Iran begins marking 40th anniversary of Islamic Revolution

FILE - In this Oct. 9, 1978 file photo, demonstrators protest Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Tehran, Iran. Forty years ago, Iran's ruling shah left his nation for the last time and an Islamic Revolution overthrew the vestiges of his caretaker government. The effects of the 1979 revolution, including the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and ensuing hostage crisis, reverberate through decades of tense relations between Iran and America. (AP Photo/Michel Lipchitz, File)
This Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, photo, shows the shrine of Iran's revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside of Tehran, Iran. The memory of Khomeini, who died in 1989 at the age of 86, literally looms large over Tehran today. His golden-domed mausoleum in southern Tehran is one of the first things people see driving into the city from the airport named for him. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
FILE - In an undated photo from 1979, protestors burn an effigy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi during a demonstration in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran. Forty years ago, Iran's ruling shah left his nation for the last time and an Islamic Revolution overthrew the vestiges of his caretaker government. The effects of the 1979 revolution, including the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and ensuing hostage crisis, reverberate through decades of tense relations between Iran and America. (AP Photo, File)
In this Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, photo, a girl walks past a poster of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, at a mosque where he made speeches, in northern Tehran, Iran. The memory of Khomeini, who died in 1989 at the age of 86, looms large over Tehran today. His image is on bank notes and in textbooks in Iran, often as an embodiment of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that swept aside the country’s shah and forever changed the nation. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019 photo, people pray at the grave of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at his shrine, just outside of Tehran, Iran. Khomeini was the face of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, but now his family is largely absent from politics. Part of the reason lies with Khomeini’s own commandments after becoming Iran’s first supreme leader. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
In this Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019 photo, a portrait of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is displayed at his grave, just outside of Tehran, Iran. Khomeini was the face of Iran’s Islamic Revolution His image is on bank notes and in textbooks in Iran, often as a black-and-white embodiment of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that swept aside the country’s shah and forever changed the nation. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
FILE - In this Feb. 1, 1979 file photo, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's exiled religious leader, emerges from a plane after his arrival at Mehrabad airport in Tehran, Iran. Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, marks the 40th anniversary of Khomeini's descent from the chartered Air France Boeing 747, a moment that changed the country’s history for decades to come. (AP Photo/FY, File)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran on Friday began celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah, overturned 2,500 years of monarchical rule and brought hard-line Shiite clerics to power.

The climactic events that year — from revolutionaries in the streets of Tehran to blindfolded American hostages in the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis months later — not only changed Iran's history but also helped shape today's Middle East.

The festivities start every year on Feb. 1 — the day Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned home from France after 14 years in exile, to become the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Across Iran, sirens wailed from trains and boats, while church bells tolled at 9:33 a.m. — the exact time that Khomeini's chartered Air France Boeing 747 touched down 40 years ago at Tehran's Mehrabad International Airport.

The festivities, known as the "Ten Days of Dawn," conclude on Feb. 11, the date Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's government collapsed after brief clashes between some army units and revolutionary gunmen, following nationwide protests.

As part of the celebrations, many Tehran buildings, mostly government institutions and offices, were draped in the colors of Iran's green, white and red flag while multicolored lights decorated the main streets.

Car drivers turned on their headlights and honked in celebration as helicopters dropped clusters of flowers along Khomeini's 21-mile route from the airport to the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery in southern Tehran where he made his first speech back home and where his tomb stands today.

Iranian officials — including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani — paid homage Wednesday at Khomeini's tomb "to renew allegiance" to him.

At a ceremony at the tomb Friday, Ahmad Jannati, head of a constitutional watchdog that vets candidates for presidential and parliamentary elections, slammed what he described as U.S. psychological warfare against Iran in the form of "cruel sanctions."

"The enemies today have targeted the economy" to make Iranians feel pessimistic about Islam, said Jannati, a hard-line cleric.

Last year, the Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that curbed Iran's nuclear program in return for lifting of economic sanctions. The U.S. re-imposed its sanctions in November.

Germany, France and Britain, which have worked to preserve the nuclear deal, announced Thursday they have established a new system so their companies can continue trading with Iran without incurring U.S. penalties for doing so.

Iranian state TV on Friday broadcast archive footage of Khomeini's return and the daily mass demonstrations across Iran in support of his revolution.

Khomeini was accompanied on the flight home by dozens of journalists, some of his associates and only one family member, his younger son, Ahmad. The plane was only half full of passengers and had extra fuel in case of a need to immediately return to Paris if the aircraft couldn't land in Tehran. Supporters of the shah's regime had closed the airport the week before, and Khomeini's allies in Tehran feared possible threats on his life.

State TV also broadcast footage of various Iranian achievements over the years and animation of anti-U.S. propaganda.

Similar celebrations were held in cities and towns across the country, state media reported.

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