Iranians throng into US Embassy on hostage anniversary
For the first time in a year, the occupied United States Embassy in Tehran opened its gates Nov. 4 to a public eager to enter the walled compound. Tens of thousands of Iranians grasped the opportunity, not to apply for entry visas or to seek other consular help, but to mount a revolutionary feast, celebrating the "victory of Islam against the great Satan."
To Iranians, the demonstration and mass meeting in the embassy compound, with its whitewashed walls and long grass, were more than a simple commemoration of the occupation of the US diplomatic center in their country a year ago.
It was the action of a people conscious of what is called "liberation from the chains of imperialism and foreign domination," a people waging a battle under the banner of Islamic internationalism, not only against its foreign enemies, but also against its domestic adversaries.
Besides the occupation of the US Embassy Iranians commemorated Nov. 4 as the beginning of Ayatollah Khomeini's forced exile years ago, first to Turkey, later to iraq, and finally to France. A speech given 17 years ago, in which the Ayatollah severely attacked the "Shah's capitulation to the United States" and which was the immediate cause for his banishment, was broadcast via loudspeakers on the embassy grounds.
The demonstrators, furthermore, celebrated the "martyrdom" of dozens of Iranian students, killed by the Shah's troops during demonstrations two years ago on the Tehran University campus.
Despite the anti-American and anti-imperialist slogans, the demonstrations of Nov. 4 had little in common with the emotional, angry, combative marches staged during the past year in front of the occupied embassy compound. Iran appeared to be psychologically preparing itself for the possible release of the 52 American hostages.
From the speaker's podium, a bearded student clad in a characteristic (for Iranian revolutionaries) green Army jacket urged the demonstrators not to burn the American flag and effigies of President Carter. The rifle barrels of the hundreds of Revolutionary Guards marching to the rhythm of drums were decorated with red carnations. Fiery revolutionary speeches were mixed with songs chanted by small children dressed in commando uniforms and sneakers.
Security on and around the embassy compound appeared to be relaxed. The demonstrators swarmed over approximately 30 percent of the compound surface, but were prevented from approaching one of the main buildings and the back entrance. There was only speculation as to whether all or some of the US hostages are actually being held within the compound's walls.
A feeling of strength and self-confidence emanated from the crowds. Sayed Ahmed Khomeini, the Ayatollah's son, said, "The crisis [with the United States] has not ended yet. We are only at the beginning." No matter what happens, said Friday prayer leader Hojatolislam Ali Khameini, the slogans of "death to America" will remain.
Both the demonstrators and the spokesman of Iran's fundamentalists made no bones about their wish to use the resolution of the hostage crisis to further weaken the position of the few moderates still holding public office in the Islamic Republic.
Facing a sea of women clad in black and blue chadors, Prime Minister Muhammad ali Rajai warned that "the hostage-taking has created a climate in which anyone who takes even the smallest interest in Western thinking will very soon be identified."
He insisted, furthermore, "The hostage-taking has demonstrated to the world that we do not want to have any kind of relations with the United States."
Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Ministry has transmitted via Algeria a request to the US government to "quickly respond" to Iran's conditions for the release of the hostages and "to publish its response in the international mass media."
Interviewed by Tehran radio Nov. 4, Prime Minister Rajai stated that President Carter's last letter "did not directly address our conditions. It dealt only with generalities."
A diplomat familiar with the official English version of the Iranian conditions, transmitted to Washington Nov. 3, claims that the text is badly phrased and that key words are missing.