CBC Digital Archives

The Iranian hostage crisis begins

In 1979 a cataclysmic revolution shook Iran, creating the world's first Islamic republic and altering the balance of power in the Middle East. With the widely despised Shah of Iran forced into exile, spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini returned to oversee the country's transformation. But peace was still elusive as student protesters overwhelmed the United States embassy in Tehran, taking hostages and launching a diplomatic crisis. CBC Digital Archives presents a series of clips about revolutionary Iran.

On Nov. 4, 1979, masses of angry Iranian students gather to protest at the American embassy in Tehran. They are furious that the United States allowed Iran's deposed Shah into the country for medical treatment. What had been planned as an occupation soon escalates into something far more serious. More than 60 Americans are imprisoned inside the embassy, held hostage by the students' demand that the Shah be returned to face justice in Iran. In this CBC Radio report from one week after the crisis began, reporter Robert Fisk reads from a letter apparently written by hostage Kevin Hermening.
• When he was deposed in January 1979, Iran's Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi departed for Egypt. He was diagnosed with cancer later that year and requested permission to enter the United States for treatment. Despite warnings from the U.S. State Department that this could inflame tensions in Iran, the United States granted the Shah's request. • A group of about 600 students, calling itself Muslim Students of the Imam Khomeini Line, was responsible for the embassy takeover, which began as a protest outside the embassy gates. Armed with a set of bolt-cutters, someone severed the chain securing the gates and the mob stormed into the courtyard. After embassy staff scrambled into a brick chancellery building in the compound, U.S. Marines held off the crowd as long as possible. After several hours they were forced to surrender.

• Six of the U.S. embassy staff managed to escape to the safety of the Canadian embassy. Under heavy secrecy, the Canadians sheltered them and eventually smuggled them out of the country in an operation that became known as the Canadian Caper. See a CBC Digital Archives clip about the escape and Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, who helped pull it off

Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: Nov. 11, 1979
Host: Bronwyn Drainie
Reporter: Robert Fisk
Duration: 6:47
Photo: AP Photo

Last updated: September 12, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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