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40 Years Later: 4 Myths About the US Embassy Takeover in Iran

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A painting depicting the 1979 US embassy takeover in Iran (Photo: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images)
A painting depicting the 1979 US embassy takeover in Iran (Photo: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the 1979 US embassy takeover in Tehran. The takeover turned into a 444-day, traumatic hostage crisis that left relations between the U.S. and Iran never the same.

One of the main architects of the takeover, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, spoke to the AP ahead of the anniversary and dispelled some of the common myths surrounding the historic incident.

Asgharzadeh was a 23-year-old engineering student in 1979. He said he regrets the US embassy takeover and taking the Americans hostage.

Putting these beliefs on the line, Asgharzadeh went on to be a reformist politician who spent time in prison for his political views. He says today Iran should work towards improving its relationship with the US.

According to Asgharzadeh, here are four myths surrounding the takeover:

 

The takeover wasn’t initially planned for the American embassy.

The students first talked about seizing an embassy, not specifically the American embassy. One student argued for taking over the Soviet embassy in revenge against Leftist students who they perceived as causing political chaos. That student’s name was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who went on to become Iran’s fanatical president in 2005.

 

The plan was merely to stage a sit-in, not take hostages.

According to Asgharzadeh (and corroborated by other students who were involved), the plan was to merely stage a sit-in, but the situation quickly spun out of control. Within 48 hours, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, architect of the Isalmic revolution, who triumphantly returned from exile and seized power after the departure of the shah, became involved. From that time on, Asgharzadeh said the whole operation was out of the students’ hands.

“Our plan was one of students, unprofessional and temporary,” Asgharzadeh said, while taking full responsibility for the heinous events in the first 48 hours of the US embassy takeover.

 

The Revolutionary Guards were not behind the operation.

Asgharzadeh insists that all blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the students who executed the takeover and let it get out of control.  The claim that the Guards were behind the US embassy takeover is revisionist history, he says.

“In a very limited way, we informed one of the Guard’s units and they agreed to protect the embassy from outside,” Asgharzadeh clarified. “The claim [by hardliners] on the Guard’s role lacks credit. I am the main narrator of the incident and I am still alive.”

 

The students naively thought the American public would support the Islamic Revolution.

The students at some point woke up to reality and realized the American public was not behind them and would never be.

 

Since the US embassy takeover, Iranians have continued to use the tactic of seizing foreign embassies. In 2011, a mob stormed the British embassy in Tehran. In 2016, Iranians attacked the diplomatic posts of Saudi Arabia, which led to ties being cut between the two countries.

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