Bells rang out from schools, trains and boats at 9.33am, the moment Khomeini’s aircraft touched down on February 1, 1979, on his return from exile in Paris, France. After living in exile for almost 15 years Ayatollah Khomeini returned back to Iran where he was met by 5 million people lined in the streets of the Nation’s capital Teheran, to witness his homecoming. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, 78, was imprisoned by the Shah in 1963 for his opposition to reforms and for criticizing the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi for his westernization and the ties with USA and Israel. The year after in 1964 he was expelled out to Iraq through Turkey. While Khomeini was in exile in France, he formed an opposition against the Shah as he called for general strikes, turning the people against the government and coordinating the revolution.
Khomeini had for long insisted that he would not return back to Iran unless the Shah would leave, and indeed the Shah did left on January 17 1979 on vacation but never returned back again. In the plane back to Iran, the ABC News reporter Peter Jennings asked Khomeini:”What do you feel in returning back to Iran?” Khomeini answered “hitch”, meaning nothing. On his arrival on board on Air France jet, Khomeini then 76, vowed to establish a new government in Iran.
Ayatollah, meaning the Sign of God, emerged out from the airplane looking tired as he was welcomed by 1,500 religious and political leaders that were allowed inside the terminal building. The police force that consisted of 50,000, quickly lost control over the heavy crowd outside the airport who had came to get a glimpse of the Ayatollah. They were shouting his name as their hands were raised in greeting and appreciation while the car Ayatollah was sitting in made a slow progress in driving.
From the airport, Khomeini travelled to the nearby cemetery called Behesht Zahra cemetery where many martyrs of the revolution lay buried as millions of his supporters cheered his name and hundreds of thousands gathered at the cemetery to speak to him. Here he said:”I must tell you that Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, that evil traitor, has gone. We are saying this man, his government, his government is all illegal. If they were to continue to stay in power, we would treat them as criminals and would try them as criminals,” Khomeini declared. “I shall appoint my own government. I shall slap this government in the mouth. I shall determine the government with the backing of this nation, because this nation accepts me. ” he said addressing to the 250 000 followers inside the cemetery. The Prime Minister then who was in charge after when the Shah fled, Shahpur Bakhtiar, responded to this by saying; “Don’t worry about this kind of speech. That is Khomeini. He is free to speak but he is not free to act.” Shortly after, Khomeini appointed his own prime minister, Mehdi Bazargan, and public revolts spread throughout the country. Weakened by the uprisings, Bakhtiar’s government collapsed on February 11, 1979 when the military declared itself neutral, allowing the revolutionaries to take control. March 30 and 31, 1979, a referendum to replace the monarchy with an Islamic Republic passed through with 98% votes in favour of the replacement with the question: Should the monarchy be abolished in favour of an Islamic Government?
Who was Ayatollah Khomeini?
Khomeini was described as “slim,” but athletic and “heavily boned.” He was known for his punctuality: ”He’s so punctual that if he doesn’t turn up for lunch at exactly ten past everyone will get worried, because his work is regulated in such a way that he turned up for lunch at exactly that time every day. He goes to bed exactly on time. He eats exactly on time. And he wakes up exactly on time. He changes his cloak every time he comes back from the mosque.” Khomeini was also known for his aloofness and stern demeanor. He is said to have had “variously inspired admiration, awe, and fear from those around him. His practice of moving “through the halls of the madrasas never smiling at anybody or anything; his practice of ignoring his audience while he taught, contributed to his charisma.
In November 1979, the new constitution of the Islamic Republic was adopted by National referendum and Khomeini himself became the country’s supreme leader, a position that was created in the constitution as the highest ranking both political and religious authority over the Nation until his death. On February 4th 1980, Abolhassan Banisadr was elected as the first President of Iran. In the Muslim world abroad, he was described as the “virtual face in Western popular culture of Islam, known for his support of the hostage takers during the Iranian hostage crises when students stormed the US embassy in Teheran in November 1979 and took hostages for 444 days as they wanted Washington to sever ties with the Islamic republic, and the fatwa, calling for death of British citizen Salman Rushdie. During his conservative rule, Iran became embroiled in a debilitating conflict with neighboring Iraq, then under Saddam Hussein’s rule and over a million people were killed on both sides during the eight-year long war.
After eleven days in a hospital for an operation to stop internal bleeding, Khomeini died of a heart attack Saturday 3rd of June 1989, 22:22 hrs local time, at the age of 88. Iranians poured out into the cities and streets to mourn Khomeini’s death in a “completely spontaneous outpouring of grief. Despite the hundred-degree heat, crushing mobs created an impassable sea of black for miles as they wailed, chanted and rhythmically beat themselves in anguish. As the hours passed, fire trucks had to be brought in to spray water on the crowd to provide relief from the heat, while helicopters were flown in to ferry the eight killed and more than four hundred injured. Two million people attended his funeral. Iranian officials aborted Khomeini’s first funeral, after a large crowd stormed the funeral procession, nearly destroying Khomeini’s wooden coffin in order to get a last glimpse of his body. At one point, Khomeini’s body almost fell to the ground, as the crowd attempted to grab pieces of the shroud. The second funeral was held under much tighter security as Khomeini’s casket was made of steel, and heavily armed security personnel surrounded it. In accordance with Islamic tradition, the casket was only to carry the body to the burial site.