Britain Opens 30-Year-Old Files on Iran
Documents offer insights into U.S. hostage taking, factionalism among
Archive files released by Britain shed new light on that country's relationship
with Iran in 1979, when the Shah fled the country and Ayatollah Khomeini
returned to be the supreme leader of the new Islamic Republic.
As mandated by British law, National Archives in Britain are making public
documents that were once secret
In 1979, Iran was on the brink of a revolution.
The Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, fled in January. The following month, Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile to become the country's supreme leader in
the new Islamic Republic.
The crisis reached a new pitch when Iranian students took 66 Americans hostage
when the Shah traveled to the United States for cancer treatment.
Thirty years later at the National Archives in Britain, documents that were once
secret are being made public, as mandated by British law. They're filling in
details of what Britain thought of Iran at the time.
"A huge amount of documents are released, and it's an absolute treasure trove
for historians," said Mark Dunton, a records specialist.
Historians have been looking through the documents, like Majid Tafreshi, an
Iranian expert. He says the release of the documents is crucial.
"It's important for both historians and journalists to look at these documents
and talk and write about Iranian recent history and the last three decades and
the establishment of Islamist government in Iran," Tafreshi said.
He says he's learned that the hostage taking initially had nothing to do with
the Iran's government and the Ayatollah Khomeini. He says it was politicized
"As we can see from these documents, hostage taking had nothing to do with the
Iranian government and Ayatollah Khomeini at the beginning, but soon Ayatollah
himself and whole government, new government ... tried to take advantage of the
event and this student initiation became a state-run policy," Tafreshi said.
He says another important revelation is the divisions in Iran at the time.
"You can see the factionalism in these documents beginning from the very first
day of the Iranian revolution. Nationalists and intellectuals and ayatollahs and
zealous factions ... they began their rivalry right before collapse of Shah's
regime," Tafreshi said.
He says those divisions are still clear today, and the historic documents help
us understand them.
"With these documents you can find a better picture of what is going on Iran
now, and without them I think the picture is not that clear," Tafreshi said.
In 1979, revolutionary Iran was a mystery to Britain. Thirty years later, the
current Iranian government is in turmoil, in part blaming Britain for its
troubles, and to much of the world, still opaque.
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