Online Encyclopedia Search Tool

Your Online Encyclopedia


Online Encylopedia and Dictionary Research Site

Online Encyclopedia Free Search Online Encyclopedia Search    Online Encyclopedia Browse    welcome to our free dictionary for your research of every kind

Online Encyclopedia

Iran hostage crisis

The Iran hostage crisis was a 444-day period during which the new government of Iran held hostage 66 citizens of the United States. It is believed by many to have caused President Jimmy Carter of the United States to lose his re-election attempt, and punctuated the first fundamentalist Islamic revolution of modern times. It began on November 4, 1979 and lasted until January 20, 1981.

Iran's new leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, instigated the crisis on November 1, 1979 when he urged his people to demonstrate and expand attacks on United States and Israeli interests on November 4. The U.S. embassy was seized by a mob of around 500 Iranian students (although reported numbers vary from 300 to 2000) calling themselves the Imam's Disciples. Part of a crowd of thousands gathered around the embassy in protest. The 90 occupants of the embassy were held and the 66 Americans were made prisoners. The hostages were often shown blindfolded to local crowds and television cameras.

During the riot, six Americans escaped in the confusion and fled to the Canadian Embassy in Iran, under the hospitality of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor. Mark Lijek, Cora Amburn Lijek, Joseph Stafford, Kathleen Stafford, Robert Anders and Henry Lee Schatz were then given fake Canadian passports so they were able to leave the Canadian Embassy, without being identified as Americans, after it had closed. Thirteen of the hostages were released on November 19 and 20 (the women and African-Americans in the group) but the remaining 52 continued to be held (one further hostage was released because of illness on July 11, 1980).

The students justified taking the hostages by claiming that it was a retaliation for the admission of Iran's deposed Shah, Pahlavi, into the United States for cancer treatments back in October . However, in actuality, the hostage-taking was less based around one specific event and was instead an act of demonstrating that the new Iranian government was well capable of opposing the Americans. It was also an act of retaliation against the United States' years of support of the Shah's totalitarian rule.

Ruhollah Khomeini was viciously anti-American in his rhetoric, denouncing the American government as the "Great Satan" and "enemies of Islam." The embassy had in fact been briefly seized once before during the revolution.

The U.S. President at the time, Jimmy Carter, immediately applied economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran: oil imports from Iran were ended on November 12, 1979, Iranians in the U.S. were expelled, and around $8 billion of Iranian assets in the U.S. were frozen on November 14, 1979.

Carter pledged himself to preserving the lives of the hostages, but beyond the initial measures he could do little. Ruhollah Khomeini did order the release of 13 female and African-Americans on November 17, 1979.

In February of 1980, the Iranian government issued a set of demands in return for freeing the hostages. They demanded the return of the Shah to Iran, and certain diplomatic gestures including an apology for prior American actions in Iran and a promise to not to interfere in the future.

Rejecting the Iranian demands, Carter approved an ill-conceived secret rescue mission: Operation Eagle Claw. On the night of April 24-25, 1980 —as the first part of the operation— a number of C-130 transport airplanes rendezvoused with nine RH-53 helicopters at an airstrip in the Great Salt Desert of South-Eastern Iran. Two helicopters broke down in a sandstorm and a third one was damaged on landing. The mission was aborted, but as the aircraft took off again one helicopter clipped a C-130 and crashed, killing eight U.S. servicemen and injuring more than four. The dead bodies of some of these soldiers were paraded through the streets of Tehran during massive street protests, all in front of television cameras broadcasting worldwide. Mission material was left behind for the Iranians to discover and later display to the world's media.

In the U.S. administration Cyrus Vance resigned, having opposed the action.

In 1980, the death of the Shah (July 27) and the invasion of Iran by Iraq in September made the Iranians more receptive to resolving the hostage crisis.

In the United States, Carter lost the November 1980 presidential election to Ronald Reagan. Most analysts believe Carter's inability to solve the hostage crisis played a large role in his defeat. See the entry at October Surprise for controversial allegations that the hostage release was delayed until after the election.

The hostages come home, as celebrated on the streets of Washington, D.C.
The hostages come home, as celebrated on the streets of Washington, D.C.

Shortly after the election, with the assistance of Algerian intermediaries, successful negotiations began between the U.S. and Iran. On the day of President Reagan's inauguration, the hostages were freed in exchange for the unfreezing of Iranian assets. They were 444 days in captivity. The hostages were flown to Wiesbaden Air Force Base in West Germany, where they were received by former President Jimmy Carter (as an emissary for the Reagan administration), and from there they took a second flight to Washington, D.C., where they received a hero's welcome.

Last updated: 11-08-2004 00:35:24