Salam Saleh – “The Lion’s Den” is what I was told when I asked where we were heading to next. Upon arrival I saw that our boldly-named destination was in fact the former American embassy of Iran, which is located in the capital of Tehran. Construction of this two story red brick building began in the 40s but was completed in 1951. Now a museum, this place was to the Iranians the ‘nest of spies’. One can only imagine what happened between these walls at the peek of the Islamic Revolution, a prominent event influencing Iranian/American relations. On November 4, 1979, pro-revolution university students (male and female alike), took extreme actions storming the embassy and holding it hostage with 66 Americans inside for 444 days.
Supported and guided by leadership of the beloved Imam Khomeini, it was time to overturn the Shah and his ruling, catapulting the Islamic revolution. A crisis for the west, but a liberation for the east.
This crisis lasted one year and two months. Hostages were adamantly kept throughout endless negotiations. Also, throughout a failed Carter approved rescue mission known as, “Operation Eagle Claw” – a helicopter crazed assignment, resulting in the deaths of 8 American service men. Finally, in September of 1980, issues were resolved. After months of negotiations, The United States agreed to release billions of dollars in Iranian gold and bank assets, frozen in American banks just after the coup. On January 20, 1981, Algeria mediated the ‘Algiers Accords’ deal. Agreed upon and signed, the remaining hostages were released.
As our bus slowly pulled up to the former embassy, I immediately noticed two statues. One on each side of the entrance, the one on the left was an American soldier with his arms up in surrender. The one on the right was also an American soldier dawned in lady liberty attire, hollowed and caged at the chest. As we made our way in and up the stairs, the walls which were once white, are now adorned with painted murals. Trying to dissect these murals was a nothing short of a challenge. One of them portrayed the golden dome of the Al- Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, surrounded and confined by chains, occupation, prisoners, worshipers … and a fire breathing dragon. Utter chaos, raw emotion, reality of what is happening to the Holy Land – to the world. The voices of the occupied and the oppressed, all captured on one wall. As I started walking through the halls our tour guide explained that this is the place where they believe their country was being infiltrated by western powers. Hard to disagree with this since first to catch my eye, was the “Secret Glass Room”. A soundproof box where confidential meetings took place between American officials and well.. spies.
An eery feeling comes over you while walking through this place, passing by broken down phones, typewriters, books and files marked “confidential”, computers, telecommunications equipment which were all from the 70′s. The oddest of them all was a a large steel room hidden in the back of the building, resembling a giant safe. Entry was only possible with a code at the large heavy door and inside it was filled with computers and files. All these things are now just dusty hunks of metal and shredded pieces of paper.
A building that only takes an hour to tour, but has so many hidden stories to tell. An open mind and an understanding is needed when visiting the Lion’s Den. Fortunately, I was able to visit this place with such a diverse group of people who where open to discussion and exploration. Between all the history, artifacts, anti-America murals and Khomeini’s solemn smile, quite the hour was spent in the former American Embassy of Iran.