Twenty-two years ago, on November 4, 1979, Iranian students seized the United States embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage. Now, the former embassy compound has been opened to the public with a special exhibit that organizers say shows American crimes against their country.
The brick walls surrounding the compound on Taleghani Street are still covered with anti-American slogans and murals. The American emblem is visible at the main gate. This is the former American embassy in Tehran, but for years now many Iranians have known it simply as the "den of spies."
A special exhibit has just opened inside the embassy compound and the organizers say it reveals how the building was used for espionage, not diplomacy.
A young man takes a dozen visitors on a tour of what was likely once the embassy's communication rooms. He points to various teletype machines. Moving to another room, he points to machines he says were used for secret communications and for forging documents. And, then there are the paper shredders. There is also the glass cage, presumably once used as a "secure" area, to ensure meetings or conversations could not be overheard or "bugged."
Nowadays, the communications equipment looks woefully antiquated, fit only for a museum. But this is a museum of sorts, depicting a long litany of perceived American transgressions against their country.
Twenty-two years ago, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a staunch American ally, had been ousted by the Islamic revolution that brought the exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power as supreme leader and de facto ruler. The new government quickly condemned what it termed U.S. interference in Iranian affairs and the ayatollah lent his support to the students, who on November 4 stormed the U.S. embassy, taking American diplomats hostage in the process. The hostage drama lasted 444 days and left an indelible mark on U.S.-Iranian relations for years.
Mohammed Anjam Shoo is the director of the exhibit at the former embassy. He says it is important for young Iranians to learn about these events of the past. Mr. Anjam Shoa says the films, photos, books and tours are designed to teach young people about the work of the students who took over the embassy.
The downstairs rooms of the main embassy building contain photo exhibits, generally depicting American military action in some part of the world. There is the dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, the Vietnam War, air strikes against Iraq during the Gulf War, and even the current campaign in Afghanistan.
Mr. Anjam Shoa says these photos are meant to show the public that what he terms, U.S. "crimes" are not limited to Iran. He says the exhibit clearly shows the United States as an aggressive power in the world.
But more than two decades have passed since the embassy takeover and there are differing views within Iran about relations with the United States. The conservative religious establishment still staunchly opposes normalization of relations, and just the other day Iran's supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said dialogue with the United States is not in the best interests of Iran.
But many Iranians believe it is time to improve relations, and moderate elements within the political structure say now is a good time to begin.