In commemoration of the 33rd anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's return from exile Wednesday, the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran re-enacted the Grand Ayatollah's return to Iran 1979. The re-enactment at Tehran's airport has sparked humorous commentary from around the world due to the peculiar ceremony, which included a cardboard cut-out of the late Iranian leader.
Photographs of the strange event were published Tuesday by Iran's Mehr News Agency, which show uniformed soldiers holding roses as they witness the cardboard Ayatollah's return to the country. The photos also show a band playing music as the cardboard Ayatollah is welcomed home. The ceremony included a black-and-white cardboard cut-out of a photographic image of the Ayatollah's 1979 return as well.
The strange ceremony can only be understood in context of Iran's history. On Feb. 1, 1979, the late Iranian religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, returned to Iran after spending more than 14 years in exile.
After denouncing the U.S.-backed Shah and the U.S. in 1964, the Ayatollah was forced into exile by the secular Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who feared his popularity. During his exile, Khomeini wrote extensively about Islamic forms of government in books and preachings.
When the Shah fled the nation (on vacation, but never to return) in January 1979, the Ayatollah returned triumphantly to Iran. Khomeini declared his opposition to the government, led a popular movement, and established the Islamic Republic later that year with himself as Supreme Leader.
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Feb. 1, 1979 is still celebrated as one of the most important moments of Iran's history.
The humorous cardboard Ayatollah, which has been criticized by many satirists, has gone viral on the blog Cardboard Khomeini where images of the cardboard cut-out carried by two officers appear randomly in beach scenes, famous art scenes and other images.