahsalar Mosque. (© Amos Chapple) #

7

The Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran. Work on the unfinished building has dragged over 23 years. With growing economic chaos in the country, its completion is still nowhere in sight. (© Amos Chapple) #

8

A young worker walks through the light of a stained glass window in the Tehran Bazaar. Under Khomeini Iranians were actively encouraged to produce large families. By 2009 nearly 70% of all Iranians were under 30, but according to some reports, the country is the least religious in the Middle East. Instead of the "armies for Islam" Khomeini had called for, the youthful population is now seen as the biggest threat to the deeply unpopular regime. (© Amos Chapple) #

9

Detail of Persepolis, the seat of the Ancient Persian empire. The Arab conquest of Persia led to a an Islamification of Iran but Farsi, the Iranian language, has remained alive. The 11th century poet Ferdowsi, described as "Iran's Homer", wrote an epic in Farsi which was carefully crafted with minimal Arabic influence. The "Book of Kings" has been credited with helping preserve the Farsi language - one of the world's oldest. The Book of Kings ends with the Arab invasion, depicted as a disaster for Persia. (© Amos Chapple) #

10

Two young twins on the Tehran Metro. (© Amos Chapple) #

11

In Tehran, a collection of modern art valued at $2.5 billion is held by the Museum of Contemporary Art. In a little-publicized exhibition in 2011 the works, including pieces by Warhol (pictured), Pollock, Munch, Hockney and Rothko were put on display for the first time since 1979 when the owner of the art, Queen Farah Pahlavi was forced to flee Iran with her husband, the late Shah of Iran. (© Amos Chapple) #

12

Detail of Persepolis. After the Islamic Revolution, hardline clerics called for the destruction of the site, but official unease prevailed. "They realized this would unite the people against them," says an English teacher named Ali, quoted in National Geographic. (© Amos Chapple) #

13

A mural painted on the wall of the former American embassy in Tehran. Murals such as this are at odds with statistics showing that, despite American sanctions, and the American-led coup against a elected and popular prime minister, more Iranians feel positively about America than do Turks or Indians. (© Amos Chapple) #

14

A Kurdish man settles in for a night of guarding some roadworking machinery in the mountains near the Iran/Iraq border. The border is rife with smugglers who carry alcohol from Iraq (where alcohol is legal) into the villages on the Iranian side. From there it is transported by vehicle to the cities. In Tehran a can of beer on the black market fetches around $10 USD. (© Amos Chapple) #

15

Two soldiers being attacked inside the Tehran metro after an argument. The soldier was punched in the head at least four times by an angry crowd of mostly well-dressed young men. Both soldiers were forced to leave the metro at the next station. (Editor's note: Chapple, not fluent in Farsi, was unable to determine the exact cause of the scuffle.) (© Amos Chapple) #

16

Azadi ("Freedom") Tower, the gateway to Tehran designed in 1966 by a then 24 year old Hossein Amanat. As a practicing Bahai'i Hossein was forced to flee Iran after the Islamist government labeled followers of the religion "unprotected infidels". He now lives in Canada.(© Amos Chapple) #

17

A man in southern Tehran, the working class region of the city. In the past 14 months, tightened sanctions have nearly halved the value of Iran's currency and fueled soaring inflation (source). Life is becoming drastically difficult for ordinary Iranians but many feel powerless to change the situation. Said one Tehrani "we're not naive like the Arabs to think a violent uprising will magically fix everything. We've had our revolution... and things only got worse." (© Amos Chapple) #

18

A commemorative plate of the former Shah of Iran in an antique store in Shiraz. The Shah was given an Authoritarian hold on power thanks to an MI6 and CIA-backed coup in 1953 which deposed Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and cost the lives of several hundreds of Iranian citizens. "Operation Ajax" was actioned after Mosaddegh nationalized the petroleum industry of Iran, thus shutting out British dominance of an industry they had controlled since 1913. That Mosaddeqh had been a democratically-elected leader, with wide popular support fueled resentment at the Shah, who many saw as a brutal puppet for the west. The anger at western intervention stoked strong initial support for the virulently anti-western Ayatollah Khomeini. (© Amos Chapple) #

19

Two shepherds lead Palangan's flock of communally-owned sheep out to pasture. The government's spending in some rural regions has bought them a network of loyal followers who can be scrambled at any time to crush trouble in the urban centers. Rural Basij were used as a part of the crackdown in 2009 which resulted in the deaths of seven anti-government protestors. (© Amos Chapple) #

20

A group of friends in the hills above Tehran. Many (every single one I met) young Iranians feel deeply embarrassed by their government, and the way the nation is perceived abroad. Zac Clayton, a British cyclist who will finish a round-the-world cycle on March 23 described Iran as having the kindest people of any country he cycled through. "I found most Iranians -- particularly the younger generation -- to be very aware of the world around them... with a burning desire for the freedoms they feel they are being denied by an out of touch, ultra-conservative religious elite." (© Amos Chapple)

 

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