We Planned A Three-Day Takeover of U.S. Embassy

Kayhan (Afternoon Persian Daily)
Monday, Nov 4, 2002, Vol. 61, No 17516

By: Nezamoddin Moussavi
Page: 12

Summary:Ezzatollah Zarghami, deputy head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), was among the militant students who took over the U.S. embassy in 1979. In an interview with Kayhan, he has explained about the reasons behind the seizure and the consequences. The following is a full text of the interview with Zarghami, who was then a student of Amir-Kabir University of Technology (formerly Tehran Polytechnic University).

Q: The seizure of the U.S. embassy, a turning point in the history of the Islamic Revolution, had widespread consequences in the domestic and international diplomatic arena. You, a follower of Imam Khomeini, were at the heart of the event. Before going through details, I want you to tell us the motives behind such unprecedented action?

A: First of all, I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to Martyrs Rajab-Beigi, Vozvaie, Hadizadeh, Bastami and Kadkhodazadeh as well as dozens of other students who contributed to the embassy takeover and subsequently lost their lives in the Iraqi war.

A variety of motivations lay behind the seizure of the U.S. embassy, roughly all resulting from the policies the U.S. government had adopted vis-a-vis Iran. It is not necessary to talk about the treasons Washington committed against Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Everyone knows well that the United States supported the dictator shah's regime until it was overthrown. The point is that despite the triumph in 1979 of the Islamic Revolution thanks to the people's coordinated struggles under the leadership of Imam Khomeini, the U.S. government did not stop its interference in Iran's internal affairs.

Instead of learning from the revolution, the United States left no stones unturned to topple the Islamic government and derail the Islamic Republic. In the course of the nine-month interval between the triumph of the Islamic Revolution and the embassy takeover, all kinds of conspiracies were raised against the Islamic revolution throughout the nation and the U.S. embassy had turned into a "center of espionage" and a "headquarters for separatist and secessionist actions". Over the period, the revolution was grappling with secessionist machinations launched by the Arab People Movement in Khuzestan, the Kurdish People Movement in Kurdistan, the Turkmen People Movement in Gonbad and the Turkish Movement in Azerbaijan in and around the country. Every day new riots were set off and the Muslim students had evidence that everything was stemming from the U.S. embassy. Above all, Imam Khomeini was aware of everything and had called on the clerics, students and youth to watch out for U.S. conspiracies in the months leading to Nov 4, 1979. Such warnings prompted the students to realize the hidden plots by the United States.

Q: Why did the Muslim students interpret Imam Khomeini's warnings as storming the U.S. embassy? Wasn't the interim government able to protect the revolution from U.S. conspiracies?

A: Look! An in-depth probe into the stances adopted by the interim government and its influential elements show that they had never complied with Imam Khomeini's demands. The approach the interim government and some ministers had adopted did not amount to resistance against U.S. conspiracies and was instead in harmony with the American policies.

In the domestic arena, their appointments did not conform to the atmosphere surrounding the revolution. Some executives of the interim government did not believe in the revolution. The conditions were so that pure revolutionaries were isolated and instead the liberals, indifferent individuals and even counter revolutionaries had taken the helm. Later on, evidence proved that certain executive individuals were moving in line with the U.S. strategies. It was bringing about a throwback to the Mosaddeq period. After Mosaddeq was tipped as prime minister thanks to popular movements, he installed uncommitted and suspicious elements and instead he sidelined committed forces and thereafter the people got disenchanted. Afterwards, the United States masterminded the 1952 coup and toppled the Mosaddeq government. Strange to say Mosaddeq appointees did not help the prime minister and even moved in line with the coup d'etat.

The interim government was also bringing about similar conditions and the Muslim students were extremely concerned. They were deeply preoccupied with the issue that the United States was colluding with its accomplices in the interim government to repeat the 1952 coup against the Islamic revolution.

Q: Wasn't any evidence clear on Washington's gesture for restoration of ties with Iran?

