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Politics

1979 U.S. Embassy Seizure Anniversary: Ex-Hostage Tells Protesters “You Are An Example For The World”

November 4, 2022
Akhtar Safi
5 min read
Every year, on November 4, Iran’s theocracy celebrates the anniversary of the 1979 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by radical students
Every year, on November 4, Iran’s theocracy celebrates the anniversary of the 1979 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by radical students
IranWire asked Barry Rosen, one of the American diplomats held hostage for 444 days after the storming of the embassy 43 years ago, about his thoughts concerning the nationwide protest movement in Iran
IranWire asked Barry Rosen, one of the American diplomats held hostage for 444 days after the storming of the embassy 43 years ago, about his thoughts concerning the nationwide protest movement in Iran

Every year, on November 4, Iran’s theocracy celebrates the anniversary of the 1979 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by radical students, rallying pro-establishment crowds with chador-wearing women waving the Islamic Republic’s flag and chanting anti-American slogans.

This year’s rallies offered a stark contrast to the wave of protests sweeping the country since the September death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman in the custody of morality police. Iranian women have removed and burned their hijabs, while many protesters have called for an end to the Islamic Republic.

The security forces have responded with an iron fist to the protest movement, killing more than 270 people, including more than 40 children, according to rights activists. Several thousand more have been arrested -- journalists, lawyers, students, human rights activists, and others.

IranWire asked Barry Rosen, one of the American diplomats held hostage for 444 days after the storming of the embassy 43 years ago, about his thoughts concerning the nationwide protest movement in Iran.

"Iranian people are great and I always appreciate the culture, hospitality and the love that I receive from Iranians. This regime is not Iranian in any form. Those people who took me were not Iranians," he said before starting the interview.

Do you think the ongoing wave of public anger is different from previous protest movements?

“For one thing, this movement is far, far different from any other movement in recent times, especially the 2009 Green Movement,” which was pro-democracy. But this movement includes diverse groups of people, middle class, poor and all different ethnic groups. The most important thing, and more than anything else, is that it's led by women and their dignity. It’s so important. It's an unprecedented moment. People are actually retrieving their ruined lives and they are reclaiming their life once again. It's a very powerful movement.”

What could be outcome?

“That's very hard to predict. But I honestly believe that we are near a political breakthrough, but it really depends on all Iranians from all social classes. Women, men, the elderly, children, and grandmothers must come together and actually join the uprising. Of course, the most important of all is whether the military, IRGC (the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) or Basij (paramilitary force) would defect, which I do not know, and it is the 64,000 dollars question. Because many Iranians are dying every day. Hundreds of young kids are in jail or on trial. I know the regime will fight back. The movement will be going towards democracy in Iran.”

How do you explain the cruelty of the Iranian security forces?

“They stood up and took automatic weapons and fired directly at people and killed them. They should be ashamed. They are killers. They say the Shah was authoritarian, but he had nothing to do with these old men and clerics and IRGC who are out to kill people.”

What does the international community need to do to support the movement for change?

“There needs to be a large effort by the United States and EU to cut Iran off diplomatically and reduce Iran's diplomatic presence, shattering its embassies, refusing meetings, and mounting a campaign to strip the Islamic Republic and its membership in international organizations and the UN Commission on Status of Women. That will go a long way to change the Iranian establishment. The United States has done it, but the EU should downgrade all its diplomatic ties with Iran immediately. They also need to sanction Iranian terrorist-linked airlines in Europe. Mahan and Iran Air are proved to be IRGC airlines by choice. Another important thing is the families of regime officials who are living in Europe and the United States. For example, Eissa Hashemi, who is a son of Masoumeh Ebtakar (she was among those who occupied the U.S. embassy and has also served as Iran vice president). She wanted all of us on trial. Her son and family are in the United States. They should not be here. They should be asked to go. And how they got here is another question.”

In January, you announced you had begun a hunger strike in Vienna, outside the main venue for separate U.S.-Iran indirect talks about reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and global powers. The aim was to raise awareness about the plight of foreign citizens who are detained in Iran or barred from leaving the country. How did this protest action end up, and what were the results?

“All I can say is that I feel very strongly that there should not be any continuation of any negotiations with the regime on the nuclear issue. Most of all, I do not want to see any relief of sanctions on Iran in any shape or form, and that will happen if there is a nuclear agreement. I think we need to forget the nuclear agreement as long as they kill their own people and hold hostages. They should not be considered a country that we need to negotiate with. They need to free everyone of those hostages, not only all the American hostages but all the European hostages too, immediately.”

Do you think the perpetrators of the embassy takeover will be brought to justice one day?

“Not only do I think they should be brought to justice, but the entire regime should be brought to justice. Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, and the heads of the courts in Iran, they must be brought to justice. I want to see it sooner rather than later. I'm fearful that they will get away with murder, especially the supreme leader. That supposedly religious man killed his own people.”

What is your message to the protesters who are defying the security forces?

“Take care of yourself but continue what you are doing. You are an example for the entire world. You are making a difference in many people's lives. You are sacrificing yours for the future of Iranian democracy. Iranians are hostages within their own country.”

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