Flag-burning Iranians mark 35th anniversary of U.S. Embassy takeover

Iranians take to the streets to remember 35th anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran

Familiar shouts of “Death to America!” rang out Tuesday as thousands of Iranians gathered to mark the 35th anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by militant students.

This year’s commemorations came against a backdrop of international tensions concerning Iran’s contentious nuclear program. The United States and five other governments have been engaged in negotiations with Iran that would lift economic sanctions on the nation if the Tehran regime accepts limits on its nuclear program intended to prevent it from gaining nuclear weapons capability. Those talks are set to conclude Nov. 24.

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of a demonstrator. It is Zahra Mosavi, not Zahara Mosavi.

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The hostage crisis has had long-lasting repercussions, and remains vivid in memories on both sides. Fifty-two Americans seized in the 1979 embassy takeover were held captive for 444 days, a drama that shadowed the presidency of Jimmy Carter and led to the severing of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington.

Ties have yet to be formally restored, although this year there have been regular meetings between Secretary of State John F. Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, primarily on the nuclear issue.

This year’s anniversary also coincided with the holiday of Ashura, one of the holiest days on the Shiite Muslim calendar, mourning the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad. At the rally, cartoon images on posters depicted President Obama as a modern-day shemr, or killer of Hussein.

At Tuesday’s rally, black-clad organizers led demonstrators in burning U.S. flags and chanting slogans against the United States, Israel and Britain. Many in the crowd of up to 3,000 were older, and said they still recall what they were doing when they heard the electrifying news of the storming of the embassy.

“When this den of espionage was taken over, my son was 5 years old,” said demonstrator Zahra Mosavi, 55. Now, she said, both her sons are disabled veterans of warfare with neighboring Iraq.

Most of the demonstrators voiced stridently hard-line sentiments, urging against any concessions to the international community on Iran’s nuclear program. “We do not cave in to pressure of sanctions or military threats,” said Sadegh Nasir, a 27-year-old aeronautical engineer.

Outside the confines of the rally, however, other Iranians spoke of the hardships caused by international sanctions, and urged an accommodation.

“It is ridiculous. We are impoverished and our children are jobless, and they still shout ‘Death to the U.S.’ and so on,” said a 56-year-old taxi driver who was afraid to be identified by anything other than his first name, Ali. “Nothing in nuclear technology matters for me -- my family and I need jobs and a decent life.”

Despite the election last year of relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani, social mores in Iran remain deeply conservative. The country has recently been the venue for several harsh court rulings involving young women.

On Sunday, a 25-year-old British-Iranian woman was sentenced to a year in prison for demonstrating in favor of women being allowed to attend a men’s volleyball match. Earlier this month, in a case that caused an outcry from international rights groups, a 27-year-old woman was hanged for killing a man she said was trying to rape her.

Mostaghim is a special correspondent. Staff writer Laura King in Cairo contributed to this report.

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