Russia’s Long Road to the Middle East

Every Russian schoolchild is taught about the violent death of Aleksandr Griboyedov in 1829. A poet and playwright whose work is enshrined in the country’s literary canon, Griboyedov had the misfortune to be Czar Nicholas I’s ambassador to Tehran in the wake of Persia’s humiliating loss of territory to Moscow’s spreading empire. A Tehran mob, furious at the czar and his infidel representatives, stormed the embassy, slaughtering the unlucky ambassador and 36 other Russian diplomatic staff.

 

A century and a half later, in 1979, those events were almost replayed in Iran (as Persia is now known). When five leaders of the Iranian revolutionary students gathered in Tehran to decide which foreign embassy to target, two of them advocated seizing the Soviet legation. They were persuaded instead to overrun the U.S. embassy, creating a no less historic trauma for another world power entangled in the politics of the Middle East.

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