TEHRAN – Iran commemorated on Friday the 40th anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s return to his country from exile, a turning point in history that breathed fresh life into the religious aspects of a revolution that led to the swift creation of the Islamic Republic.
Khomeini (1902-89) arrived aboard a chartered Air France plane at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport on Feb. 1, 1979, after 14 years of life in exile in Turkey, Iraq and latterly France.
He was greeted in the Iranian capital by throngs of jubilant supporters who believed the scholar’s return finally marked the end of Shah Mohamad Reza Pahlavi, the unpopular monarch who had fled the country two weeks previously amid growing protests.
Several days before returning from exile, the Shah-appointed government in Iran dissolved and Khomeini set up a revolutionary council aimed at installing the Islamic Republic, an endeavor that would eventually cleave the nation away from Western influence and affect regional and global politics in the decades to come.
The Ayatollah became the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran upon its creation on Dec. 3, 1979.
Every year, Khomeini loyalists in Iran flock to the grandiose tomb on the outskirts of Tehran where Khomeini was laid to rest following his death in 1989, after ten years in power. In those ten years, the religious scholar left an indelible print on the country, which in that time became a Shia theocracy.
The majority of Iranians follow the Shia branch of Islam and Shias across the Middle East region often look to Tehran for religious and political guidance. Sunni Islam has a larger number of adherents globally and is the dominant branch in Iran’s regional foe, Saudi Arabia.
Both countries jostle for influence in the region.
“Long live Imam Khomeini and long live his memory,” was chanted in unison by the crowds at the mausoleum, which brought together children, soldiers, women covered in traditional black chadors and members of the clergy.
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, chairman of the Assembly of Experts, which is responsible for appointing and dismissing Supreme Leaders, gave an address in which he said Khomeini restored dignity in Islam and taught the population how to fight against humiliation from the West.
“(Khomeini) believed that Islam could govern and founded a power that you are currently witnessing despite it being 40 years since the revolution and that fact that everyone opposed us,” he said.
Tehran was recently thrown back into the diplomatic spotlight recently after the United States President Donald Trump decided to pull out of an international nuclear deal and draw up fresh sanctions against it.
The move came despite the fact independent monitoring agencies and the remaining signatories, which include China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, insisting that Iran had upheld its side of the bargain deescalating its nuclear program in exchange for the partial lifting of economic embargoes.
Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, visited Khomeini’s mausoleum two days ago, where he said the late religious figure “never feared foreign powers.”
“He awakened hope for a better a future, an independent country, a government for the people and Islamic rules,” he said. “The mobilization of people (for Khomeini) was unprecedented in history,” he added.
As is commonplace at conservative religious meetings in Iran, Khomeini admirers at the mausoleum Friday chanted: “Death to the USA, death to Israel, death to the UK,” and “God is the greatest.”
There was also a nationalistic streak to be seen at the ceremony: with the green, red and white of the national flag adorning the area. Several younger attendees incorporated the colors into their outfits.
Portraits of the revered revolutionary also dotted the crowd.
From his exile in the Parisian suburb of Neauphle-le-Chateau, where he was forced to retreat from Iraq in 1978, Khomeini ramped up his calls to bring down the US and UK-backed Shah.
The monarch had solidified grip on power in the 1950s by facilitating a CIA and British secret intelligence service-orchestrated coup against a democratically-elected prime minister who sought to nationalize Iranian oil reserves.
For Mohamad Rahimi, an 80-year-old from the city of Mashad, Khomeini liberated Iran from the tyranny of the monarchy.
“Before the Iman returned to Iran, we received letters from France with his speeches, which we copied and shared among the people,” he told EFE at the mausoleum.
Rahimi, however, said he believed that not all of Khomeini’s promises had been kept, highlighting that many people in the country remained in poverty.
A light criticism, compared to the opinions found in more liberal sections of Iranian society, many of whom are fed up of living in a 40-year-old conservative Islamic regime.
For them, the future of Iran seems less bright.