The Tehran I Remember

on February 28 2013 2:50 PM
Former US embassy in Tehran
Tehran, Iran, November 4, 1979: The attack that came to be known as the 'Iran Hostage Crisis' began at 6:30 am the morning of November 4, when a few hundred Iranian students called the "Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line" cut the fence to the U.S. embassy and broke through the gates. They initially intended only to make a symbolic occupation, but after the Ayatollah Khomeini expressed his support, and crowds outside the embassy cheered the students on, the occupation's goals changed. The hostages were held for 444 days, until January 20, 1981. A disastrous attempted rescue operation resulted in the deaths of 8 American servicemen and one Iranian civilian. The 52 hostages were released almost immediately after Ronald Regan was sworn into office. Wikimedia Commons

As someone who lived in Tehran back in the 1970s, I especially enjoyed seeing the movie Argo win the Best Picture Oscar. It’s a great story with compelling characters and lots of suspense. 

The fact that the story is true makes it even more incredible considering the plot plays out like a Tom Clancy novel. Imagine sneaking United States embassy personnel out of Iran right under the noses of militants using the far-fetched story that they were there to scout movie locations? I had no idea the CIA was so creative. The film also serves as a reminder of how America got where we are in our relationship with Iran.

I realize the film wasn’t shot in Tehran, but it nevertheless evoked memories of the place where I spent almost two years as a young woman. During my time in Tehran, I lived right around the corner from the U.S. embassy -- I left the country in 1976 -- and I passed it frequently. Who knew it would become the center of the world’s attention a few years later, in 1979? I didn’t. Nor did I have any idea of what was on the horizon for Iran itself. Yes, I was young and naïve, but who knew?

The Tehran I remember is not the one represented in Argo, with its mob mentality and screaming militants with murderous intent.  Sure, it was frightening to me: I was in a strange country with a strange culture, the other side of the world, and I was 19 and newly married. Throw in the fact that I suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, and what you get is someone who is basically scared of everything. 

Never was I afraid, though, that a riot would break out. Rarely did I think my safety was in jeopardy. I had some incidents, mainly as a woman in a culture that is not always kind to women, but generally speaking, the people I met in Tehran were not only friendly to Americans, but wanted to meet and get to us.

A perfect example of this: I received a phone call at home one afternoon, which was rare. When I answered, it was a man speaking Farsi on the other end. I told him I didn’t understand, so he attempted to speak a little English. As it turned out, he had dialed a wrong number, but when he discovered it was an American he had accidentally rung up, he wanted the opportunity to talk to me. 

He asked if he might call again, and I said yes. He began calling on a regular basis. His English improved, and he eventually invited me and my husband to dinner. We became friends and visited often with each other. Not something you would dream of doing in today’s post Sept. 11 world, but we thought little of it at the time. I had other Iranian friends I enjoyed getting to know, and who wanted to get to know me, chiefly because I was American. 

That was my experience in Tehran. The Tehran I knew liked Americans. My opinion, without having visited there in more than 35 years, is that despite the regime that is in power, the average person in Tehran would like to be friends with America. Perhaps I’m still naïve, but when you see a movie such as Argo, or you see actual news stories of protests in that part of the world against the U.S., don’t assume that everyone feels that way. The average person is home with his or her family, or at work just trying to get along like the rest of us. We have more in common than one might think. 

Ann Craig-Cinnamon is also the author of the new book Walking Naked in Tehran. She has spent 30 years in both radio and television broadcasting in the Indianapolis market.

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