Iran starts marking 40th anniversary of revolution

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran yesterday started celebrating the 40th anniversary of the country’s 1979 revolution that toppled the US-backed shahand brought Shiite clerics to power.

The climactic events that year in Iran – where footage of revolutionaries in the streets gave way to black-and-white images of blindfolded American hostages in the US Embassy hostage crisis months later – not only changed Iran’s history but also helped shape today’s Middle East.

The anniversary starts every year on February 1 – the day Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned home from France, after 14 years in exile, to become the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Across Iran, sirens rang out from trains and boats and church bells chimed at 9.33am yesterday — the exact time Khomeini’s chartered Air France Boeing 747 touched down 40 years ago at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport.

The 10-day anniversary festivities, known as the “Ten Days of Dawn”, end on February 11, the date Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s government collapsed after brief clashes between some units of the army and revolutionary gunmen and following nationwide protests.

A girl walks past a poster of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in northern Tehran, Iran. – AP

As part of the celebrations, many Tehran buildings, mostly of government institutions and offices, dawned yesterday draped in the colours of Iran’s green-white-and-red flag while multi-coloured lights decorated the main streets.

In memory of those events, car drivers turned on their headlights and honked in celebration as helicopters dropped clusters of flowers along the 21-mile route from the airport to the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery in southern Tehran where Khomeini made his first speech back home and where his tomb stands today.

Iranian officials – including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani – on Wednesday paid homage to Khomeini’s tomb “to renew allegiance” to the late leader.

Iranian state TV broadcast archive footage of Khomeini’s return and the daily mass demonstrations across Iran in support to his revolution.

Khomeini was accompanied on the flight home by dozens of journalists, a few of his associates and only one family member, his younger son Ahmad.