The Iranian Islamic Revolution that took place in 1979 shook the world significantly, with its after-effects still felt today. The details of the event that drew a new line for the political scenario in Iran and paved new geopolitical ways are still worth recalling. Even after 42 years, the aftershocks of the revolution still hold their value in shaping Iran as it is today.

Numerous events set in a timeline that led to the fall of Pahlavi’s regime and gave rise to Iran as the Islamic Republic.

Storm Calmly Gathering 1976

During the period of January to July 1977, intellectuals, journalists, and other political activists were openly criticizing. They issued open letters in which they gave their views and the negative effects of the power accumulated by Shah.

In October, a poetry festival organized by the writer’s association of Iran ran for almost 10-days. During this event, thousands of writers, poets, lecturers, and other participants openly criticized the government.

In October, the son of exiled Islamic cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mostafa Khomeini, died of mysterious causes at 47. The death took place in Najaf, Iraq, where the elder Khomeini was also living in exile since 1963.
Ayatollah Khomeini was arrested and exiled for leading the protests against Shah’s regime when he started modernization reforms.

In November and December, there were frequent visits to Washington by Shah. During one such visit, the Iranian students protested and were squashed by police using tear gas. During a brief visit to Iran, the then-American President Jimmy Carter dubbed Iran an island of stability. The statement symbolized the support of the U.S. in terms of keeping Shah in power as a close ally and friend

The Spark Ignited in 1978

Shah always felt that he has the support of people because of the reforms, but Even though Iran was doing well financially due to oil revenue than ever before, there were complaints that he was not following Islamic Shariah.

The worst nightmare for Shah happened when Jimmy Carter was elected as U.S. President in 1977. Shah had spent a great deal on the support for President Ford’s election campaign that did not happen. Carter was elected based on his promise to reduce arms sales and human rights. Carter stressed political freedom and liberation for Iran, to which Shah thought the country was not ready. In his perception, when people have at least B.S study and have financial stability, then their political freedom is justified.

When Shah took office in 1941, only a handful of the Iranian population knew about reading and writing (17% only). In 1978, through reforms brought by Shah, the number rose to 50% that could only read and write that was too early for political freedom in Shah’s view. In 1977, Jimmy Carter visited Tehran to meet and show his support to Shah’s regime. He made a fulsome toast at a new year’s dinner party to show his support and stated that:

“Iran because of the great leadership of Shah became an island of stability in one of the most troubled areas of the world.”

Carter showed his full support that Shah took as a victory for him. Earlier, he felt that the U.S. has no choice but to support him even though he had openly shown his resistance to Carter’s campaign. During this time, some of the closest of Shah’s advisors told him that Khomeini (exiled to Iraq) had announced that it is time to overthrow the regime, and they also advised about assassinating Khomeini.

By nature, Shah was a superstitious man, and he disagreed with Khomeini’s assassination by saying, “I do not want to be responsible for the death of an Ayatollah”. Alternatively, he decided to ruin and disgrace Khomeini’s character instead, for which he chose the Iranian newspaper Ettela’at to publish defaming articles.

In June 1978, the Iranian newspaper Ettela’at (running under Shah’s directives) openly defamed Ayatollah Khomeini that sparked an open rage. After such publication, the holy city of “Qom” went entirely to protest Khomeini’s defamation. Thousands of protesters gathered and brought the symbols of Shah’s regime down, who were then openly fired upon by the security forces. Several protesters were killed in this one-sided exchange of fire.

In the following month, mourning ceremonies were held in Tehran, considering Shia traditions for the ones killed in the protest. Instead, the security forces tried to stop these ceremonies with sheer force, during which several hundred were killed. This further ignited the riots and the cycle of violence; protests with mourning ceremonies continued to get bloody in major Iranian cities.

In June, Shah even replaced the head of SAVAK, General Nematollah Nassiri. In November, Shah came to T.V and promised to make changes, after which the new head immediately released 300 detained political prisoners who were the blood-thirsty enemies of Shah. Also imprisoned, there were 500 of his loyal friends who were the past authorities of Iran, and he made that his first move to satisfy people, which was taken as his weakness.

This resulted in an increase in violent protests in which several people were killed. Afterward, like a domino effect, protests in major cities such as Isfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz, one after another, occurred.

Steps Towards Revolution

Let’s move back to early June of 1978, and review other events, to see further what other events led to the downfall of Shah.

There was a deliberately set fire at Cinema Rex at Abadan in which 477 people were killed, and the opposition blamed SAVAK for the cause. Abadan was one of the cities that did not have protests as much as other cities. After this, we had major protests in Abadan as well. However, an Islamist confessed and took responsibility for the attack after the revolution and was prosecuted for the arson.

Then-Prime Minister Jamshid Amouzegar resigned, and his successor Jafar Sharif Emami implemented reforms to soothe the ongoing political scenario. At the same time, thousands of people came to the streets of Tehran and had a demonstration and shouted, “Death to Shah,” and cursed and insulted him (the Shah). As a result, Shah declared martial law in Tehran in September. The following morning, the security forces opened fire on a large protest in which 100’s of people were killed. This day came to be known as “Black Friday” in Iranian history.

In October, the Iraqi government deported Khomeini on Shah’s behest and denied entry to Kuwait. Khomeini traveled to France and settled in a Paris suburb where the greater media attention and access benefitted him.

At this time, Jimmy Carter did not back Shah and even asked him to leave the country. Going even further to appoint General Robert “Dutch” Huyser to Iran to stop the possibility of launching a military coup in Iran.

Protests again erupted in which there was an open demand of Khomeini’s return and removal of Shah. A countrywide martial law was imposed, and Khomeini urged his followers to ignore the curfew and come out for a national revolution. The armed forces stepped down, and Shah’s regime collapsed.

The Aftermath of the Revolution

The U.S. Embassy in Tehran was taken over by crows and took the staff hostage for the return of Shah for trial by the U.S. government. Shah initially fled and was allowed entry to the U.S. for medical treatment. Khomeini demanded the U.S. to hand over the deposed Shah to pay for his crimes.

U.S. president sent emissaries to Iran to negotiate the release of hostages and was denied entry. In retaliation, the U.S. froze all the interest on Iran’s government and the Central Bank of Iran. The detainers released few women and African Americans as a unilateral Iranian gesture. The U.N. passed a resolution that called for Iran to release the hostages. During this time, Shah left for Panama from the United States.

In 1980, the first President of Iran, Abolhassan Bani Sadr, was elected and impeached within 18 months. He fled the country after his impeachment. The second round of voting wash was held in that period, and at that time, the U.S. officially severed its ties with Iran completely. U.S. tried to intervene with a military operation to release the hostages that failed due to sandstorms, resulting in the crash on one of the helicopters carrying eight U.S. soldiers.

Iranian authorities identified a coup planned by the military and cleaned them to thwart the plot. Mohamad Reza Pahlavi died in Egypt during this time. Iraq invaded Iran that resulted in casualties on both sides and eight years of conflict.

Khomeini agreed to negotiations of preconditions, and after 444 days, the hostages were released after an agreement between Tehran and Washington. The agreement unfreezes Iran’s assets, lifted sanctions, and adjudicated thousands of dollars in claims by the Iranian government.

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The Iranian Islamic Revolution that took place in 1979 shook the world significantly, with its after-effects still felt today.