My visit to the former US embassy in Tehran

US embassy in Tehran

The Statue of Liberty (well, sort of…) in the former US embassy in Tehran and a lovely Yemeni kid playing around it

It’s recent news the diplomatic crisis between Iran and the UK, and when I visited the former US embassy in Tehran there was no sign it was going to happen. Following the protests of Iranian students in Tehran who claimed to have “occupied” the British embassy, the obvious consequence have been sending back to the UK the English diplomats and to Iran the Iranians. I have mixed feelings towards these recent events. Do I understand the protests? I do. Do I agree with them? To some extent. Do I think storming the British embassy was a clever move? Not really.

In an interesting op-ed for the Independent, English journalist Robert Fisk, highlights the reasons why it’s understandable that Iranians are not exactly fans of the UK. As Fisk stresses out, economic sanctions are only a minimal part that brought the Anglo-Persian relations to an end. Heavy interference in internal affairs and collaboration with the US in the Operation Ajax that resulted in the overthrow of democratically elected Mossadegh in 1953 are some of the facts that shaped Iranian historical memory. Unsurprisingly, not one of love and affection.

US embassy in Tehran

The forgery room where the embassy’s employees created passports of many countries in order to make it easier to send spies. Students found forged passports of Canada, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

When I was in Tehran, however, the UK embassy was still operating, so we only managed to visit the former US offices, occupied and closed in 1979 right after the Islamic Revolution and that, I later found out, are closed to the public. I would like to be able to say that 32 years ago things were very different, but alas it’s not quite the case. Iran is today’s “rogue state”, constantly under sanction (which is probably why it’s one of the few countries out of the worldwide recession), facing repeated attempts to be spied on within their own territory (the RQ-170 drone catch-22 is very recent news).

In 1979, after storming the embassy, bringing about the hostage crisis and determining a definitive end to US-Iran diplomatic relations, Iranian “Students Following the Line of the Imam” gathered all the top-secret information they found, also piecing together the papers employees had managed to put in the shredder, and published them in around 70 volumes (available online). Such a painstaking work that only a truly intense resentment could have fed the patience to achieve.

US embassy in Tehran

The paper shredder used in vain to destroy the now declassified material at the former US embassy in Tehran

The US embassy in Tehran was the most important CIA headquarter and archive in the Middle East, and now looks pretty much as if employees are about to come back to work. Their rooms, their labels, their communication devices, the paper shredder that was there somehow aware of its last, and most important, duty, are still as they were. Pictures of the 52 hostages kept for 444 days hung on the walls, along with posters of the huge flood of people in march during the revolution and, of course, paired with other posters that depicted a strong anti-US sentiment.

That has been the beginning of a diplomatic crisis that today is not only still alive but quite kicking. And that’s scaring many people, myself included. This is mainly why I don’t feel the recent storming of the UK embassy was a good idea. Do we need more instability? Do we need more war? Do we need more crisis? It seems to me the world is messed up enough.

US embassy in Tehran

The radio system in the room devoted to the communication

As soon as I set foot in this controversial Middle Eastern country I realized it was just this, a country, inhabited by people hungry for human interactions and curious about other nations and the foreign perception about their own.

For as much as the past has been messed up, I hope Iran will keep their relations with the European countries untarnished and always stronger, as I would like to go back as well as to meet and greet my Iranian friends in Italy or anywhere else.

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22 Comments
  1. Very interesting. That paper shredder is huge!

  2. How do you get to go to these places that most people cannot (let alone meet such wonderful people along the way)?

    What an interesting read! I was thinking to myself that I could never be a diplomat. I’m too passionate with my emotions that I can’t usually keep a level head. I give a lot of credit to the work of those diplomats around the world.

    • Sherry lol! I actually thought the embassy was a museum, I just read it’s closed to the public, I don’t really know how I always end up in these places! I meet great people probably because when I stumble on negative people I run away? :P I couldn’t be a diplomatic either, too much headache…

  3. Your passion for Iran really comes through! I can’t believe that Embassy has been closed almost my entire lifetime and is still stocked with a paper shredder and Statue of Liberyy statue.

