It was November 4, 1979 and Iran was amidst the boiling of a revolution to slash through the then monarchy. On that very day, a group of students who called themselves “Muslim Students, Followers of Imam’s Path” captured the US embassy in Tehran holding its diplomats hostages; an action conducted at the same time that Iran’s ousted Shah resided in the US after months of wandering state, which had raised anger among the students wanting to try the Shah shortly after the Revolution came to existence. That is how, in the upcoming years until now, November 4 is called the Student’s Day in Iran; a day which witnessed tidal waves of protests and a series of massacre by the Shah army and so, as an outlet of anger, the people who had suffered open fire for months took to capture the US embassy.
About the capturing, the Keyhan Newspaper wrote, “This Morning, a demonstrating group took part in a riot in universities protesting from Taleghani St. to the US embassy chanting anti-imperialistic slogans breaching into the building with the purpose of occupying the place. The incident took place at 11 A.M. and the number of capturers is rumored to be 25-30. The local police’s efforts are underway to work out the dispute.” The story led to a 3rd printing of the paper in less than 24 hours.
Keyhan further wrote, “At 12:15 A.M, a top-ranking authority from the Foreign Ministry informed the newspaper about the capturing of the US embassy by an anonymous group saying, ‘We were informed about the movement in the morning, and the PM, Army and Police have taken necessary measures through the embassy. Thus far, a number of protesters entered the basement of the building and some other have been scattered by tear gas shot from inside the embassy.’”
Later that day, at 4 P.M, releasing the Iranian visitors or embassy staff who were stuck inside the building at the time of the capturing began and the US diplomats were transferred to a different location with their eyes covered. In the meantime, one of the protesters left the embassy and told the press, “We occupied the US embassy to voice our agitation toward its policies. A group of students has staged a sitting here and it shall proceed until further notice.”
The agents responsible for such a move later claimed their reasons for capture to be the admission of the Shah by the US government, objection to the interim government, detection of the US spies and undercover agents, abrogation of conspiracies and domination of the US in Iran, displaying a psych-out to the US, avenging the plots of the 1953 coup, rejection of the US exclusive propagandistic approach toward and support of anti-revolutionary figures.
Shortly one day after the capturing, Mehdi Bazargan, Iran’s then interim PM, who had opposed the plan of the capturing earlier, tendered his resignation to Ayatollah Khomeini which was warmly welcomed by the capturers.
On the following days, the students accentuated at times to the press that the US embassy is a nest of snakes, conspiracies, espionage and anti-revolutionary plots, but underscored that the move is expected to take a limited period.
Two days later, while admiring the students’ measure, Ayatollah Khomeini stated, “The place our students have occupied is a master chamber for conspiracies and spying. The US expects to embrace the Shah there and establish a spying center here and our students sit and watch that?” After Imam Khomeini supported the move in his speech, the people ran large-scale demonstrations in support of the capturing, and later, Imam Khomeini announced that the women and black people of the embassy are free to go, but the key figures are yet to be decided upon.
The upcoming morning, the capturers provided the Imam with a list of 13 female and black hostages, and asked Imam’s son, the late Seyed Ahmad Khomeini, to visit the embassy for heightened security provisions and accompany the released hostages to the Foreign Ministry and later to Mehrabad Airport.
The US government did not give in to requests to return the ousted Shah of Iran, and in the following months, tried to free the hostages bringing many top officials at the table, including the Pope, but was turned down by Iran every time. The US was frustrated to work out the case through political solutions and so, decided to choose a military option and on April 25, 1980, sent 8 choppers and one aircraft to Iran; an attempt which went belly up due to a sand storm in Tabas Sahara, and the US suffered 9 lives for no good cause.
One year after the capturing, the case of releasing or holding the hostages went under the supervision of the parliament, and on November 2, 1980, the Emergency Committee put forward 4 conditions to solve the hostage case:
- freeing Iran’s capital to the very last cent;
- calling off the US claims in Iran;
- guaranteeing the full stop of US political and military interference in Iran;
- and returning the properties of the Shah.
Eventually, the four abovementioned conditions were passed and voiced to the government in addition to the executive stages of the plan. What the parliament really wanted was to have its conditions met, and were the US to accept them, the necessary measures would be taken and if not, the Judiciary was required to try the hostages as American spies.
The parliament passed the bill, and the students met with Ayatollah Khomeini. Coupled with confirming the bill, Imam Khomeini left the responsibility of keeping the hostages to the government. The government, too, appointed Behzad Nabavi, the then Executive Adviser to the PM, to pursue the case. Now, with harsh bans imposed on direct talks with the US, there needed to be a mediator between Iran and the US, and that was when Algeria assumed the role, and talks started off in a few days.
After months of non-stop talks and consultations, the negotiations reached a satisfactory phase and by offering two drafts about the legal and fiscal arguments with the US to the parliament, including returning the Shah’s properties, the government managed to hasten the talks which led to signing 3 documents better known as the Statement of Algeria. The statement stressed the full stop of US political and military interference in Iran, freeing Iran’s capital to the very last penny, lifting baselessly unreasonable US embargoes and returning the properties of the Shah.
After a while, and after days of unrelenting exhaustion, the two sides signed the Statement of Algeria and the US practically gave in to the terms, and more than 50 American hostages were freed after 444 days of captivity and were allowed to leave Iran on January 19, 1981.
The US version of the story, however, tells that in a backdoor deal, Iran consents to a delayed release of the hostages to pave the way for Regan’s victory against Carter in the 1980 election, and the US, in return, makes a commitment to facilitate Iran with military hardware. The latter part is of a much broader nature and takes a single paper all for its own.