Iran on Friday kicked off days-long celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah, overturned 2,500 years of monarchical rule and brought hard-line 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 U.S. Embassy hostage crisis months later – not only changed Iran’s history but also helped shape today’s Middle East.
The anniversary festivities start every year on Feb. 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 9:33 a.m. Friday – 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,” conclude on Feb. 11, the date Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s government collapsed after brief clashes between some army units and revolutionary gunmen, following nationwide protests.
As part of the celebrations, many Tehran buildings, mostly of government institutions and offices, dawned on Friday draped in the colors of Iran’s green-white-and-red flag while multi-colored lights decorated the main streets.
In memory of Khomeini’s homecoming, 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.
At a ceremony at Khomeini’s tomb Friday, Ahmad Jannati, head of a constitutional watchdog that vets nominees for presidential and parliamentary elections, slammed what he described as U.S. psychological warfare against Iran in the form of “cruel sanctions.”
“The enemies today have targeted the economy” to make Iranians feel pessimistic about Islam, said Jannati, a hard-line cleric.
Last year, the Trump administration pulled America out of the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting of economic sanctions. The U.S. in November re-imposed its sanctions on Iran.
Germany, France and Britain _ which have worked to preserve the nuclear deal _ announced on Thursday they have established a new system so their companies can continue trading with Iran without incurring U.S. penalties for doing so.
Also Friday, 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.
The plane was only half full, to keep room for extra fuel in case of immediate return to Paris if the plane couldn’t land in Tehran. Supporters of the Shah’s regime had closed the airport the week before and Khomeini’s allies in Tehran feared possible threats against his life.
State TV also Friday broadcast footage showing various Iranian achievements over the years and a video animation with anti-U.S. propaganda. State media reported that similar celebrations were taking place in cities and towns across the country.