This year sees the 30th anniversary of the 1979 revolution in Iran. It was in January that year that demonstrations began and the Shah fled the country, while on 1st February the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran, finally proclaiming an Islamic republic on 1st April. The rest is both history and an increasingly troubled present: which is why, in his lead essay for our 30th anniversary special feature, Christopher de Bellaigue explores the increasingly brittle confidence of an Iranian regime that faces declining oil wealth and a shaken confidence in its national project. Whatever happens in Iran’s June elections, though, de Bellaigue argues that what the world most needs is a fresh approach to engaging with Iran from Obama’s America.
While de Bellaigue looks to the future, historian Dominic Sandbrook looks to the past, and explores the story of Iran’s revolution in the context of those other shaping revolutions of the last few centuries: 1789 and 1917. How does what actually happened in 1979 compare to these epochal moments? Meanwhile, Katharine Quarmby tells a story on the most intimate of scales: of how she was one of a unique generation, the love child of a Persian naval officer and an English mother; and how, almost 40 years after her birth and adoption, she found her father again.
Finally, academic and author Michael Axworthy takes an in-depth look at a new biography of Iran’s last Shah written by none other than the man who served as Iran’s deputy minister of the interior before the revolution, Gholam Reza Afkhami. Afkhami’s account, Axworthy argues, has all the vivid and sympathetic detail one might expect from a monarchist insider—yet it, like the Shah himself, is blind to the larger historical currents that swept away his regime 30 years ago.