A: No, not at all. Let me answer this question with a quotation from an American professor of international law who says the hostage crisis did not start with capture of American diplomats on Nov 4, 1979 but with a Carter decision to welcome the defunct shah. The American intellectual blames the crisis on the Carter administration's sheltering of shah who is blamed for many Iranian lives. Carter's harboring of the defunct shah meant continuation of American hostility against Iran and its support for counterrevolutionary elements. On the other hand, Iranians had experienced a worrisome period of time. During the 1952 coup, the shah was living abroad and the United States plotted a coup to open the doors for the shah to come to Iran. When the United States welcomed the defunct shah, students and many people came to the point that another coup was in the offing. Domestic riots and daily-increasing plots hatched against the revolution, intensified speculation of a fresh coup.

Q: Didn't the interim government protest the U.S. harboring of the defunct shah?

A: I can't remember exactly. But a ceremonial diplomatic protest might have been filed. Look! It may be difficult to describe the then conditions at present but the public sentiments were severely hurt after the United States welcomed the defunct shah. It was a symbolic gesture on part of the United States and it indicated that Washington did not recognize the Iranian revolution and was still backing the shah. As I said the experience of the 1952 coup had added to the people's concerns. Amid excited public sentiments and American rebuttal of the revolution, Messrs (Mahdi) Bazargan and (Ibrahim) Yazdi, prime minister and foreign minister of the interim government, were holding friendly talks in Algiers with then American national security advisor, Brezinsky, who was an extremist counterrevolutionary element. As a repercussion, Iranians gave up any hope of the provisional government. Imam Khomeini sent a clear message to students and clerics to express his disillusion with the then government. The historical message strongly prompted students to display their violence and resentment against the anti-revolutionary U.S. statesmen.

Q: The first question striking the mind after the embassy seizure was that who were behind the stunning takeover?

A: The Islamic Student Association of Tehran University, Tehran Polytechnic University (now Amir-Kabir University of Technology) and Sharif University of Technology, staged the seizure. The Muslim students in these universities were holding coordinated meetings after the revolution and sought to adopt a joint stance in the face of the revolution. The decision for occupying the embassy was adopted in these meetings. Later on, the Muslim students from Shahid Beheshti University joined the aforesaid students.

Q: What was the ultimate decision for this symbolic gesture?

A: To continue the embassy seizure for three days in protest to the interventionist and conspiratorial policies of the United States.

Q: So, the embassy seizure was planned for three days and not for an unspecified period of time?

A: Everyone imagined that the embassy takeover would last three days. We thought the interim government would intervene and kick us out of the embassy. Three days were enough to transfer the voice of the students to the whole world.

Q: Why were the "Muslim Students Following Imam Khomeini's Line" culled to occupy the embassy?

A: It was fully calculated. The title "student" shows independence of the movement of any political party or group. The title "Muslim" indicated their separation from Marxists. "Imam's line" distinguished us from the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, Jama group and supporters of Dr. Peyman who pretended to be Muslim. Some did not favor the lengthy title but they reiterated that this title strips opportunists of any ground to exploit the anti-U.S. campaign.

Q: How many students were involved in the embassy seizure and how they were handpicked?

A: Some 400 students from Polytechnic, Tehran, Sharif and Shahid Beheshti Universities were engaged in the movement. Core members of the Islamic Student Association from the four universities had picked up the students who were certain.

Q: Were all 400 students reliable?

A: Yes, security concerns were taken seriously. For instance, I was engaged in the affair in Polytechnic University. My sister was studying in Tehran University and she was handpicked in that university. The night before the event, we did not know anything about one another. We saw each other the following day when we were marching to the embassy. I yelled at her: "Why didn't you tell me anything?" She replied: "Why didn't you tell me anything?" It proved that the culled students were honest.

Q: Did the authorities know anything about the decision for seizure?

A: Certainly not. As far as I know no official knew anything. Everyone learned after the takeover.

Q: Hojjatoleslam Moussavi-Khoiniha was the only top official to know about the movement. What did he do with the movement?

A: Moussavi-Khoiniha was linked to the student movements. The Muslim students also sought to link their activities to the clergy. Some activists in the embassy seizure were in contact with Mr. Khoeiniha owing to his connection with Imam Khomeini. The students were more confident seeing an ally of Imam Khomeini with them.

