On this day: Islamic republic established in Iran

April 1 1979: The Iranian revolution

By Jennifer Lipman, February 1, 2011

The Iranian revolution, which ended more than 50 years of the rule of the US-baked Pahlavi dynasty, started in January 1978, when disparate groups of religious scholars, students, nationalists and communists began demonstrating against the Shah.

The protests and strikes continued for the next year, paralyzing the economy and eventually prompting the Shah to take flight in January 1979. Two weeks later, Islamist figurehead and leader Ayatollah Khomeini triumphantly returned from exile and declared jihad on those who did not support him.

A month after Mohammad Reza Shah fled, the Iranian military gave in to the rebels and at the end of March the Iranian people backed the establishment of an Islamic Republic in a referendum. On April 1, the modern theocratic state of Iran was born, paving the way for the country as run by hardliners such as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Although Khomeini decreed that Jews should be protected, anyone with any connection to Israel or Zionism was arrested or even executed, as in the case of communal leader and businessman Habib Elghanian.

In the aftermath of the revolution and Islamist takeover, scores of Jews fled increasing violence and persecution, going to Israel, the United States and elsewhere. Those who left after 1979 abandoned property, families and flourishing lives.

An estimated 80,000 Jews lived in Iran before the revolution. The population has now dropped to around 25,000, for whom any connection with Zionism could be dangerous.

What the JC said in 1877: When 18-year-old Jilla Youseffi said goodbye to her parents one morning in early 1979, she had no idea whether she would ever see them again. Youseffi was leaving her home in a well-heeled suburb of Tehran for the last time, heading for a new life in Britain where she would be safe from persecution by Islamic fundamentalists….The Iranian triggered a wave of fear among the country's 80,000 Jews, who expected the peaceful co-existence they had enjoyed up until then to be replaced by harassment and oppression. Such was their anxiety that many parents were prepared to break up their families and send their children thousands of miles away to safety.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 4:46pm, March 31 2011