  4. The relationship between Iran and the EU is relatively stable, at least. So we can still visit :) I’d really like to see this ghost US embassy, how utterly fascinating!

  5. Iran is somewhere I have wanted to go for quite some time. I saw a talk by a guy who travelled through Iran and made a NPR show (i wish i could remember his name!) and it always inspired me to visit! One day!

  6. So interesting! I hate to admit that I didn’t know a lot of the history here, but it is something that really fascinates me.

  7. Great post – and I love that you weren’t supposed to be in ye olde abandoned embassy!
    Now, I could do with a few of those fake passports right about now!! :)

  8. Hello

    my english Language is very weak, so Continue by Persian language and I hope, you can understand me …

    سلام

    می خواسم انگلیسی بنویسم اما دیدم نمی تونم حرف دلم رو بزنم. نمی دونم در مدت اقامتتون در ایران راجع به فرهنگ ما چه چیزهایی متوجه شدید. اما دوست دارم این نکته رو به شما و همه ی دوستانتون بگم:

    فرهنگ ایرانی که تا حالا 7 هزارسال از قدمت اون به اثبات رسیده و انتهای ریشه هایش دقیقا مشخص نیست، فرهنگی است که با فطرت مردم کار دارد و نهایت هدفش تصاحب حداکثری قلب ها در سراسر عالم است. کاری که ما طی قرن ها آن را به خوبی یاد گرفته ایم، و شاید کسی بهتر از ما این کار را بلد نباشد!!!

    به همین دلیل هست که اگر کسی که در چنگال غول های رسانه ای دنیا گرفتار شده است، بتواند بر ترس خود غلبه کند و بخواهد با چشمان سر، واقعیات ایران را ببیند، از این همه غفلت خود، و پیش داوری هایش راجع به ایران متعجب خواهد شد.

    رسانه های عمدتا صهیونیستی، از ایران غولی ساخته اند که کسی جرأت نکند حتی به آن نزدیک شود. و این گونه است که در عصر اطلاعات، این عده ی 1%(و حتی به نظر من کمتر از یک درصد) با جهل بر مردم دنیا حکومت می کنند. این را کسی که واقعیات ایران را از نزدیک دیده باشد، خوب متوجه می شود

    اما نکته ای که دوست داشتم به شما بگویم این است که ما ایرانی ها اگر کسی میهمانمان بشود، دیگر او را ایرانی می دانیم.به همین دلیل است که اکثر شرق شناسان و باستان شناسانی که در ایران کار کرده اند، تقاضا داشته اند تا در ایران به عنوان مملکت خود بمیرند و آرامگاهشان در میان مردم خودشان باشد، چرا که می دانستند محبتی که در ایران موج می زند، در هیچ کجا دیده نخواهد شد.

    من با شما به طور اتفاقی توسط وبلاگ گلدختر

    آشنا شدم. گویا شما تنها یک ساعت با این خواهران هم کلام بوده اید، اما ایشان از شما همانند خواهر خود یاد کرده اند و این چیزی است که در ایران کاملا عادی است.

    امیدوارم هر چه سریع تر به میهن خود، ایران بیایید و رسما ایرانی بشوید. خصوصا اگر یک بار میهمان سلطان ایران زمین” علی ابن موسی الرضا” در شهر مقدس مشهد شوید، دیگر باید حتما شناسنامه ی ایرانی بگیرید.

    برادر شما: حاجی

  9. Iran must be an interesting place..I just have a read asked me about this on my 2012-2013 Trans-Africa Adventure” post–Hi im australian and im travelling with my husband to kurdistan next march. we are planning to go to kermanishan Iranian part by car (can someone tell me if it will be safe for me? ive heard about kidnappings

    I have not been to Iran..YET. Maybe I should direct her to you???:)

    Have a great day:) and will for sure ask tips from you when time get closer:))

  10. I was really surprised by reading this. It is really interesting to know how foriegners feel about iran after such long conflicts with west. Just to say, the former US embassy is used as cultural complex so the whole complex is closed to public however you can submit for a visit of the meuseum and exhibition. I hope you have this chance to back Iran soon.

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