Q: Please tell us about the embassy takeover. How did they storm the embassy?

A: Nov. 4 marked the Schoolchildren Day and various rallies coincided on that day. It was not unexpected for them if any rally was held in protest to the U.S. interventionist policies. They did not imagine the students to capture the embassy. Anyhow, some 400 students carrying placards and pictures of Imam Khomeini convened at the intersection of Taleqani and Mofateh Avenues. Some students had provided tools for breaking the entrance gates of the embassy building. White banners bearing Imam Khomeini's photos were planned to distinguish the students from ordinary people. The banners were installed on the students' chests. Some of the students scaled the embassy wall and broke the locks and chains and the others broke into the building.

Q: Didn't the police intervene after occupation of the embassy?

A: No, but revolutionary guards and Mr. Mohsen Rezaei who was then in charge of the Sepah's (IRGC) intelligence department attended the scene. The embassy seizure in several hours turned to a significant issue in Iran and the whole world. Revolutionary guards would naturally expected to intervene and protect the values of the Islamic revolution. They were on alert to avert any opportunism. After Imam Khomeini's appreciation of the militant students, Mr. Rezaei showed good cooperation with the students and provided them with facilities to protect the documents.

Q: Did other elements than the students enter the embassy after the seizure?

A: After the students entered the embassy the entrance door was locked to avoid a flood of people intending to enter. A large number of people gathered in front of the embassy shortly after the takeover. Some students try to calm the emotional people through megaphones. As I said some revolutionary guards were on alert for security concerns.

Q: What did you do with the Americans in the embassy?

A: Some of them who were hidden in certain spots in the embassy, fired teargas to have enough time for destroying the documents.

Q: Did they know that you were students?

A: Yes, they had found out. Immediately afterwards, some students divided the Americans and settled them in. Ms Masoumeh Ebtekhar and Mr. (Hussein) Sheikholeslam who had a good command of English interpreted our instructions.

Q: Anyhow, the students succeeded to culminate their symbolic gesture. You said the embassy seizure was planned for three days but it lasted 444 days. Why?

A: I think it marked the attractive chapter of the embassy seizure event. In other words, the students conducted their symbolic move for their sense of duty. They imagined they would finish the work in three days but everything changed after Imam Khomeini's intervention. Imam Khomeini strongly supported the militant students and called the takeover a "second revolution". Occupation of the "Den of Spies" turned into a strong anti-American move, which shocked the whole of Iran taking into account the national hatred against the American regime for welcoming the defunct shah. A fire broke out which could not be extinguished. I remember well that after the widely broadcast appreciation of Imam Khomeini of the combatant students, the people of Tehran convened in front of the embassy building everyday to show their solidarity with the students. Even, religious ceremonies were held in front of the embassy. Political parties and groups issued statements and handed them out among the people. Such nationwide enthusiasm lingered the predicted three-day seizure.

Q: Shortly after the seizure of the "Den of Spies", translation of documents and disclosures heated up. Who was sponsoring the students who unraveled certain issues on TV?

A: They represented the universities. As far as I remember Mohsen Mirdamadi, Habibollah Bitafar, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh and Reza Seifollahi represented Tehran, Sharif, Amir-Kabir and Shahid Beheshti universities.

Q: How come the students decided to reveal the facts?

A: Naturally after the documents were translated, certain issues were clarified. The students convened to debate their motives behind the embassy seizure, which came after U.S. interference in Iran's internal affairs. The documents were the best evidence Iran could offer to neutralize international conspiracies against Iran and notify the world of the American interference in Iran's affairs. The Iranian people were also eager to know of U.S. treasons against the Islamic Republic. Subsequently, the national slogan the "Students Following the Imam's Line, Reveal, Reveal!" was created.

Q: How did political parties react to the students' seizure of the "Den of Spies"?

