Former US Embassy in Iran draws pride and dust
TEHRAN – Dusty and dilapidated, overshadowed by the modern skyscrapers of the Iranian capital, the former United States Embassy building stands in a sprawling complex in central Tehran, a sad symbol of what seems more besides being a bygone era here.
A dirty doormat, with the words “Down with the United States” spray painted, sits at the entrance to what was once the center of US power in Iran. Next to the door is a painted bronze foam statue of a US Navy surrendering to Iranian students.
Known here as “the lair of spies”, the embassy is surrounded by high brick walls topped by a rusty iron fence. Inside, the bright yellow carpet of the Secret Communication Room has not changed since radical Islamic students invaded the building in 1979 and held 66 Americans hostage in a crisis that lasted 444 days.
Dusty circuit boards and black Bakelite phones taken from the Americans have been returned and displayed, relics of the museum to the current occupants – young paramilitaries armed with smartphones, members of the Basij militia, who have a base at the complex.
Foreign journalists were allowed to peek inside the complex on Thursday, in anticipation of the November 4 anniversary of the 1979 hostage-taking. The day will be celebrated with rallies organized by the State where “Death to America” will be, as always, the main slogan.
“Before that moment, the United States dictated the history of nations,” said Mohammad Reza Soghigi, who guided foreign journalists visiting the site. “After the takeover, it was Iran that dictated the history of the United States”
For supporters of the Iranian hard line, the embassy compound is a symbol of the enduring power of the Islamic revolution. But the atmosphere in Tehran has changed since reformist Hassan Rouhani replaced his outright predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as the country’s president. For many here, the Embassy is a relic that has passed its expiration date.
“All of this stuff is old,” said Mehdi Zohari, a 31-year-old electrician and Basiji. “Maybe it’s time we put all of this aside.”
Drinking tea in the enclosure’s rose-lined garden and sitting on a plastic chair, Mr. Soghigi, himself Basiji, was not in the mood to forget. He leafed through a book, “The Crippled Giant,” written after the revolution to document the declining power of the United States.
“Did you know that one in two marriages in the United States ends in divorce? Mr. Soghigi asked, pointing to the book written by a well-known Iranian writer, Ahmad Toloie. “It’s a paradise for criminals, but the poor have to live on the streets there. It’s an interesting thing.
In the distance, Tehran’s still-charged traffic horn filled the air as Mr Soghigi, clad in a brown suit, took a reporter by the arm and showed him rows and rows of posters praising Iranian achievements.
“Did you know that Iran is the world’s fifth largest producer of blood clotting drugs? ” He asked. “We are. Just like we are the third largest when it comes to turning gas into liquid fuel.
Iran prospered after the revolution and the embassy takeover, Soghigi argued, but the United States has only crumbled.
“Now look at the United States,” he said, walking past another row of posters, these showing what the posters called American “crimes” in Iraq, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile. and in other countries. “This is the real face of America,” he said, stopping at a drawing of Lady Liberty with a hooked nose and an evil smile that was labeled “Satan”.
Below stood portraits of what were described as “brave Americans” who spoke out against America, including Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy of France and artist Harry Belafonte. “He was against the war in Iraq,” Soghigi explained.
“Go up, go up, you have to see this,” he said excitedly, knocking on a door to the safe while calling up the grand stairs to the second floor. “This is where the CIA has a secret wing.” Room after room, listening devices and listening equipment, discovered by angry revolutionaries 34 years ago, were now open to the public.
One of the rooms included a glass box in which diplomats could conduct top-secret conversations without fear of being overheard. “It shows that we were right to take over the embassy, otherwise we would have ended up like Egypt,” said Mohammad Reza Cheraghi, a 30-year-old Basiji volunteer. He said the CIA prevented the Muslim Brotherhood from retaining power in Egypt, bringing the military back instead.
As political theories were explained in great detail, men wearing Oakley sunglasses and dreadlocked hair entered the once-secret CIA wing and began taking photos. “Who are these guys? They are suspicious, ”one of the students whispered to his friend.
But after a quick exchange with the Iranian guide, it turned out that the men were members of the Venezuelan group Bituaya, on tour in Tehran. One of the musicians showed a photo of Venezuelan frontman Hugo Chávez, who died in March, holding the band member’s long dreadlocks in the air. With that, the Basiji decided to take a group photo with the group in front of the glass box room.
“This is an act of a sovereign nation,” said one of the group members of Iran’s takeover of the embassy. “We wouldn’t do that in our country, but good for them. “
Mr. Soghigi did not overlook the relevance of the relics in the current dispute over espionage by the National Security Agency. “Now Americans are even spying on their allies,” he said, perhaps forgetting that Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s government was an American ally.
But not all visitors were as excited to denounce the United States as Mr. Soghigi was. To some, the embassy looked more like a museum than a “spy den.”
“Is the United States still our enemy? Asked Mr. Zohari, the electrician. While he had no doubt that the United States was guilty of many crimes, he said, it had also used its knowledge and power to advance science and technology.
“But look at Saudi Arabia, our regional enemy,” he said. “They’re just buying guns. Perhaps it is better that we occupy their embassy instead. He added that he would like to emigrate to the United States.
In the former residence of the Ambassador, which is today the office of a high general of Basij, street cats lay in the sun.
“They had their parties by the pool,” Pouria, a conscript soldier who had six months of military service left but refused to give his full name for fear of being punished by his superiors, in About the former occupants of the enclosure.
“It’s a beautiful place,” he said. “But whatever happens, I don’t think the Americans will ever come back here. Too much has happened for that.