Iran 2009: 30 Years after the revolution: A Country Transformed

02/02/09 9:22AM By Steve Zind
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(Host)  VPR's Steve Zind first travelled to Iran five years ago in search of family history:   

Since then he's returned several times to learn more about politics, people and culture.

Now, as the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution approaches, Steve has taken his fourth journey to Iran.  

Today, in the first in a series of his reports, he tells us about the transformation of Iran after the revolution.


(Zind) Black flags and striking green and black banners with ornate Persian lettering hang along the streets of Tehran.  . 

They commemorate Muharram, when the Shia Muslims of Iran mourn the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, in a battle over leadership of the faithful.   

Religion has long been a powerful social force but for the past 30 years it's also been a political force under Iran's Islamic government. Those who died in the revolution or the Iran-Iraq war - are regarded not just as patriots, but as religious martyrs.  Their sacrifice is recounted here at the Martyr's Museum in Tehran.

(Recording) "Dear visitor, hello and welcome to this purifying place where we respect the all time martyrs in our history..."

(Sounds of Children)

(Zind)  The morning I visited, the museum was crowded with elementary school girls on a field trip.  They peered into glass cases containing the photos and effects of men who had died. I asked my translator Pedram about the displays.

 (Pedram) "Yes, these are the original shirts or clothing when they died.  This is Babaei, he was a pilot or something.  This is a highway that goes to my house." 

(Zind)  The streets of Tehran bear the names of many of Iran's martyrs. 

Ali Askar Vafaei works at the museum.  I asked him what he thought the revolution had accomplished.

(Manager in Farsi)

(Translator in English) "A country that was 100%  dependent on other countries in the world, now it doesn't have any dependence on any country in the world."

(Zind)  The revolution wasn't about religion.  It was about overthrowing a repressive regime seen as intoxicated with western culture and under the influence of foreign powers.

Secular people of all stripes rallied behind the galvanizing figure of Ayatollah Khomeini.  In the end, they were marginalized.  

The single event symbolizing the end of foreign influence in Iran is the 444 day ordeal of the American hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

As the spokesperson for the students who occupied the embassy, Massoumeh Ebtekar was the public face of the takeover.  She went on to become Iran's first woman vice president and now serves on Tehran's city council.

When I ask for her in the lobby of her building, the man there nods in acknowledgement and frames his face with his hands to indicate her very conservative way of dressing. Politically, though, Ebtekar is a reformer - and a critic of the policies of Iran's conservative president Ahmadinejad.

Her nearly flawless English was cultivated during her elementary school days in suburban Philadelphia. 

Ebtekar told me that when judged in the context of its time and the history of Iran - U.S. relations, the takeover can still be justified.

She says at the time the students feared a repeat of the 1953 CIA backed coup that toppled Iran's democratically elected Prime Minister.

(Ebtekar) "Taking that into consideration, if anyone understands the position in which the students were, realizing that their country was still weak, there was a revolution...and there was a serious feeling that the American administration has not recognized the Islamic Revolution of Iran and is not sincere in its intentions and is somehow looking for an opportunity to undermine the revolution."

(Zind)  Ebtekar acknowledge that the hostage crisis has cast a long shadow, both in terms of U.S. Iran relations and contributing to a negative image of Iran around the world.  

Her name can still elicit bitter reaction from those in the U.S whose lives were affected by the hostage crisis.


(Zind) While many Iranians agree that the revolution put an end to a long period of foreign domination, there are deep disagreements over the direction the country has taken since then.  As the nation's economy struggles and political and social freedoms remain limited, many are disenchanted with a system in which unelected clerics have the last word and use religion to justify their decisions. 

For VPR news, I'm Steve Zind.

Note:  Tomorrow, we travel with Steve to the holy city of Qom and meet with one of Iran's top religious authorities.

Top Photo: Wall of the former U.S. Embassy

Middle Photo: Steve Zind with Masoumeh Ebtekar



Related Links

Iran 2009 Photo Gallery Steve Zind's January 2009 blog report from Iran Iran Journal Photo Gallery Steve Zind'sIran Journal 2004 Steve Zind's Iran Today 2006 Steve Zind's Report From Iran 2005
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