A: As far as I can remember groups and personalities following the Imam Khomeini's line endorsed the move and did not wait for the future time. Ayatollah Beheshti notified the Assembly of Experts of his confirmation, the Islamic Republic Party, the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization and many other revolutionary organizations issued statements to show their support and endorsement. In fact, they strengthened the position of the students but leftist Marxist groups refused to take any position for some time and they felt they were snubbed. They pretended to spearhead fight with American imperialism but the revolutionary movement by the Muslim students revealed their insincerity and therefore they felt backward. When they saw all-out popular support for the movement they issued a statement to feign support. Anyhow, their apparent support aimed to tarnish the image of the Muslim students.

Q: Did the Marxists not seek to get engaged in the matter?

A: They could not do so even if they had such plans in their minds. A revolutionary climate existed around the "Den of Spies". Muslims were around the embassy massively and therefore recognized Marxist groups could not influence.

Q: How did the interim government react to the seizure of the "Den of Spies"?

A: Reaction of the interim government was predictable. Everyone was disappointed with the interim government, which could not tolerate the event. That was why they complained to Imam Khomeini. They imagined that Imam Khomeini would blast the students due to his concern for national solidarity. But Imam Khomeini supported the students to their dismay. Engineer Bazargan decided to submit his government's resignation, which was immediately accepted by Imam Khomeini. The interim government creaked with the embassy seizure, which put an end to the "Den of Spies".

Q: Members or supporters of the interim government are of the view that the Islamic Republic Party or the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization were involved in the embassy seizure. They claim these parties and groups organized such an event to topple the interim government. What do you think?

A: It lacks a vestige of truth. Firstly as I said no political party or group was aware of the decision made by the students and secondly the students who stormed the embassy were not under influence of any specific party or group. Anyhow I believe that certain radical students did not mete out proper treatment to the political parties. I remember well when the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization was to read out its statement some radical students heckled their speaker. It raised my objection because the Islamic Student Association of Sharif University of Technology had read out a statement from the Mujahedin Khalq Organization.

Q: You mean that the radical students were opposed to the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization?

A: It did not necessarily imply their opposition. Many Muslim students were not satisfied with being aligned with the political parties. It proved the independence of the students. Anyhow, some students did not maintain good relations with the Islamic Republic Party. Even when Ayatollah Beheshti decided to enter the embassy in show of support for the militant students, he was not treated properly owing to the poisonous propaganda waged against him. Anyhow I mean to prove that political parties like the Islamic Republic Party were not behind the embassy seizure although they were allied with Imam Khomeini and bore an anti-arrogance nature.

Q: What do you think were the consequences of the U.S. embassy seizure?

A: The most significant consequence of this action was creation of a clear-cut and transparent position against the dictatorial policies of the United States. A political tendency, influencing the interim government, was moving to place a lid on the U.S. past misdeeds and even justify its conspiracies against the revolution. But the embassy seizure did not allow such goals be implemented and made the real enemy to the people and mobilized all the struggles against the U.S. conspiracies. On the other hand, seizure of the Den of Spies hindered the U.S. espionage inside the country and above all the embassy lost its reputation throughout the world. At the international level, the embassy seizure sent strong anti-arrogance shock waves through the world, and encouraged the oppressed people around the globe to have the courage to stand against the U.S. autocracy. In the domestic arena, the revolution was orientated to its right direction, avoided corruption and united revolutionary and committed forces.

Q: Opposition groups say all documents of the Den of Spies were not unraveled. Is it true?

A: That's totally false. All the documents have been publicized thanks to the independence of militant students who seized the embassy. It might be correct if the students were affiliated to any specific party or group. But as I said earlier the students did not rely on any party and they did not face any red line. The students publicized all the documents and did not cover up anything.

Q: Did only the students have access to the documents?

A: Documents might have been translated by some non-students but the students governed everything and nobody could conceal any document or make any censorship.

Q: Mr. Zarghami! An important issue about the militant students who took over the U.S. embassy is that some of the then hostage takers who have turned to certain political tendencies seek to feign non-engagement in the event. Was anyone else involved in the embassy seizure or a restricted number of militant students took over the embassy?

