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30 Years After Hostage Crisis: Iranian Revolutionaries, and Their Kids, Switch Sides

new iran revolution.jpg

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 9:46 AM

By: Kenneth R. Timmerman

Every Nov. 4, the Iranian regime buses tens of thousands of schoolchildren from around the country to Tehran to commemorate the assault on the U.S. Embassy in 1979, when 52 U.S. diplomats were taken hostage.

The embassy attack and the subsequent 444-day hostage crisis were called “a second revolution” by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, because they led to the collapse of the moderate post-revolutionary government that was seeking to repair ties with the United States and the West.

Fast-forward 30 years. Many of the radical “students” who held the U.S. diplomats hostage have turned against the regime. Some, such as Mohsen Mirdahmadi, have been thrown in jail, accused of conspiring to lead a “velvet revolution” against the Islamic Republic system.

Even more troubling for the regime has been the widespread defection of young Iranians, the sons and daughters of yesterday’s revolutionaries.

Take the case of Ali Vahid Damghani, the son of a prominent pro-regime ayatollah. Twelve years ago, a news photographer took a family portrait that wound up in the pages of a European magazine.

In the picture, his father, Ayatollah Ebrahim Vahid Damghani, is wearing full clerical regalia: turban, cape, and thick beard. His mother is wearing strict Muslim hejab, her face covered except for a slit for her eyes.

But Ali appears clean-shaven, wearing a shirt and tie. “I never wanted to grow a beard,” he told Newsmax in a recent telephone interview. “I didn’t want to look like one of them.”

Ali Vahid, 28, and his wife recently fled Iran, after his ties to the secular opposition party, Marze-Por Gohar (Glorious Frontiers) party became known to the Ministry of Information and Security, the regime’s dreaded security service.

“As soon as we arrived” in the Western European country where they now live as refugees, “my wife took off her hejab and went to the beach,” Ali said.

Ali was jailed at one point. At first, his captors from the Ministry of Information and Security sought to entice him into joining their ranks.

“ 'Become part of our family,’ they told me. I knew that as the son of an ayatollah, I could get lots of things — money and privilege — by becoming one of them. But I would not be a free man.”

His interrogators called the sons and daughters of privilege “agha-zadeh,” which means “sons of the seyeds,” the descendants of the Prophet.”

“If I became an agha-zadeh, I knew I would become like an Arab woman kept by a wealthy Arab sheikh: covered in gold, but kept at home behind locked doors,” Ali said.

While Ali Vahid has caused trouble for his cleric father, so have the agha-zadeh who cooperate with the regime.

“The agha-zadeh are corrupt. They live on stolen money. So one way or another, 100 percent of the sons and daughters of the privileged [in today’s Iran] are causing trouble for the regime,” Ali said.

Mehdi Khazali is the son of Ayatollah Abol-Qassem Khazali, a senior cleric with close ties to the regime’s hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a blog that is highly critical of the regime, drkhazali.net, he wrote that his father was supporting Ahmadinejad in the elections only because he had been “cheated, lied to and taken advantage of for his religious beliefs.”

When Mehdi Khazali came out in support of former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi after the disputed presidential election in June, his ayatollah father publicly disowned him, saying he was “no longer my son.”

This Nov. 4 is expected to be a showdown between opposition forces and regime supporters. Both sides are calling for mass demonstrations in Tehran and other cities.

The regime supporters are expected to gather in front of the former U.S. embassy complex, which now is a Revolutionary Guards training center.

Photographs I published in 2005 in my book, "Countdown to Crisis: The Upcoming Nuclear Showdown with Iran," show groups of Revolutionary Guards officers receiving terrorist training at the former U.S. embassy complex, shortly before being sent to Iraq as humanitarian aid workers.

Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, a former top official who has broken with the regime, are calling on their Green movement supporters to take to the streets all across Iran in a show of force.

But many observers believe they are no longer in control of the opposition, noting that in street demonstrations this past July there were as many traditional lion-and-sun Iranian flags as there were green banners.

“This movement is different from the ones before,” said Javad Moghimi-Parsa, a 24-year old freelance photographer whose picture of the post-election protests wound up on the cover of Time magazine.

“This time we are going to finish the job, finish the regime, because the people of Iran have gone way past the leaders of the Green movement.”

Moghimi-Parsa told Newsmax in a telephone interview that he joined the secular Marze-Por Gohar (MPG) party a year ago after reading the group’s clandestine magazine in Iran.

MPG is calling on its supporters to use one of the slogans from the 1979 revolution against the Shah — but with a twist: Instead of “Freedom, Independence, Islamic Republic,” its supporters will chant “Iranian Republic.”

“This is very important,” MPG leader Roozbeh Farahanipour told Newsmax. “The reformists are against the Iranian Republic slogan. Mousavi specifically has said that he is for an Islamic Republic, not a secular one.”

Farahanipour was a leader of the July 1999 student uprising in Tehran that shook the regime to its very core. In the end, those protests were put down violently on the orders of then-reformist president, Mohammad Khatami.

Farahanipour, who returned to Iran clandestinely this past summer to lead 10th anniversary demonstrations, maintains an extensive network of activists and supporters all across Iran.

He believes that Ahmadinejad committed a key mistake earlier this year when he purged MOIS of experienced counter-intelligence personnel on suspicions they were secretly supporting the Green movement reformists.

A lack of experienced personnel has reduced the regime’s ability to keep tabs on the opposition. Once he got back to the United States after his clandestine trip to Iran this summer, Farahanipour discovered that the regime’s agents were showing up at places where he had stayed three days late, unable to discover where he was headed in time to arrest him.

“I am living proof that their counter-intelligence capabilities have been reduced,” Farahanipour told Newsmax.