Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Our Man in Tehran; Ken Taylor, the CIA and the Iran Hostage Crisis

I rented the movie, Argo, but found it pretty Hollywood-ish. Curious about the backstory, I picked up this book. Wright utilizes autobiographies and documents, now released in the 34 years since the event took place. I asked hubby to read it, too.
This is hubby's summary, based on about 5000 pages of reading he's done over time. He's is quite the history buff.

Book Review

Our Man in Tehran describes one of the results of this situation and the actions by both the Americans in Iran, the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor, and the the actions of the official government of Iran, and the real controlling power, of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The book is a relatively easy read, even for the non-historian. It gives a more realistic perspective to the events of 1979-80, than the recent movie, Argo.

Why was Iran in this situation?

The initial situation in the middle east, including Iran and Iraq, occurred after the end of WW I, with Treaty of Versailles  in 1919. For those interested, this is particularly well-covered in Margaret McMillan's book: Paris 1919. Simplistically put, countries in the middle east were formed not based on religious or historical territories, but on the boundaries of former European colonies. This natural dissension within these countries was further exacerbated by western interference in the selection of Middle Eastern governments, such as the CIA-based 1953 Coup in Iran.

Treaty of Versailles 1919

The thrust of the plot begins, according to history buff hubby, when country boundaries were redrawn after WW I, which crossed sectarian lines. All to keep Germany from keeping power. This was a result of the Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919. Despite the common history, geography, economics, and cultures, religious sects divide a country without representation. According to History Learning Site UK: Germany had to return to Russia land taken in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Some of this land was made into new states: Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. An enlarged Poland also received some of this land. There are 9 million Muslims in Russia. I didn't know this until I did some research.
From an Election Unit of Study in 2005
My students were fascinated with this.
Dec. 15, 2005 article

1953 Coup

The 1953 coup in Iran, backed by the US and UK, overthrew duly elected officials after an election. All in the name of oil. Coincidentally, Deutsche Welle Radio takes a look back at 1953 coup featured a piece on the 1953 coup, all background to the hostage crisis:
On August 19, 1953, the democratically elected government of Iran was overthrown with the help of the US and the UK. The coup saw the formation of a military government under Shah Pahlavi. The oil industry was denationalized with half of profits going to Iran and half to a consortium of 17 mainly US and UK companies, and the shah received massive support from the United States. Shah Pahlavi created a dictatorship with the military, financial and personnel support of the United States. 

Sectarian Violence in Syria today

Colonialization has torn up many a country. Sectarian violence has done so, as well. Tribal Lords and religious leaders influence and/or control governments. The sectarian violence between Muslim Sunnis and other Muslim Sects, harms its citizens. The same is true of many tribes, such and the Hutus and the Tutsis, in Rwanda genocides.

WIKI Foreign Involvement in the Syrian Civil War
Map of countries surrounding Syria (red) with military involvement.
Green: Countries that have given support to the rebels.
Blue: Countries that support the Syrian government
Yellow: Countries that have groups that support the rebels 
and other groups that support the Syrian government.
Sky Blue: Countries that have groups that support the Syrian Government.
  Hindu-Muslim Conflict, Pakistan and the Partition of India.
The tension between India and Pakistan is rooted in religious violence that began during the 7th c. invasion of Muslims into India.

The USA and the UK, backing particular leaders friendly to their cause (obtaining oil), become too powerful. This is why the events in Syria worry many. It was interesting news that the UK voted against becoming involved this past week.

Syrian Regime and the Rebels

With nearly 2 millions displaced people in Syrian, the Syrian Regime is trying to keep power. The poisoning and deaths of their citizens truly frightens many of us. They say that the Russians, Iran, the Hezbollah, and Brazil, amongst others, are funding arms for the Syrians. Turkey has a Syrian-staffed command centre in Istanbul. The rebels, backed by western governments and Saudi Arabia, can do nothing but cause more harm to civilians. This is why this is a good book. It deals in the history that led to the conflict in Iran. It isn't onerous reading, for those who wish to understand more you can see how the various governments and agencies fight for power and control.

Canadians, by turn, are pretty placid, what with Prime Minister Harper's appointed Senators who have been found guilty of fraud. PM Harper has faced scandal after scandal, passed Omnibus bills with buried changes that set us back many years in terms of the environment, and health and safety. Yet as he reprorogues government, again (3x's now), we just take it. The media doesn't seem inclined to react. Voters are going to have to make some noise.

From the book publisher:

Our Man in Tehran: Ken Taylor, The CIA and the Iran Hostage Crisis

The world watched with fear in November 1979, when Iranian students infiltrated and occupied the American embassy in Tehran. As the city exploded in a fury of revolution, few knew about the six American embassy staff who escaped into hiding. For three months, Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador to Iran—along with his wife and embassy staffers—concealed the Americans in their homes, terrified that Ayatollah Khomeini would find out and exact deadly consequences.

The author

Trent University Oshawa Professor Wrote the Book on Ken Taylor ...

 Trent University History professor and author of Our Man in Tehran, Dr. Robert Wright accompanied Canadian hero Ken Taylor to the Washington premiere of the Hollywood film Argo. 

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@Barrie Summy


Olga said...

I am in that period where everything makes me sad...Mike would have enjoyed reading this book.

Jennifer A. Jilks said...

Of course, Olga. I am so sorry for your loss. Give yourself permission to grieve. It is part of his celebration of life. A life well-lived is one that endures.

Barrie said...

Like you, I wasn't all that wowed by Argo. So, I'd be interested in this book. And how fun that it was written by a Trent prof. I just peeked at his website. It says he's working on a book about the Quebec referendum. Interesting guy! Thanks for joining in this month!

pattinase (abbott) said...

What a lot of research you have done here. Thanks!

Red said...

Since I am some what elderly compared to you, I lived through much of this. When I went to school the world map was mostly pink...British. Things broke apart when I was at an age where I was intensely interested in current events. It's exactly as you say. i'm going to have to read this book.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Jenn, thanks for the thoughtful and timely review and the background. What a mess. FWIW, the American people are largely opposed to any military action against Syria. Not that anyone in Washington listens to us very much. We need to make more noise, too.

And yes, it always seems to be about petroleum doesn't it? So depressing.

Sarah Laurence said...

I watched Argo too so it was interesting to hear more about the history. I also appreciate how you tied that crisis into the one in Syria now. I second what Linda said about most Americans not supporting a violent intervention in Syria. Using chemical weapons is awful but lobbing missiles and killing more people is not the solution.

Kay said...

We could not believe that Argo won over Les Miserables and Lincoln.

I don't know what to say about Syria. Nothing feels right anymore.