A: I believe that the conquerors of the embassy seizure were those who got engaged in the event courageously, stood by their beliefs until they attained martyrdom during the Sacred Defense (Iraqi-imposed conflict).

As a matter of fact 400 Muslim students took over the "Den of Spies", some of them were martyred and some others are serving the Islamic Republic. Here I give an example. My sister was among the militant students who stormed the embassy, later on she continued her studies and now she is a physician. She is serving the nation and she is ready to jump to the fray whenever needed. Many other individuals like her say they did their job at that time and now they hold the past beliefs. Political eclipse on the embassy seizure event is not fair at all. Anyhow, at that time the hostage takers elected the juniors as their representative or spokesman. The representative of the students did not raise their personal comments and they expressed the views of the whole of students. Therefore they cannot be considered the main elements culminating the event. Moreover, those who claim to have been influential figures in the embassy seizure should be more careful to maintain their qualifications, which elected them as spokesperson. Messrs Ebrahim Asgharzadeh and Mohsen Mirdamadi represented the followers of Imam Khomeini's line at that time. They had held several small pistols in front of the cameras to prove to the people that the American diplomats had possessed unconventional weapons in their embassy in contradiction of the international norms. They aimed to corroborate the U.S. conspiracies. Now that the United States is hatching more clear conspiracies against the Islamic establishment than any other time and the American Congress is allocating budgets for overthrowing the Islamic Republic, these friends should care for the American conspiracies more than any other time and take appropriate stances against such conspiracies.

Q: Although it is clear to everyone that Mr. Mirdamadi and Mr. Asgharzadeh have changed their positions they have not regretted the embassy seizure and at least they defend what they did at that time. But Mr. Abdi rued the event in a meeting with an American captive. What do you think?

A: Of course Mr. Abdi did not represent the students and he was like other students. I think that even Abdi is rueful of his meeting with the American captive. Maybe he did not think that the American and Western propaganda would have changed his character to such an extent. What Abdi said in that meeting might not have endorsed the behavior of the American government but the American propaganda system said Abdi who once scaled the embassy wall was now negotiating with an American diplomat he held captive at that time and is expressing regret. If the Americans verify that the 400 militant students who stormed the U.S. embassy at that time are ready to regret their conduct they would go to them one by one but they are sure that only one would make such a mistake and the rest hold the same views they had on Nov. 4, 1979.

Q: Your statements imply that the Americans are seeking a major revenge to make up for their historical humiliation during their embassy seizure?

A: Exactly. The event belittled the United States. The 1979 embassy seizure broke the U.S. fable and it has been seeking vendetta. It makes no difference for it how it would take revenge on Iranians. America has committed major treasons against Iranians. But the embassy seizure added to the grudges it held against the Iranian government. Here I give an example. Six years ago, I was in charge of the national cinema affairs. The American-hosted Oscar Film Festival invited us to send an Iranian movie to the festival. I thought at that time that America did not intend to engage Iran but it wanted to strike a blow to Iran. I wrote a letter saying we would not participate in their festival due to their hostile policies. The invited director - Jaffar Panahi -rebuffed the invitation. Some media vehemently questioned my action and they analyzed it an opportunity for anti-Iranian propaganda.

We said that we could campaign for our country in many other festivals held in the world and that the festival was supported by Zionists and the United States intended to humiliate us. I left my post after the May 23, 1997 presidential polls. The Oscar Film Festival repeated its request. A film made and directed by Mr. (Mohsen) Makhmalbaf was selected for this purpose. In a surprising move, the festival jury did not give any priority to the film. At that time reformist newspapers claimed they did not expect the United States to deal with the issue with political motivation. The arrogant nature of the United States is to the extent that it cannot tolerate any success in Iran. They chained Mr. Panahi, director of "The Circle" which portrays a black image of the Islamic establishment - at the airport when he arrived in the States. Mr. Abbas Kiarostami was denied American visa recently. The United States can distinguish a director and a terrorist but it intends to belittle Iranians and therefore every Iranian should be careful not to be deceived by American dubious olive branches.

Q: Thank you for the interview.

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