Iran marked the mourning day of Ashura this week, observing – with drums, not self-flagellation, according to this Guardian photo essay – the death of Hossein, the Shi’ite imam and martyr.
But it commemorated something else, too – because this year, Ashura coincided with the 35-year anniversary of the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran and the subsequent 444-day-long hostage crisis. On November 4, 1979, hundreds of Iranian students stormed the building in a revolution-inspired fervor, ensuring that the already-shaky foundations of US-Iranian ties post-1979 would henceforth be laced with deep mistrust.
Needless to say, commentators in Iran and outside of it have a lot to say on the significance of the double anniversary. Stephen Kinzer, writing for The Boston Globe, suggested this week that the crisis “created passions in both countries that blind us to the deep interests we share in the Middle East and beyond.” Voice of America, on the other hand, cited former hostages saying Iran has yet to be held accountable for the incident, with Iran News Update adding that its attitude to the crisis proved Tehran had remained “unchanged” since 1979.
Al Monitor tackled the topic from various angles. One article was centered around an Iranian diplomat calling for Iran – now “indebted” to the US for last year’s nuclear breakthrough – to address the hostage crisis; another, a “Where Are They Now?”-type piece, explored the paths taken by the students involved in the incident (many, unsurprisingly, now man the upper echelons of the Revolutionary Guard). A third article focused on the newspaper coverage of the anniversary within Iran, which predictably took many a jab at “the enemy” – often in an attempt to hit back at The Economist for claiming earlier this month that “The Revolution is Over” by asserting that Iran has become a worthy negotiating partner because of the revolution rather than in spite of it.
No doubt, it’s been a soul-searching Ashura-versary for Iran as it struggles to convince itself it is still living the Ashura-inspired revolution of its violent past – while at the same time trying to convince the West it shares its values.